The first thing you need to know about 'compact' cameras is that they're often far from compact! The term 'compact camera' is a bit of a catch-all for cameras which don't take interchangeable lenses, so it does include pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras, but it also includes big-zoom bridge cameras, high-end cameras for enthusiasts, waterproof cameras and more.
If you need a bit more help figuring out what kind of camera you need, then read this article: Best high-end compact
But if you already know what kind of camera you want, then check out our more specific compact camera guides:
Article continues below
In fact you'll find all these different kinds of compact camera in our top ten list. We've rated these cameras not just on features and quality but also value for money, ease of use and how well they suit their particular user type.
1. Panasonic LX100
A compact masterpiece, with a big sensor, classic controls and a viewfinder
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds, 12.8MP | Lens: 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch, 921K dots | Viewfinder: Yes | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Expert
Keen photographers usually go for a DSLR or a compact system camera, but they also want something that will slip in a pocket for those days when the big camera needs to stay at home. Usually, that means putting up with a smaller sensor – but not this time. Somehow, Panasonic has shoehorned a CSC-sized Micro Four Thirds sensor into a compact camera body. Not only that, it's added an aperture ring on the lens, a shutter speed dial on the top AND an electronic viewfinder. It has a specially-designed super-compact wide-aperture lens and it can shoot 4K too. Expensive, but amazing and unique.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
2. Fuji X30
A camera for enthusiasts, blending power, performance and affordability
Sensor: 2/3-inch X-Trans, 12MP | Lens: 28-112mm, f/2.0-2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 920K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Intermediate/Expert
But you don't have to pay a fortune for a top-quality high-end compact camera. We like the Sony RX100 III with its 1-inch sensor, but we're actually going to go for the Fuji X30, and for two reasons: it's very good value for money for what it delivers, and the 2/3-inch Fuji X-Trans sensor punches well above its weight, with excellent film simulation modes, dynamic range expansion and shadow/highlight contrast control. It's nicely made, too, with a solid-feeling body, traditional manual zoom ring and a very good electronic viewfinder.
Read the full review: Fuji X30
3. Fuji X100T
Fuji made its reputation with this fabulous retro-themed high-end compact
Sensor: APS-C X-Trans, 16.3MP | Lens: 35mm, f/2 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1040K dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid optical/EVF | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Expert
The X100T is a beauty both to look and and to use, but it's not for everyone! It's a relatively large, retro-styled camera with a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent f/2.0 lens, and designed for photographers who hanker after the weighty feel and manual external controls of traditional 35mm rangefinder cameras. It's a relatively specialised camera you'll use for a certain type of subject (street photography, for example) and most owners are likely to have other cameras too. The original X100 revived Fuji's fortunes and gave its rivals the jolt they needed to develop their own classically-designed cameras.
Read the full review: Fuji X100T
4. Sony RX10
Hard to categorise and easily overlooked, the RX10 has a brilliant lens and a big sensor
Sensor: 1-inch CMOS, 20.2MP | Lens: 24-200mm, f/2.8 | Monitor: 3-inch tilting, 1440K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Intermediate/Expert
Actually, that 'big' sensor is relative. DSLR and mirrorless camera owners would sneer at a 1-inch sensor, but it's much bigger than the sensors used in regular compact cameras and bridge cameras and this has a big impact on picture quality. The problem for the RX10 is that its 8.3x zoom range is too short for it to be considered a 'bridge' camera so people don't know how to categorize it. But that 24-200mm lens is remarkable – its constant f/2.8 maximum aperture is unheard of in a compact camera with this kind of zoom range.
Read the full review: Sony RX10
5. Panasonic FZ1000
The FZ1000 combines a bridge camera zoom with a big 1-inch sensor
Sensor: 1-inch, 20.1 megapixels | Lens: 25-400mm, f/2.8-4 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 921K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Movies: 4K | User level: Intermediate
The Sony RX10 is impressive enough, but the Panasonic FZ1000 takes it a step further. Bridge cameras are very popular because they offer a colossal zoom range at a modest cost. To design a big zoom, though, the makers have to use a tiny sensor – and here Panasonic took the wise choice to sacrifice zoom range for better quality. Like the Sony RX10, the Panasonic FZ1000 uses a 1-inch sensor, and while the zoom tops out at 400mm equivalent, that's still plenty for all but the most extreme uses. If you want both zoom power and quality, the FZ1000 is the answer.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000
6. Canon SX60 HS
A massive 65x zoom makes this bridge camera a good all-rounder
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS, 16.1MP | Lens: 21-1365mm, f/3.4-6.5 | Monitor: 3-inch articulating, 922K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 6.4fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic/Intermediate
Having just complained that regular bridge cameras use small sensors that compromise the quality, we're still going to recommend the Canon SX60 HS. The Panasonic FZ1000 is big and expensive, and the Canon is much more manageable in both respects. Its 1/2.3-inch sensor has a back-illuminated design for better light gathering, and while its 65x zoom has now been beaten by the 83x zoom on the Nikon P900, it's still right up there with the biggest on the market. You get an articulating LCD, full manual controls and the ability to shoot raw files, so the SX60 is about as good as regular bridge cameras get.
Read the full review: Canon PowerShot SX60 HS
7. Panasonic TZ70/ZS50
The TZ70 is the perfect travel camera, with a big zoom but a pocket-sized body
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 12.1 | Lens: 24-720mm, f/3.3-6.4 | Monitor: 3-inch, 1040K dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic/Intermediate
Most of us like to travel light, and this has led to a big market in versatile 'travel', or 'long-zoom' compacts. Panasonic kicked off this whole camera genre with its TZ-series, and these are still the best. The latest model, the TZ70, has a 30x zoom and some remarkably powerful features, including full manual exposure modes, the ability to shoot raw files and even an electronic viewfinder. The small sensor is a necessary evil for this type of camera, but Panasonic has bravely dropped the resolution to 12 megapixels to give better sensitivity and all-round quality.
Read the full review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ70
8. Olympus Tough TG-3
If you like to live on the wild side, the TG-3 can take as much punishment as you can
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch CMOS, 16MP | Lens: 25-100mm, f/2.0-4.9 | Monitor: 3-inch, 460K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic/Intermediate
We like the Olympus TG-3 a lot. You normally think of cameras as delicate electronic devices, but the TG-3 is as tough as they come. It's shockproof to a height of 2.1m (the height you can drop it from), crushproof (resisting a force of 100kg), waterproof (down to a depth of 15m) and freezeproof (down to -10 degrees centigrade). You also get a surprisingly fast 4x zoom lens – f/2.0 at its widest focal length – and built-in GPS, so that you can follow your adventures on a map.
Read the full review: Olympus TG-3
9. Canon PowerShot D30
Tough and smart-looking, the D30 is waterproof down to an amazing 25m
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS, 12.1 megapixels | Lens: 28-140mm, f/3.9-4.8 | Monitor: 3-inch, 461K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 1.9fps | Movies: 1080 | User level: Basic
Still on the subject of tough cameras, we also like the Canon PowerShot D30. It's a lot cheaper than the Olympus TG-4 and a little less aggressive in its styling. It goes even deeper, too, with a depth rating of 25m, and all this combines to make it a tough and practical family camera. But while the D30 does have GPS, like the Olympus, there's no Wi-Fi – and there's no 'crushproof' rating either. The image quality isn't quite on a par with the Olympus's (which also shoots raw files, by the way) and the macro mode can be a bit hit and miss, but you can't fault its value.
Read the full review: Canon PowerShot D30
10. Sony W800
It's cheap, it's simple and it still gives you a 5x zoom
Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 20.1MP | Lens: 26-130mm, f/3.2-6.4 | Monitor: 2.7-inch, 230K dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 0.5fps | Movies: 720 | User level: Basic
If price is the biggest factor, then you can hardly do better than the Sony W800. At this end of the market you have to tread a careful line between 'cheap' and 'rubbish', and the W800 keeps you firmly on the side of 'cheap'. Its 20MP 1/2.3-inch sensor and 5x zoom lens deliver perfectly satisfactory quality for a budget point-and-shoot camera, and both the build quality and the styling are a cut above what you might expect at this price. It's small, light, easy to use and gives you just enough manual control to cope with the occasional tricky situation.
Read the full review: Sony DSC-W800 compact camera