Best Compact Cameras | 2023

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This guide is your one-stop shop for the best compact cameras you can buy right now – no matter your skill level or your budget. While interchangeable-lens cameras may hog the limelight, and smartphones may have a monopoly on convenience, for many photographers and videographers there is something special about the compact camera that they just can’t get anywhere else. And these days, compact cameras are far more sophisticated than they used to be, boasting high-resolution sensors, tack-sharp lenses and powerful processors.

But what do we mean by a “compact camera”, anyway? The term has nothing to do with size – a “compact camera” is defined as a camera that has a lens fixed to it, as opposed to mirrorless and DSLR cameras, which have lens mounts that allow lenses to be swapped out as the user pleases. If the technical terminology is all new to you, check out our photography jargon buster where we explain all this and more. 

This definition allows for a lot of wiggle room. As you’ll see in this guide, compact cameras can and do look very different from one another. Some have a DSLR-style form factor, with a chunky handgrip and a powerful zoom lens. Others are slim and pocketable, using smaller prime lenses that can’t zoom in and out, but make up for it with dazzling sharpness. Some compact cameras have viewfinders; some don’t. Some have larger sensors than others, allowing them to create images with superior dynamic range and depth of tonality.

Finding the best compact camera for you is just about sussing out what you need and squaring that against your budget. The nice thing about compacts is that you don’t have to worry about holding cash back for lenses – everything you need to start shooting will be there in the box. We’ve included what we reckon are the best compact cameras you can buy, but we’ve been sure to add options for all budgets – which means we’ve got both new cameras, and models that have stood the test of time. So, let’s get into it.

Best Compact Cameras With a Viewfinder

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!

When manufacturers are looking to cut down on the size and price of a compact camera, often one of the first things they do is remove the viewfinder. This makes perfect sense – in the age of articulating LCD screens and lightning-fast Live View, many photographers, and particularly videographers, don’t use the viewfinder at all. However, some shooters simply can’t live without the immediacy of a viewfinder pressed up to their eye when shooting.

This section is for you guys. The compact cameras in this section all have fantastic electronic or hybrid viewfinders, with loads of resolution and rapid refresh rates. For immersing yourself in the moment of capturing the shot, there’s nothing better. And don’t worry – all these cameras shoot fantastic images, too, and with fast autofocus and generous sensor resolution, you can be confident that the images will look as good in a print as they do in the viewfinder.

Fujifilm X100V Digital Camera - Black

£1,349.00 View

Pros: 

  • Stylish, fun to use
  • Fantastic JPEG output
  • High-quality, hybrid viewfinder

Cons: 

  • Fixed focal length
  • 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 has been inherited from Fujifilm’s mirrorless X-Pro3. It’s bigger than any viewfinder on a previous X100 camera, and the reason it’s called “hybrid” is because it uses optical elements with an OLED panel to digitally overlay shooting information like focus and exposure. The best of both worlds!

Ultimately, 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.

Panasonic LUMIX DC-FZ1000 II Digital Camera

£749.00 View

Pros:

  • Effective 5-axis stabilisation
  • USB charging
  • Deep, comfortable handgrip

Cons:

  • Contrast-detect autofocus slower than rivals
  • Prolonged viewfinder use drains battery faster

Panasonic’s “FZ” compacts are big, hefty bridge cameras that give the user a large zoom range for all-purpose shooting, and the Lumix FZ1000 II is one of our favourites. The equivalent zoom range of 25-400mm is paired with a high-quality 1-inch sensor boasting 20MP of resolution, meaning you can get great-looking images in the vast majority of shooting situations.

The viewfinder on the FZ1000 II is a high-resolution OLED model that provides excellent clarity and an intuitive shooting experience. One thing to be aware of is that the battery drains faster when you’re using the viewfinder as opposed to the tilting LCD screen – however, Panasonic has thoughtfully added USB charging to this camera. That means you can bring a generic power bank along to your shoots, and easily top the camera up when you’re not using it. 

An effective 5-axis stabilisation system built into the FZ1000 II allows for the use of slower shutter speeds handheld – useful when the light gets low. All in all, this is a highly versatile compact camera, with an excellent viewfinder.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Mark VA Digital Camera

£799.00 View

Pros:

  • Wide-aperture lens for low light
  • Exceptionally fast autofocus 
  • Pocketable dimensions

Cons:

  • Screen not touch-sensitive
  • Menus can be fiddly

Sony’s RX100 line of compacts is now on its seventh iteration (which you’ll meet further down this list), but the cameras have proved so popular that plenty of them have remained in production even as new ones have come along. Some have even had mild refreshes of their own, as is the case with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Mark VA, a small but welcome update to the original RX100 Mark V.

You get a winning combination of a high-quality 20.1MP 1"-type stacked CMOS sensor together with a 24-70mm equivalent lens that boasts an f1.8-2.8 maximum aperture. Rare for a compact, an aperture this wide gives the user extra flexibility when light levels start to drop, and the fact that it’s Zeiss-made means you can be assured of its sharpness.

And let’s not forget the viewfinder! The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Mark VA sports a pop-up electronic viewfinder, and thanks to the upgraded processor of this “Mark VA” version, it’s faster and more responsive than ever.

Best Full Frame Compact Cameras

Compact cameras tend to have sensors in smaller sizes than interchangeable-lens cameras – 1-inch and 1/2.3-inch sensors are most common, with premium compacts generally sporting larger APS-C sensors. However, some compacts at the highest end have full-frame sensors, and in terms of image quality, they are unrivalled.

Why might you want a full-frame sensor? Well, these physically larger imaging sensors are able to have larger photosites, which means it’s possible to cram more pixels onto the sensor without incurring image noise, especially at high ISOs. This makes full-frame cameras able to produce images of greater dynamic range, and means they are more capable of producing useable images in low light. Full frame cameras can also produce images with a narrower depth of field, making them particularly good for portraiture, where you want a nice sharp main subject against an aesthetically blurred background.

Full-frame compact cameras are not common, but you do have options. Here are our favourites.

Leica Q2 Digital Camera

£4,920.00 View

Pros: 

  • Fantastic image quality and RAW performance
  • Sublime user experience

Cons: 

  • No in-camera RAW conversion
  • 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 full-frame 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. The beautifully rich and detailed images from the Leica Q2 are in themselves a tremendous argument for why full-frame sensors are so perfect for photography.

Zeiss ZX1 Digital Camera

£5,399.00 View

Pros:

  • Superb Zeiss lens captures tons of detail
  • Loads of storage on internal SSD
  • Adobe Lightroom built into the camera

Cons:

  • No control buttons on rear (screen only)
  • Processing in-camera can be long and fiddly

The Zeiss ZX1 is a delightfully unusual camera, and certainly sticks out on this list. It’s a compact camera that’s similar in form factor to the Leica Q2, in that it’s pairing a high-end full-frame sensor with an ultra-sharp prime lens that’s perfect for capturing tons of detail. As such, as you might expect, image quality from the Zeiss ZX1 is absolutely sublime, rich and full of vibrant detail.

However, what sets the camera apart is everything else that makes up the package. Look at its rear side and you’ll be surprised to note there are no buttons – everything is controlled via the responsive touchscreen. While this won’t be for everyone, it can make for a delightfully modern-feeling control experience. And what’s more, a version of Adobe Lightroom has been built into the camera’s software – meaning you can edit photos on the go, no subscription required. There’s also a built-in solid-state drive with an amazing 512GB of storage for all your shots.

Leica Q2 Monochrom Digital Camera

£5,050.00 View

Pros:

  • Unparalleled monochrome image quality
  • Beautiful build quality
  • Exceptional f1.7 lens

Cons:

  • Limited video usefulness
  • Rear screen is fixed

The Leica Q2 Monochrom is definitely not a camera for everyone. It’s essentially the same build and sensor/lens combination as the original Leica Q, except with one crucial difference – it has no colour filter array. That’s right, the Leica Q2 Monochrom, as the name implies, is only capable of capturing images in glorious, classically cool black and white.

And good lord do they look fantastic. The winningly sharp f1.7 Summilux lens delivers absolute crystal-clear quality from corner to corner, and the large full-frame sensor ensures tip-top dynamic range and tonality. It’s a camera for delivering a pure photographic experience, of losing yourself in the moment and being transported back to a simpler way of thinking. That’s not to say that the Q2 Monochrom doesn’t manage to fit in a few modern conveniences. It can hit a maximum ISO setting of 100,000 and still produce useable images, and it has an effective stabilisation system. It can even shoot 4K video!

Best Compact Cameras for Image Quality

Compact cameras used to be synonymous with cheapness and poor-quality imagery – but this is no longer the case. These days, as we’ve already seen, compact cameras are capable of capturing stunning imagery in all sorts of shooting situations, even when handling low-light or fast action. 

Opting for the convenience of a compact camera no longer means severely compromising image quality, as the models we’ve selected for this section demonstrate. With top-quality sensors, ultra-sharp lenses and advanced processing systems, these compact cameras are capable of producing image quality to a professional standard, no matter what you want to photograph. Any of the full-frame cameras we included in the previous section could have fit in here too, but those high-ticket shooters sit at the top end of the market. Here, we’ve gone for cameras accessible to more users, with different budgets and shooting needs. 

Sony Cyber-Shot RX10 IV Digital Camera

£200 Cashback

£1,499.00 View

Pros:

  • High lens quality throughout zoom range
  • Pin-sharp close-up modes
  • Incredible 0.03sec AF acquisition time

Cons:

  • Bulky for a compact

The raison d'être of Sony’s RX10 series, ever since the first iteration in 2014, has been to challenge the idea that a superzoom camera needs to have sub-par image quality. The Sony Cyber-Shot RX10 IV continues in that fine tradition, pairing a fixed Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24-600mm lens with a 20.1MP 1-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor. It’s arguably unrivalled in the world of compact cameras for its ability to nail pretty much any shot you can think of – this is helped along by some of the fastest autofocus in the business, with focus acquisition times as quick as 0.03sec. 

All this technology – digital and optical – requires some physical space, and the Sony RX10 IV is pretty chunky and hefty for a compact camera. Still, it’s a camera you could happily use for a lifetime of shoots and rarely find there’s something it can’t capture in dazzlingly high quality. And who can argue with that?

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III Digital Camera

£1,139.00 View

Pros: 

  • Sensor delivers great quality
  • Superior viewfinder

Cons: 

  • Battery could be better
  • 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 f2.8-5.6 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.

Ricoh GR III Digital Camera

£949.00 View

Pros: 

  • Slips into a pocket
  • Superb prime lens

Cons: 

  • Limited battery life
  • 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 firmware update in 2020 further upgraded the Ricoh GR III’s performance, 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. And, if you prefer a longer focal length, there’s the Ricoh GR IIIx, which is essentially identical except that it uses a 40mm equivalent lens rather than a 28mm. 

Best Compact Cameras With a Zoom

The fixed lens of a compact camera doesn't have to mean you’re stuck with a single perspective! Many compact cameras boast powerful zoom lenses that can capture high-quality images at a huge range of focal lengths. And “zoom” doesn’t have to mean “superzoom”, as there are plenty of compact cameras with zoom lenses that cover a more modest focal range, but do it with superior optical quality. As with any camera decision, it’s all about figuring out what best suits you and your image-making.

The compact cameras with a zoom we’ve picked for this section are a mixture of big-zoom bridge cameras and smaller zoom compacts that are perfect for travel. Which type is best for you depends largely on how much weight you’re up for carrying around all day, as well as how long a zoom you realistically need.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2000 Digital Camera

£899.00 View

Pros:

  • 20x optical zoom
  • Can shoot macro at 3cm
  • Impressive high-spec video modes

Cons:

  • May not be worth it for stills purists
  • Relatively heavy

Panasonic has always excelled at blending stills and video features to create dazzling hybrid cameras, and the Lumix DMC-FZ2000 is no exception. This is an outstanding compact camera, similar in a lot of ways to Sony’s RZ10 series, combining a big zoom lens with a high-quality 1-inch MOS sensor. However, the FZ2000 also throws in a lot of high-spec video features inherited from Panasonic’s GH series – it shoots Cinema and UHD 4K, and through its HDMI port it can output 4:2:2 10-bit video.

All this video tech means that those who are interested in photography only can probably get better value for money from one of the other cameras on this list. However, the FZ2000 has clearly been designed to be a credible compact camera for filmmakers, and that means its 24-480mm equivalent Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens is one of the best in class.

Nikon Coolpix P950 Digital Camera

£849.00 View

Pros: 

  • Incredible zoom range
  • Effective stabilisation system

Cons: 

  • Older sensor
  • 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. 

Best Pocket-Sized Compact Cameras

 

Portability is one of the greatest strengths of compacts, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t pick out the best pocket-sized compact cameras. We’re saying goodbye to enormous bridge cameras with their chunky zooms and DSLR-style bodies – the cameras in this section are ones to slip into a pocket or small bag and take everywhere with you. 

As you might imagine, pocket-sized compacts are ideal for travel. This means a zoom lens can be useful, to give yourself maximum flexibility, and it can also be a bonus to have a tough and waterproof camera body that’s capable of standing up to the elements. With smaller compacts you do have to accept a few compromises – they often have quite short battery life, so it’s a good idea to pack a few spares and an extra charger or two. 

But as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you – so here are some cameras you can always have with you.

Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera - Red

£399.00 View

Pros:

  • Incredibly tough, waterproof body
  • Capable f2 zoom lens
  • Specialist underwater shooting modes

Cons:

  • Smaller sensor impacts image quality

There are a few different waterproof tough compacts that could have earned a place on this list. However, our pick goes to the Olympus Tough TG-6, one of the finest waterproof cameras ever made, and perfect for beach holidays, snorkelling, extreme sports and more. 

The key MVP of the Tough TG-6, and why it sticks out in the tough compact market, is its high-quality 25-100mm equivalent 4x optical zoom lens. This provides a level of compositional flexibility that’s rare in a waterproof camera, and the a maximum aperture of f2 also allows you to shoot for longer when the light gets low – and improves visibility in dark underwater conditions. Olympus has also helpfully included dedicated Underwater modes, which optimise the camera’s settings for various aquatic conditions. One of our favourite functions though is the Variable Macro System, which enables high-quality close-ups at subject distances as short as just 1cm!

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II Digital Camera

Save £100 with code CANG5X100

£849.00 View

Pros: 

  • Extremely small and pocketable
  • Good in low light

Cons: 

  • No mic socket
  • Slim battery life

It may be incredibly slim and portable, but the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II has got imaging tech where it counts. Its 5x zoom lens has a maximum aperture of f1.8-2.8, which is fantastic for low light, and the burst mode can rattle off RAW images at 30fps for capturing ultra-fast action. This is in part thanks to the design of its 20.1MP 1-inch sensor, which is a stacked type for increased readout speeds.

The G5 X Mark II is also highly capable for video. It can shoot great-looking 4K, but it’s also worth noting that if you drop the resolution down to Full HD, it can shoot at a maximum frame rate of 120p – great for slow motion. There’s no mic socket, meaning you’ll need to rely on built-in mics, and it’s probably worth packing a spare battery and charger, but otherwise, this is a fantastic pocket-sized compact.

Canon PowerShot Zoom Essential Kit - White

£289.00 View

Pros:

  • Amazingly small – just 145g!
  • Powerful zoom optics
  • Quick USB charging

Cons:

  • No LCD screen
  • Not compatible with standard 5V chargers

It may not look much like a camera at all at first glance, but the Canon PowerShot Zoom is an impressive little compact with powerful optical capabilities. It counts among its fans the naturalist Chris Packham, and indeed, it’s a great choice for bird-watching, especially with family. The diminutive design and simple operation mean it's easy for a child to get to grips with, while the bright and clear electronic viewfinder makes for a pleasing viewing experience.

The zoom works in a three-stage system, toggling between 100mm, 400mm and 800mm settings (the last one is aided by digital zoom). The camera can capture 12.1MP stills or Full HD video, and has built-in mics to capture the ambient audio as well. A 4-axis optical stabiliser also helps keep the view steady when using the longer zoom settings. For walks in the woods and family outings, the Canon PowerShot Zoom is a great choice.

Best 4K Compact Cameras

Compact cameras have come into their own as tools for vlogging and YouTube video creators. As 4K video has been adopted across the board, to the point where it’s expected as a minimum on practically any new camera that comes out, video shooters who want an agile setup that’s as capable for locked-off pieces to camera as it is for run-and-gun shoots.

That’s where the best 4K compact cameras come into their own. Flexible and capable, these video shooters have quality where it counts, delivering a suite of flexible video options, with the capacity to add extra accessories such as an external microphone. While the majority of the compact cameras on our list already do shoot 4K, here we’ve picked a few suggestions that are truly optimised for video creators. With capable video AF, articulating screens and exceptional 4K quality, these compact cameras are ideal for any budding YouTuber or vlogger to get out there and get shooting. 

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III Digital Camera - Black

Save £50, Was £749

£699.00 View

Pros:

  • Crisp 4K quality
  • Handy 3.5m mic input
  • Live streaming option

Cons:

  • 4.2x zoom range is a little short

Canon’s first two PowerShot G7 X cameras proved to be a hit with YouTubers, and so the Mark II version leant into it. The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III is not just capable of producing crisp 4K and stunning Full HD (though it most assuredly is), it also has live YouTube streaming support built in. This makes it a hugely compelling option for the contemporary video creator.

Of course, the imaging basics haven’t been forgotten. The G7 X Mark III pairs a new 20.1MP stacked CMOS sensor and an upgraded DIGIC 8 processor, and also adds in plenty of useful extra features like the option for vertical video capture, a built-in ND filter, a 30 fps Raw burst mode and more. It’s actually quite a substantial upgrade over the Mark II version, even if the cameras look outwardly similar. For any video creator looking for something portable and capable, it’s an outstanding option. 

Sony Vlog ZV-1 Digital Camera

£667.00 View

Pros: 

  • Optimised for vlogging
  • Autofocus is excellent

Cons:

  • Limited zoom range
  • 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 f1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Its ergonomics are optimised for vloggers, and it comes with a useful wind shield for its onboard 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.

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Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 VII Digital Camera

£1,049.00 View

Pros: 

  • Class-leading image quality
  • Autofocus is superb

Cons: 

  • Very small – can be fiddly
  • Aperture tops out at f2.8

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 f2.8-4.5 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 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.

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Compact Camera Buying Guide

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.

1/2.3"

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

APS-C

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.

Full-frame

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.

Canon

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.

View our full range of Canon mirrorless cameras »

Sony

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.

View our full range of Sony mirrorless cameras »

Nikon

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.

View our full range of Nikon mirrorless cameras »

FujiFilm

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.

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Panasonic

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.

View our full range of Panasonic mirrorless cameras »

Leica

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.

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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.

Tripod

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.

Monopod

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.

Camera bag

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.

Camera strap

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.

External microphone

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!

Memory card

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.


What the Words Mean

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.

Bridge camera

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”.

Image stabilisation

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.

LCD screen

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.

Optical/digital zoom

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.

FAQs

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?

A: There are loads of great travel compacts, but the Panasonic Lumix TZ range is deservedly one of the most popular. The Lumix TZ90 and Lumix TZ200 are fantastic travel cameras. 

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.