The best compact cameras represent the best of both worlds. A compact camera is a camera whose lens is fixed on its front – meaning there’s none of the lens-swapping of DSLR and mirrorless setups. What you lose in the versatility you gain in portability and affordability.
Compact cameras vary considerably in form factor, build and other ways – indeed, as you’ll see in this list, “compact” is not always the best word to describe them! Some compact cameras are rather large – most commonly bridge-style cameras that are specifically designed to take after DSLRs in their handling.
Some compact cameras sport a zoom lens for versatility, while others opt for a prime to maximise image quality. You’ll see retro-styled compact cameras on this list that look the business, as well as slimmer ones that put function over form.
In this guide, we list the top ten compact cameras on the market. We’ve divided the guide up into sections to allow you to navigate the guide more easily. Click the headings below to jump to the section of your choice. If all the technical terminology loses you, skip down to the Glossary and FAQs for a primer on the basics.
So, ask yourself what is the best compact camera on the market? Read on as we count off the top 10 best compact cameras you can buy right now.
Not all compact cameras come with a viewfinder, relying on the LCD screen for composition. If you’re the type who prefers to compose images with something against your eye, we pick some of the best compacts with viewfinders around right now. These all use electronic viewfinders or EVFs – these used to be low-quality, but now are highly responsive and boast bags of resolution. Some photographers even prefer EVFs to optical finders, as they allow for the displaying of shooting information!
Fujifilm X100V Digital Camera - Silver
We were spoiled when Fujifilm brought us the Fujifilm X100F, but when it comes to this newer model, Fujifilm have smashed it out the park. The X100V model builds off the excellent body of its predecessor and improves on it by incorporating a larger and more powerful 26.1 MP X-Trans CMOS 4 Image Sensor that offers an ISO range from 160 to 12800 (Expandable from 80 to 51200). The integrated fixed 23mm F2 lens is constructed from 8 elements in 6 groups, including 2 aspherical elements. It features a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm that can produce smooth and attractive bokeh. Other features include Fujifilm's advanced hybrid viewfinder, a 3" tilting LCD touchscreen and the capacity to capture some stunning 4K video. This compact, yet rugged camera is truly versatile and will not fail to impress!
Pro: Stylish, fun to use
Pro: Fantastic JPEG quality
Con: Fixed focal length
Con: No optical stabilisation
The fifth in Fujifilm’s phenomenally successful series of prime-lens compact cameras. The Fujifilm X100V blends ultra-cool style with cutting-edge imaging tech, and provides one of the most enjoyable shooting experiences around.
The 26.1 MP X-Trans CMOS 4 APS-C sensor is larger and more powerful than it was in previous X100 cameras, producing pin-sharp images that look great straight out of camera. The advanced hybrid viewfinder and tilting LCD touchscreen give the user a wealth of composing options. The Film Simulation options look tremendous, and give images a real classic feel.
But more than all that, the X100V is just an outstandingly enjoyable camera to use. It’s the street photography camera of choice for loads of professional and enthusiast photographers, with many commenting that an X100 camera has been the tool that made them fall in love with taking pictures again. Its dial-led controls, super-sharp prime lens and best-in-class electronic viewfinder all add up to one of the best compact cameras around.
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III Digital Camera
The Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III joins Canon's G-series range of high-end compacts as the flagship camera for enthusiasts and professionals. Boasting a large APS-C 24.2MP sensor, Full HD recording, a 3x optical zoom lens (24-72mm f2.8-5.6), and Dual Pixel CMOS AF, the Wi-Fi enabled G1X MK III packs superb DSLR image and movie quality into a stylish, lightweight body that's easily portable.
Pro: Sensor delivers great quality
Pro: Superior viewfinder
Con: Battery could be better
Con: Only 3x optical zoom
Canon went about the task of making a new flagship for its G series with gusto, and the result was the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III, a good-quality compact camera for enthusiast users. On release, this was the only camera to pair an APS-C sensor with a zoom lens – in this case, a 24MP CMOS sensor with a 24-72mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens.
Viewfinders on compact cameras are surprisingly less common than you’d think, with many manufacturers relying on the LCD screen to get the job done. The PowerShot G1 X Mark III bucks this trend with no half measures – its 2.36 million dot Organic LED Electronic Viewfinder is an excellent example. It’s gloriously bright and clear, with super-fast response times. It’s a genuine pleasure to compose an image on this viewfinder.
Of course, that’s only part of the picture. The rest of the camera fortunately is up to scratch as well, with 9fps burst-shooting meeting Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus technology for fast and accurate shooting. The Dual Sensing Image Stabilisation system helps steady images and counteract the effects of camera-shake, to the tune of up to four stops of compensation. But the real story here is getting that beautiful APS-C sensor into that body – which means the G1 X Mark III is capable of producing gorgeous images in all different situations.
Full-frame sensors tend to be the preserve of advanced, professional cameras. They aren’t as common on compact cameras as they are on DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. A good full-frame sensor provides unbeatable dynamic range and low-light performance, making any camera equipped with one a super-versatile machine for all shooting conditions.
Most manufacturers don’t make full-frame compacts, and APS-C tends to be the largest sensor size you’ll get. There are a few full-frame compacts worth considering, however!
Leica Q2 Digital Camera
As part of the esteemed Leica brand, the Leica Q2 combines elegance with innovation, performance with efficiency. Using the building blocks from its predecessor, the acclaimed Lecia Q, the Q2 features an impeccable construction that's complemented by an impressive 47.3 megapixel full-frame imaging sensor that's accompanied by Leica's powerful Maestro II Image Processor. An extremely fast, fixed 28mm Summilux f/1.7 ASPH lens provides pin-sharp images with every shutter, as well as offering pristine image quality for the Q2's 4K video capabilities. The Q2 also features a lightning fast autofocus which will acquire focus in as little as 0.15 seconds, helping you capture every second of your scene, and a digital zoom offers up to 75mm focal length. The elegant and intelligent design of the Q2 comfortably maintains the Leica name, providing the technical capabilities and unrivaled performance to match.
Pro: Fantastic image quality and RAW performance
Pro: Sublime user experience
Con: No in-camera RAW conversion
Con: No USB port
Taking photography back to its purest form, the Leica Q2 is shooting distilled. It’s one of the very few full-frame compacts on the market, and it produces absolutely sublime images. The combination of a 47.3MP sensor and a razor-sharp 28mm F1.7 Summilux lens is a winner when it comes to simple, straightforward photography. The Leica Q2 doesn’t make you hunt around in menus or poke at buttons – it just gets out of your way and lets you shoot.
This is a photographer’s camera first and foremost – though if you do get the urge to shoot 4K video, it certainly can. RAW files from the Leica Q2 are supremely high-quality and give real latitude for those who like to spend lots of time on their editing. For an even purer shooting experience, try the Leica Q2 Monochrom, a full-frame compact that only shoots in black and white!
Compact cameras used to be synonymous with cheap and poor-quality point-and-shoots, but this is no longer the case! Compact cameras are getting better and better, and many of them are capable of producing images at a quality that rivals professional and enthusiast cameras. We’ve picked out some of the compact cameras we think offer the best pure image quality around right now.
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 VII Digital Camera
The RX100 VII from Sony is an ideal point-and-shoot camera for serious photographers. Featuring a 1.0-type stacked 20.1MP Exmor RS CMOS sensor, a 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 Zeiss Vario-Tessar fixed lens, and a single burst shooting drive mode that allows users to capture up to 90 sequential images per second. Video users are also catered for with the RX100 VII featuring 4K and HDR video, with Real-Time Tracking and Real-Time Eye AF. 257-point focal-plane phase-detection AF points, and 425-point contrast AF make it the fastest performing autofocus system in the world for a camera of its type.
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Pro: Class-leading image quality
Pro: Autofocus is superb
Con: Very small – can be fiddly
Con: Aperture tops out at f/2.8
The latest and greatest in Sony’s hugely popular RX100 line. The Sony RX100 Mark VII blends a long zoom lens with a high-resolution sensor and a slim body. This is what a point-and-shoot camera for professionals looks like.
It’s just incredible how much Sony managed to pack into this camera. The 20.1MP Exmor RS CMOS 1-inch sensor is, of course, excellent, and just by itself would be enough to produce some of the best image quality from any compact camera around. But then that’s also paired with a Zeiss-made 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens for tremendous versatility. And then you’ve got the ability to burst shoot at up to 20fps with no viewfinder blackout, alongside an autofocus system capable of making up to 60 tracking calculations every second. Of course, that isn’t the fastest the camera can shoot – its Single Burst Shooting’ Drive Mode can get up to 90fps!
The RX100 VII is also highly optimised for video, producing pristine 4K footage with full pixel readout. It can shoot in the S-Log3 gamma profile for a flat image, and produce super-slow-motion at up to 1000fps. Without a doubt, this is one of the most technologically advanced compact cameras ever made, able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with professional DSLRs and mirrorless machines.
Ricoh GR III Digital Camera
The Ricoh GR-III comes as a welcome addition to the Ricoh ecosystem. It features a large 24.24-megapixel sensor with a new powerful GR ENGINE 6. The compact system also has a wide-angle 18.3mm f2.8 lens which is capable of producing some stunning imagery. There have been some major improvements from the previous GR-II, including a faster autofocus system, shake reduction mechanism and a touch-operated LCD screen. This camera has a non-invasive design making it the perfect street and/or architectural photography camera.
Pro: Slips into a pocket
Pro: Superb prime lens
Con: Limited battery life
Con: Viewfinder is an optional extra
A chic, lightweight street-photography camera with a fixed prime lens and a large sensor. Effectively a more affordable version of the X100V, the Ricoh GR III is a fantastic take-everywhere camera.
While it doesn’t have a zoom lens, the Ricoh GR III is a svelte and sophisticated camera with lots of its own advantages. Its high-quality prime lens, which provides an equivalent focal length of 28mm, is a fantastic option for street shots and everyday moments when you’re facing the unpredictable. Plus, the 24.24MP APS-C sensor means the GR III produces high-quality images in all sorts of lighting conditions, with generous dynamic range.
A new firmware update in 2020 has further upgraded the Ricoh GR III’s performance, further enhancing it into the kind of capable, dependable street camera that travel photographers love. With a lightning fast start-up time of around 0.8secs, the GR III can be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, ensuring you’ll never miss the crucial moment, no matter where your travels take you. It’s also available as a special Ricoh GR III Street Edition, which has distinctive orange-yellow styling and includes a case and an extra battery.
When it comes to zoom lenses, sometimes bigger is better! Many compact cameras offer fabulous zoom lenses that bring the most distant subjects into sharp focus. They’re a good choice for the budget-conscious, as a good zoom compact is likely going to be much cheaper than a DSLR or mirrorless camera with an equivalent telephoto lens. Here, we pick some of the top compact cameras with powerful zoom lenses, for the times when you need to get in close.
Nikon Coolpix P950 Digital Camera
The COOLPIX P950 is another great addition to Nikon's line-up of bridge cameras that are a great companion for wildlife or bird photographers and aircraft spotters. This durable, superzoom camera offers an impressive 83x optical zoom and is a worthy upgrade to the COOLPIX P900, featuring sought-after functions. These include a bright f/2.8 NIKKOR lens; 4K video recording; RAW image capture and a full-size hot shoe for mounting of Nikon accessories. The COOLPIX P950 has everything you need to capture distant subjects with outstanding detail; whether it is a close-up photograph or a crystal-clear 4K video.
Pro: Incredible zoom range
Pro: Effective stabilisation system
Con: Older sensor
Con: Focus hunts at extreme telephoto
Sometimes, you just have to take a second to appreciate how far camera and lens technology has come. The Nikon Coolpix P950 is an incredible superzoom camera, with a lens that covers an equivalent focal range of 24-2000mm. That’s an 83x zoom! In practical terms, that’s enough to capture good-quality images of the craters on the moon.
Thanks to the effective stabilisation system built into the Nikon Coolpix P950, the extreme telephoto lens is also usable without a tripod. It has an excellent OLED electronic viewfinder as well, and a reassuringly sturdy DSLR-like build. Few other compact cameras can even come close to matching the long-range capabilities of the Nikon Coolpix P950. Even DSLRs and mirrorless cameras with their selections of zoom lenses will have trouble keeping up.
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ200 Digital Camera - Black
The Panasonic LUMIX TZ200 is aimed at photographers and videographers looking for a compact travel zoom with exceptional mobility and reach. Built around a 1.0"-type sensor, 15x optical zoom and 5-Axis Hybrid Optical Image Stabilisation (O.I.S.), the TZ200 is capable of capturing a plethora of subjects in detailed 20.1-megapixel stills and beautiful 4K video at 30p.
Pro: Useful 15x focal range
Pro: Great quality from 1-inch sensor
Con: Design slightly cramped
Con: Maximum aperture f/3.3-6.4
The Panasonic Lumix TZ200 is a superb travel zoom compact that’s stuffed with useful features. Panasonic has been refining its TZ range of travel compacts for years now, and the TZ200 is one of the best yet. It combines a 1.0-inch sensor with a 15x optical zoom lens, and also finds room for the Hybrid Optical Image Stabiliser (O.I.S) for easier hand-held shooting.
The slim profile of the camera (when the lens isn’t extended) makes it eminently pocketable, and the connectivity features mean it's easy to share and back up your images while out on your adventures. Having an Advanced Live Viewfinder with 2,330K dots of resolution also expands composition options and further cements this camera as one of the most advanced options around for the travelling photographer. Or videographer for that matter – shooting 4K at 30p, the TZ200 is no slouch in this department.
Another advantage of compact cameras is that they tend to be small and great for travel. Indeed, some are even small enough to slip into a jacket pocket and take everywhere with you! Having a small compact camera doesn't mean you have to compromise on quality, as we prove with our picks for the best small compact cameras. These can also be some of the best one-handed digital cameras, as they are naturally extremely lightweight.
Pro: Extremely small and pocketable
Pro: Good in low light
Con: No mic socket
Con: Slim battery life
Blending power with amazing portability, the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is the best compact pocket camera for low-light shooting
Why is it the best compact camera for low light? Well, the Canon G5 X Mark II boasts a lens with a generous maximum aperture – this one can go as wide as f/1.8 when its zoom is set to the wide end. The other half of this picture is the 20.1 megapixel 1.0-type stacked CMOS sensor, which is optimised to produce clean, high-quality images in all sorts of different situations.
With an ISO range of 125-12,800, the PowerShot G5 X Mark II gives the user a solid selection of sensitivity options to choose from. Also, if you’re planning on shooting video in low light, the 4K footage produced by the G5 X II looks fantastic.
Sony Cyber-shot WX350 Digital Camera - White
The Sony Cyber-Shot WX350 in white is a high-end digital compact camera with versatile 20x optical zoom lens, high image quality and advanced noise reduction technology. The back-illuminated Exmor CMOS sensor delivers beautiful 18.2 effective megapixel resolution, while the BIONZ X engine ensures 3x faster processing than the previous BIONZ processor and more detailed reproduction of high-quality images. In addition to the above, the Sony WX350 also features Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, Full HD movie recording, 4K still image output via HDMI socket, Picture Effect mode and 360 Intelligent Sweep Panorama.
Pro: Impressive image stabilisation
Pro: Battery lasts well
Con: Relatively small sensor
Con: No touchscreen
This is one of the cheaper compact cameras around right now, but it doesn’t skimp on quality. The Sony Cyber-shot WX350 is a fantastic machine for its price, pairing an 18.2MP Exmor CMOS sensor with a 20x optical zoom lens, and powering all this with a BIONZ X processor that makes the camera faster than ever. This means it boasts features like 10fps continuous shooting, 4K video, Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation and a handy Intelligent Sweep Panorama 360 for making striking panoramic shots.
Compact and lightweight, decked out in stylish black (though white is available), the Sony Cyber-shot WX350 is an absolute bargain for its price. Whether you’re a beginning shooter or just someone who wants a cheap and reliable compact camera for your existing setup, this is a great choice to pick up for a low, low price.
If you want to shoot in high-quality 4K video then you’re in luck. The latest compact camera releases are pretty much all equipped with sophisticated 4K video capabilities. Compact cameras can be a great choice for one-man-band filmmakers or content creators, as they’re highly portable and easy to use. Many will have great autofocus, solid dynamic range, and useful zoom lenses that provide your filmmaking with real versatility.
Sony Vlog ZV-1 Digital Camera
Designed for modern vloggers or anyone looking for a simple, all-in-one solution for content creation, the Sony Vlog ZV-1 provides professional image quality in a pocket-sized body. The camera is powered by a 1.0-type stacked Exmor RS CMOS image sensor with integral DRAM, enabling a variety of serious video capabilities, including 4K and Super Slow Motion. As of February 2021, a new software update has become available for you to use the ZV-1 camera as a high-quality video and audio camera. As well as this, you can now live stream from your ZV-1 via a simple USB cable connection. Start by connecting your camera with UVC/UAC over a USB cable to a PC, giving you access to live streaming and online communication. Alternatively, connect your ZV-1 to a Sony Xperia smartphone for on-the-go live streaming - Xperia 1 II or Xperia 5 II upgraded to Android 11.
Pro: Optimised for vlogging
Pro: Autofocus is excellent
Con: Limited zoom range
Con: Very video-oriented
While many compact cameras offer video as a handy extra, the Sony ZV-1 is very much centred around it. It’s a vlogging camera first and foremost, designed around a combination of a 20MP 1-inch sensor and 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Its ergonomics are optimised for vloggers, and it comes with a useful wind-shield for its on-board microphone.
While the ZV-1 does shoot stills, there are definitely better choices out there at the same price point for pure stills shooters. The 4K UHD video looks fantastic – beautifully crisp – and the handling is generally very good, with a useful touchscreen. Autofocus is exceptional on the ZV-1 as well.
If you’re looking for a take-anywhere camera, something considerably smaller than a DSLR but still feature-packed, a compact camera could well be for you. Compacts come in a range of capabilities: some specialise in toughness; some have super-zoom lenses that can get you extremely close to your subjects; others are just good all-rounders.
As with all styles of camera on the market these days, there are almost too many different options to choose from – a process that can be easier said than done.
Let’s start by explaining what we mean when we talk about compact cameras…
What is a compact camera?
When we refer to a compact camera, all we mean is it’s a camera with a fixed lens that can’t be changed. This might be a zoom lens that covers a specific range, or it might be a prime lens that’s been built with a focus on maximising optical quality.
The fixed-lens nature of a compact camera has its advantages and its drawbacks. Compacts are extremely convenient and come with everything you need to start shooting the moment you take them out of the box. They also tend to be more affordable – a compact camera with a lens that covers, say, a range of 24-70mm, will likely be cheaper than an interchangeable lens camera and an equivalent zoom lens.
The drawbacks, as you might have guessed, come in terms of versatility. There’s no adding teleconverters or anything like that to a compact camera – the maximum zoom length and minimum aperture written on the box are the maximum and minimum you’re ever going to get. This is why it pays to thoroughly do your research when buying a compact camera, and make sure you’re getting something that’ll be able to do everything you need it to.
Compact camera sensor sizes
Whenever you see cameras discussed, you’ll likely see mention of sensor size, and compacts are no exception. Different cameras have different-sized sensors, and it’s worth being familiar with what you’re getting before buying anything.
So what’s the difference between a smaller sensor and a larger one? Well, larger sensors provide more physical surface area for the pixels to reside on them, which means they can be larger. This is very technical, but the upshot is that it allows for images with greater dynamic range – i.e. more distinction between light and shadow. It also lessens the noise (unwanted artifacts) in an image, making higher ISOs more usable, and the camera therefore performs better in low light.
Professionals will pretty much always use cameras with larger sensors. Smaller sensors can have advantages for newer or more casual shooters however, not least because smaller-sensor cameras tend to be cheaper. A smaller sensor also allows for the body of the camera as a whole to be smaller, meaning small-sensor cameras can be better for travel.
Below we’ll run through the main sensor sizes you’ll encounter when shopping for compact cameras, from smallest to largest.
This is generally the smallest sensor type you’ll find in consumer compact cameras – it’s not dissimilar from the sort of sensor found in many smartphones. Cheaper compact cameras such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX350 tend to have sensor of this size.
1-inch (or 1.0-type)
This is a very common sensor size for beginner and mid-range compact cameras. It strikes a great balance between image quality and affordability, providing a notable step-up from 1/2.3” sensors. It’s a very versatile sensor size, appearing in affordable cameras like the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II and premium models like the Sony RX100 VII
This is a good sensor size for enthusiasts and serious amateurs. Premium compacts like the Fujifilm X100 series have APS-C sensors, and they provide some of the finest image quality out there. If you’re a serious photographer who wants to use a compact, this is probably the sensor size you will settle on.
This is the sensor size found in professional DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It isn’t too common in compact cameras; Leica is currently the only real game in town when it comes to full-frame compacts, and its models are not for casual or novice users.
The Top Compact Camera Brands
These are the top brands of compact camera that it’s worth looking out for. Each offers a different slate of models catering to different users. Here we run through the basics “need-to-knows” of each one.
As well as being a leader in the worlds of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, Canon has a pretty credible slate of compact cameras. Its models tend to be general-purpose rather than specialised, with 1-inch sensors or occasionally APS-C. If you want a compact to do a bit of everything, a Canon model is a good choice.
Sony offers some of the most popular compact cameras in the business. Its RX100 range of premium, small-body compact cameras has been so successful that it’s now on its seventh iteration, and most of the older models are kept in production, making them great if you’re trying to save some cash. If you’re planning to shoot 4K video, Sony compacts are an excellent choice.
These days, Nikon’s slate of compact cameras tends to be pretty specialised. The firm makes big, rugged cameras with enormous zoom lenses – the bigger the better. There are a few waterproof cameras with modest zoom range, but the stars of the show are camera like the Nikon CoolPix P950, which boasts a whopping 83x optical zoom.
Fujifilm compacts are all about style, inside and out. Its X100 compact cameras are known for looking great and taking sublime pictures thanks to their sophisticated APS-C sensors and high-quality 35mm-equivalent prime lenses.
The Panasonic Lumix range of compact cameras is extensive, and known for blending portability with superb 4K capabilities. If you’re looking for a good travel camera, or a dependable video shooter that won’t cost the earth, it’s definitely worth browsing the Panasonic range.
The name is legendary in photographic circles. Leica’s digital cameras, and particularly its compacts, are designed to offer a classic, impossible-to-replicate shooting experience. They’re premium models designed for users who will accept nothing but the ultimate in quality.
The Best Accessories for Compact Cameras
Compact cameras are generally designed to be self-contained packages. However, there are some accessories that can really help take your photography or videography with a compact camera to the next level.
There are plenty of common accessories photographers use that simply won’t work with compact cameras, unless the manufacturer happens to make a specialised version for that specific model. Filters are a big one – compact camera lenses tend to be too small to take advantage of standard filter threads, so there’s no using ND or polarising filters for landscape shooting. Teleconverters also aren’t compatible with compacts, as the lenses on compacts can’t be removed to accommodate them.
There are plenty of accessories that are useful for compacts, however. Below, we’ll list some of the most popular and useful accessories for compact cameras.
A tripod is a fantastic accessory for any photographer or videographer. Being able to lock off your camera and shoot with total steadiness is a boon in all genres, and opens up all sorts of shooting techniques that aren’t really possible hand-held.
Long exposures, panoramas, time-lapse – all these are made significantly easier by the addition of a tripod to your kit bag.
If you want some more stability but don’t want the bulk of a tripod, a monopod is a very good halfway house. While you can’t set up and leave a camera on a monopod for long periods, it does give you that little extra solidity by letting you rest your camera on the ground with only a hand for support, enabling the use of slower shutter speeds.
As compact cameras tend to be small, and don’t require you to cart around multiple lenses, they’re a good choice for a small pouch or holster. This type of bag is much less bulky than a backpack or a rolling case, and is great for travelling light.
The best way to ensure you don’t drop or lose your camera is with a good camera strap. Compact cameras can often be good choices for a wrist or neck strap, as they won’t weigh you down as much as other models.
One for the video shooters – an external microphone is the best way to improve the sound quality of your videos. This is a vital step to take for improving production value. One important thing to check, though, is that your compact camera has a 3.5mm mic input. Not all of them do!
There’s no point in shooting all those fantastic images and videos if you don’t have anywhere to store them! Different compact cameras will be compatible with different memory cards so it’s always worth checking, though it’s likely that a standard SD card will do the job just fine.
Not sure about some of the technical terminology? Here we explain a few of the common terms you’ll run into when shopping for the best rated compact cameras.
A term that’s somewhat falling out of use, bridge camera used to refer to DSLR-styled compacts that used big zooms. The idea was that they crossed the gap between DSLRs and compacts – “bridged” the divide between these types. These days, compact cameras occupy more of their own niche, though Nikon’s superzoom cameras like the CoolPix P950 are very much examples of what would have been considered a bridge camera.
Electronic viewfinder (EVF)
More and more common on compacts these days, electronic viewfinders are small eyepieces that simulate the optical viewfinders found on DSLRs. They’re essentially a little LCD screen that lets you compose at eye-level. Once laggy and low-quality, these days EVFs are responsive and sharp.
Equivalent focal length
You may see a lens on a compact camera described as having an “equivalent” focal length of 35mm, 24-70mm or whatever else. What does this mean? Well, lenses behave differently depending on the size of the sensor – a smaller sensor will cause a lens to behave as though it has a longer focal length.
Lenses are described with their focal lengths in terms of how they behave when paired with a full-frame sensor. So, a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera will behave like a 50mm sensor. On an APS-C sensor, however, it’ll behave like a 75mm lens, as the smaller surface area effectively zooms the image in. In this case, the lens would be described as a 75mm equivalent.
For a real-world example, let’s look at the Fujifilm X100V. This camera has a lens on its front that is optically a 23mm wide-angle. However, the camera has an APS-C sensor. So this means that the lens on the front will behave in all respects like a 35mm – it is, for all intents and purposes, a 35mm equivalent.
Frames per second (FPS)
How many images per second a camera can continuously burst shoot. The higher the frames per second, the better a camera is at capturing fast action. Bear in mind that cameras generally aren’t capable of burst-shooting indefinitely – generally there is a maximum number of continuous frames that can be captured before the camera needs a cooling-off period. This is referred to as the “buffer”.
This is an in-camera system that compensates for unwanted movement when shooting. It reduces blur in an image and allows for slower shutter speeds to be used when shooting hand-held. Different camera systems use different terms for their stabilisation systems, but it all ultimately does the same thing.
The monitor on the rear of the camera, the LCD screen allows you to review images in playback mode or compose them in live view. Newer LCD screens tend to be tilting or fully articulated, providing more flexibility with your shooting angle, and many have touchscreen functionality.
One of the main advantages of cameras over smartphones is that they can use optical zoom rather than digital. What’s the difference? An optical zoom is achieved with actual optics – the glass elements of a lens – while a digital zoom is essentially just cropping into an image. So, an optical zoom can maintain roughly the same level of image quality, while a digital zoom can’t.
RAW and JPEG files
These are the most common types of image file used by photographers, and pretty much all contemporary digital cameras will be able to shoot both. JPEG is a highly versatile file type that can be viewed pretty much anywhere – most images you see online are JPEGs.
RAW files require special software to be viewed and aren’t for showing to others. So what’s the advantage? Well, RAW files retain all of the information recorded by the camera on the moment of capture, and this allows for incredible freedom with editing and post-processing. You can completely change pretty much all aspects of a RAW file, including exposure and white balance. They take more time to process, but for versatility they can’t be beat. Not all compact cameras shoot RAW, so if you want to shoot in this format make sure to check before you buy.
Q: What is a good compact camera for low light?
A: To perform well in low light, a compact camera needs to be able to shoot at high ISO settings, and have a lens with a large maximum aperture. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX15 and Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II are both great candidates in this regard.
Q: Which is the best Panasonic Lumix compact camera?
A: Panasonic Lumix has a great range of compact cameras, and the best one depends on your needs! For a quick answer though, we’d say: for travel and affordability, try the Lumix TZ90. For long zoom range and quality, try the Lumix FZ1000 II. And for doing a bit of everything, try the Lumix LX15.
Q: What is the best compact camera with a viewfinder?
A: You can head up to our buying guide to find out more of what we think of compact cameras with viewfinders. One of our favourites is the Fujifilm X100V, which sports a superb hybrid viewfinder that offers responsiveness and quality.
Q: What is the best compact camera for travel?
Q: Which compact camera has the best zoom lens?
A: In terms of sheer range, the compact cameras with the best zoom lenses tend to be powerful superzooms like the CoolPix P1000 and CoolPix P950. This also makes them great choices of compact cameras for wildlife photography.
Here are a few more expert buying guides and product round-ups
How did we decide?Our in-house photography experts, store staff and partners all work collaboratively to poor over these guides. The cameras and equipment recommended in our guides are based on their personal opinion, empirical experience and of course, feedback from our customers.
We way up price, features, quality and the all-important 'je ne sais quoi' to make sure we recommend products that will delight and inspire.
If you would like more advice on any purchase our contact centre staff are here to help. Alternatively, you can reach us via email or social media.
And don't forget. If you were to purchase anything based on our recommendations you'll be covered by our full returns policy.
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About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience on a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.