Best Compact Camera 2018: 8 of the best go-anywhere cameras

Looking for a small, practical camera to take on your travels? Then look no further. Our roundup will help you buy the best compact camera for you.

Best Compact Camera

In the past few years, the compact camera market has changed hugely with the proliferation of camera phones. While cheap and cheerful point-and-shoot compacts are still available, there aren’t nearly as many as there once were.

Instead, manufacturers have been forced to up their game and focus on producing compacts that deliver impressive optical zoom ranges, more useful shooting features, and demonstrably better image quality than their smartphone rivals.

This change in the landscape has resulted in the emergence of a number of compact camera sub-genres, from ruggedised waterproof compacts that you can take swimming, to premium compacts with APS-C or even full-frame sensors.

Related: Best cameras

Best Compact Camera Buying Guide – The different types available

Ruggedised compacts are essentially armour-plated compacts designed to be used underwater or on a sandy beach – or, indeed, anywhere that would be out-of-bounds to regular cameras or smartphones. As well as being water-resistant, most will survive a drop onto a solid floor from arms length without resulting in any damage.

Best Compact Camera

Strictly speaking, bridge compacts aren’t really “compact” at all; they’re often about the same size as a mid-level DSLR. Their big selling point is that they come with a large fixed zoom that provides anywhere from 24-200mm to 24-600mm and beyond. They’re versatile and flexible, just so long as you don’t mind a camera with a bit of bulk and one that isn’t designed to fit your pocket.

Travel compacts are much like bridge compacts, only smaller. They’re equipped with smaller optical zooms than bridge cameras, although most still come in around 24-200mm or thereabouts. Since they’re usually small enough to slip inside a coat pocket, they’re ideal for taking away on holiday.

Best Compact Camera

Premium compacts are perhaps the most exciting sub-genre of the compact market at present, since this is where manufacturers tend to showcase their most technologically advanced and refined models. These almost always come with a 1-inch sensor, although some even use APS-C and even full-frame sensors.

Compact camera jargon explained

1-inch sensor: One of the chief ways that manufacturers have improved their compacts is by increasing the size of the sensor. Whereas small 1/2.3-inch sensors are still used in many cheaper compacts (and, indeed, some smartphones), more advanced models often come with a 1-inch sensor that features around four times the surface area. You can expect a 1-inch sensor compact to offer better low-light performance and a higher dynamic range.

Wi-Fi: All of the cameras in this roundup offer built-in Wi-Fi as standard. This means you can connect them to your smartphone, transfer images from camera to phone, and then use your phone’s mobile data functionality to upload your images to social media or email them soon after they’ve been taken. Some apps will even allow you to control the camera remotely. 

Image stabilisation: If you’re shooting at slower shutter speeds or extended telephoto lengths, then the natural shake in your hands can result in blurred images. This is where image stabilisation (IS) comes to the rescue. Each manufacturer has its own name for the technology, but in essence there are two types: sensor-shift IS, where the camera’s sensor moves to correct handshake, and lens-based IS, where the lens makes minute adjustments to compensate instead. Either way, with IS engaged you should be able to achieve pin-sharp shots at much slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible.

4K video: While virtually all modern compacts can record at least 720p HD and usually 1080p Full HD, 4K video isn’t quite so universal yet. As such, not all of the cameras in this roundup provide it. Of course, you’ll get the full benefit of 4K video footage only if you have a 4K monitor or TV to view it on.

Aperture: Aperture refers to the size of the hole that allows light to pass through to the sensor. This hole is created by a set of interlocked blades at the base of a lens that contract and expand as you change aperture settings. It’s measured in f-stops – the higher the f-stop, the smaller the hole; the lower the f-stop, the wider it is. Lenses with especially low apertures – typically f/1.4 to f/2.8 – are much sought-after by enthusiasts for two reasons. First, because they let in more light, thereby allowing you to use faster shutter speeds in low light. Second, because they increase the depth of field effect, blurring the background behind an in-focus subject to make them stand out more.

Raw: All of of the cameras in this roundup enable you to record still images as lossless Raw files. These are different from JPEGs because when you capture a JPEG image, the camera will process the image for you in-camera before discarding some of the data to make the resulting image file smaller. However, when recording images as Raw files the camera doesn’t process the image internally, but rather retains all of the data captured by the sensor. This gives you much more scope to process the image yourself using specialist applications such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Best waterproof compact camera:

Key features:

  • 12MP sensor
  • 4x optical zoom (25-100mm equivalent), f/2-4.9
  • ISO 100-12,800
  • Waterproof to 15m
  • 4K movie recording 

The TG-5 is the latest in a long line of ruggedised compacts from Olympus that’s built to withstand the kind of environments that would all but destroy regular compacts. As such the TG-5 is waterproof to a depth of 15m, shockproof to drops of up to 2.1m, crushproof to a weight of 100kg and freezeproof down to -15°C. For those that want to use the camera at even deeper depths, Olympus offers an optional PT-058 housing unit (£279) that increases the camera’s waterproof rating to 45m.

Underneath its tank-like body, the TG-5 is built around a 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that produces 12MP of effective resolution. While this actually represents a drop in resolution from the 16MP TG-4 that preceded it, the trade-off according to Olympus is better low-light performance and enhanced dynamic range – both of which are likely to appeal to diving enthusiasts shooting in less than optimal light.

The sensor is paired with the same TruePic VIII image processor found inside the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mk II to offer a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800. In addition to its fully automatic exposure modes, the TG-5 also offers full manual control along with Raw support. The TG-5 is also the first Olympus Tough model to support 4K movie recording at 30fps, along with 120fps high-speed capture at 1080p Full HD. On the front, the TG-5 is fitted with the same 4x optical zoom as its predecessor, but does benefit from the addition of anti-fog dual-pane glass to prevent the lens from misting when the camera is subjected to extreme temperature shifts.

At time of review the Olympus TG-5 was available for £399

Read the full Olympus Tough TG-5 review

Fujifilm X100F

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Best fixed focal length camera:

Key features:

  • 24.2MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor
  • Fujifilm X-Processor Pro image processor
  • Fixed 23mm f/2 lens
  • Hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder
  • ISO 100-25,600 (expandable to ISO 51,200)

The X100F is the fourth and latest model in Fujifilm’s line of highly regarded fixed focal length premium compacts, succeeding 2014’s X100T model with a generous range of enhancements. This includes the same 24.2MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor and X-Processor Pro image processor employed by the company’s flagship X-Pro 2 and X-T2 interchangeable lens models. Needless to say, image quality from the X100F is exceptional.

Compared to the 16.3MP sensor employed by its predecessor, the X100F’s 24.2MP sensor also offers significantly more resolution, which benefits both image cropping and printing. Sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from ISO 100-12,800 with extended settings up to ISO 51,200. While primarily targeted at stills enthusiasts, the X100F does offer Full HD video capture at a maximum 60fps. Unlike other cameras in this round-up there’s no 4K support though.

As with previous X100 models, the X100F gets the same innovative hybrid viewfinder that can be set to provide either an optical view overlaid with framing guides, or a 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder with 100% coverage.

While the fixed 23mm, f/2 lens has long been a distinctive and desirable feature of the X100 line for many users others may be slightly put off by it. To this end Fujifilm offers a couple of optional lens converters in the shape of the TCL-X100 II and WCL-X100 II. Once attached these convert the X100F’s focal length to 50mm and 28mm respectively. Better still the camera knows when they have been attached, automatically correcting any optical aberrations such as fringing in-camera.

In terms of design and handling the X100F shares the same retro-rangefinder design of its predecessors, with the trademark knurled aluminium dials on the top-plate providing the same pleasingly tactile user experience that has become a hallmark of so many Fujifilm X-series cameras.

At time of review the Fujifilm X100F was available for £1,249

Sony RX10 IV

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Best bridge compact camera:

Key features:

  • 20.1MP 1-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor with DRAM chip
  • 25x optical zoom (24-600mm f/2.4-4)
  • 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder
  • 1.44m-dot 3in tilt screen
  • 4K movie recording with full pixel readout
  • Review price: £1800

In the past, all-in-one bridge cameras have provided a means of getting a long zoom range in relatively compact and affordable package. That all changed with Sony’s launch of the original RX10 in 2013. Now, with the RX10 IV, Sony has completely revised the internals, adding the stacked-CMOS sensor and Bionz X processor previously seen in its RX100 V pocket camera.

The RX10 IV’s 20.1-megapixel Exmor RS sensor uses a stacked architecture, with on-chip memory and image processing enabling high readout speeds. This allows a silent high-speed electronic shutter that practically eliminates subject distortion from rolling shutter artefacts, while offering speeds as high as 1/32,000sec, which is faster than the 1/2000sec top speed of the mechanical shutter.

Sony’s latest Bionz X processor provides the horsepower for the headline 24fps shooting mode, with a spectacular buffer of 110 RAW files, or 249 JPEGs. The sensitivity range runs from ISO 100-12,800, with extended ISO 64 and 80 options also available. Crucially, the sensor gains on-chip phase detection for autofocus too, with 315 focus points covering 65% of the image area.

Quite a few common features are missing, however. These include in-camera RAW conversion, an intervalometer, time-lapse movie creation, or even multiple aspect ratios for stills shooting – you just get a choice of 3:2 or 16:9. Unlike some other models, the RX10 IV isn’t compatible with Sony’s add-on apps, so you can’t install additional features either.

Its huge zoom range will cover almost any subject, from sweeping landscapes to sports and wildlife, while its remarkable autofocus and continuous shooting abilities make it a far better choice for photographing moving subjects than any previous bridge camera.

If you’ve always liked the idea of an all-in-one camera that will let you shoot practically any subject well, you best start saving, because the RX10 IV is the best of this type yet.

At time of review the Sony RX10 IV was available for £1,800

Read the full Sony RX10 IV review


Best enthusiast compact camera:

Key features:

  • 1-inch 20.1MP CMOS sensor
  • 4.2x optical zoom (equivalent to 24-100mm)
  • ISO 125-12,800
  • 3-inch/1.04m-dot tiltable touchscreen LCD
  • 1080p Full HD video at 60fps

There are currently five models in Canon’s flagship G-series premium compact range, with the G7 X II positioned just above the entry-level G9 X II. The main difference between the two models is that the G7 X II is slightly larger, has a more powerful zoom and a tiltable screen. Neither model comes with a viewfinder though – for that you’ll need to upgrade to the G5 X for an additional £70. As we’d expect of a Canon G-series compact, the G7 X II is an extremely competent camera that provides all the tools required by enthusiast photographers looking for a camera they can carry with them at all times.

The G7 X II is equipped with a 1-inch back-illuminated sensor that provides 20.1MP of effective resolution, and this is paired with Canon’s latest DIGIC 7 image processor to provide a native sensitivity range of ISO 125-12,800 along with a maximum burst speed of 8fps. Advanced users can switch to full manual control and 14-bit Raw capture, while a fully-automatic Smart Auto mode caters for point-and-shoot duties. In keeping with other Canon G-series cameras, the G7 X II is primarily targeted at still photographers rather than video enthusiasts. While it is capable of recording 1080p Full HD footage at a maximum 60fps, 4K is not supported and movies can only be recorded in the MP4 file format.

Optically the G7 X II is equipped with a 24-100mm f/1.8-2.8 lens, which offers a bit more telephoto reach than the Sony RX100 V (and at nearly half the price). Built-in five-axis image stabilisation provides a four-stop safety net when shooting at slower shutter speeds too. While the G7 X II contains a small pop-up flash, it lacks a hotshoe to attach more powerful strobes. Again, you’ll need to upgrade to the G5 X II if this is something that is likely to be an issue.

At time of review the Canon G7 X II was available for £539

Read the full Canon Powershot G7 X II review


Best pocket travel compact camera:

Key features:

  • 1-inch 20.1MP Live MOS sensor
  • 10x optical zoom (25-250mm equivalent)
  • 1.16m-dot EVF
  • 3-inch/1.04m-dots touchscreen LCD
  • 4K video

The Lumix TZ100 is Panasonic’s top-of-the-range travel compact and is built around a 1-inch 20.1MP sensor and a Venus Engine image processor. This enables the TZ100 to offer a native sensitivity range of ISO 125-12,800 bookended by expanded settings of ISO 80 and ISO 25,600. Video enthusiasts will be pleased to note that 4K video capture is also supported, alongside a range of 1080p Full HD and 720p HD options.

In addition to its fully automated point-and-shoot modes the TZ100 also offers the full range of PASM modes plus Raw support. There’s also a useful one-touch Panoramic mode plus a generous range of digital filter effects to play around with. Elsewhere, other notable shooting features include Panasonic’s 4K Photo Mode and a Post Focus mode that allows you to select the point of focus after taking a shot.

The TZ100 is equipped with a 1.16m-dot EVF, below which sits a fixed 3-inch/1.04m-dot LCD that provides touchscreen control over the camera. Optically, the TZ100 is equipped with a Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens that provides the 35mm equivalent of 25-250mm. This provides a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at 25mm, but does drop off rather quickly thereafter, falling to f/4.1 by 50mm and f/5.9 by around 150mm.

Panasonic’s excellent O.I.S image stabilisation technology is also present and does a very good job of keeping images sharp at slower shutter speeds and extended focal lengths. Image quality from the 1-inch sensor is generally very good, especially at lower sensitivities. Overall, the TZ100 is a very versatile camera that would make an ideal holiday companion.

At time of review the Panasonic Lumix TZ-100 was available for £528

Read the full Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100 review

Sony RX100 V

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Best premium compact camera:

Key features:

  • 1-inch 20.1MP Exmor RS sensor
  • 2.9x optical zoom (equivalent to 24-70mm)
  • ISO 100-12,800
  • 3-inch/1.22m-dots LCD
  • 2.36m-dot EVF

Now in it’s fifth generation, Sony’s RX100 series has pretty much rewritten the rulebook as to what can be expected of a premium digital compact. The RX100 V is no exception: small, well specified, hugely customisable and capable of excellent image quality.

Built around the same 1-inch Sony Exmor RS sensor and BIONZ image processor found inside Sony’s RX10 II bridge camera, the RX100 V is designed for speed. And to this end, it undoubtedly succeeds. Continuous shooting, for example, has risen to 24fp; a figure that leaves the RX100 V’s main rivals in the shade. Maximum recording time for the camera’s built-in high-speed video modes has been doubled too, giving even more flexibility to slow-motion enthusiasts. For regular video duties the RX100 V provides 4K capture alongside a range of 1080p Full HD and 720p HD options.

In addition to processing speed, another area that sees big improvement over previous models is the RX100 V’s hybrid autofocus system. Whereas previous RX100 models relied solely on contrast-detect autofocus, the latest model adds a 315-point phase-detection autofocus module that covers approximately 65% of the frame. This noticeably improves the RX100 V’s overall autofocus performance, especially in relation to tracking moving subjects.

While the RX100 V shines in just about every area, there are a few things that take the gloss off ever so slightly. There’s still no touchscreen functionality for starters, the in-camera menu system isn’t the most intuitive and battery performance isn’t great either. And then, of course, there’s the price – £900 is undoubtedly a lot of money for a compact, however good it might be. Still, even with these issues taken into consideration the RX100 V remains a cut above the competition. If you can afford one, you’re very unlikely to be disappointed.

At time of review the Sony RX100 V was available for £899

Read the full Sony RX100 V review


Best APS-C zoom compact camera:

Key features:

  • APS-C 24.2MP CMOS sensor
  • 24-72mm-equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens
  • ISO 100-25,600
  • 3-inch/1.04m-dot touchscreen 
  • 2.36m-dot EVF

Canon was the first in early 2012 to put a large sensor into a reasonably small zoom compact, with its original PowerShot G1X sporting a 14MP, 1.5-inch sensor. Six years on, we’re starting to see APS-C size sensors fitted within more compacts and the Canon G1X Mark III will go down in the history books as the first zoom compact camera with an APS-C sensor and built-in viewfinder.

Offering image quality that’s on-par with a DSLR is impressive, but the G1X Mark III offers plenty more besides its large sensor and 24-72mm-equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens. The firm’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology is onboard for on-chip phase detection, which means autofocus is impressively quick. The sensor also teams up with Canon’s latest Digic 7 processor, enabling 7fps with autofocus between frames, or 9fps with the focus fixed at the start of a burst.

The lens includes optical image stabilisation promising 4 stops benefit and alongside the conventional PASM modes for enthusiast photographers, there’s the familiar set of automated Scene modes aimed at beginners. Canon includes comprehensive connectivity options, with onboard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Dynamic NFC. Those wanting to shoot 4K video, however, will be slightly disappointed to find that it only offers Full HD movie recording at 60p.

The SLR-styled body layout shares a great likeness to the company’s 1in-sensor G5 X model. Yet despite its petite size, the camera feels secure in the hand, thanks to its good-sized rubberised fingergrip and pronounced thumb hook. The most important shooting controls are reasonably large and well placed too, which isn’t always the case on cameras of this size.

Though it’s not the easiest of cameras to slip into a trouser or shirt pocket, it isn’t exactly bulky. It fits very nicely in a jacket pocket and can be pulled out in a moments notice for any spur of the moment shots. The only real downsides to the camera are its relatively limited lens range and modest maximum aperture.

At time of review the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark III was available for £1,149

Read the full Canon G1X Mark III review


Best blow the budget compact camera:

Key features:

  • Full-frame 24.2MP CMOS sensor
  • Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.7 Asph lens
  • ISO 100-50,000
  • 3-inch/1.04m-dot LCD touchscreen
  • 3.68m-dot EVF

Alongside the Sony RX1R and RX1R II, the Leica Q is the only other fixed-lens compact to come equipped with a full-frame sensor. While the RXR1 II offers significantly more resolution at 42.2MP sensor, the Leica Q’s sensor is a more memory card-friendly at 24.2MP. The Q’s sensor is paired with a Leica Maestro II series image processor to facilitate a maximum continuous shooting speed of 10fps. Native sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from ISO 100-50,000 and shutter speeds range from 1-1/2000sec via the mechanical shutter, or 1-1/16,000sec via the electronic shutter. In addition to capturing JPEG and Raw still images, the Leica Q can also record 1080p Full HD movies at a maximum rate of 60fps.

The Leica Q is equipped with a fixed Leica Summilux 28mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.7. For those occasions where 28mm is simply too wide, the Digital Frame Selector function can be used to apply either a 1.25x crop to produce a 15.4MP image at 35mm, or a 1.8x crop for a 7.5MP image at 50mm. The lens further benefits from built-in image stabilisation and features a dedicated aperture ring, which neatly complements the shutter speed dial located on the top plate.

A 3-inch, 1.04m-dot LCD display is located on the back of the camera and offers touchscreen control over the camera. Above this sits a 3.68m-dot electronic viewfinder. Build quality, as you would expect, is exceptional with the aluminium top-plate and magnesium-alloy body giving the Q a reassuringly premium feel. For those with the budget, the Leica Q is undoubtedly a tempting proposition.

At time of review the Leica Q was available for £3,375

Read the full Leica Q (Typ 116) review