The rise of smartphone photography might have caused some shrinkage in the compact camera market, but point-and-shoot manufacturers have responded by upping their game.
Instead of a sea of cheap plastic clones, you’re more likely to be confronted by a selection of high-end, high-performance compacts when you browse the shelves of camera retailers.
The compact sector has gone upmarket, with cameras routinely offering large sensors for better image quality, together with stylish metal bodies and photographer-friendly features such as Raw shooting and old-school manual controls.
But which is the best compact camera for your needs? To help you with your buying decision, we’ve compiled this up-to-date list of the top 10 compact cameras for photographers.
1. Panasonic TZ100 / SZ100
A pocket-friendly travel zoom that packs a superb range of features
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 25-250mm f/2.8-5.9 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1,04million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/enthusiast
There are three things the best travel cameras get right: top-notch picture quality, a generous ready-for-anything zoom and pocket-friendly proportions. The Panasonic Lumix SZ100, also known as the TZ100, offers all these features and more. Its large 1in-type 20.1MP CMOS sensor might now be the norm rather than the exception in the premium compact market, but twinned with its 25-250mm (equivalent) f/2.8-5.9 10x zoom, it’s a potent and extremely portable picture-making machine. The TZ100 produces excellent JPEGs, and has the option of Raw shooting and and 4K video, while Wi-Fi and touchscreen control add versatility. The handgrip is nothing to write home about and there’s no built-in GPS option, which is a little odd for a camera aimed at the travel market; instead, you have to log the GPS data on a smartphone and sync that with the camera over Wi-Fi. Forget the nice-to-have features though: Panasonic has nailed the core blend of picture quality, zoom and physical size, making the TZ100 the best travel compact around.
2. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
When it comes to handling, Canon’s classy compact has it made
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in touch-sensitive tilting LCD, 1.04million dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 8fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast
With its 1in-type 20.1MP CMOS sensor, DIGIC 7 processor, Raw shooting, a lens equivalent to 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 and 8fps burst shooting, the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is a solid choice for photographers more interested in function over form. It might not have the ‘look at me’ scale in terms of raw specifications compared with some of its rivals – there’s no 4K video option, for example – but handling, image quality and operation are all excellent. Its low-light performance is a particular high point, as is the typically punchy Canon colour palette. The model's 1in-sensor-toting rivals include the Sony RX100 V and Panasonic LX15/LX10, but the PowerShot G7 X Mark II’s more generous grip gives better purchase compared with the slim lines of the other two, while its spread of manual controls, 3in tilting touchscreen and image stabilisation make for a satisfying shooting experience.
3. Fujifilm X100F
Fusing a DSLR-sized APS-C sensor with superb build and handling, this Fujifilm really does have the X factor
Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens: 23mm f/2 | Monitor: 3in fixed, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid optical/EVF | Continuous shooting: 8fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Expert
A retro design, unique hybrid viewfinder and large (for a compact) APS-C sensor made the original Fujifilm FinePix X100 one of the most desirable fixed-lens digital cameras at the time of its 2011 release. The first ‘X’ camera was superseded by the X100S and the X100T, each of which fine-tuned the formula, but it’s the fourth iteration, the X100F, where everything has come together beautifully. A new control layout, a third-generation 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor (with no low-pass filter), an expanded sensitivity range and improved AF might appear more evolution than revolution, but it’s the combination of these refinements that delivers a step-change in performance. The aforementioned sensor, fixed 35mm-equivalent f/2 lens, X-Processor Pro engine and Film Simulation modes combine to deliver super images – and taking them brings just as much pleasure. Make no mistake, it’s not cheap, but the X100F is a magnificent camera for photography enthusiasts.
4. Panasonic LX100
Its huge Micro Four Thirds sensor makes this Lumix model stand out from the crowd
Type: Compact | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in fixed, 921k dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate
One of the downsides of large-sensor compacts is that they’re not as pocketable as cameras packing 1in-type (or smaller) sensors. The Panasonic Lumix LX100 hits the sweet spot, with a body that’s easy to live with (and carry around) but one that still manages to house a Micro Four Thirds sensor. In terms of proportions, Micro Four Thirds sits between 1in-inch type and APS-C – in fact, it’s the same 16MP sensor that’s at the heart of the now-retired Panasonic GX7, although Panasonic’s Multi Aspect Ratio technology means that images max out at 12.5MP in the 4:3 aspect ratio here. As the camera shoots 4K video you can also extract 8MP stills from footage captured at 30 frames per second, although the lack of a touch-sensitive, vari-angle screen means that it’s not always as easy to shoot from awkward angles as it is on some of its rivals. Still, the aperture ring, together with the shutter speed and exposure compensation dials, make this a satisfying camera to use.
5. Leica Q (Typ 116)
Money no object? This luxury compact’s blend of full-frame quality and traditional controls is a smart investment
Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 24MP | Lens: 28mm f/1.7 | Monitor: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Expert
You’ll need deep pockets – both literally and figuratively – to accommodate this full-frame compact. The Leica Q is ferociously priced in comparison to most other point-and-shoots, but if your budget can stretch to it you'll get your money’s worth. This premium hunk of camera features a very fast, 28mm f/1.7 stabilised lens, together with a 24.2MP full-frame sensor, all wrapped up in luxurious Leica build quality. Stylistically the Q shares a lot in common with Leica’s M-Series rangefinders, but it incorporates a 3.68million dot electronic viewfinder and a touchscreen, and it's also the company’s first full-frame camera to boast autofocus. What it lacks in modern compact camera fringe features, such as an extensive range of filter effects, it makes up for with a solid core of traditional exposure controls and excellent image quality.
6. Panasonic LX15 / LX10
With its bright lens, this Lumix shines in low-light conditions
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 (equiv.) | Screen: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
Another Panasonic compact that packs an impressive scale of performance for its diminutive size, the big talking point with the Panasonic Lumix LX15 is its 24-72mm (equivalent) Leica lens. It's not so much the focal length range – which, after all, offers a shoulder-shrugging standard coverage – but rather the bright f/1.4 maximum aperture available at the wide end. A large aperture like this means that the ISO doesn’t have to be pushed as high to achieve fast shutter speeds in low light, helping to keep noise at bay. The camera has a reliable AF system too, further improving the chances of getting sharp shots, although the lack of proper grip isn't ideal. Like the Panasonic TZ100 and FZ2000 superzooms, the LX15 has a 20.1MP, 1in-type CMOS sensor at its heart, which not only gathers more light than a traditional compact camera sensor, but also captures 4K videos. Image quality for both photos and videos is excellent too, which is the prime reason for upgrading from a smartphone to a point-and-shoot camera like this one.
7. Ricoh GR II
It’s a specialist tool, but this compact delivers where it counts
Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 16.2MP | Lens: 18mm f/2.8 (equiv. to 28mm) | LCD: 3in fixed, 1,230,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 4fps | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast
It might be a bit long in the tooth, but the Ricoh GR II still has plenty to satisfy the photography enthusiast – and it really is a compact for the connoisseur. There's little in the way of extraneous attention-grabbing features to plump out its specifications sheet; instead, what you get with the GR II is a camera that gets the basics right, including a large 16MP APS-C sensor, Raw shooting, a fixed 28mm (equivalent) f/2.8 lens that’s remarkably sharp, and a body that features magnesium alloy for light weight and strength. The GR II does pack one modern convenience in the shape of Wi-Fi, which allows for remote camera control and image transfer via a smartphone. The camera’s a great choice for street photography and landscapes, but its wide-angle lens means that it’s a poor option for close-up portraits, sport and wildlife. That said, spend a bit of time with the GR II and you’ll appreciate the unfussy, focused way it goes about its business.
8. Sony RX100 V
Dripping with more technology than Apple’s R&D room
Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-70mm, f/1.8-2.8 | LCD: 3in tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting: 24fps | Max video quality: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
When it comes to high-end features, few premium compacts can match the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V. In fact, it even makes some mirrorless cameras and DSLRs look positively sluggish. This is a camera that can shoot full-resolution bursts of images at 24fps, with continuous AF and auto exposure maintained throughout. The camera also boasts a generous 315 phase-detect AF points and can record 4K footage that's downsampled from 5.5K resolution for sharper results. There are a few odd omissions for a camera of this calibre – a touchscreen, for example – and the lack of a decent hand grip is disappointing. Also, its 2.9x optical zoom feels a bit out of proportion with its action-stopping, sports-friendly burst rate, and it’s perhaps not as easy to get to the manual controls as some of its rivals. But – and it’s a big but – the sophistication of its specs sheet is undeniable. If you want one of the most advanced compacts on the market, go for the RX100 V. And if your budget doesn't stretch, the previous RX100 IV is an excellent alternative.
9. Panasonic Lumix FZ2500 / FZ2000
This bridge-style compact leads the pack when it comes to 4K video recording
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-480mm f/2.8-4.5 (equiv.) | Viewfinder: EVF | Screen type: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04million dots | Max burst speed: 12fps (30fps at reduced resolution) | Max video quality: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
Panasonic knows how to build great-value hybrid cameras that offer an extensive suite of video features in addition to catering for first-class stills photography. The Lumix FZ2000 is a fitting example, able to record both 4K DCI and 4K UHD footage at 30p and 24p, as well as Full HD at 60p, and it's stuffed with useful features such as focus peaking, zebra stripes, SMPTE Time Code and colour bars. It also has two built-in ND filters to help with exposure of videos, another feature normally associated high-end camcorders. Styled like a miniature DSLR, the FZ2000 is a superzoom camera that ticks all the essentials for stills too, offering excellent image quality courtesy of its 20.1MP 1in sensor,
together with a very fast AF system and highly effective image stabilisation technology – essential when you’re packing a whopping 24-480mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom.
10. Sony RX10 III
If it’s focal length you need, check out this Cyber-shot’s monster zoom
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-600mm f/2.4-4 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in tilting, 1.23million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 14fps | Max video quality : 4K and Full HD | User level: Enthusiast
OK, we’re pushing the boundaries of what can be classed as a true compact here, but if you don’t mind putting up with a bit of bulk then you won’t find a more versatile option than the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III. Its 24-600mm f/2.4-4 (equivalent) lens has the range to cover most situations the world will throw at you, while its 1in sensor delivers excellent 20.1MP stills and 4K video. The only real chink in its armour is its autofocus performance, which struggles at the long end (precisely where you’d want it to be on-point, if you’ve forked out for all that focal length in the first place). It’s not a pocketable alternative to a smartphone, nor a camera that you’re likely to throw into your bag alongside a more advanced setup, but the RX10 III can get you shots which you might otherwise miss on a DSLR or CSC if have to switch lenses.
Read more: The best cameras under £500/$600