(Pocket-lint) – A top compact camera allows you to receive the benefits of DSLR and mirrorless image quality without the burden of carrying it around in a bag or around your neck.
Since this style of camera is small enough to keep in your back pocket, they make excellent options for those who need to react to shots around them or, simply, those who can’t afford the bulk of other camera types.
You might be wondering what exactly constitutes a compact camera, though. Well, aside from the size being small, all of these cameras will feature a non-interchangeable lens – either zoom or prime – and typically more of an old-style design.
In this list, we’ll be detailing the best compact cameras at a range of different price points – read on to discover why you should consider these picks.
What are the best compact cameras? Our current pick is the Sony ZV-1. However, other great options include the Canon Powershot G7 X Mark III, Sony RX100 VII, Panasonic LUMIX DC-ZS70K and Sony RX100 IV.
Our Top Pick: Best Compact Camera
- Full flip screen
- Impressive video capabilities and audio options
- Incredible autofocus
- Not the longest battery life
- Zoom range could be longer
The Sony ZV-1 is heavily marketed toward the vlogging crowd, but, if you don’t fancy donning a selfie-stick and starting a YouTube channel, you shouldn’t let that put you off.
What it means in practice is that the ZV-1 has incredible video performance and fantastic audio, combined with some of the best autofocus tracking that any camera has to offer. There’s a 1-inch sensor that helps with low-light performance, as well, and it has a pretty fast 1.8 aperture on its built-in zoom lens.
While most of the features are slightly geared toward video shooters, the stills modes still take advantage of the superb autofocus system, ensuring your snaps are pin-sharp. We found the only real drawback to be the shorter zoom range, when compared to some of the other options in this list.
Compact cameras we also recommend
Sony’s vlogging-focused ZV-1 won’t be the right camera for everyone. With that in mind, here are four other compact cameras that we really liked during testing and would recommend checking out.
Canon Powershot G7 X Mark III
- Solid 4k video credentials
- 20 fps burst shooting
- Great image quality from its 1 inch sensor
- Autofocus not as good as the Sony equivalent
- Pricey compared to its predecessors
The Canon G7 X Mark III is, in many ways, Canon’s equivalent to the Sony ZV-1. Like Sony’s offering, it features a 1-inch sensor, a fast zoom lens and a 180-degree flippable screen.
With the G7 X Mark III, you get about twice the reach on the zoom lens, and Canon’s highly praised colour science. This is coupled with a highly impressive 20 fps burst shooting mode that will be a delight for sports photographers.
It also features a 3.5mm mic input for video shooting at up to 4k 30 fps, which will surely please vloggers, too.
The only area it can’t keep up is autofocus, with Sony’s system being far more reliable.
Sony RX100 VII
- Wonderful image and video quality
- Great image stabilisation
- Pop up viewfinder
- Small buttons can be tricky to press
- It’s very expensive
The latest model follows the standards set by the Mark VI, which extended the lens further for greater versatility, and adds an advanced image processing engine and mic input to the package. It’s got a serious zoom on it, taking you from full-on wide-angle all the way to telescope mode.
The video features are plentiful, and there’s even an option for up to 1000 fps slow-motion. The built-in stabilisation is pretty good, too. As ever with high-performance compacts, the battery life isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but we found it to be comparable to its competition.
However, you’ll need deep pockets to enjoy it – and not on account of its size, simply because the asking price typically hovers above the four-figure mark.
Panasonic LUMIX DC-ZS70K
- Versatile 30x zoom range
- Simple touchscreen controls
- Handy mode dial and control ring
- Limited aperture at long focal lengths
- Weak low-light performance
The Panasonic ZS-series (or TZ-series, for those in the UK) has long been an excellent pick for those in need of a versatile compact, and the ZS70 is no different.
The camera’s hallmark feature is its 30x optical zoom lens, which encompasses wide-angle (24mm equivalent) for those group shots, or can zoom right in (to a 720mm equivalent) to make far-away subjects appear large in the frame.
With decent autofocus, an electronic viewfinder, excellent image stabilization, a tilt-angle LCD screen for selfies, and a whole roster of other top features, the ZS70’s aspirations make it a real jack-of-all-trades.
Sony RX100 IV
- Great image quality
- Has a customisable control ring
- Excellent value
- Pretty old and a little outdated
- Autofocus system is lacking compared to newer models
The Sony RX100 Mark IV is pretty long in the tooth, but, since it’s still relatively easy to find stock and it now hovers at around half of its original asking price, it represents quite the steal.
You still get Sony’s fantastic optics, a nice long zoom range, fast f1.8 aperture and a pop-up electronic viewfinder. It even shoots in 4K video, although it doesn’t have the microphone input to go with it.
The main area where the Mark IV lacks is its autofocus system. This has come on leaps and bounds in the last few iterations of the RX100, so, if that’s a priority, you will want to look elsewhere.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours snapping away and analysing the results before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides, including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the cameras we considered didn’t make our final guide.
The products not currently in our top selections, however, may still be worth considering for those who haven’t found their perfect compact camera in the picks above. Here they are.
How to choose a compact camera
Compact cameras come with all manner of different specifications to suit different people, from people who want an upgrade from their smartphone to daily vloggers who need something lightweight to document their daily adventures.
This variety gives you a world of options, but it can also make it pretty tricky to narrow down which model is right for you. Here are a few things to think about before taking the plunge.
What will you be using your compact camera for?
Thinking about this should really help you narrow things down. If you love to shoot wildlife, then you’ll want a decently long zoom, but, if it’s mainly going to be used for group shots at parties, then you’ll care more about how wide it goes.
If you’ll be using the camera for videos, then you might want to make sure it has a microphone input, as the built-in microphones aren’t always good enough for a polished video. Image stabilisation is a massive factor for videos, too, especially with these tiny cameras, as their form factor makes them more prone to shakes.
What’s the deal with 1-inch sensors?
A few cameras on our list boast 1-inch sensors, but what does that even mean? We won’t get into the nitty-gritty here, because all you really need to know is that a larger sensor gives you better low light performance and allows for a shallower depth of field.
A 1-inch sensor, on cameras of this size, is really quite large indeed. So, if you’ll be shooting in dimly lit situations a lot, then you might want to consider the sensor size.
Is a compact camera right for you?
The clue with compact cameras is right in the name, they’re compact! Most people don’t want to lug around a heavy DSLR and a bag full of lenses, so compacts offer a great alternative with a wide range of focal lengths built right in.
If you’re a keen smartphone shooter, a compact camera can give you real bokeh, as opposed to the AI-driven portrait modes that so often chop into your subject’s hair or body. The zoom range will be welcomed, as well, if you have ever tried to take a picture of some wildlife with your phone.
More experienced photographers often like compacts as they are a lot more discreet. This allows them to get candid shots and maybe even shoot photos in areas that don’t allow for the more professional looking equipment.
If you’re new to photography but are thinking of getting into it more seriously, you might eventually find yourself feeling a bit limited without interchangeable lenses – so you might want to take a look at some of our other camera buyer’s guides, too.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.
A compact camera needs to be reliable, so we’ve tested all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up to daily usage. We’ve checked everything from image quality to battery life to make sure they’re up to the task.
As with any roundup, it’s not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we use our own experiences and the opinions of the experts on the Pocket-lint team in order to determine a small number of cameras to recommend.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are in-depth spec comparisons and marketing jargon; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each camera is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity.
Writing by Luke Baker.