Compact cameras and the compact camera market have changed a lot over the last few years. Smart phones have decimated the entry-level range of point-and-shoot models that used to be popular and as a result manufacturers have concentrated on putting more advanced features into cameras to make them more attractive.
In addition to a move towards having physically larger sensors to boost image quality, some compact cameras now have lenses with long zoom ranges or wide apertures and there’s better control over exposure along with a much wider range of settings than in the past. Wi-Fi connectivity is also now de rigueur, so you can transfer shots quickly to a phone for sharing on Facebook etc.
Many enthusiast photographers used to be very sniffy about compact digital cameras, but there are now many that make a great alternative to a DSLR or mirrorless system camera.. And those who are new to photography and thinking about stepping up from a smartphone have some pretty sophisticated choices. There are small cameras that can slip in a pocket yet have huge zoom ranges, and large bridge cameras that look like DSLRs, but have a fixed lens and lots of automated easy-to-use options.
These cameras prove that you don’t have to buy a camera that takes interchangeable lenses to get great shots.
If you need a bit more help figuring out what kind of camera you need, then read this article: What camera should I buy?
Or if you already know what kind of camera you want, then check out our more specific compact camera guides:
Otherwise, keep reading to find out which are the best compact cameras on the market right now, and why.
Keen photographers usually go for a DSLR or a compact system camera, but they also want something that will slip in a pocket for those days when the big camera needs to stay at home. Usually, that means putting up with a smaller sensor – but not this time. Somehow, Panasonic has shoehorned a CSC-sized Micro Four Thirds sensor into a compact camera body. Not only that, it’s added an aperture ring on the lens, a shutter speed dial on the top AND an electronic viewfinder. It has a specially-designed super-compact wide-aperture lens and it can shoot 4K too. The LX100 was expensive when it was launched, but the price has fallen steadily, and this is still an amazing and unique camera.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
Fuji has had enormous success with its X-series of compact and compact system or mirrorless cameras and the X70 looks set to be a popular choice for photographers wanting a small camera designed following the brand ethos. It’s sensor is APS-C format, which means it’s bigger than the Four Thirds type in the LX100, so it produces superb quality images. The fixed 28mm f/2.8 lens isn’t suited to everyone though, and there’s no built-in viewfinder. However, there is an excellent tilting touchscreen and in addition to an aperture ring around the lens, there’s shutter speed and an exposure compensation dials which makes adjusting exposure very quick provided you know what you’re doing. There is a fully automatic option, but this camera is best suited to experienced photographers.
Read the full review: Fuji X70
Panasonic’s muscled it’s way into the growing premium 1-inch compact sector with the brilliant Lumix LX10 (known as the LX10 outside the US), and is the perfect balance of performance, features and price. First, the bad news – there’s no built-in EVF and the smooth finish doesn’t offer the best handgrip, but the 24-72mm lens is one of the fastest around with a maximum aperture of f/1.4. Add to that some polished handling with dual control rings and a touchscreen, snappy AF and 4K video capture, and you have one of the best compact cameras around.
Panasonic invented the travel-zoom camera genre – compact cameras that can fit in a pocket but that have long zoom lenses built-in. And the ZS / TZ range has continued to dominate sales despite strong competition. However, the compact camera has moved on and Panasonic needs to do more to attract buyers. Its response has been to keep the camera body about the same size as earlier TZ-series cameras but to squeeze a much larger 1-inch sensor into the ZS100 (TZ100 outside the US). This enables the pixels to be about 2.4x bigger than they are in models like the ZS50 / TZ70 and this helps the ZS100 produce much higher quality images. The zoom lens isn’t quite so extensive, but you still get an electronic viewfinder that makes it easier to compose images in bright sunny conditions.
The addition of the latest DIGIC 7 processor brings a number of performance improvements over the original model, while the handling is even more polished and refined, making it a joy to use. The 4.2x optical zoom is longer than the likes of the Sony RX100 IV or Panasonic LX10 / LX15 but the fast variable maximum aperture of f/1.8-2.8, and 1-inch 20.1MP makes the G7 X II a very versatile compact when the light levels drop. If you’re happy to miss out on a viewfinder and instead rely solely on a large and bright 3-inch articulating monitor, then the G7 X II is a serious (and more affordable) alternative to the mighty Sony RX100 IV.
Read the full review: Canon PowerShot G7 X II
The X100T is a beauty both to look and and to use, but it’s not for everyone! It’s a relatively large, retro-styled camera with a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent f/2.0 lens, and designed for photographers who hanker after the weighty feel and manual external controls of traditional 35mm rangefinder cameras. It’s a relatively specialised camera you’ll use for a certain type of subject (street photography, for example) and most owners are likely to have other cameras too. The original X100 revived Fuji’s fortunes and gave its rivals the jolt they needed to develop their own classically-designed cameras.
Read the full review: Fuji X100T
Sony’s original RX100 was a landmark camera that fused a 1-inch sensor in a compact, metal body with the controls and image quality demanded by enthusiasts. The RX100 IV goes a step further, though, with a new ‘stacked’ sensor design for high-speed data capture. This means it can shoot 4K video, amazing 40x slow motion and 16fps in continuous burst mode. That’s not forgetting the neat little built-in electronic viewfinder that its rivals lack. It’s a pricey option, but if you’re looking for a versatile, pocket-sized compact with a quality zoom lens, you won’t be disappointed.
Read the full review: Sony RX100 IV
This trend towards bigger sensors shows up in the Panasonic FZ1000 too. Bridge cameras are very popular because they offer a colossal zoom range at a modest cost. To design a big zoom, though, the makers have to use a tiny sensor – and here Panasonic took the wise choice to sacrifice zoom range for better quality. The Panasonic FZ1000 uses a 1-inch sensor, and while the zoom tops out at 400mm equivalent, which is relatively short for a bridge camera, that’s still plenty for all but the most extreme everyday use. We love the FZ1000 because it delivers both image quality and zoom range – and the price is pretty competitive now too.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
Sony’s taken the 24-200mm zoom lens found in the RX10 II and put it on steroids, with the lens now covering a huge zoom range from 24-600mm. The constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 though is replaced with a variable range from f/2.4-4, but for the extra range, it’s worth the sacrifice. The 1-inch, 20.1MP sensor is capable of achieving excellent levels of detail, while the high ISO performance is also strong. The increased zoom range means the RX10 III is even bulkier than its predecessors though, but handling is very polished (we’d like to see the menu system refined a little though), feeling like a DSLR in the hand and complemented by a large and bright electronic viewfinder. That’s not forgetting the ability to capture video in 4K. The only real stumbling block is the price, costing even more than some very desireable DSLR and mirrorless options.
Read the full review: Sony RX10 III
When photography was film-based most compact cameras took 35mm rolls, the same as a professional-level SLR. This meant that provided your camera had a decent lens you could get brilliant results. Digital photography changed that and many compact cameras have much smaller sensors which makes achieving high quality images more of a challenge. Leica and Sony are the only companies that make a compact camera with a full-frame sensor and while Sony’s RX1 models are great, the Leica Q (Typ 116) has won our hearts. The biggest downside to the Q is its price, there’s no getting around that. But for that huge stack of cash you get a Leica Summilux 28mm f/1.7 ASPH lens, a superb electronic viewfinder with 3,680,000 dots, a 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen, snappy autofocusing, traditional exposure controls and the ability to create stunning images. Despite the price, Leica can’t make enough Q’s to keep up with demand.
Read the full review: Leica Q