Far gone are the days when the best compact cameras were cheap point-and-shoot models. These cameras can now stand up with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in terms of their imaging potential, with larger sensors, sharper zoom lenses, better video capabilities and a whole lot more besides.
What do we mean by a compact camera? Put simply, the term refers to a camera with a fixed lens attached to it. As you might imagine, this has its advantages and disadvantages: there's none of the fuss or expense of changing multiple lenses, but the focal length on the box is the only one you get. The lens on the front might be a high-quality prime designed for sharpness and fidelity, or a zoom to give the user maximum flexibility and versatility. Both approaches have their merits.
As you might imagine, compact cameras are hugely popular with all sorts of different types of user. Amateur shooters and families love them for their convenience and affordability, while enthusiasts and experts can get a lot of value out of a self-contained package, especially if it has a high-quality sensor inside.
Many compacts are also specifically designed with a retro charm, to evoke a sense of a bygone photographic era. This trend was very much kicked off by Fujifilm with the introduction of its X100 series of APS-C compacts with 35mm equivalent lenses, and these have been so successful that two of the latest models are included on this list. You may also find, scrolling through, that other cameras on this list give you a sense of a bygone era.
We've focused on capable models for serious photographers and videographers on this list, so if what you actually need is a simple and inexpensive compact family camera, you might want to take a look at our guide to the best point and shoot cameras you can get right now. Be aware that these have smaller sensors than more expensive compacts, so the picture quality won't be as good. Sensor sizes do vary on compact cameras, but they tend on the whole to be smaller than those of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Think of these cameras approximately (very, very approximately) as an intermediate stage between beginners' point-and-shoots and professionals' DSLRs.
We've split this guide to the best compact cameras into two sections. The first section is for zoom lens compacts. These are the most flexible and useful in day-to-day use, but they tend to have smaller sensors than prime compacts or other types of camera. A zoom lens also can't quite offer the image quality of a really good prime.
That's why we've also included a section for cameras with a fixed focal length prime lens. With these cameras, what you lose in general-use flexibility, you gain in sensor size and image quality. If you've never done without a zoom before, it's not nearly as difficult as you think and can actually be incredibly productive for your photography, teaching you to think on your feet and move to get the best shots. We'd recommend giving it a try!
With all that said, let's get to the list!
The best compact cameras in 2020
Best zoom lens compacts
Canon really has done an amazing job with the G1 X Mark III. Yes, it is pretty pricey for a compact camera, but it houses pretty much the same 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in its slimline body as you'll find in Canon's EOS 80D DSLR and its EOS M mirrorless cameras. This is matched up to a zoom lens that's even more amazing, because it covers a 24-72 equivalent focal range and can still retract into the camera body when you're not taking pictures. It's true that the maximum aperture does drop off considerably as you zoom in, from f/2.8 right down to f/5.6, but you get this with compact DSLR and mirrorless kit lenses anyway. The G1 X Mark is pretty pricey, but right now it's pretty much in a class of its own for a premium compact camera with zoom.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III review
The Canon G1 X Mark III is a great camera, but it has some limitations, notably its 3x zoom with its relatively modest maximum aperture and no 4K video. The G5 X Mark II offers a much broader range of specs, and it's also a little cheaper. You do have to accept a smaller sensor – a still-decent 1-inch 20MP sensor rather than the 24MP APS-C sensor in the G1 X Mark II, but the payback is a longer 5x zoom with a much faster f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture, 4K video, a super-fast burst mode and a body genuinely small enough to slip into a trouser pocket. If you really want a bigger sensor, keep reading, but the G5 X Mark II does give you a very rounded set of specs for a pocket camera.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II review
The trouble with big sensors is that you need big lenses to go with them, so there goes any kind of pocketability. Usually. But Panasonic has really hit the sweet spot with the Panasonic LX100 II. It combines a Micro Four Thirds sensor that's not much smaller than the ASP-C sensors in mode DSLRs, with a miniaturised lens assembly that powers down into a camera body slim enough to carry around anywhere. The LX100 II is a brand new version of the original LX100, which was, admittedly, starting to show its age. The new model has a 16-megapixel ‘multi-aspect’ sensor, which means you can use its native 4:3 aspect ratio, the 3:2 ratio used by most DSLRs and mirrorless models, or a 16:9 ‘wide’ format without cropping the image and losing pixels. With an external shutter speed dial, lens aperture ring and aspect ratio switch, the LX100 II is a dream compact camera for enthusiasts and experts.
The Panasonic LX15, which goes by the name LX10 in some territories, doesn't have a viewfinder, and it also has a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor rather than the larger Micro Four Thirds sensor in the LX 100 II. The smaller sensor and lack of a built-in EVF might put some people off, and the smooth finish to the body doesn't make for the firmest handgrip, but the responsive touchscreen is terrific, the dual control rings provide a very pleasing user experience, and the 24-72mm has one of the widest aperture settings around, courtesy of its f/1.4 to f/2.8 aperture range. Overall, this neat little snapper has the near-perfect balance of features, performance and pricing. It's small enough for your pocket but powerful enough for some serious photography.
Compact cameras are a great solution for vloggers – as a self-contained, simple-to-use package that's light and easily portable. If you're planning on crafting a vlogging setup it makes sense to choose a zoom compact with strong video capabilities, and for fulfilling those criteria, we'd definitely recommend the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III
Popular with YouTubers, this compact camera can shoot uncropped 4K video using the full width of its 1-inch sensor, and has a 3.5mm mic port to allow you to plug in an external microphone for superior sound quality (though the lack of a hotshoe means you have to think a little more about the best way to set it up). The G7 X Mark III is also capable of livestreaming footage to your platform of choice – whether that's YouTube, Facebook, Twitch or whatever else – expanding your options as a vlogger. The lack of a viewfinder may be a deal-breaker if you're planning to shoot stills as well, but as a capable, portable video solution, the G7 X Mark III is outstanding.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III review
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII is mad on any number of levels. The plus points include its impressive 24-200mm zoom range in such a small camera, its pop-up electronic viewfinder in a camera that looks too small to have one, and its good-sized 1-inch 20.1MP sensor. It can also shoot 4K video, which is good, but then it all starts to get quite strange. This camera has a super-high-tech 357-point phase-detection autofocus system, a 20fps continuous shooting speed (up to 90fps in Single Burst mode), and 0.02sec AF response with Real-Time AF tracking. It also has Sony's S-Log2 and S-Log3 video modes for high-end video recording and color grading – all in a pocket-sized camera. All this power is great, and deeply impressive, but it pushes up the price considerable and to some (well, us) might seem out of place on a camera like this.
Read more: Sony RX100 Mark VII review
Sony has a strategy of keeping older versions of its cameras on sale for a long time, with prices that keep on going down, so although the RX100 III is four versions behind the brand new RX100 VII, its specs are still pretty good even by today's standards. It's the first RX100 model to get a built-in pop-up electronic viewfinder, its flip-up-and-over rear screen is ideal for selfies and vlogging, and while its lens has a shorter 24-70mm equivalent zoom range than the newer camera, it has a faster f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture across that range. If you don't need the RX100 VII's high-powered AF, pro-level 4K video features and super-fast continuous shooting, the RX100 III is ideal. It has the small form factor of the RX100 series and the same good-quality 1-inch sensor, but without any of the musclebound madness of the later models.
Best prime lens compacts
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 Fujifilm 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. The new Fujifilm X100V will eventually replace this camera, but for now the X100F remains on sale and at a very much lower price – which makes us like it even more!
Read more: Fujifilm X100F review
We were expecting Fujifilm to put its latest 26.1-megapixel sensor into the new X100V, but the company has done a lot more besides. The X100V has a new, sharper lens to do justice to the latest sensor and the tilting touchscreen on the back makes this camera much easier to use at awkward angles, without compromising its slimline design. The improved autofocus and 4K video capabilities bring this classic camera design right up to date. The only thing is... while the older X100F stays on sale, it's only two-thirds the price of the X100V, but it's more than two-thirds as good! For now, and until we can get a production sample of the Fujifilm X100V for review, we're putting it just below the X100F in our list.
Read more: Fujifilm X100V hands on review
Leica cameras tend to divide opinions quite strongly. They are fearsomely expensive, built to traditional designs and standards that many consider dated or irrelevant, and rarely match modern rivals for features and technologies. But there's more to cameras than numbers on a spreadsheet, and everything about the Leica Q2 is superb, from its full frame image quality with its new 47 megapixel sensor, through to its Leica-made Summilux lens and its stripped, down minimalist design. Using a Leica isn't just about the images, it's about the experience too – so you just need to decide if the experience is worth all this money! Even if the price doesn't bother you, though, there is another hurdle – finding a retailer that has one in stock. Good luck!
Read more: Leica Q2 hands on review
The Fujifilm XF10 is less than half the price of the X100F above, but it's definitely more than half the camera. You don't get Fujifilm's fancy hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder here, so all your shots have to be composed on the fixed rear screen, but you do get a top-quality 24.2-megapixel sensor, a very good 28mm f/2.8 fixed focal length lens and a very attractively-designed little camera. In fact, this camera is so slim you can easily slide it into a jacket pocket and it's this, as well as the relatively low price, that makes it so appealing for quality conscious photographers who don't want to speed a lot of money.
The Ricoh GR has a long history, both as a premium-quality compact 35mm film camera and now as a digital model. However, its specs and its performance are now looking a little behind the curve compared to its latest rivals. GR fans, or GRists as Ricoh call them, will love this update of an iconic camera. But in the world of multi-lens camera phones the wider appeal of this fixed lens compact will probably be limited. This is a beautiful-sized APS-C compact, ideal for carrying around in the pocket, and for discrete street photography. But this is sold at a luxury price that is no longer justified by the the build quality or the feature set.
Read more: Ricoh GR III review
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