The best compact cameras can rival DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for both image quality and features. They key difference is that they have non-removable lenses, and while this limits their versatility somewhat, for many photographers it's worth it. A compact camera is smaller and lighter, and can go with you everywhere, to places you just wouldn't take a 'proper' camera.
A compact camera can be everything a photographer needs in a single package. No need to fuss with changing lenses or lugging about the bulk of a DSLR – a compact camera is a simple, slim solution, ready to pick up and shoot from the moment you open the box.
Compact cameras are very popular, not just low-cost cameras for family use, but more advanced cameras for enthusiasts and experts – especially photographers trying to recapture the feel of a different era.
Fujifilm started this trend with the X100, an APS-C compact with a 35mm equivalent f/2 lens and traditional exposure controls. It's been so successful that the company has just released the fifth version of this classic camera design. The Fujifilm X100V handles like an old-school photojournalism camera, but comes with a new lens, a high-tech hybrid viewfinder, 4K video and Fujifilm's latest autofocus tech.
Alternatively, if what you actually need is a simple and inexpensive compact family camera, take a look at our guide to the best point and shoot cameras you can get right now. These have small sensors, however, so that does put a cap on the picture quality you can expect.
Sensor sizes can vary greatly on compact cameras, but tend to be smaller than those you'd find on a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera. Now this is a pretty broad generalisation, as large-sensor compacts definitely do exist – indeed we've got guides to the best APS-C compact cameras and the best full-frame compact cameras if you'd like to learn more – but on the whole, this tends to be the case. DSLR and mirrorless cameras are designed for those who need more flexibility in all departments, whether that's through the broad dynamic range of a larger sensor, or the do-it-all versatility of interchangeable lenses.
If you want DSLR-style handling and a big zoom, check out our guide to the best bridge cameras; if you're looking for something light and portable to take on trips, take a look at the best travel cameras; for something that can take a pounding have a look through the best tough/underwater cameras; and finally if you want something simple to use that won't break your budget, check out the best point and shoot cameras.
We've split our 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.
So, 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. We'd recommend giving it a try!
The best compact cameras in 2020
Best zoom lens compacts
This top-quality compact really is like a DSLR in your pocket
Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: 24-72mm f/2.8-5.6 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 7fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/expert
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
2. Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II
If the PowerShot G1 X Mark III doesn't float your boat, this might
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1-inch | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-120mm f/1.8-2.8 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in tilting touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 30fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/expert
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
3. Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
If you like the Canon G1 X III quality but not the price, get this
Type: Compact | Sensor size: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 17MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 (equiv.) | LCD: 3in fixed, 1,24 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/expert
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.
4. Panasonic Lumix LX15 / LX10
A cheaper alternative to the Panasonic LX100 Mark II
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 | LCD: 3in tilting, 1,040k dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
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.
5. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII
The RX100 Mark VII is expensive, but it's also very high-tech
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 | LCD: 3in tilting, 922k dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 20fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
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
6. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
If you like the look of the RX 100 VII but not the price, this is better
Type: Compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 | LCD: 3in tilting, 1,229k dots | Maximum continuous shooting speed: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Intermediate/expert
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
The X100F is a lot cheaper than the Leica Q and almost as desirable
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 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
The X100V is newer and faster than the X100F, but it also costs a lot more
Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.3MP | Lens: 23mm f/2 | Monitor: 3in fixed, 1,620,000 dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid optical/EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Max video resolution: 4K UHD | User level: Expert
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
9. Leica Q2
If you can live without a zoom (and much of your money), get this
Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 47MP | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/Expert
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
10. Fujifilm XF10
You lose the viewfinder of the X100F but you save A LOT of money
Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: 28mm f/2.8 (equiv) | Monitor: 3in fixed, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast
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.
11. Ricoh GR III
It's the latest in a classic line, but it's starting to show its age
Sensor: APS-C | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Lens: 28mm f/2.8 (equiv) | Monitor: 3in fixed, 1,037,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optional | Continuous shooting: N/A | Max video resolution: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert
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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