Best small compact camera: five pocket-sized compact cameras compared

Despite intense competition from smartphones, compact system cameras and budget SLRs, small compact cameras continue to hang in there. The clue to their appeal lies in the name – these are light, compact cameras that are easy to keep with you all the time, and as we all know, the best camera is the one you have with you.

Compact system cameras and smaller SLRs can be a bit too bulky for pocket or bag, while smartphone cameras still lack some of the powerful features and impressive optical performance that the cameras in this round-up offer.

The market for small compact cameras is pretty diverse. Some people are just after a sturdy, decent everyday camera that takes better pictures than their phone, while others are looking for a genuine SLR alternative that offers a high degree of manual control and imaging performance.

Read on to discover the perfect small compact camera for your needs.

Sony Cyber shot RX100 III

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III

Sensor size: 1-inch, CMOS | Pixel count: 20.2Mp | Lens: 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 | Screen: 3-inch tiltable LCD, 1,228,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Video: 1080p

The RX100 is the latest in a successful series of Sony power compacts, offering full manual control while being easy to use. What sets it apart is the inclusion of a 1-inch sensor that's a lot bigger than the 1/2.3-inch and 1/1.7-inch devices found in most small compacts. The RX1000 III also has a built-in electronic viewfinder. This enables you to see the impact of changes to settings before you take the picture, and makes it easier to compose images.

While the pixel count and sensor is unchanged from the RX100 II, the new Bionz X processing engine enables an ISO sensitivity 125-12,800, with 25,600 available in Multi-frame noise-reduction mode. The new processing engine also enables the camera to start up faster.

Clever electronics aside, the Sony boasts a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens, with an effective focal length range of 28-100mm (3.6x zoom) and with a variable maximum aperture of f/1.8-4.9. Such a wide aperture obviously comes in handy in low light, or for reducing depth of field to make portraits pop. You can also output 4K stills via an HDMI micro socket to 4K TVs.

There's no touchscreen and the viewfinder is fiddly, but otherwise a winner.

read our Cyber-shot RX100 III review

Sony Cyber shot RX100 II

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II

Sensor size: 1-inch, CMOS | Pixel count: 20.2Mp | Lens: 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 | Screen: 3-inch tiltable LCD, 1,229,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optional | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Video: 1080p

This is the older (and cheaper) version of the RX100 III, and also has a 1-inch, 20.2 million pixel sensor. It's an Exmor R device, so is backlit for improved low light performance, and although the ISO range doesn't quite go as far as the RX100 III, it still stretches to 12,800 – more than enough for everyday shooting situations.

The RX100 II also has 3.6x optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens, with an equivalent focal length of 28-100mm (in 35mm format) and a generous maximum aperture of f/1.8 – again, very useful in low light, or for reducing depth of field on portraits or macro shots. There is full manual control for experienced photographers, but the RX100 II is still very easy to use.

Although the lack of a touchscreen is disappointing, the three-inch, 1,229k dot rear screen tilts both upwards and downwards to make framing easier at awkward angles. Another useful extra is built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, making it easier to control the camera via smartphone or tablet, or download images with the minimum of fuss (shame you can't shoot digital filters in raw format, though).

To sum up, the large sensor and fast, bright lens make this a great little power compact, and price falls make it even more tempting.