Compact cameras and the compact camera market have changed considerably over the last few years. Smartphones, with their ever-improving cameras, have decimated budget models and as a result camera manufacturers have concentrated on putting more advanced features into compact cameras to make them more attractive than ever before.
Compared to compact cameras of old, manufacturers are now tending to design models based around physically larger sensors than used to be the norm. The result of this change is that you’re now going to get significantly better image quality than even the best smartphone. In some cases, the sensors in some high-end compact cameras can rival DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
The wide variety of different compact cameras means there’s a wealth of choice out there to pretty much suit all photographic needs and budgets.
There are small compact cameras that can slip in a pocket yet have huge zoom ranges, and large bridge cameras that look like DSLRs, but have a large, fixed zoom lens and lots of automated easy-to-use options (though don’t expect DSLR-rivalling image quality).
That’s not forgetting waterproof options and high-end models that are a great alternative to a DSLR or mirrorless camera should you want something a bit more portable.
If you need a bit more help figuring out what kind of camera you need, then your best place to start is by reading this article: What camera should I buy?
Otherwise, read on to find out our pick of the best compact cameras you can buy right now.
Before we take a look at our pick of the compact cameras out there today, we wanted to highlight an older option that still packs a punch. The RX100 IV sits in the middle of the RX100 family, and while newer models beat it for burst shooting, autofocus and focal range, for most people this cheaper alternative would still serve them brilliantly.
The 1-inch sensor at its heart captures lovely images and super-crisp 4K videos, and while the 24-70mm (35mm equivalent) lens range isn’t quite as broad as on the RX100 VI and RX100 VII, the lens itself has a wider f/1.8-2.8 aperture.
The 2.36 million-dot viewfinder cleverly hides away when not in use, while optical image stabilisation inside the lens keeps everything steady. You might want to pair it with a separate grip for better handling, but if you need a powerful compact to slip into your pocket – and you don’t want to spend a fortune getting it – you’ll find the RX100 IV delivers plenty.
Best compact cameras in 2019
We admit that with its fixed-focal-length lens and bulky body, the X100F isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of compact camera fun. But as the fourth camera in a hugely popular series, Fujifilm has done a grand job to take the best bits from the previous triplet and elevate its performance once again – and the result is a mighty powerful camera.
The 24MP APS-C sensor spits out detailed images with low noise and superb colours, while the manual dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO and aperture connect you with the camera in a way that just doesn’t happen on most other compacts.
The hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder also gives you the freedom to adjust what it displays to better suit your environment. Our only reservations are that video is limited to Full HD recording, although that’s not a deal-breaker for many photographers.
Panasonic invented the travel-zoom camera genre – compact cameras that you can fit in a pocket but that have long zoom lenses built-in. Despite strong competition, the ZS range (known as TZ outside the US) has continued to dominate sales, and it looks set to continue this with the brilliant Lumix ZS200 (called TZ200 outside the US).
As we first saw with the Lumix ZS100 / TZ100, Panasonic has been able to keep the camera body about the same size as earlier ZS-series cameras but squeeze a much larger 1-inch sensor into the camera to deliver much better image quality.
The zoom lens isn’t quite so extensive as some, but the versatile 15x zoom should be more than enough for most users, while you also get (an admittedly small) electronic viewfinder, 4K video and a great touchscreen interface. If you’re looking for a neat all-in-one compact camera that delivers great images, this is it.
If you’re looking for a powerful all-in-one bridge camera, then the RX10 IV from Sony is the best there is. You’ll pay a premium for that performance, but when you look at what else is out there for the same price, the RX10 IV is virtually in a league of its own. Featuring a huge 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom lens, the RX10 IV builds on the RX10 III with an overhauled AF system that now does justice to the rest of the camera, while the 1-inch, 20.1MP sensor is capable of achieving excellent levels of detail.
Handling is very polished, 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 and shoot at up to 24fps. Impressive stuff.
We’re just putting the finishing touches to our review of the PowerShot G7 X Mark III, and we’re confident that this will be just a great a hit with vloggers as previous G7 X models proved to be. With the new advantages of 4K shooting, a mic port and live streaming to YouTube joining the previously seen built-in ND filter and flip up LCD screen, this is arguably the strongest compact right now for vlogging.
But if you’ve no interest in video there’s still plenty to keep you happy, from 30fps shooting at full resolution to a super-sensitive touchscreen, in-camera raw processing and the added convenience of USB charging. It’s a shame there’s no viewfinder or hot shoe, but then not everyone needs these.
Compact cameras with sensors larger than 1-inch in size are typically limited to fixed-focal-length lenses, which is great for quality but less so for flexibility. But not the Panasonic LX100 II; it manages to marry a 17MP Four Thirds sensor – the same size as those found inside Panasonic’s G-series mirrorless cameras – with a zoom lens equivalent to 24-75mm in 35mm terms, proving that sometimes you can get quality and flexibility at once.
The original LX100 was something of a landmark camera for offering something similar, and this latest iteration takes the baton, with a nippy AF system, robust body, clear 4K videos and a useful electronic viewfinder among its highlights.
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 VI goes several steps further, though, with a ‘stacked’ sensor design for high-speed data capture. This means it can shoot 4K video, amazing 40x slow motion and still images at 24fps in continuous burst mode.
That’s not forgetting the neat little built-in electronic viewfinder that its rivals lack, while this sixth-generation model now packs an impressive 24-200mm zoom lens. It’s a pricey option and does have its quirks, but if you’re looking for a versatile, pocket-sized compact with a quality zoom lens, you won’t be disappointed.
This trend towards bigger sensors shows up in the Panasonic Lumix FZ2000 (known as the FZ2500 in the US). 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 FZ2000 uses a 1-inch sensor, and while the zoom tops out at 480mm equivalent, which is relatively short for a bridge camera, that’s still plenty for all but the most extreme everyday use. We love the FZ2000 because it delivers both image quality and zoom range – if you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, the older FZ10000 is still available.
Keen photographers usually go for a DSLR or mirrorless 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, Canon has shoehorned a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor into a compact camera body. There’s also a built-in electronic viewfinder and refined touchscreen interface. The zoom range is a bit modest at 24-72mm, but there’s nothing else quite like it.
Waterproof down to 15m, the Tough TG-5 is also crushproof to 100kg and drop-proof from 2.1m. It can even be used in temperatures as low as -10°C. If you want a rugged, go-anywhere camera, this is it. Olympus has taken the unusual step of actually dropping the pixel count from 16MP on the TG-4 to 12MP on the TG-5 for a better high ISO performance.
Add in raw file support and this makes image quality that bit better than its predecessor, while it can shoot 4K video at 30p or high speed footage at 120p in Full HD. Our pick of the waterproof bunch of compacts. The recently announced TG-6 offers a small scattering of benefits, although the TG-5 is still very much available and a camera we continue to rate if you need something as rugged as it is capable.
The ZS100 may have been refreshed by the ZS200 (position 2) but don’t let that put you off; this is still a fine camera, and its last-gen status means it’s at a better price than ever. Part of its charm is that fact that it partners a large 1-inch sensor with a 10x optical zoom lens, which provides better image and video quality than other superzoom compacts, but with the flexibility of a broad zoom lens – not something many cameras can claim. Other niceties include a built-in EVF, very good quality 4K video and Wi-Fi, along with image capture in raw.
None of the above take your fancy? Got some cash to play with? Here are two further options.
The Q2 is a thing of beauty, and right now it’s arguably the best compact camera around. It’s not for everyone – not least because it costs a small fortune – but if you genuinely want the best compact you’ll be hard pushed to find a finer one than the Q2. Leica hasn’t compromised on the spec sheet, with the 47.3MP sensor producing masses of detail and keeping noise impressive low, while the 3.68 million dot electronic viewfinder is bright and sharp.
Also bright and sharp is that 28mm f/1.7 lens, while 4K videos show plenty of detail. It’s not the easiest to handle (although you can get an optional grip) and some may have preferred a tilting screen, but its build quality is near-faultless. If you’re pining for such a camera in your life but can’t quite find the funds, consider the previous Q1 model, which offers a slightly stripped-down feature set by comparison for a hell of a lot less.
We had mixed feelings when we came to review the GR III, but it still deserves a mention here. Why’s that? Because, despite a few quirks, Ricoh managed to get a lot right, and it delivers something no other compact quite manages right now, namely the combination of an image-stabilized 24MP APS-C sensor inside a body that you can squeeze into your pocket.
Other advantages include a high-performing lens, fast operation, a revamped menu system and understated styling to help keep you discreet when you’re out shooting. The fixed 28mm-equivalent lens won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the battery life is also disappointing, but for those who need to travel light and take great images, this is a very capable alternative to an interchangeable-lens camera.