On the surface, it might seem like your smartphone does a decent enough job of snapping your posh dinner in that upmarket Italian restaurant at the weekend, or your latest selfie as you bronze yourself on the beach, but if you hanker after more – faster captures, sharp shots of moving subjects and cleaner, more natural looking shots after dark for instance – then you're missing out.

The reason your 8MP smartphone camera can't match your mate's 8mp compact for image quality and level of detail is that it's not all about megapixels – sensor size matters too. A Smartphone's sensor is a mere fraction of the size of that inside a compact camera: a larger sensor means bigger pixels and better light-gathering ability, plus the way in which the technology is configured in a camera means that you can achieve sharper definition, finer detail and cleaner images in low light.

Added bonuses such as Wi-Fi connectivity, big zoom lenses and detail-rich macro shooting modes – not to mention HD movie recording and fast burst shooting modes – are all features that current smartphones just can't deliver to the same level as a compact, if at all.

Put simply, smartphone cameras have their place when it comes to occasional snapshots, but for a reliable, responsive performance and truly impressive image quality in an easily portable package, you can't beat a compact. Read on for our round-up of six of the best budget-friendly compacts on the market that will help you take your photography to the next level.

Nikon Coolpix S9500

Spec: 18.1mp, 1/2.3 inch back-illuminated sensor, Full HD (1920 x 1080) video, 3-inch OLED screen
Price: US$287.44 / £179.99 / AU$299

Nikon Coolpix S9500

This stylish compact launched at £299.99 / US$349.95 / AU$399 but can now be snapped up for a fraction of that. Its stylish good looks, decent build quality and well-rounded feature-set make it an ideal choice for savvy snappers looking to bag a bargain.

For your money you get a user-friendly compact that's well-equipped for capturing everyday life on the move. As well as an 18.1mp back-illuminated CMOS sensor that's capable of delivering great quality images, the S9500 boasts a versatile 22x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 25-550 mm on a 35mm camera) – complete with VR stabilization.

Videographers get a Full HD movie mode and HDMI output, plus built-in Wi-Fi and GPS allows for easy sharing and geotagging of video and stills by installing the Nikon wireless utility app on your smart device. Overall, this is a solid camera with plenty of functionality on offer for the price and the ability to deliver top-quality images to boot.

Pros:

  • Versatile 22x optical zoom lens with excellent VR system
  • Plenty of user-friendly exposure modes
  • Built-in GPS and Wi-Fi

Cons:

  • Screen a little low-res compared to the competition
  • No manual exposure control
  • No RAW capture

Read our Nikon Coolpix S9500 review

Canon IXUS 255 HS

Spec: 12.1mp, 1/2.3 type back-illuminated CMOS, Full HD (1920 x 1080) video, 3-inch PureColor II G LCD (TFT)
Price: US$255 / £159 / AU$209

Canon IXUS 255 HS

This camera started life at £230/US$230/AU$279, reflecting its feature-rich list of specifications and excellent build quality.

The current average online price for this camera makes it a very attractive option for photographers looking for a reliable compact that packs in plenty of functionality.

In use, the intuitive interface and snappy performance from the AF system makes this little IXUS a joy to shoot with. Its fast start-up and shot-to-shot times are backed up by impressive image quality, with the camera's HS status denoting its top-notch low-light capture capabilities.

Throw in high-quality Full HD movie recording, built-in Wi-Fi and a useful 10x optical zoom lens (complete with Canon's excellent IS system) and this pocketable powerhouse further demonstrates its excellent value for money.

Pros:

  • Decent low light performance
  • Effective IS system
  • Responsive in use

Cons:

  • No touchscreen
  • Some wind noise on movie soundtracks
  • No Auto-Stitching of panoramas

Read our Canon IXUS 255 HS Hands-On review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300

Spec: 18.2mp, 1/2.3 type Exmor R CMOS sensor, Full HD (1920 x 1080) video, 3-inch TFT ClearPhoto screen
Price: US$208.58 / £129.99 / AU$349

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX300

At its launch, this petite compact was billed by Sony as 'the world's smallest 20x optical zoom digital compact camera', making the WX300 a superb choice for on-the-go photographers who need a camera capable of capturing a wide range of subjects.