Compact cameras come in so many different types and sizes that it's hard to choose the right one, or even know where to start.
A 'compact' camera, to most people, is one you can slip into a pocket, though technically it's any digital camera with a non-removable lens – so that includes DSLR-style superzoom 'bridge' cameras and high-powered expert cameras for enthusiasts.
There are so many choices it quickly gets confusing – so we've picked out what we think are the top 10 best compact cameras on the market, in all price brackets, and why.
1. Panasonic LX100
A compact masterpiece, with a, big sensor, classic controls, fast zoom and even 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: Panasonic LX100 review
2. Fuji X30
A compact camera for enthusiasts that's packed with features and style but still affordable
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: Fuji X30 review
3. Fuji X100T
Fuji took a chance with this retro-themed fixed lens compact – and made its reputation
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: Fuji X100T review
4. Sony RX10
Hard to categorise and easily overlooked, the RX10 scores with 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: Sony RX10 review
5. Panasonic FZ1000
Bridge cameras usually match yucky, small sensors with crazy big zooms... but not this time
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: Panasonic FZ1000 review
6. Canon SX60 HS
Big-zoom bridge cameras don't deliver the best quality, but the SX60 HS is best-of-breed
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: Canon SX60 HS review
7. Panasonic TZ70/ZS50
Travel cameras combine big zoom ranges with pocket-sized bodies, and the TZ70 is the best
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.
8. Olympus Tough TG-4
If you like to live on the wild side, the TG-4 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 haven't yet had Olympus's latest TG-4 in for review, but we've tested the TG-3 and we like it a lot. You normally think of cameras as delicate electronic devices, but the TG-4 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: Olympus TG-3 review
9. Canon PowerShot D30
Tough and smart-looking at the same time, 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: Canon D30 review
10. Sony W800
It's cheap, it's simple and it still gives you a 5x zoom – the Sony is our top low-cost buy
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: Sony W800 review