10 best compact cameras in 2016
The term’ compact camera’ used to mean cameras small enough to fit in a pocket, but the definition has grown a lot bigger (as have a lot of the cameras).
These days, a ‘compact camera’ is taken to mean one that doesn’t take interchangeable lenses. It can mean a camera which is actually small enough to put in your pocket, but it can also include big, DSLR-style bridge cameras, and powerful, high-end cameras for enthusiasts.
So we’ve rounded up our ten favorite compact cameras of all types. There are cameras here for every type of user, from novice to expert, and for every price point. We rate them not just for their picture quality or photographic features, but also their value for money, design and usability.
If you need a bit more help figuring out what kind of camera you need, then read this article: What camera should I buy?
Or if you already know what kind of camera you want, then check out our more specific compact camera guides:
Otherwise, keep reading to find out which are the best compact cameras on the market right now, and why.
1. Panasonic LX100
A compact masterpiece, with a big sensor, classic controls and a viewfinder
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds, 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots | Viewfinder: Yes | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Big sensor, small body Traditional controls Prone to lens flare Modest resolution
Keen photographers usually go for a DSLR or a compact system camera, but they also want something that will slip in a pocket for those days when the big camera needs to stay at home. Usually, that means putting up with a smaller sensor – but not this time. Somehow, Panasonic has shoehorned a CSC-sized Micro Four Thirds sensor into a compact camera body. Not only that, it’s added an aperture ring on the lens, a shutter speed dial on the top AND an electronic viewfinder. It has a specially-designed super-compact wide-aperture lens and it can shoot 4K too. The LX100 was expensive when it was launched, but the price has fallen steadily, and this is still an amazing and unique camera.
2. Canon PowerShot G5 X
Canon’s big-sensor high-end compact combines power and value
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.2Mp | Lens: 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 1,040K dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting: 5.9fps | Movies: 1080p | User level: Intermediate/expert
Big-sensor image quality External controls A tad big for a trouser pocket Random Creative Shot effects
The arrival of new 1-inch sensors has transformed the high-end compact camera market, allowing makers to get closer to DSLR quality but still keep the cameras small. The Canon G5 X is a brilliant example – it might look like a DSLR (it has an electronic viewfinder), but it’s a lot smaller. The image quality is great, the external controls will be popular with enthusiasts and the lens has a good maximum aperture across its zoom range, which is great for low-light photography and blurring backgrounds.
3. Panasonic FZ1000
The FZ1000 combines a bridge camera zoom with a big 1-inch sensor
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1 megapixels | Lens: 25-400mm, f/2.8-4 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 921K dots |Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
1-inch sensorWide maximum apertureComparatively largeScreen not touch-sensitive
This trend towards bigger sensors shows up in the Panasonic FZ1000 too. Bridge cameras are very popular because they offer a colossal zoom range at a modest cost. To design a big zoom, though, the makers have to use a tiny sensor – and here Panasonic took the wise choice to sacrifice zoom range for better quality. Like the Canon G5 X, the Panasonic FZ1000 uses a 1-inch sensor, and while the zoom tops out at 400mm equivalent, which is relatively short for a bridge camera, that’s still plenty for all but the most extreme everyday use. We love the FZ1000 because it delivers both image quality and zoom range – and the price is pretty competitive now too.
4. Sony RX10
Hard to categorise and easily overlooked, the RX10 has a brilliant lens and a big sensor
Sensor: 1-inch CMOS, 20.2MP | Lens: 24-200mm, f/2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1440K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Intermediate/Expert
Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture1-inch sensorShort zoom range for a bridge cameraExpensive
We like the Sony RX10 for the same reason we love the Panasonic FZ1000 – it combines a big zoom range with a bigger-than-usual sensor. DSLR and mirrorless camera owners might sneer at a 1-inch sensor, but it’s much bigger than the sensors used in regular compact cameras and bridge cameras and this has a big impact on picture quality. The problem for the RX10 is that its 8.3x zoom range is too short for it to be considered a ‘bridge’ camera so people don’t know how to categorize it. But that 24-200mm lens is remarkable – its constant f/2.8 maximum aperture is unheard of in a compact camera with this kind of zoom range. And yes, we know there is a RX10 II out now, but it adds high-speed tech which makes it a LOT more expensive. While you can still get it, the original RX10 is our top tip.
5. Sony RX100 IV
Sony’s super-high speed sensor tech is brilliant but pricey
Sensor: 1-inch, 20Mp | Lens: 24-80mm f/1.8-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1,229K dots | Viewfinder: Electronic | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
High-speed shooting and 4K Compact design The tech makes it expensive Only a 3x zoom range
Sony uses this new 1-inch sensor size again in its highly popular RX100 camera series. These are powerful but highly pocketable cameras with the controls and image quality demanded by enthusiasts. The RX100 IV goes a step further, though, with a new ‘stacked’ sensor design for high-speed data capture. This means it can shoot 4K video, amazing 40x slow motion and 16fps in continuous burst mode. Unfortunately, this does impact on the price, which is why the RX100 IV isn’t higher up our list.
6. Panasonic TZ70/ZS50
If you need a big zoom without the big budget, you need a travel camera
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 12.1 | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1040K dots |Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic/Intermediate
30x zoom rangeManual control and raw filesQuality limited by sensor sizeNo touchscreen
Big-sensor bridge cameras are all well and good, but they’re hardly pocket-sized. And while a high-end compact gives you great picture quality and professional controls, you don’t get much of a zoom range. And both are pretty expensive options if you just want a do-it-all camera to take on vacation. This has led to a big market in versatile ‘travel’, or ‘long-zoom’ compacts. Panasonic kicked off this whole camera genre with its TZ-series, and these are still the best. The TZ70 has a 30x zoom and some remarkably powerful features, including full manual exposure modes, the ability to shoot raw files and even an electronic viewfinder. The small sensor is a necessary evil for this type of camera, but the quality is fine for casual use. Panasonic has announced two new models – the TZ80 and TZ100, but we haven’t reviewed those yet, and in the meantime the TZ70’s price has dropped to very tempting levels.
7. Fuji X100T
Fuji made its reputation with this fabulous retro-themed high-end compact
Sensor: APS-C X-Trans, 16.3MP | Lens: 35mm, f/2 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1040K dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid optical/EVF | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Expert
Beautiful design Hybrid viewfinder Fixed screen Fixed focal length lens
At the opposite end of the scale to the Panasonic TZ60 travel camera is the Fuji 100T. It’s a beauty both to look and and to use, but it’s not for everyone! It’s a relatively large, retro-styled camera with a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent f/2.0 lens, and designed for photographers who hanker after the weighty feel and manual external controls of traditional 35mm rangefinder cameras. It’s a relatively specialised camera you’ll use for a certain type of subject (street photography, for example) and most owners are likely to have other cameras too. The original X100 revived Fuji’s fortunes and gave its rivals the jolt they needed to develop their own classically-designed cameras.
8. Fuji X30
A camera for enthusiasts, blending power, performance and affordability
Sensor: 2/3-inch X-Trans, 12MP | Lens: 28-112mm, f/2.0-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 920K dots |Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Intermediate/Expert
Great viewfinderX-Trans sensorSmaller sensor than someEffect modes are JPEG only
We also rate this smaller X30, also from Fuji, which proves you don’t have to pay a fortune for a top-quality high-end compact camera. We like the Canon G5 X, Sony RX100 and other cameras with 1-inch sensors, but the Fuji X30 also scores heavily, and for two reasons: it’s very good value for money for what it delivers – especially at current prices – and the 2/3-inch Fuji X-Trans sensor punches well above its weight, with excellent film simulation modes, dynamic range expansion and shadow/highlight contrast control. The X30 is nicely made, too, with a solid-feeling body, traditional manual zoom ring and a very good electronic viewfinder.
9. Canon SX60 HS
A massive 65x zoom makes this bridge camera a good all-rounder
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS, 16.1MP | Lens: 21-1365mm, f/3.4-6.5 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 922K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 6.4fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic/Intermediate
Terrific 65x zoom range Manual control and raw files As big as a basic DSLR Quality limited by sensor size
Having complained at the top of our list that regular bridge cameras use small sensors that compromise the quality, we’re still going to recommend the Canon SX60 HS. The Panasonic FZ1000 and Sony RX10 are big and expensive, and the Canon is much more manageable in both respects. In fact, at current prices it’s a bit of a bargain. Its 1/2.3-inch sensor has a back-illuminated design for better light gathering, and while its 65x zoom has now been beaten by the 83x zoom on the Nikon P900, it’s still right up there with the biggest on the market. You get an articulating LCD, full manual controls and the ability to shoot raw files, so the SX60 is about as good as regular bridge cameras get.
10. Sony W800
It’s cheap, it’s simple and it still gives you a 5x zoom
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.1MP | Lens: 26-130mm, f/3.2-6.4 | Monitor: 2.7-inch, 230K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 0.5fps | Movies: 720 | User level: Basic
Compact and lightweight Low price Poor quality in low light Soft-looking panoramas
But lastly, if price is the biggest factor, then you can hardly do better than the Sony W800. At this end of the market you have to tread a careful line between ‘cheap’ and ‘rubbish’, and the W800 keeps you firmly on the side of ‘cheap’. Its 20Mp 1/2.3-inch sensor and 5x zoom lens deliver perfectly satisfactory quality for a budget point-and-shoot camera, and both the build quality and the styling are a cut above what you might expect at this price. It’s small, light, easy to use and gives you just enough manual control to cope with the occasional tricky situation.