For creatives of all stripes, the best compact cameras can be a fantastic thing to buy. An affordable and portable way to add photography and/or videography to your creative toolkit, a compact camera lets you capture the ins and outs of your creative process with much more fidelity and versatility than a smartphone. Whether you want to promote yourself to new clients, jazz up your Instagram, or add photography to the skills you offer, a compact camera is a great way to do so.
If you're new to this world, your first question is probably: what is a compact camera? The term "compact" doesn't necessarily mean a camera is small; some of them are actually rather large. A compact camera is defined as one whose lens is fixed in place. So whereas DSLRs and mirrorless cameras allow the user to remove the lens and swap it for a different one, with a compact camera, the lens it comes attached to is the only one you're using.
The main advantages of this are convenience and affordability. Compacts tend to be cheaper than interchangeable-lens cameras – and there isn't the additional expense of having to buy lenses! They are also often smaller, with many being portable enough to slip into a pocket or small bag. For more about what to look for when buying a compact, jump straight to our explainer.
For our list of the best compact cameras for creatives, we've included a mixture of recent models and older cameras that can be picked up for a bargain price. We've also included cameras across the ability spectrum, so whether you're looking for a total beginner camera, or something practically suited to professionals, we've got you covered. We've also mentioned previous versions of the cameras listed where relevant, as these can sometimes provide the opportunity for the sharp-eyed buyer to snag a bargain.
If a compact doesn't quite sound like your speed, don't miss our round up of the best cameras for creatives, which includes a broad range of cameras of different types. But for now, let's get to the best compact cameras for creatives right now!
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.
Sony has made a name for its RX100 cameras, compacts that blend tiny bodies with impressive imaging power. The RX100 VII takes this formula and turbo-charges it, cramming in features like a 28-200mm equivalent lens and 20fps continuous shooting, with the option of a fixed burst at a staggering 90fps if you really need it. With specs like this, the RX100 VII is on a level with high-end sports cameras like Sony's A9 II.
The small build will not be for everyone, and some may find the tiny controls a little fiddly and the pop-up viewfinder small enough to be difficult to use. If you like the feel of a hefty DSLR in your hand, or you're someone who might drop a small camera (heaven forbid), best look elsewhere.
If the size is a plus for you, however, the the RX100 VII is an exceptionally powerful little compact, an incredible marriage of features and portability. Also, Sony keeps its RX100 line in production, so if the asking price is too dear then it's worth your time checking out previous models like the RX100 VI or RX100 V to see if they suit your budget.
Tough by name, tough by nature, the Olympus Tough TG-6 is waterproof to a depth of 15 metres, shockproof enough 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. This is a near-indestructible camera that'll handle pretty much any punishment you can throw at it, whether you're taking it up a mountain or down into the ocean.
This latest model comes with useful Auto and Scene modes designed to take the stress out of shooting. It's geared towards those who enjoy the great outdoors, with built-in GPS, compass, altitmeter and more, all the data from which can be incorporated as metadata into your photos and videos. The TG-6 also features a "digital microscope" mode that lets you get close to your subjects with no loss in quality. It's one of the best waterproof cameras around, and one of the finest compacts too.
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.
There have been plenty of compact cameras that are decent for vlogging, but Sony has been the first manufacturer to come out with one that puts vlogging first. The Sony ZV-1 is a capable little compact with a 1-inch sensor that shoots 4K UHD video, and comes with plenty of video-oriented features. Its directional three-way capsule microphone ensures much better sound quality than you’d get with most compacts, and it comes with a clip-on windshield to further reduce background noise.
The combination of a 1-inch sensor with a resolution of 20.1MP and a 24-70mm equivalent lens is useful for the majority of shooting situations. It’s not the furthest-reaching lens, but it’ll serve most purposes for vlogging and day-to-day shooting, and its maximum aperture of f/1.8-2.8 makes it great for stylish shots of people with an artfully defocused background.
Despite being a vlogging camera first and foremost, the ZV-1 is capable for stills too. With the electronic shutter it can achieve burst speeds of 24fps, which makes it great for action and fleeting moments.
The camera isn’t perfect – the lack of a headphone jack is a particularly odd omission for a camera oriented towards vloggers, and the battery life is not exactly brilliant. If you don’t need video features then there are definitely more suitable compacts on this list, but if you’re a hybrid photo/video content creator, this is a smart purchase.
The original Panasonic Lumix LX100 was something of a sleeper hit – photographers appreciated the retro-styled body echoing rangefinder cameras of old, not to mention the generously sized Four Thirds sensor. It makes sense then that the LX100 II isn’t a major revamp of the original, but a gentle refinement of what works.
So the central combo – a Four Thirds sensor with an effective resolution of 17MP, and a Leica-branded 24-75mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.7-2.8. Both of these things give the LX100 II an advantage in low light compared to other compact cameras, which tend to use smaller sensors and narrower lenses.
The body of the LX100 II is fairly chunky – this makes it satisfying to hold and use, but means you can’t exactly slip it into a pocket like other compact cameras on this list. There are some fun features in-camera to play with, including an aspect-ratio switching mode that encourages the user to think creatively with different image formats.
It’s a shame that Panasonic couldn’t have included at least a tilting screen – the 3-inch rear monitor on the LX100 II is resolutely fixed in place. Many also may find themselves ignoring the low-resolution viewfinder, which is outclassed by the viewfinders you’ll find on the likes of Sony cameras. If these things don’t bother you though, the LX100 II is a great take-everywhere compact that’s especially good in challenging light situations.
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.
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.
It may have an incredibly basic feature-set compare to other cameras on this list, but the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 has a real ace up its sleeve: it costs less than £100. Cheap compact cameras have a tougher job than they used to, as they need to offer a clear advantage over a smartphone in order to be worth buying. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 achieves that with its useful 5x optical zoom lens, which offers an equivalent focal range of 26-130mm. This provides real shooting versatility that a smartphone just can't match.
Small enough to slip into a jacket pocket, affordable enough to take on family holidays without worrying too much, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 is a straightforward camera that just does the job. If this is the kind of camera that appeals to you, check out our guide to the best point-and-shoot camera.
The best compact camera: What to consider?
Good compact cameras are great for portability, convenience, affordability and ease of shooting, while making some trade-offs in terms of potential and versatility. After all, you're limited to whatever focal length of lens is written on the box. Also, compacts tend to have smaller sensors than DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, which can mean they struggle in low light.
However, compact cameras do have larger sensors than even the best camera phones, not to mention more sophisticated lenses. This means that 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. Some compacts will have a zoom lens attached that gives you shooting versatility for different situations. Others have a prime lens attached, meaning they only have one focal length, limiting you to a single perspective. This may seem restrictive, but prime lenses can be made with much greater optical quality than zooms, resulting in sharper images.
The gamut runs from super-cheap point-and-shoots to expensive models suitable for professionals. Some compact cameras are even waterproof, built for outdoor adventures.