(Pocket-lint) – There are lots of things to think about when choosing a new compact camera – what do you want to use the camera for? Perhaps you want a versatile, all-rounder for a vacation or travelling. Maybe you want a camera with a bonkers-long zoom?
Here at Pocket-lint we’ve been cutting through the abundance of compact camera releases over recent years, including the creme de la creme of last year’s models and earlier, as relevant.
We’ve broken down our list of great compacts into sub-headed categories to make things easier to digest. You name it, we’ve got you covered. So without further ado let’s guide you through the top compact cameras to save you time when it comes to buying one from your local shop or online.
Best do-it-all compact
Panasonic Lumix TZ90 / SZ70
Panasonic’s TZ-series has long been a favourite and the Lumix TZ90 (SZ70 in the USA) is one of its top-end do-it-all compacts (although it has been replaced by the altogether similar TZ95). It even has a built-in electronic viewfinder to the rear, which is helpful to see an image direct to the eye when sunlight makes the rear screen tough to see.
The TZ90’s premier feature is its 30x optical zoom lens, which encompasses wide-angle (24mm equivalent) for those group shots, or can zoom right in (to a 720mm equivalent) to make far-away subjects appear large in the frame. There are more advanced cameras in this TZ series (the TZ200 springs to mind) but they tackle different feature sets.
With decent autofocus, excellent image stabilisation, a tilt-angle LCD screen for selfies, and a whole roster of other top features, the TZ90’s aspirations make it the one-stop shop for all things. The only downside, really, is limitations to low-light image quality and.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix TZ90 review
When it comes to something small and pocketable, but where image quality needs to be a step above a conventional small-sensor compact or smartphone, there are various models to choose from. Such cameras tend to have shorter zoom lenses in order to retain best sharpness and clarity, while offering more advanced optical features such as wider maximum aperture for better low-light shooting or creating that pro-looking, soft-focus background effect.
Canon PowerShot G7 X II
The big sell of the G7 X Mark II is its larger-than-typical sensor. It’s called a 1-inch sensor (note: not a physical measurement), meaning larger on-sensor pixels that can better digest light for clearer image results.
Although the G7 X II doesn’t opt for the smaller scale of the Sony RX100 series (further below) and there’s no viewfinder, there’s still a lot to enjoy about Canon’s revamped take on the 1-inch market. Plus the price is within reach rather than super-high like Sony’s advanced offerings.
Read our full review: Canon PowerShot G7 X II review
Panasonic Lumix LX15 / LX10
The Panasonic Lumix LX15 is high-end, but comes minus the highest-end price point. It’s a significant chunk of cash less than the Sony RX100 (further below), and competitive against the Canon G7 X Mark II (above) too.
Crucially the LX15 comes with a best-in-class lens: a 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 equivalent, which will help to open up creative possibilities. That wide aperture at the wide-angle setting means plenty more ability when it comes to low-light conditions.
There’s even an aperture control ring, a nod to the earlier LX7 model from years gone by, to simplify controlling the camera. Add a touchscreen, great autofocus abilities and a stack of other top-end features, including 4K video capture, and there’s almost nothing we don’t like about the LX15… except its odd name (we’d have opted for LX10, as it is called in the USA).
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix LX15 review
Superzoom without the scale
Panasonic Lumix TZ100 / ZS100
Now here’s an odd one out, as you can probably tell from looking at the TZ100’s small scale (or ZS100 in the USA). Superzoom, you say? Well it kind of is, kind of isn’t. This pocketable camera combines a large 1-inch sensor, similar to that of the FZ2000 (further down the page), but condenses the lens to a 10x optical zoom with a more limited aperture range, in a body that’s more akin to the TZ90 (further up the page).
Now while that combination doesn’t mean it’s a stand-out camera for shooting almost everything under the sun, if you’re after top quality and a decent zoom range then there’s not really anything else on the market just yet that can match it – except, that is for the TZ200 and it’s 15x optical zoom lens! – so long as you have expectations in check with what the lens can achieve due to its aperture limitations.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix TZ100 review
Best advanced / enthusiast compact camera
Here’s where compacts step up a gear. Whether it’s all the bells and whistles in the form of hands-on controls, a built-in viewfinder, or a large sensor for optimum quality, there are all kinds of advanced compacts to suit different tastes and purposes. But these typically bigger wedges of camera are not only larger, they tend to demand a more considerable asking price too.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V
The Sony RX100 series has gone from strength to strength and in its Mk5 format it’s a camera that, at this size, pretty much has it all.
It’s small scale enough to be pocketable, yet has a premium build, a pop-out built-in electronic viewfinder and stacks of features – not to mention great image quality and 4K movie capture from its 1-inch sensor and 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens.
If pocketable is priority then this is one of the best options out there. It’s a tour de force. And can be found for pretty reasonable prices lately too.
Read our full review: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V review
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
We’ve left the Mk5 model (above) in this mix as it’s quite a different beast to the RX100 Mk6. This newer model breaks the mold for the series by extending the lens yet further for greater versatility.
You’ll need deep pockets though – and not on account of its size, simply because its £1,150 asking price is mega. It’s a great camera that’s worth it for the right buyer. Although there’s now a Mk7 model available too, the VII, which brings the series even more up to date.
Read our full review: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI review
Panasonic Lumix LX100 MkII
The original Panasonic LX100 was like the company’s LX15 (further above) on steroids. It was the first compact camera to feature a large Micro Four Thirds sensor – the same size you will find in top-of-the-line interchangeable lens models – for exceptional image quality. That’s a bigger sensor than the Sony RX100 series (also above), delivering equal or better quality overall, more similar to a mirrorless system camera.
The second-generation model here isn’t massively different to the first, meaning it maintains those physical retro dials, giving that chunky metal body plenty of personality. There’s an autofocus system that will see off a whole range of compact camera competitors, a fast 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 equivalent lens, and brilliant electronic viewfinder. Although there’s no tilt-angle screen, which we think is a shame, it does offer the power of touch control.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix LX100 M2 review
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
Canon’s answer to the Panasonic LX100 (above). The G1 X Mark III crams in an APS-C sensor – which is the same size as you’ll find in the company’s DSLR cameras – for the utmost in image quality.
In one sense, we love the G1 X III. Considering the sensor is that big, the camera itself is small – far smaller than the Mark II model (which had a smaller sensor!). It’s hugely capable when it comes to image quality.
But there’s a caveat: the 24-72mm f/2.8-5.6 equivalent lens quickly drops down the aperture range, so you’ll often be shooting at higher sensitivities when using a little bit of zoom. Sometimes that can counter some of the quality that can be extracted from this otherwise great camera. Plus the autofocus, while decent, isn’t as advanced as the Sony RX100 series.
Read our full review: Canon G1 X Mk3 review
When normal compacts just aren’t enough and you want to zoom in on those far-away subjects to make them appear large in the frame, a superzoom – sometimes called bridge camera – is just the ticket. Safari, bird spotting and so forth are well matched to a superzoom camera.
Panasonic Lumix FZ330
Typically as a zoom lens extends the amount of light it lets in drops, which potentially means image quality can suffer in low-light conditions. Not so with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330: its wide-angle 24mm lens extends all the way through to a 600mm equivalent, all the while maintaining a maximum f/2.8 aperture. And that’s been managed without significant impact to the model’s relatively trim scale.
This f/2.8 aperture means more light can enter, which is ideal for faster exposures to capture action or to avoid using those less desirable higher ISO sensitivities.
As the replacement for 2012’s FZ200, the FZ330 adds a touchscreen and ups the ante in the viewfinder resolution stakes too. It’s still dependent on a 1/2.3in sensor size, however, so don’t expect complete and utter miracles in the image quality department – for that you’ll want a larger yet sensor, as found in something like the FZ2000 (see below).
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix FZ330 review
Best premium superzoom
If you want that little extra from image quality, while achieving significant zoom, then you’ll need to fork out some extra cash for a larger sensor model. The current range is a fight between Panasonic with its FZ1000 and FZ2000 models and Sony with its RX10 Mark III and Mark IV.
Sony RX10 III
The earlier RX10 II was by no means a disappointing camera, but the RX10 III takes its only real flaw – its lack of zoom reach – and tosses it out the window, thanks to its 24-600mm f/2.8-4.0 equivalent optic.
The result is a bridge camera with a 1-inch sensor that offers a stunning level of flexibility and versatility all from the one lens. If you’re ok with the body’s big scale, anyway.
Many bridge cameras feel like jacks of all trades, masters of none, but Sony has produced one that truly masters most areas of stills and video photography.
There’s also an RX10 IV, which enhances autofocus capability, if you want to stretch even further and spend a little more cash.
Read our full review: Sony Cyber-shot RX10 Mark III review
Panasonic Lumix FZ2000
The FZ2000 is certainly a big and pricey superzoom, but its premium position is justified for the right kind of user. And with its significant push towards video features, including 4K capture and an abundance of high-end features, that will be for both photographers and videographers alike.
When a normal superzoom won’t cut it, the FZ2000’s has two things that stand out: enhanced image quality from its 1-inch sensor and an internally focusing lens, which means the optic doesn’t physically move throughout its 24-480mm equivalent range.
If you’ve been looking for a do-it-all body and aren’t fearful of a DSLR scale, then as a stills camera there’s plenty on offer in the FZ2000. If video is more your thing then we think the FZ2000’s considerable capabilities paints a red cross on the door of the enthusiast camcorder market too.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix FZ2000 review
Best fixed-lens compact cameras
When money is no barrier and quality is everything, there’s a camera for that. DSLR sensor sizes in compact bodies and, typically, a fixed lens (no zoom) that’s matched up to its respective sensor for best possible image quality. Here’s where the compact goes pro – and these special specimens don’t just match DSLR quality, they often better it.
Fujifilm has stormed the high-end compact market with the X-range, and the X100F keeps the bar high, upping the resolution and design compared to the previous X100T model.
The X100F isn’t going to be suitable for a huge audience as there’s no zoom and its retro aesthetic is a specialist thing in itself – but that, in some regard, is all part of what makes this high-end compact so appealing.
It’s not the model to pick if you’re into close-up macro shooting by any means, as wide apertures render soft images in such situations, but what really sells the X100F is the unique-to-Fuji hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder. And now that comes with a fantastic “electronic rangefinder” option for even more accurate manual focus.
That may all sound bonkers, but it’s not: think of a wider-than-100-per-cent optical viewfinder with all the bells and whistles of an electronic overlay and that’s what the X100T delivers. You can see beyond the frame’s edges to help capture the shot at that decisive moment.
Image quality from the fixed 23mm f/2.0 lens – that’s a 35mm equivalent when paired with the APS-C sensor – is so crisp from f/4.0 and below, in part thanks to Fujifilm’s own special colour array design and the fact there’s no low-pass filter to bypass light diffusion for heightened sharpness. It’s perfect for those candid street photography snaps.
Read our full review: Fujifilm X100F review
As much as we’ve got a lot of love for the X100 series, the smaller-scale Fujifilm X70 actually pips it in terms of preference for us. This 28mm (equivalent) fixed lens compact is like a more pocketable, wider-angle, slightly more consumer focused aid to the X100T.
Although we’d like a more detailed and faster autofocus system, and are in two minds about the lack of viewfinder, the X70 is otherwise a champion addition to the X-series. It’s really all about the image quality, which is why we suspect X100T fans and, to some degree, newcomers will be rushing out to buy this wide-angle wonder.
If you’re looking for something more flexible then the Panasonic LX100 (further up the page) is probably the route to go down, not that both models are distinctly comparable.
Read our full review: Fujifilm X70 review
Best full-frame compact camera
Leica Q / Q2
Originally it was the Sony RX1 which held this spot, as the original fixed-lens full-frame compact camera. Ok, so the Leica Q isn’t particularly “compact” and its £2,900 price tag certainly isn’t small (if you can find one – they’re sold out almost everywhere), but its 28mm f/1.7 lens is so out-of-this-world that it has to take the crown.
It’s not a compact for everyone, of course, with that price tag indicating so. But its huge full-frame sensor, which is the same size as found in pro-spec DSLR cameras, is paired with a lens so sharp that its results are incredible. Nope, there’s no zoom, but in-camera 35/50mm crop modes go some way to help.
There’s a built-in electronic viewfinder (a 3.86m-dot LCOS one, no less) which is wonderfully high resolution, but it ought to activate a little quicker for street work. Add surprisingly speedy autofocus with touchscreen control and this is every bit the Leica for a new generation.
Sure, it’s not a mass market product, as is the case with any fixed-lens camera. But whether you’re a staunch Leica fan, or simply a photography fan, the Q is that rare Leica that will transcend users old and new. There’s also a follow-up Q2 model, which we’re yet to review.
Read our full review: Leica Q review
Writing by Mike Lowe.