Compact cameras and the compact camera market have changed a lot over the last few years. Smartphones 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 that can rival DSLRs in some cases, some compact cameras sports lenses long zoom ranges or wide maximum apertures. Wi-Fi connectivity is also now de rigueur on most compacts, 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 as well.
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:
Best bridge cameraBest travel cameraBest cheap cameraBest waterproof camera
Otherwise, keep reading to find out which are the best compact cameras on the market right now, and why.
It may be one of the more expensive options here and it’s not a compact for everyone, but if you’re after a high-quality camera, you’re not going to be disappointed with the X100F. Everything about it oozes class. Unlike a lot of compacts here, it has a fixed lens as opposed to a zoom, but this 35mm equivalent f/2.0 lens is paired with a DSLR-sized 24.3MP APS-C sensor that delivers cracking results. There’s also the tactile external controls and clever hybrid viewfinder – you have the option of electronic and optical views make it a joy to shoot with. You’ll need some photo knowledge to get the best from it, but the X100F is an exquisite camera.
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.
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.
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.
While there’s now a decent selection of premium 1.0-inch sensor compact cameras to choose from, the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II sets itself apart thanks to its dinky proportions and streamlined controls. The highly pocketable dimensions do mean there are sacrifices to be made, with the PowerShot G9 X Mark II featuring a relatively short focal length zoom lens. However, if you’re looking for a neat compact camera that can produce vastly superior images to your smartphone, and has decent connectivity options and simple-to-use controls, the PowerShot G9 X Mark II is an excellent choice.
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 V goes a step 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. 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 FZ1000 is still available.
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 desirable DSLR and mirrorless options.
If you’re wanting a compact camera that can do a better job than your smartphone the WX220 ticks a lot of boxes, especially when you consider the extra flexibility offered by the 10x optical zoom, running from 25-250mm. Images are bright and punchy, with decent detail – ideal for sharing online or printing at typical sizes – while it’s nice to see Wi-Fi connectivity included as well. The 2.7-inch screen is a little on the small side, but that does help to keep the dimensions of the camera to a pocket-friendly size. The WX220 may not have lots of bells and whistles, but what it does do, it does well.
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 make 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.
What camera should I buy?