Smartphones have pushed the world's best compact cameras towards the premium end of the market, which means the ones in our list below invariably have high (if entirely justified) price tags.
In fact, many of these cameras cost as much if not more than the latest flagship smartphones, but that doesn't mean you should write them off. In 2022, I bought a compact camera instead of the latest iPhone, the Ricoh GR III X, because it offers superior handling and there's nothing quite like a tool dedicated to photography and video, without the other distractions that a smartphone brings.
If you're on a more limited budget, it's well-worth looking at the many second-hand options out there, from one of the reputable marketplaces who provide a few more checks-and-balances compared to your average private eBay seller. Some of our preferred used camera marketplaces in the US include B&H Photo Video, MPB and Adorama, while UK we're fans of Ffordes, MPB, Wex Photo Video and Park Cameras.
Shop around a bit, and any of the models in our list below can be found with lower price tags at the secondhand marketplaces above. Good luck finding the Fujifilm X100V new or secondhand, though, because it's been enjoying a resurgence in 2023 and goes to show that the compact camera market has life in it yet.
Timothy Coleman, Cameras editor
Whether you’re upgrading from a smartphone or looking for a capable backup camera, the best compact cameras pack versatile shooting skills into pocket-friendly bodies. While the best camera phones have replaced cheap point-and-shoots, today’s top premium compacts still win out with big sensors, generous zoom ranges, sharp electronic viewfinders and high-quality lenses. All of which make them great tools for street and travel photography.
Which compact camera is best for you comes down to your specific needs and budget. We’ve comprehensively tested a range of the top options and created this ranked list to help steer you in the right direction. Our selection covers everything from superzoom travel cameras to the best premium compacts. We’ve also included some compact cameras which are up there with the best vlogging cameras.
We think the best compact camera for most people right now is the Fujifilm X100V. On paper, its fixed 23mm lens makes it a niche proposition. Yet it also offers a catalogue of premium features, including a tilting touchscreen, hybrid viewfinder and rapid autofocus. Its polished retro design is the definition of stylish, too.
If your budget doesn’t stretch that far – or you want a camera with a large optical zoom range – we also highly recommend the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100, one of our favorite travel cameras. It pairs 10x optical zoom with a decent 1-inch sensor to produce rich, detailed images. It also benefits from an accessible touchscreen interface and an electronic viewfinder.
Our guide below targets take-anywhere cameras that offer something more than any smartphone – whether that’s thanks to their handling, viewfinder, zoom, sensor, or a combination of all four. If you’re not sure where to start, you’ll find expert buying advice at the bottom of the page, while links beneath each entry take you straight to the best deals available right now.
The best compact cameras for 2023
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The Fujifilm X100V takes what was already a special camera and fixes all of its weaknesses – it's the perfect compact for the smartphone age. The concept is the same as before: a stylish, pocketable design, large APS-C sensor, unique hybrid viewfinder and a fixed 23mm f/2 lens. All of those areas, though, have now been improved on the X100V, which brings a new tilting screen and improved autofocus performance.
Our testing has found the image quality to be much improved, partly thanks to a redesigned lens, and the low-light performance to be better. One of our main complaints with the X100F was that its photos tended to be soft at f/2. Not so much with X100V, as we found it to offer great sharpness in the centre, even at the widest apertures. Then there’s the higher resolution hybrid viewfinder – both optical and electronic – as well as support for 4K/30p video capture.
Sure, you need to add a filter for full weather-proofing and the cost will be prohibitive for some. But, the X100V puts an impressive range of features into a polished, premium body, with throwback style that sets it apart from the crowd – yet still fits perfectly in your pocket.
- Read our in-depth Fujifilm X100V review
If you're looking for a travel-friendly all-rounder that has a viewfinder and doesn't break the bank, this is the compact camera we'd go for. It's since been succeeded by the ZS200 / TZ200, which is also worth considering – but if you don't need the newer model's slightly longer zoom (15x rather than 10x) and higher-res viewfinder, then you can save money by going for this older classic.
The ZS100 / TZ100 remains a solid middle ground between premium compact cameras with larger sensors (in this case, a 1-inch sensor) and super-zoom models with smartphone-beating reach. Its 10x zoom might now be matched by some smartphones, but in our tests the quality of this camera's lens and image processing produced vibrant, punchy photos with excellent detail. If you're looking to get high-quality images with minimal baked-in processing, then the ZS100 / TZ100 will serve you well and offer a more enjoyable photographic experience than any glass slab.
The downsides include a small and relatively low-res viewfinder, plus a fixed touchscreen. These are symptoms of this camera's age, but a small EVF is still better than no viewfinder when you're shooting in sunny conditions, and this camera otherwise offers modern conveniences like 10fps burst shooting, 4K video shooting and built-in Wi-Fi.
- Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 review
In many ways, the RX100 VII is still best compact around right now. Its autofocus system, we found, is comfortably ahead of any other pocket camera, tracking moving subjects with great reliability and making clever use of its Face and Eye AF, even in video mode. Video quality is superb, while image quality is also stellar. But all of this comes at a huge price, and for many people that could be a deal-breaker.
Still, we can't avoid including it in this guide, as it's one of the best options around. If your budget allows, then you won't find a more powerful compact than the Mark VII. But if you're happy to sacrifice some of the latest autofocus features and a microphone jack, check out the RX100 VI, which offers most of its performance a little less cash.
- Read our in-depth Sony RX100 VII review
If it's mainly video rather than stills that you're looking for from a compact camera, then the Sony ZV-1 is the best option around. Not that it isn't also very capable at shooting still photos – it has the same sensor and processor as Sony's latest RX100 series cameras, after all – but the ZV-1's main strength are its video powers.
That includes its class-leading autofocus powers, which helps it tenaciously lock onto people and moving objects in your frame. During testing, we found it to do an excellent job of keeping moving subjects in focus and tracking our eyes across most of the frame. Of course, the video quality from its 20.1MP 1-inch sensor is nothing short of impressive as well.
These are backed up by a 3.5mm mic port for boosting audio quality with an external microphone, and a hotshoe to help mount the latter. Its bright 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 doesn't give you the same reach as the RX100 VII, but it does ensure that you get lovely background blur in both stills and videos – perfect if you mainly shoot portraits or vlogs.
- Read our in-depth Sony ZV-1 review
The latest in a long line of discrete Ricoh cameras, the GR IIIx sticks to a familiar formula: a large APS-C sensor and sharp, fixed focal length lens in a small, simple shell. Like its predecessors, our testing found the GR IIIx to offer intuitive handling, rapid responsiveness and unparalleled pocketability.
What’s new compared to the standard GR III is the focal length, which is 40mm instead of 28mm. This limits versatility in a way that won’t appeal to everyone, but many will relish the creative discipline it requires. We also found it ideal for environmental portraits and certain street scenes, offering reasonable control over depth of field.
The GR IIIx is not a camera without compromise, suffering from a poor battery life, the lack of a built-in flash, and a screen that doesn’t tilt. But we also found that it was a joy to use and shoot with, courtesy of its straightforward interface and customization options. The GR IIIx is a niche compact camera and you’ll find more functionality for your money elsewhere. But we still think it’s a compelling choice if you want a streamlined shooting tool.
- Read our in-depth Ricoh GR IIIx review
Compact cameras with sensors larger than 1-inch in size are typically limited to fixed-focal-length lenses, which is great for quality but less so for flexibility. But not the Panasonic LX100 II; it manages to marry a 17MP Four Thirds sensor – the same size as those found inside Panasonic's G-series mirrorless cameras – with a zoom lens equivalent to 24-75mm in 35mm terms, proving that sometimes you can get quality and flexibility at once.
We found its Leica-badged lens to be very impressive, capturing very good levels of detail that's worthy of pricier APS-C cameras, and its exposure metering system more than reliable. Our tests also show that it handles noise pretty well and produces natural-looking images with faithful colors.
The original LX100 was something of a landmark camera for offering something similar, and this latest iteration takes the baton, with a nippy AF system, robust body, clear 4K videos and a useful electronic viewfinder among its highlights.
- Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix LX100 II review
With a pocketable body and 30x zoom range, the Panasonic ZS80 / TZ95 is pitched at those looking for the flexibility to shoot a range of scenes, but without the hassle of interchangeable lenses. A small grip and thumb rest make it nicer to handle than many rivals, while a control ring around the lens can be configured for easy adjustments, including zoom and focus. Its sensor is small, but the shooting specs are still not to be sniffed at.
The ZS80 / TZ95 can shoot 4K video at 30fps, while 10fps burst shooting is decent for a compact. Focusing is similarly speedy, with great face detection. During our time with it, we found the image quality to be generally reasonable. There was some softness around the edge of the frame at 24mm.
All the same, image stabilization keeps things sharp, with pleasing colors and broadly reliable exposures when shooting in JPEG or raw. The ZS70 / TZ90 might represent better value if you don’t need a high-resolution viewfinder, but the ZS80 / TZ95 is a well-built, comprehensive compact package that’s enjoyable to shoot with.
- Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix ZS80 / TZ95 review
The G7X Mark II was a smash and, despite the arrival of alternatives like the Sony ZV-1 (see no. 4 above) this successor has also proven to be a hit with vloggers and enthusiast photographers. With the bonuses of 4K shooting, a mic port and live streaming to YouTube joining the previously seen built-in ND filter and flip up LCD screen, this is still one of the strongest compacts right now for vlogging.
Our testing shows that the video quality is very good, detailed enough for everyday use and for vloggers to roll out great content. If you've no interest in video, we found the detail in the center of its still shots to be decent as well, particularly at mid-range aperture settings.
There other things to keep you happy here, from 30fps shooting at full resolution to a super-sensitive touchscreen, in-camera raw processing and the added convenience of USB charging. It's a shame there's no viewfinder or hot shoe, but then not everyone needs these.
- Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III review
The second coming of the G5 X was a serious step-change in styling and spec for the series. Out went the DSLR-style shell and in came a streamlined body that’s still a pleasure to grip, but far easier to slip into a pocket. Inside, a 20.1MP stacked CMOS sensor, driven by Canon’s DIGIC 8 engine, is able to capture uncropped 4K footage, while a fresh 24-100mm lens offers a generous focal range and a relatively wide maximum aperture.
We found that the G5 X Mark II delivers reliably good image quality. During our time with it, its metering system has proven to be dependable and its noise performance very good. Image distortions were well-controlled as well.
Well-rounded and wonderful to use, it also boasts brisk focussing and a strong feature set. Battery life could be better and the lens can be a little soft at longer focal lengths, but the Mark II remains a very capable all-rounder that’s untroubled by almost all scenes. So why the lower ranking? It's still fairly pricey in the age of powerful smartphone cameras, so we'd like to see it come down in price.
- Read our in-depth Canon Powershot G5X Mark II review
Attaching a 64MP smartphone-style sensor to a three-axis gimbal, we think the DJI Pocket 2 is one of the best compact cameras for solo vlogging. That gimbal gives it incredible stabilization skills, while automatic face-tracking smarts make it a great virtual camera crew for solo videographers. Its 93-degree field of view also captures a good portion of a given scene, while its small touchscreen is useful for previewing footage, even if it’s fiddly to use.
In testing, we found that the 4K footage isn’t as crisp as the best cameras in this list. Color balance is flattering for skin tones, but the 1/1.7-inch sensor struggles in low-light and high-contrast conditions. Stills are also mediocre, easily beaten by the premium compacts in this list. But the Pocket 2’s stabilization abilities are unparalleled, especially from a camera with its pocket-friendly proportions. When ActiveTrack smarts are steering the gimbal, the Pocket 2 can produce shots no smartphone is capable of.
- Read our in-depth DJI Pocket 2 review
This may be a bit of a left-field choice, but we’ve included the Leica Q2 Monochrom for the simple reason that it's both beautiful and capable of taking stunning imagery. First of all, though, you need to get your head around the idea of a camera which is only capable of taking black and white images – it won’t be for everybody.
This being a Leica, it also has a price tag to make your eyes water. But for those willing to invest, you'll find, as we have, that shooting with it is an absolute treat, especially since its sensor configuration makes it possible to shoot at high ISO settings with significantly less ISO noise. In short, it'll make you fall in love with B&W images again.
You’ll also be rewarded with a gorgeous body design, a superbly 47.3MP full-frame sensor and 28mm f/1.7 lens, Cinema 4K video recording, minimalist external controls, and a fantastic viewfinder and screen combo. Plus, on top of all that, it’s a camera that all your mates are likely to drool over.
- Read our in-depth Leica Q2 Monochrom review
Instant cameras are designed for fun – and few make it easier to capture quick, attractive snaps than the Polaroid Go. Pitched as “the world’s smallest analogue digital camera”, its boxy, retro shape means it isn’t as portable as a digital compact camera – but it’s still one of the dinkiest instant cameras you can buy in 2021. Capable of producing credit card-sized prints with dreamy pastel tones and impressive detail, the Go’s greatest merit is its point-and-shoot simplicity.
The streamlined interface is super easy to use, with a handy digital shot counter for tracking your snaps. Unlike other instant cameras, we found this to be very versatile. Automatic flash can be manually overridden, while self-timer and double-exposure modes add welcome opportunities for creativity – although its fixed focus and lack of a macro mode mean it isn’t quite as flexible as certain alternatives. Film refills aren’t the cheapest, and you do pay a premium for the Polaroid Go’s portability. What you also get, though, is an entertaining, accessible and convenient – not to mention surprisingly capable – instant printing camera.
- Read our in-depth Polaroid Go review
Is a compact camera better than a smartphone?
It’s widely accepted that the best camera is the one you have with you, and this will often be the smartphone in your pocket – especially if you’re looking to capture quick, sharp images for sharing on social media. While the best camera phone options are better than ever, though, the top compact cameras remain a cut above their mobile rivals when it comes to image quality and the overall shooting experience.
Larger sensors are an obvious bonus: the sensor inside a premium compact will, in general, be bigger than the one in your average smartphone. This means you’ll get more detail and better low-light performance, which will be evident if you choose to print out your images. It helps that most compact cameras also benefit from high-quality optics.
Only a handful of smartphones offer the versatility of optical zoom. While zoom range varies by model, most of the best compact cameras feature this as standard. Even with huge improvements to the quality of digital zoom technology, it can rarely compete with the quality of optical zoom when it comes to preserving detail.
Many compact cameras also have physical advantages over smartphones. While both types of device are designed to be pocket-friendly, the best compacts feature dedicated buttons and dials that offer greater creative control. Similarly, many of the best compact options feature a small but useful grip that gives them an ergonomic edge over smartphones when it comes to handling. Tilting touchscreens and dedicated electronic viewfinders are also handy for framing, while certain compacts ship with niche features, such as stabilizing gimbals and waterproof bodies.
Do photographers use compact cameras?
Given their performance and relative portability, most photographers now favor one of the best mirrorless cameras as their primary camera. These models are not much bigger than a premium compact, with many numbering among the best travel cameras, yet they also offer the flexibility of interchangeable lenses.
That being said, many photographers still choose to travel with a premium compact as a second camera. While they might not compete outright with the images captured by top mirrorless models, a reliable compact camera can be a useful tool to keep within easy reach, in case a photo-worthy scene unfolds before you.
This is particularly true for street and travel photographers. A compact is less conspicuous than a professional full-frame camera, making it easier to shoot comfortably in public. The smaller proportions also mean you’re more likely to take it with you whenever you head out, without needing a bulky kit bag.
The same is true for photographers who want to travel light and leave their main camera at home. You’ll rarely see an image from a compact adorning billboard, but the best models can produce images plenty sharp enough for digital assignments and prize-winning pics. That’s especially true if you pick a compact that focuses on a specific niche, such as the Fujifilm X100V with its fixed 23mm f/2 lens – ideal for street and low-light photography.
How to choose the best compact camera for you
When it comes to selecting a compact camera, there are several factors to consider. As the name suggests, all compact cameras promise portability, but there’s more to keep in mind than form factor alone. All of the cameras in our list above offer some combination of versatility, handling, features and image quality. Which specific aspects matter most will depend on what and how you like to shoot. If you can’t find a compact the ticks your key boxes, you might be better off using your smartphone’s camera.
One of the key things to think about is sensor size. All of the best compact cameras should represent a step up from your smartphone. Micro Four Thirds and APS-C options, such as the Fujifilm X100V, are now as prevalent as 1-inch models.
If you plan on using your compact camera for travel, you should take a closer look at its lens and zoom capabilities. To be worthy of your attention, the latter should offer at least 10x optical zoom, if not more. If you plan on using your camera for street photography or candid portraits, a fixed lens might work better for you. Or if night-time shots are your thing, look for a compact with good noise handling and high ISO capabilities.
Whatever your subject of choice, pay attention to how a camera handles. This is something we cover in our reviews. Most compacts have an electronic viewfinder, but a small number use an optical one instead. Most also feature a touchscreen interface, which makes it more straightforward to upgrade from a smartphone, although not every display can tilt. You should also think about whether manual controls matter to you.
Some features you might not need, but a few – such image stabilization or face/eye tracking – could prove to be useful bonuses. Of course, price is a factor as well, so if the models above are too pricey new, check out their second-hand availability. Our guide on how to buy a second-hand DSLR or mirrorless camera may be aimed at larger models, but much of the same advice applies to premium compact cameras.
How we test compact cameras
Real-world tests are the most revealing way to understand the best compact cameras' performance, quirks, and features. So, along with standardized tests for factors like ISO performance, we take every camera we test for a spin to see how it fares in real-world scenarios.
We'll use it both handheld and on a tripod to get a sense of where its strengths lie, and test its startup speed. We also use a formatted UHS-1 card and shoot in both raw and JPEG (if available), testing its burst shooting and buffer performance.
For autofocusing, we use the different autofocus modes on hand in single point, area, and continuous modes. Naturally, we take a look at how accurate and reliable its metering is, how well it handles noise, and how well it minimizes things like fringing and distortion. Its video shooting skills are tested as well by shooting some test footage at different frame-rates and resolutions.
Of course, we also look at the camera's design, handling, and user interface while getting a sense of what kind of photographer it's most ideal for. Battery life is tested as well over the course of the day with the screen set to the default settings. Once the battery has reached zero, we'll then count the number of shots to see how it compares to the camera's CIPA rating.
Once all is said and done, we take all our data and everything we've learned about the compact camera and compare it to its price tag to see if it offer great value for your money.