The best compact cameras might have seen some big changes since the advent of high-quality phone cameras, but they're still very much a key photography device. Portable, yet powerful, compact cameras are designed to be easy to use and light enough to carry around with you, yet they are still capable of capturing high quality images. That makes them ideal for beginner photographers, as well as for professionals looking for a compact camera to add to their arsenal of photography kit.
The reason the best compact cameras can still out-perform even the best smartphone camera is largely thanks to features such as larger sensors, which let in more light for better end results. On top of photo quality, there's also high-quality video recording and optical zoom lenses that can get up close to the subject. Dedicated physical buttons, lots of storage and great battery life are even more reasons to go for one of the top-rated compact camera over other types.
If you're considering the best DLSR camera but are new to photography, we'd recommend giving serious thought to one of the best compact cameras instead. It's worth also taking a look at the best camera for beginners to help find the ideal model to suit your needs.
1. Panasonic Lumix ZS200: Best overall travel camera
The Lumix ZS200 - also known as the Lumix TZ200 outside the US - has specs that go far beyond its compact proportions: not only do you get a healthy 15x optical zoom, but you get a large 1-inch sensor thrown in too.
That bodes very well for image quality, and it’s bolstered by effective image stabilization inside the lens and Raw shooting to help you squeeze out extra goodness from images. Panasonic has even shoehorned in a detailed electronic viewfinder to make shooting in bright light a breeze.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a super-responsive LCD screen make the process of capturing, viewfinder and outputting your images a cinch. Great for travels but compact enough for general use back home too.
2. Sony ZV-1: Best compact vlogging camera
The Sony ZV-1 is not only a fantastic compact camera for shooting images, thanks to that 1-inch 20.1MP sensor, but it's also perfect for vlogging. This little pocket-friendly camera can record in 4K at 30fps and has a 3.5mm mic port as well as hot shoe to help mount that mic.
The lens is capable of an impressive 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 which means nice bright images. The fact it can shoot images at a blistering 24fps of continuous shooting is a great bonus too.
Back to those video powers. This not only offers high resolution and frame rate capture but also has a lighting fast autofocus, making it great for moving subjects as well as varying light situations. You even get that high-end video blur background finish for both video and stills.
3. Fujifilm X100V: Best retro looks with high-end features
The Fujifilm X100V is one of the best looking compact cameras out there with stunning retro design and solid ergonomics. But it's not all about the outside as this camera justifies its higher-than-most-compacts price with an array of super specs.
The sensor is the latest X-Trans CMOS at a whopping 26.1MP which also has improved autofocus over previous models. This uses a fixed 23mm f/2 lens which makes things simple but might be seen as limiting by some. Either way, you get great low-light performance and the ability to shoot 11fps mechanical or 30fps electronic burst shots.
This also comes with 4K video at 30p and features both optical and electronic viewfinder in this hybrid. Or stick to that 3-inch touchscreen that tilts, blending the more modern with that retro finish. It's not fully weather sealed though, so be careful if you're taking this out to snap some shots in a thunderstorm.
4. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III: Best YouTube livestream compact camera
The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III is another compact that's great for vloggers. This is thanks to 4K video and a great autofocus system but also the ease of upload since this will let you live stream your videos directly to YouTube. The flip-up LCD touchscreen can also be helpful as can the built-in ND filter and mic port. There's no hot shoe and the lens can be on the soft side but this really does perform well.
For photos you can shoot 20fps continuous burst or up to 30fps in Raw Burst mode. This uses the 1-inch 20.1MP sensor to great effect. And once you're out of juice you can recharge via USB, giving you great freedom to keep using this with a portable powerpack.
5. Panasonic Lumix LX100 II: Best for general photography
The original LX100 was notable for being the first compact of its kind to sport a large Four Thirds sensor, and this second-gen update packs a handful of useful improvements.
We get a fresh sensor – the same as that inside Panasonic's Lumux GX9 mirrorless camera – and some tweaks to image processing, together with a higher-resolution LCD that’s sensitive to touch. With masses of physical control, it’s perfect for those who like to change things like aperture and exposure compensation as directly as possible.
It’s one of a number of enthusiast compacts fighting for your attention, but with that huge sensor and a great lens, it’s definitely one of the most appealing right now. Great as a walkaround camera where a larger interchangeable-lens camera might not be practical.
6. Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV: Best superzoom compact
Sony has now released four very capable RX10-series models, but it's the fourth model in the line that hits the sweet spot between capabilities and price, with a wonderful lens equivalent to 24-600mm in 35mm terms being the star.
This generation offers faster 24fps burst shots, a slightly more powerful upgraded 20.2MP 1-inch CMOS sensor and higher resolution 3-inch tilting touchscreen at 1.44 million dots.
It's capable of producing nicely sharp images at all settings, thanks in part to an excellent image stabilization system, while 4K video, DSLR-like control, and a weather-sealed body only add to its flexibility. It's a little larger than the norm but much smaller than a DSLR packing the same kind of zoom range. The menus can be a little confusing to navigate though.