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Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Smartphone cameras might be improving rapidly, but there’s still very much a place for the dedicated compact camera.

The latest models bring long zoom lenses that are very handy for holiday snapping, along with large sensors that help produce better dynamic range and low light performance than your smartphone.

Right now, the

Sony RX100 VI

is the best overall compact camera you can buy, although the

RX100 V

might be a better choice if you don’t need its successor’s long zoom.

If that’s (understandably) too expensive, or you just want something for holiday snaps, then the Panasonic Lumix TZ100 is the best-value compact camera money can buy.

If you’re in the market for a specific style of camera, head to one of our more specific round-ups for more information:

  • Best DSLRs
  • Best Mirrorless Cameras
  • Best Waterproof Cameras
  • Best Action Cams

How we test

We test for colour – different sensor and camera image processors can interpret colour differently, while this can also shift at different ISO sensitivities. We then get down to the nitty-gritty of resolution, with our lab tests showing us exactly how much detail each camera’s sensor can resolve. Even though cameras can share identical pixel counts, some perform better than others. Then we look at image noise, since different cameras can produce cleaner images at higher ISOs than others.

Finally, we get out and shoot with every camera in real-world conditions, just as you will, to find out how they perform in day-to-day use. All results are analysed by the very best industry software, making our reviews the most authoritative of any you’ll read.

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Sony RX100 VI

Pros:

  • Useful zoom range
  • Excellent image quality with reliable exposure
  • Remarkably fast autofocus and continuous shooting
  • Pop-up viewfinder and tilting screen

Cons:

  • Tiny buttons can make operation frustrating
  • Very expensive
  • Comparatively poor battery life

Sony’s RX series have long been the gold standard for compact cameras, but they unfortunately also cost about the same as a lump of precious metal. How do they justify their price tags? By cramming in some incredibly advanced tech like a large 1-inch sensor, powerful Bionz X processor and, in the RX100 VI’s case, a 24-200mm zoom lens.

That 8.3x optical zoom provides significantly more reach than its predecessor, although it also slightly slower at f/2.8-f/4.5. If you mainly photograph at close quarters and only need a mid-range zoom, then the RX100 Mark V is probably a better bet.

For everyone else, though, the RX100 VI represents the pinnacle of compact camera tech right now. It has an incredible continuous shooting rate of 24fps, lightning fast autofocus and a lovely 2.36-million-dot OLED viewfinder that’s perfect for composing shots in bright, sunny conditions.

Like its predecessors, the RX100 VI’s combination of a 20.1MP CMOS sensor and Bionz X image processor produces excellent photos at low ISOs and largely noise-free shots right up to ISO 1600. If you like shooting video, you’ll be pleased to find that it can now shoot 4K in HDR too.

Of course, there are some downsides to shoehorning this much tech into a compact camera. The RX100 VI can be fiddly to use and its battery life isn’t great, at around 230 shots per charge. But with some clear advantages over the Panasonic TZ200, including its speed and larger pop-up viewfinder, it is the best compact you can buy right now, albeit one of the most expensive.

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Panasonic Lumix TZ200

Pros:

  • Great zoom range for such a small camera
  • Very respectable image quality
  • Considerably improved grip compared to Lumix TZ100

Cons:

  • Rear screen doesn’t tilt
  • Lacklustre out-of-camera JPEG image quality
  • Control layout is poor for eye-level shooting

The Lumix TZ200 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 TZ200 to offer a standard sensitivity range of ISO 200-25,600 bookended by expanded settings of ISO 80 and ISO 25,600.

The TZ200’s headline feature is its 24-360mm lens, which brings it closer to the zoom ranges offered by cheaper long-zoom compacts with smaller sensors and interior image quality. The maximum aperture has dropped to f/3.3-6.4 (from f/2.8-5.9 on the Lumix TZ100) and it carries across built-in image stabilisation, which goes a long way towards making this small-aperture superzoom usable without always having to raise the ISO to avoid blur from camera shake.

Video enthusiasts will be pleased to note that 4K video capture is also supported, alongside a range of 1080p Full HD options. In addition to its fully automated point-and-shoot modes the TZ200 also offers the full range of PASM modes plus Raw support. Panasonic’s handy 4K-photo mode gets its own button, allowing you to record 8MP stills at 30fps. It even has a pre-burst mode that records footage from a second before and after you press the shutter button.

The TZ200 is equipped with a 2.33m-dot EVF (0.53x magnification), below which sits a fixed 3-inch/1.24m-dot LCD that provides touchscreen control over the camera. Autofocus works exceptionally well, and in good light focusing is essentially instantaneous. The TZ200 can even make a decent attempt at tracking moving subjects while shooting at a brisk 7fps. The fastest the camera can shoot full resolution images is 10fps.

Image quality from the 1-inch sensor is very good, though you’ll get the best results from processing its raw files. If you want a pocketable camera with a long zoom range that delivers pleasing results, the Panasonic Lumix TZ200 is the best travel camera you can buy right now. If its price is more than you’re willing to spend, we’d recommend looking at the Panasonic Lumix TZ100 (£500), which is still currently available.

Buy now: Panasonic Lumix TZ200 for £729 from Amazon

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Olympus Tough TG-5

Pros:

  • Speedy autofocus for a rugged compact
  • Takes sharp and vibrant photos
  • Can shoot in Raw for flexible editing

Cons:

  • Rivals have better screens
  • Mode dial can be a bit on the stiff side

Looking for a pocketable camera that can survive ocean dunks and airport luggage handlers? The Tough TG-5 is the best all-round rugged compact you can buy. It’s no longer the newest tough cam in town (that’s the Panasonic Lumix FT7, which we’re currently testing), but it does have some key benefits over its rivals – including the ability to shoot in Raw.

This gives you extra flexibility when it comes to editing to your images, but thankfully the TG-5’s photos are also excellent straight out of the camera. Its combination of a 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and TruePic VIII processor produces vibrant and sharp results in most situations. If you find yourself in gloomy conditions, you can also crank the ISO up to a maximum of 12,800, although we found ISO 1600 to be the limit before excessive noise creeps in.

Most importantly for a tough cam, the TG-5 is really fun to use. Its protruding grip helps prevent accidental drops overboard and the buttons are all sensibly placed. Another bonus is that autofocus performance is a step up from its rivals, helping you lock onto targets without too much frustrating hunting.

There are a couple of minor downsides. The TG-5’s screen isn’t quite as high-res as the one found on Nikon’s Coolpix AW130. And its mode dial, while very useful, can become a bit stiff if any grit gets stuck around it. Rivals do also offer slightly longer reach than its 4x zoom.

Still, the TG-5 survived all of the abuse we gave it, including a drop from 2.1m and an underwater photo shoot. And with fast autofocus and excellent image quality backing up these rugged credentials, it’s the best all-round compact to take on your outdoorsy adventures.

Buy now: Olympus Tough TG-5 for £359.99 / $315 from Amazon

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Panasonic Lumix LX100 II

Pros:

  • Large sensor
  • Touch-sensitive screen
  • EVF
  • 4K Photo and Video modes

Cons:

  • No tilting screen
  • Incremental upgrade

One of our favourite ‘big sensor compacts’, the original LX100 was a winner for its large Four Thirds sensor and all round flexibility.

We had to wait four years for a replacement, the LX100 II, and while it brings with it some welcome upgrades in terms of the sensor and electronic viewfinder, overall it’s a fairly placid set of improvements.

The biggest drawback is the lack of a tilting screen – for a camera so squarely aimed at street photographers, not having one is a real shame. Still, you’ve got a Four Thirds sensor which is the same size as you’ll find in one of the company’s interchangeable lens cameras, coupled with a 3x zoom lens which gives you fast apertures of f/1.8-2.8.

It might not be quite small enough to fit in your jeans pocket, but slipping it into a jacket or a small bag is more than doable, making it a sensible choice for travelling when you don’t want to compromise too much on quality.

Images from the LX100 II are great, with nice tones and plenty of detail. We particularly love the new L.Monochome D Photo Style, which works particularly well for classic street-style shots.

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Canon G1X Mark III

Pros:

          • Class-leading image quality
          • Excellent control layout and handling
          • Robust weather-resistant construction

Cons:

          • Lens is a little limited in terms of creative potential
          • Relatively poor battery life
          • No 4K video recording

Canon was the first to put a large sensor into a reasonably small zoom compact back in 2012, 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.

Buy now: Canon G1X Mark III for £1,089 / $1,099 from Amazon

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Fujifilm X100F

Pros:

          • Looks gorgeous
          • Solid battery life
          • Great image quality

Cons:

          • Limited to 1080p video

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.

Buy now: Fujifilm X100F for £985 / $1,199 from Amazon

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Canon Powershot G7 X II

Pros:

          • Large sensor
          • Wide aperture lens
          • Touch-sensitive screen
          • Wi-Fi

Cons:

          • Lack of viewfinder
          • Short zoom
          • Macro focusing is tricky

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.

Buy now: Canon Powershot G7 X II for £469 / $649 from Amazon

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Leica Q (Typ 116)

Pros:

          • Fantastic handling and control
          • Excellent image quality
          • High-quality lens

Cons:

          • Price pushes it into a niche
          • Video capabilities could be better

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 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

Buy now: Leica Q (Typ 116) for £2,908 / $4,250 from Amazon

Incoming

Ricoh GR III

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Touted as the ‘ultimate snapshot camera’, the Ricoh GR series have always enjoyed a niche, but cult following. Specifications haven’t been set in stone yet for the Ricoh GR III announced at Photokina 2018, but it’s expected to have a large APS-C CMOS sensor

Zeiss ZX1

Best Compact Camera 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

This full-frame compact camera, also announced at Photokina, has lots of little tricks up its proverbial sleeve. Not only does the Zeiss ZX1 have a huge 4.3-inch touchscreen, 512GB of internal memory, and a Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2 lens (making it very similar to the one found on the Sony RX1 series), but it’s also got Lightroom baked right into the device, so you can edit your shots on the fly.

Those are our top picks of the best compact cameras. If you want to know more about how more about what to look out for when buying a compact camera then read on.

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 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Strictly speaking, bridge compacts aren’t really “compact” at all, which is why we haven’t included them here; they’re often about the same size as a mid-level DSLR. Still, 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 2018: The top go-anywhere cameras

Premium compacts are perhaps the most exciting sub-genre of the compact market right now, 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: Some of the cameras in this roundup let you 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. But when recording images as Raw files, the camera doesn’t process the image internally and instead 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.

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