Compacts have come a long way in recent years, and as well as basic snappers, there are some cameras suitable for professionals. To help you choose your perfect model, we've put together this straightforward buying guide.
Compact cameras are so-called because of their size, but this is a bit misleading as some higher-end models are quite sturdy and bulky.
They differ from compact system, or mirrorless, cameras, and SLRs in that you can't change their lenses. Again, though, some more sophisticated compacts share features with interchangeable lens cameras, such as powerful image processors and larger sensors.
Compact cameras, particularly cheaper ones, are facing stiff competition from smartphones. So if you are only looking for a simple point and click device, you might be better off upgrading your phone, as there is now a vast array of apps for enhancing and sharing your images.
If you want to keep your phone and camera separate, though, or want a more powerful camera with a better lens and wider range of shooting options, read on!
What types of compact camera are there?
There are three types of compact camera that we are going to talk about here. The first is the straightforward point and shoot device, which is designed to be as simple to use and as unobtrusive as possible. They don't tend to have a lot of dials or buttons and there's usually no control over aperture, shutter speed. However, you can usually adjust exposure via exposure compensation and set key parameters such as white balance. It also usually possible to record HD video.
Many of these cameras now include useful extras, such a touchscreen for easy operation and built-in Wi-Fi for simple image sharing.
This brings us to the next category, the superzoom. As the name suggests, these are cameras with versatile built-in lenses with both wide-angle and telephoto capabilities, such as the Fujifilm F900EXR with its 20x optical zoom. Some go to 50x zoom, and while this saves you from lugging around a bag of lenses, the downsides are usually extra bulk and increased risk of camera shake when zoomed right out.
Superzooms include 'bridge' cameras, so called because they traditionally bridged the gap between compact and SLR models.
Finally, there are power compacts, some of which are designed to rival SLRs. The emphasis here is on larger, sophisticated sensors, quality lenses and lots of manual shooting options.
For more information about buying specific compact cameras, click the links below to see our dedicated buyers' guides:
- Best advanced compact camera
- Best small compact camera
- Best bridge camera
- Best cheap camera
- Best travel/superzoom compact camera
- Best waterproof camera
What compacts are there for different types of user?
The Canon Ixus 150 is a good example of a modern point and shoot camera, aimed at people who want to take nice photographs without carrying around a bulky device or delving into menus. So, it's stylish and dainty, with a versatile lens that enables you to shoot wide at 28mm or get closer with 8x optical zoom. A sensor size of 2/3-inch is typical, which is small compared to the APS-C or full-frame sensors in more sophisticated compacts, but still fine for simple cropping and larger prints. 'Smart Auto' and 'Intelligent IS' try to make taking a photo as painless as possible.
A good example of a superzoom is the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX300, which comes with a whopping 50x integrated lens (24-1200mm 35mm equivalent focal length), an impressive 20.4 megapixel resolution and 10 frames per second burst rate.
More sophisticated SLR back-ups or alternatives, such as the Canon G16 include larger 1/1.7 inch sensors and higher continuous shooting rates, manual controls and raw capture. They also usually have better quality lenses with wide maximum apertures for better low-light shooting.