We think the best compact cameras can be a tremendous buy for practically any creative. No matter your discipline, having a camera to document your process or open up a new artistic avenue can be hugely rewarding. This goes double if you habitually promote yourself to new clients on social media, as being able to produce striking imagery will make your posts that much more effective.
So why a compact camera specifically? Well, unlike DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, compacts come with a lens that's fixed in place. It might be a prime or a zoom, but either way, it's the only lens you've got. So while there is a downside in terms of versatility, the plus side is that you've got everything you need to shoot in a single convenient package. Compacts tend to be much more affordable than other types of cameras, so are ideal for users working to a strict budget.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 will come with zoom lenses attached that focus on versatility, while others come with prime lenses that are built around providing the best in optical quality. 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.