The expert's view
Your phone may have a great camera, but there's still room for a dedicated one if you choose one of the best compact cameras. The idea of shelling out three or four figures on a separate camera when the camera in your phone is getting better with every upgrade might seem nuts – but they still have the upper hand in a lot of areas.
UPDATE: Our list of the best compact cameras we recommend is below, but if you're interested in the latest camera tech then check out Sony's new A7R IV camera. At more than £3000, we don't think this will suit many people, but it's a great example of how far imaging tech has come. It offers 61-megapixels, a back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor and built-in AI can track eyes and subjects – ensuring the right bits of your photo are always sharp.
From the outside, the many physical controls and more ergonomic designs of compact cameras give them an advantage, but on the inside you’ll also typically find large sensors, big zoom lenses and a raft of additional sweeteners to help you get the shot you want.
Below you can read what we liked and disliked with all the cameras we tested but, for clarity, the best camera for value we tested was the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. The best camera overall was the Panasonic TZ200.
Best overall and best value compact cameras
The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II brings together a relatively large sensor and a capable zoom range with a tough body that’s comfortable to hold and easy to operate. Further niceties include a flexible touchscreen that can face the front and speedy burst shooting for action shots.
The Panasonic TZ200 is the best overall choice right now. Big on features, serious about image quality but small enough to be slipped into your handbag, manbag or even just your coat pocket, it’s a versatile option that allows you to take excellent images and very good video with minimal fuss.
Scroll down for the to see the expert's view and remember to upvote and downvote your favourites compact cameras.
Related: Best action cameras
The Shortlist: The best compact cameras
1. Canon IXUS 185 HS
No frills and dirt cheap, this tiny, svelte compact packs a 20MP sensor, an 8x optical zoom, Face Detection and 720p HD video recording. The screen is fairly small at 2.7inches in size, and isn’t sensitive to touch. This is also the only option that doesn’t offer any kind of wireless connectivity with smartphones or tablets.
2. Leica Q2
The only camera in the lineup to sport a huge full-frame sensor – and with a whopping 47.3MP at that – the Leica Q2 also packs a 28mm f/1.7 lens, 4K video recording, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder and a tough metal body that’s been guarded against both dust and splashes of water.
3. Panasonic TZ200
Designed to balance image quality and zooming capabilities, the TZ200 is one of the few cameras that combines a 1in sensor with a big zoom. Here, the lens travels between 24-360mm focal lengths, and it’s bolstered by built-in Wi-Fi, 4K and Full HD video and an electronic viewfinder.
4. Panasonic TZ80/ZS60
The TZ80 might be furnished with a fairly small 18.1MP sensor but it manages to pair it up with a lens to covers a very healthy focal range between 24-720mm. Panasonic has also found space for a small viewfinder, Wi-Fi and 4K video recording, together with a 3in touchscreen that’s fixed in place.
5. Olympus TG-5
The TG-5 stands out for its rugged credentials: its waterproof, shockproof, freeze proof and even crushproof casing means you can take this where other cameras fear to go. The lens travels between 25-100mm and Raw shooting, 4K video and the option to shoot 20 images in a second are a bonus, although the 12MP sensor is a little small for this kind of money.
6. Nikon A1000
The 16.1MP A1000 has a 35x optical zoom lens as its main attraction, which gives you the equivalent of a 24-840mm lens. That should cover pretty much every eventuality, while 4K video recording, a small electronic viewfinder and a tilting touchscreen on the back make it all the more appealing.
7. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
One of the most affordable cameras to offer a 1in sensor right now, the PowerShot G7 X Mark II is a step up from the compact norm. The 24-100mm lens is a little longer than most cameras this small with a 1in sensor, while the tilting touchscreen on the back can be flipped all the way around for selfies.
8. Sony RX100 IV
One of the smallest cameras on test, the RX100 IV blends a 1in sensor with a 24-70mm lens, 4K video and an electronic viewfinder that hides inside the camera when not in use. You also get a selfie-friendly LCD – sadly not a touchscreen – and the option to shoot 16 images in a second.
9. Sony RX100 VI
Much like the Panasonic TZ200, this camera is all about offering a large sensor, a big zoom and plenty of sweeteners on top – perhaps just as well when you see its price. 4K video is joined by excellent video specs, while other enticements include a large electronic viewfinder and 24-frames-per-second shooting.
10. Fujifilm X100F
The beautifully retro X100F partners a large APS-C 24.3MP sensor with a lens that provides users with the classic 35mm focal length – great for street photography and everyday snaps. It also boasts a clever viewfinder that you can swap between optical and electronic modes, although the lack of a touchscreen and 4K video is a shame.
We spent some time putting ten of the most popular options to the
test and we think the
Panasonic TZ200 is the best option for most people
right now. It’s not the cheapest camera but is wonderful all-rounder,
with tons of features, a huge zoom range and great image quality.
Budget doesn’t stretch to £630? The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is our best value choice. It offers lovely image quality, comfortable handling and a great LCD screen.
How we selected the compact cameras to test
The compact camera market might not be as colourful as it once was, but there are still masses of options and much to confuse. Given most people only buy such a camera if it offers them something their smartphone doesn’t, we’ve picked ten models that, in some way or another, manage to justify their place against what they already might have in their pocket.
Many compact cameras have large sensors, powerful zoom lenses, tilting displays and more control over how you capture your images, so that gap between phones and compacts is perhaps a little larger than might appear at first.
Some manufacturers have been included twice in our list, others only once. It’s tempting to view one manufacturer as better or worse than another based on you own experience, but the fact is that every brand has an option that’s right for someone when you consider features, budget, size, weight and performance.
Some manufacturers concentrate on providing cameras with large sensors and optically superior lenses for better image quality, others on providing a huge zoom lens inside a small body – albeit with a smaller sensor – to make them more practical and versatile. Some have also done well to balance the two factors in the same camera, with large sensors partnered with zoom lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths. A couple of these feature in the following test, and they make great travel cameas..
Certain camera brands have also made a habit of keeping older models available as they are updated by newer ones, and in many cases the older models make more sense for more people. After all, depending on what it is you shoot and how, you don’t always need to fork out on the very latest wizardry, so plumping for an older model – and saving a bit of cash in the process – is often a better choice. So, if we spotted an older camera that’s still as capable as it is relevant, it was considered for the longlist.
The cameras selected here stretch across a wide range of budgets, from the low three figures through to not-so-cheap four-figure sums. We’ve chosen our models based on what key features they manage to bring, namely the sensor, the lens and other headline technologies like the viewfinder and video capabilities.
We don’t consider the number of megapixels to be hugely important, as pretty much every camera here has more than enough for everyday use, but we do consider how well the partnership of the sensor and the lens lends itself to different situations.
Practicality is also key; some cameras are wonderful performers, but if they’re too heavy or complicated to use, they’re probably not going end up getting used that often. So, cameras that you can fit into a relatively roomy pocket or in a small bag score points here.
How we tested the compact cameras
To make this review as fair as possible, we tested all models at the same time in as similar a manner as possible.
The playing field isn’t completely level, simply because not all of these cameras offer the same features – and their prices reflect this.
We wanted to see how easy each camera is to operate and how pleasant the general user experience was, so the clarity and order of the menu systems and the availability of physical controls were a big focus.
Some cameras are designed to be very small and easy to carry in a pocket, although this can often come at the expense of the ergonomics. They might only have a small grip, or even no grip at all, and so they may not be the easiest to hold. The use of rubber on the parts where your fingers and thumb are in contact with the body is always a big plus.
Most of the cameras are also designed with touchscreens, which make it even easier to select different options and where the camera focuses, so we wanted to see just how well these screens would respond to general prods, swipes and taps. How quickly the camera can focus on a subject when you’re not using the touchscreen is also essential for more casual photography, so this was also something we investigated on each option.
Of course, none of this matters unless a camera can marry excellent operation with strong results, so we also scrutinised images in Photoshop. Most cameras can do a good job outdoors when there’s lots of light, although some struggle at night or when shooting indoors, so we looked at sets of images captured in both conditions.
Similarly, some cameras can capture sharp and detailed results when the lens is set to one focal length, but once you zoom in it might not be as rosy, or vice versa. The quality of image stabilisation systems is also critical on cameras that have long lenses, as they can struggle to keep things sharp when you zoom far into the distance.
Most of the models on test also offer a Raw shooting mode, which allows you to decide how to process your images later on, rather than leaving it all to the camera. If a camera offered this, we made sure to check the quality of both the Raw files and the standard images before making any judgements on image quality.
Finally, video quality is also an area where manufacturers are battling strongly with each other right now. 4K video is now firmly settled in compact camera market, but this is one area where differences can be vast. Not all cameras offer 4K video too, sometimes because they’re priced too low but also potentially because of their age or target audience. And sometimes the manufacturer may have just left it out for their own reasons.
While it might seem ridiculous to compare a £100 compact like the Canon IXUS 185 HS with the £4250 Leica Q2, there are a handful of issues that anyone after either camera will probably be interested in.
Handling, for example. Canon The IXUS 185 HS is the smallest and lightest camera on test and we found it to be the easiest to operate with one hand, despite lacking a grip of any kind. Its large buttons make choosing settings straightforward and convenient, so this is a good option for kids or elderly users who don’t want to start messing with fiddly touchscreens.
The £4250 Leica Q2 also doesn’t have a grip, and while it’s not impossible to operate with one hand, its weight and design makes it considerably less comfortable.
We found some other options to be a little easier to handle and operate than others, but this isn’t always simply down to whether they had a grip or not. For example, neither Sony RX100 IV and RX100 VI have grips, so handling isn’t great in either camera, but the lens travels to a much longer focal length on the latter model, so getting a good grip is definitely more of an issue here.
We found some models far nicer to use outdoors, for a variety of reasons. The models that have viewfinders had a slight advantage over those that don’t, as you can press your face up against them and see the scene more clearly than on the LCD. The Sony RX100 IV, Sony RX100 VI, Panasonic TZ200, Fujifilm X100F and Leica Q2 were the best options here.
The LCD screens on both of the Panasonic models were really nice and contrasty outdoors too. You can see the scene's framing clearly even on bright days.
Things weren’t quite as great with the Canon IXUS 185 HS. Its low-resolution, low contrast display made composition harder in bright light. The Olympus TG-5 also suffered a little outdoors; there’s a noticeable gap between the LCD and the outer protective panel, and contrast can suffer as a result.
That said, the TG-5’s design makes for great operation underwater, and it’s the only camera here that can venture under the waves. Its mode dial is small but moves nice and easily, and the shutter release button used to capture the image has a nice action to it. It would be a fine option for travels and beach holidays, and the fact it’s so well guarded makes it perfect for kids. Or clumsy adults.
Best overall choice
Panasonic TZ200/ZS200 - £629
The Panasonic TZ200 is our pick of the bunch. It comes out on top for its marriage of a large sensor, a generous 24-360mm zoom range and plenty of other tech inside a body that’s perfectly practical and not shockingly expensive as some of its closest rivals, notably the Sony RX100 VI.
It’s not cheap for a compact camera at £629, but all of the above makes it supremely versatile. The TZ200 is small enough to qualify as an everyday camera yet capable enough for travelling and holidays.
Build quality is reassuring and the high level of physical control is matched by an excellent implementation of touch functionality through the LCD screen. There’s also a dial around the lens that allows you to quickly change important settings, which is a great use of space.
The lens also moves quickly from one end to the other but the control for this is sensitive enough to allow very small movements for more precise framing. The camera’s autofocus system is also nice and snappy, particularly in good light, so there’s less of a chance of you missing the shot.
Image quality is generally great, and the fact that you have a RAW shooting option, together with the relatively large sensor, also means that images will hold up better if you need to make any changes on a computer later on.
A RAW photo makes it easier to lift up details in the shadows a touch or bring back a little detail in highlights.
Video quality is also strong. There’s plenty of good detail in 4K footage and the lens moves steadily as you zoom it during recording. The only slight issue here is that sounds from wind can be easily picked up by the camera, but that’s definitely not an issue exclusive to the Panasonic TZ200.
No camera is perfect and there are a few things that bug us. The viewfinder, while nice and large, isn’t quite the clearest and is a little washed out. Fortunately, you can adjust the contrast, saturation and other things through the menu, which also helps to make it a little more colour-accurate. Images on the default colour mode aren’t quite as peachy as those from some of the other cameras here, although this can be easily tweaked through the camera’s menu system.
Images have a nice contrasty look to them, although the lens performs better at its wide-angle setting than when you zoom into the distance. That said, you’re unlikely to notice any significant changes unless you really zoom into your images in Photoshop or similar software.
It’s also something of a shame that you can’t tilt the LCD screen in any way for shooting from awkward angles. But the built-in viewfinder makes image composition that little bit easier in bright light, where you may normally tilt the screen to get a better view using another model.
One small Panasonic TZ200 issue we only noticed was that when you started to record videos, the subjects being recorded would take on artifacts that made them appear very sharp and jagged. These didn’t appear in the footage itself – which incidentally, is among the strongest here – but it’s bit disconcerting while you recording.
You won’t get the kind of image quality as you would from the likes of the much pricier Fujifilm X100F or the Leica Q2, but what you do get is an excellent, flexible camera for a reasonable price. That you can take the Panasonic TZ200 anywhere with you easily is a bonus. If you like the basic idea but your budget won’t stretch this far, you may also want to look at the previous TZ100/ZS100 model, which has a similar concept, but a tidier price.
Best value choice
The Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II gets our vote here. It may be one of the oldest cameras on test, which is partly why it doesn’t have all the latest tech on board. However, it Canon gets all the basics right, delivers strong images and offers great value for money.
The body has many physical controls and the small rubber grips on the front and back help you to hold the Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II securely and operate it easily with one hand. The touchscreen also responds very well to presses and swipes, while the screen’s flip-out design also makes it one of the few models here that can be easily be used for selfies and vlogging.
Its Face Detection feature notices faces quickly and holds focus on the subject well as they move around.
Its menus are clear and colour coded. And you can scroll through all the options with the dial on the back of the camera – rather than having to repeatedly press buttons until you get to where you need to be. This makes it easy to navigate at speed.
The Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II's autofocus system isn’t the most advanced, but it generally works quickly and accurately.
The 1in sensor inside the camera is also nice and large, and this helps it capture better images than the models priced beneath it. Colours in images are pleasing too, although you benefit from shooting on the Standard colour mode than leaving it to the Auto setting. You should also keep the Auto Lighting Optimizer setting on, as this keeps a nice brightness balance in different areas of the image.
Video quality is also generally very good, although not as good as the Panasonic TZ200's.
That’s one of two marks against it. The Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II is something of a video dinosaur, and one of the few without 4K video recording. Again, not everyone shoots video so this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but given how cheap and widely available 4K televisions are these days, it means that if you do want to shoot videos they’ll be a little less futureproof in terms over their overall detail and appearance.
Also, unlike the two Sony RX100 models and the Panasonic TZ200, the PowerShot G7 X Mark II doesn’t have a viewfinder. This might not be important for everyone, but it often makes composing images easier when shooting on a sunny day. That Sony has managed to squeeze one into its similar RX100 IV body shows it’s possible to this without compromising on size.
Incidentally, a special commendation goes to the Sony RX100 IV, a very close second. While it’s not as ergonomically designed as the G7 X Mark II, and carries a slight price premium over that model, Sony throws in a crisp electronic viewfinder, a more refined autofocus system and wonderful 4K video quality. It delivers a lot for the extra outlay.
Since this review was carried out, its price has also dropped a little – so if you can find it for only a touch more than the PowerShot G7 X Mark II, it’s well worth a look.
Comparing the rest on test
Of all the cameras on test, it’s the Sony RX100 VI that boasts the highest features-to-size ratio, and great performance across the board. The pop-up electronic viewfinder is large and sharp, while the tilting touchscreen is very responsive when instructing the camera where to focus, but it’s a shame you can’t use touch functionality for general operation as you can with most of the others.
The RX100 VI’s image quality is great in good light and still strong when light levels dip, doing very well to produce pleasing exposures. Video quality is also a strong suit. True, it’s not as ergonomically designed as some other options, but this streamlined design does help to keep its size down – and you can buy an optional grip if you need it.
The Fujifilm X100F is arguably the most handsome camera here, and its many physical dials make it easy to change all the key settings quickly. It’s blessed with a clear menu system and the ability to focus promptly on subjects – if a little less so when light isn’t great.
It also delivers some of the nicest images in terms of colours and general feel. Fujifilm’s colour handling is well respected. The larger sensor means it’s somewhat bulkier than all but one option and the lens isn't a zoom which, won’t work for everyone. The lack of 4K video is also a shame.
Want to spend big?
With a sharp viewfinder, lovely LCD screen and build quality surpassed by pretty much no other compact right now, the Leica Q2 is a beautiful camera. Handling is much improved with the optional (and also expensive) grip, but the image quality is superb, even when you’re shooting indoors and when light levels fall.
Focusing performance is good and the screen responds very well to touch when setting the focus point, although, like the Sony RX100 VI, it’s a shame you can’t use this as extensively for operating the camera as you can on the others. You also have to really need 47MP images to justify dropping this kind of money on it, although Leica cameras do hold their value well if you ever get buyer’s remorse.
The Sony RX100 IV is a much more affordable alternative to its bigger Mark VI version above, and while you don’t get quite the same zoom range from the lens, you do get a crisp viewfinder, fast operation, very good focusing and cracking 4K video.
Low light image quality is also a big plus, and that you have a relatively wide-aperture lens – ie one that can let in a lot of light in a given situation – means that images are typically less grainy than would otherwise be the case.
As for its foibles, it’s not quite the most user friendly. The RX100 IV's menu system is very dense and lacks any colour coding to make it as convenient to navigate as some others. That tiny body could really use a grip to make it easier to hold too, so it’s just as well that you can get one if that starts to grate.
The Panasonic TZ80 might be one of the most affordable cameras on test, but it also happens to be one of the nicest to use. It’s packed with features and has a clear and easy-to-navigate menu.
It is also blessed with an LCD that is clear, bright and responds very well to touch. The electronic viewfinder is understandably small but relatively clear.
Image quality is a little mixed. The image stabilisation system does a good job, exposures are generally sound and images show good contrast, but colours aren’t always the most pleasing and telephoto results can be a little soft.
If you’re happy to process your RAW files you can get good results. Video quality isn’t too bad, although an effect known as rolling shutter makes things look a bit wobbly.
The Nikon A1000 looks great and has a good level of physical control, and the manner in which the screen tilts ups and down makes it flexible enough for low-angle shooting, selfies and everything else.
That all-encompassing zoom lets you really home in on more distant details where other cameras would struggle, and the image stabilisation system is clearly effective here.
But the overall experience is marred by a hit-and-miss focusing system and it’s not the nicest camera to operate. Image quality is also less than ideal, with a smearing of details common to see as the camera tries to make images less grainy than they otherwise might be.
The Olympus TG-5 is very well specced for an everything-proof compact camera. This one's tough.
It handles very nicely and focus is generally speedy when used on land. Once you get used to the method of changing key settings, you can do so quite quickly.
That said, the main menu is a bit disorganised and the purpose of some features isn’t always clear from the way they appear in the menu.
It’s not that consistent in terms of its image quality either. For a camera with such a small sensor it doesn’t fare too badly, but fine details are lacking and occasionally bright images can make colours a little washed out. In more balanced conditions, such as on a bright day indoors, it can do a very good job though.
Video quality is not great, and the sound of the zoom is very noticeable as you record and the focusing system struggles to keep things looking sharp.
The Canon IXUS 185HS is the cheapest model on test, as well as the smallest and lightest. It is the easiest to operate with one hand.
It’s simple in what it offers and relatively easy to use without the manual, while the nice big buttons make it easy for all users to operate.
But that’s pretty much where the fun ends; image and video quality are relatively poor, focusing is a little slow and the LCD is difficult to view in bright sun and from different angles. We’re also a bit concerned about the flimsy door to the battery and memory card compartment on the underside. It’d be understandable if you got what you paid for but here you sadly get a little bit less.
One to avoid
The Nikon A1000 turned out to be something of a disappointment. It looks great and the spec sheet is relatively up to date, but it’s just a little frustrating in use and the results are mixed.
For a start, the body has many physical controls, which is a plus, but some don’t really have enough room on such a small body to be operated comfortably. It’s also not as responsive as you’d expect such a camera to be. Today’s cameras are set up to be far more intuitive to presses and nudges, but here you often need to key a control twice for the camera to register a change.
Images straight out of the camera aren’t quite the best, and much of that is down to that small sensor. Fine detail is just a little too smudged, although the camera’s saving grace is that it offers a RAW mode. That means you can process these images yourself later on a computer, and you can generally achieve better results by doing so – if you’re inclined to do that, of course.
The Canon IXUS 185 HS is also a camera that holds far less appeal in today’s market than it might have done a few years ago. To its credit, it’s very small and easy to use, and the convenience of an 8x optical zoom also shouldn’t be overlooked, so for complete technophobes it might be fine.
That said, most modern smartphones can take better images and have the added convenience of far better video recording, much larger touch-sensitive displays and the ability to send images out into the wider world without you needing to go anywhere near a computer.
To add to its woes, when you consider just how many far more capable older models you can bag for just a little bit more outlay, it doesn’t seem to offer particularly good value for money – despite it being the cheapest option on test.