Best compact camera 2015: which should you buy?

Get the best compact digital camera for your needs

Of course, lots of photographers fancy the zoom range of a bridge camera but in the pocket-sized body of a regular compact. That's why travel/long zoom compact cameras are a big growth area. We call them 'travel' cameras because that sums up what they're best at. They're small enough to carry anywhere when you're on a trip, and they have a big zoom range – big enough for wideangle shots in narrow city streets and long range shots of animals, architecture and people.

There are compromises, but not as many as you might think. Travel compacts mostly use the same ½.3-inch sensors found in regular compact cameras, so the quality is adequate rather than exceptional – but most people will be looking at these cameras as alternatives to regular compacts anyway, so that's not necessarily a problem.

Travel zoom retracting lens
Now you see it… now you don't. Panasonic's legendary TZ60 travel zoom packs a huge zoom range into a pocket-sized body.

Now you see it… now you don't. Panasonic's legendary TZ60 travel zoom packs a huge zoom range into a pocket-sized body.

And the zoom range isn't as wide as that of a bridge camera, though travel compacts can often get surprisingly close. Early models might sport a 10x zoom range, but today you can get pocket-size travel cameras with 20x or even 30x zoom ranges. Not so long ago, that would have been pretty good for a bridge camera.

Lens quality does vary. For the makers, it's quite a challenge to get such a long-range lens to retract into the camera body when you switch the camera off, and yet still get good picture quality all the way through the zoom range. As with bridge cameras, you can expect to see some drop-off in sharpness at longer zoom settings.

But some travel zooms are more than just souped-up point-and-shoot cameras. The Panasonic TZ60 is a prime example because it brings in a lot of the features you find in high-end compact cameras. It offers PASM exposure modes, for example, and it can shoot raw files as well as JPEGs. Panasonic has even managed to squeeze in an EVF (electronic viewfinder).

Waterproof/adventure cameras

This is a whole new area for compact cameras that started slowly but is now really capturing people's imagination. For not much more than the cost of a regular point-and-shoot compact you can get a camera that will survive being immersed in water, dropped or even frozen.

You do need to look out for the usual camera specifications, including sensor size and zoom range, but these don't vary a great deal for this kind of camera. Most have 1/2.3-inch sensors and a 3x zoom lens.

Olympus waterproof camera
A tough 'adventure' camera like this Olympus is designed for outdoor activities where regular cameras would break.

The key specs relate to the camera's physical construction – its waterproofing, shock-resistance and cold-proofing.

The waterproofing is easiest to measure. Water pressure increases with depth, so it's easy for makers to specify a maximum depth rating for their cameras. Basic models may be waterproof to a depth of 3m, but the better ones can go down to a depth of 10m or more. If you want to go deeper than that then you have to enter the specialised world of waterproof housings and diving equipment.

Shock-proofing is not quite as clearly defined. For most of these cameras, the makers say they will survive a drop of up to 2m, but the circumstances will clearly have an effect on this. Dropping a camera on a domestic floor is not the same as dropping into on to a jagged rock.

Cold-proofing is harder to define, too. Makers might say their camera is 'cold-proof' down to a temperature of -10 degrees, for example, but you may want to shoot in colder places than this, and you may find that a regular camera will still work as long as you keep it protected between shots.

In any event, these waterproof/adventure cameras are far more rugged than the regular sort and the ideal camera for mounting biking expeditions, swimming, climbing or even trips to the beach with the family.

Ricoh WG M1 adventure action camera
There is a growing crossover with lifestyle/adventure movie cameras like the GoPro, the new HTC Re or Ricoh's pebble-like WG-M1. If you're shooting stills, why not shoot video too?

If you want a camera to capture your adventurous lifestyle, you're rapidly becoming spoilt for choice, and while there are tough point-and-shoot compacts that can take real punishment, they're no longer the only choice.

Hopefully, this has given you a clearer idea about the range of compact cameras on the market, and it's helped you narrow down when you need. To find out what cameras we really rate on Techradar right now, click the links below: