The best compact cameras aren't just a cheap option – they're terrific cameras in their own right. Great compact cameras are a compelling alternative to bulky DSLRs or expensive mirrorless systems, providing portability and convenience in a single package. If your creative project requires photography, and you really just want a camera that just switches on and works, then a compact camera is definitely the optimal choice.
Compact cameras can easily outpace the best camera phones thanks to their larger sensors and sophisticated lenses, often with optical zoom capabilities. If you're looking to incorporate photography and/or videography into your creative workflow, a dedicated camera is a must, and a compact is a great choice. They're straightforward, they're portable and they're versatile: what's not to like?
There are plenty of different types of compact camera however. Some are large, DSLR-style models, also known as bridge cameras, and tend to come sporting big optical zooms. Others are designed with portability at the fore, and are small enough to be slipped into a jacket pocket. Some use prime lenses and large sensors to focus on image quality. As you might imagine, there are a lot of factors to consider.
So if you're searching for the best compact camera to suit your needs and budget, look no further. Many of the cameras on our list are recent models, and where appropriate, we've listed their predecessors in case you like the sound of a particular camera but it stretches beyond your budget. Alternatively, don't miss our round up of the best cameras for creatives, which includes a broad range of options.
The best compact cameras available now
The fifth and best of the Fujifilm X100 compact cameras, the Fujifilm X100V is the best carry-everywhere compact camera of 2020. Since the series' inception, photographers have been waxing lyrical about how great these cameras are to handle, and the X100V continues in that fine tradition, with the tactile dial-led handling that harkens back to film cameras of old.
The X-Trans sensor produces gorgeous, punchy images straight out of camera, while the 35mm f/2 prime lens delivers pin-sharp results every time. There's no optical zoom functionality, so bear that in mind, but if you're looking for a camera to keep at your side and use to capture whatever you encounter, the X100V is a superb choice.
While the X100V undoubtedly the best of the series, if the price is a little out of your range, we'd recommend looking at previous models in the series like the X100F and X100T, as these are very similar prospects and also deliver a superb shooting experience.
While it's not the newest in its series (that accolade currently belongs to the RX100 VII), the Sony RX100 V still ticks all of the right boxes for the quintessential compact camera. It has a relatively large 1-0-type image sensor and a fast 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, plus a high-resolution pop-up electronic viewfinder, despite being small and slim enough to slip into a spare pocket.
It delivers fantastic image quality, and is a fast shooter in all respects too. Not only can it achieve burst rates of 24fps, but on release it was also the first compact to sport on-sensor phase-detection autofocus, allowing it to keep up with even the fastest moving subjects.
Newer editions of this camera have longer optical zoom ranges, however they still have a premium price attached, while the RX100 V is beginning to come down. That makes it a terrific buy for anyone looking for a reliable compact camera.
Think big in terms of zoom range and you’re probably thinking of a ‘bridge’ camera that has clunky SLR-type styling. This new Canon PowerShot SX740 HS is small and slim enough to pop in a pocket, and comes in stylish black or silver options.
The headline attraction is that the camera manages to shoehorn a mighty 40x zoom lens into its diminutive design, with an effective range of 24-960mm. So that’s everything from generously wide-angle coverage to ultra-telephoto reach on tap.
Selfie-smart, the rear screen has a flip-over tilt facility, and the camera is equally adept as an action shooter, coupling its long telephoto reach with a fast 10fps drive rate. 4k UHD movie capture is also supported.
The only disappointments are that the LCD isn’t a touchscreen, and the camera lacks a viewfinder.
At the heart of this new Fujifilm XF10 camera is an APS-C format image sensor, which is physically larger than that of most compact cameras, and is more usually found in DSLRs. It enables a generous 24.2MP image size, with low image noise even at high ISO settings. 4k UHD movie capture is also available, but only with a disappointingly slow frame rate of 15fps.
The 28mm f/2.8 fixed lens is well-suited to low-light shooting, although the camera loses out to the Fujifilm X100V in this respect. The latter also features a viewfinder which is lacking in the XF10, but it costs more than twice the price to buy.
Bride cameras are excellent because they offer tactile DSLR-style handling as well as the convenience and portability of a compact camera. The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II is one of the best examples around, pairing a 1-inch 20MP sensor with a generous 16x optical zoom lens, all encased in a chunk, DSLR-style build that makes it a dream to handle.
It shoot 4K video, as all contemporary Panasonic cameras do, and boasts such features as a 5-axis hybrid stabiliser that makes it easier to shoot handheld in less-than-optimal lighting conditions. The fully articulated touchscreen is a bonus too, as well as full Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a fast maximum drive rate.
All this also comes for a surprisingly reasonable asking price too; the FZ1000 II is much more reasonably priced than comparable cameras like the Sony RX10 series. This is a fantastic compact camera, and if you don't mind a little extra bulk, you'll find it a reliable shooting companion.
One of the best travel zoom compact cameras around, the Panasonic Lumix TZ200 shakes things up by introducing a 15x optical zoom lens into its relatively pocketable frame. This pairs beautifully with a 1-inch sensor that allows the camera to produce great-looking images in all sorts of lighting conditions, making it perfect for travel days when you aren't sure where you'll be ending up next.
As is common in the Panasonic stable, the TZ200 also shoots high-quality 4K video, which can also be used in a variety of 4K Photo modes for super-fast capture, ensuring you never miss a moment. Although it is worth being aware that a pretty heavy 1.5x crop in 4K does mean that the video can be a little noisy. Battery life is pleasingly robust, however, which is another reason the TZ100 is a sublime choice for travelling; being able to keep on shooting without having to constantly worry about charging up is a real boon. This is an eminently solid travel compact camera, and will definitely suit the adventurous photographer.
Premium compact cameras from a number of manufacturers, including Fujifilm and Panasonic, often tend to feature prime rather than zoom lenses. By its nature, you can’t swap lenses on a compact camera, so a prime lens can be a serious limitation. This new up-market Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III compact has a zoom lens, but with a modest 3x range to maximize optical quality. It delivers everything from serious wide-angle coverage to the kind of short telephoto reach that’s ideal for portraiture.
The camera features an APS-C format image sensor and highly effective stabilisation systems for both stills and video capture, although the latter tops out at 1080p. The conventional placement of the electronic viewfinder and enthusiast-friendly layout of dials and buttons are ideally suited to creative photography.
Tough by name, tough by nature, the TG5 is waterproof to a depth of 15 metres, sufficiently shockproof to withstand being dropped from a height of 2.1 metres, freezeproof down to -10 degrees Celsius, and crushproof enough to bear a 100kg load. Suffice it to say, this is a camera that’s not easily broken. It’s well matched to an adventurous lifestyle that might include the dizzying heights of mountaineering, the depths of undersea diving, and just about everything else in between.
Features geared to the great outdoors include built-in GPS, compass, manometer and temperature sensor, data from which can be tagged onto your photos and videos. There’s also a neat ‘variable macro system’, enabling you to capture close-ups in microscopic detail. Olympus has since released the TG-6 with a few more of these useful modes, however given that it's otherwise pretty much an identical camera, the TG-5 offers better value for money,
Available in silver, black or shocking purple, the slim, stylish and slightly rounded IXUS 285 HS is easy to slip into a spare pocket and take anywhere.
It’s wonderfully easy to use and is refreshingly inexpensive to buy. Even so, it sports some useful features including a 12x optical zoom lens, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, and one of Canon’s ‘HS’ image sensors that helps to retain good image quality at high ISO settings. There’s no viewfinder nor a touchscreen, but the 3-inch LCD is larger than in most cameras at this price point. All in all, it’s a top budget buy.
Spend a small fortune on a camera and you’re likely to feel precious about it, which can limit your fun. One of the cheapest known-brand cameras on the market, the Nikon A10 has a two-figure price tag, so you’ll feel much more comfortable passing it around between friends and family, even if your family includes young children.
The A10 is disarmingly simple to use yet boasts a 5x optical zoom lens, built-in flash and a respectable 16.1MP image sensor. At this price, the lack of a viewfinder and the relatively small, low-res LCD screen are to be expected. The maximum shooting rate of 1.2fps for stills and maximum video resolution of 720p might be more of a disappointment but, ultimately, this is a compact camera that the whole family can enjoy.