The best compact cameras will deliver better quality images than most smartphone snappers can achieve, which is why it's still worth having one. That's particularly true for anyone who spends a lot of time travelling, takes a lot of pictures of friends and family, or even for those looking to dip their toe into the world of photography.
By choosing to use one of the best compact cameras over your phone camera, the benefits are endless and include a larger sensor, a longer or more flexible zoom, reliable battery life or rugged build quality to name just a few.
Despite far fewer new releases in the compact camera market each year, there’s still a healthy number of compact cameras out there from top manufacturers like Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Canon. Although it’s true that most manufacturers have been concentrating on the best mirrorless cameras, plenty of devices are still available for those who want something a bit more pocket-friendly.
Which is the best compact camera in 2023? The top 3
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The best compact camera you can buy right now is the Sony RX100 VII. While it may be a few years old, it still delivers an excellent package all around.
The best premium compact camera is the Fujifilm X100V. If you're willing to splash out a little then it doesn't get any better than this, it'll be an excellent choice for travel too.
The best budget compact camera is the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100. You'll still get top-quality shots without the eye-watering price you will find elsewhere.
The best compact cameras 2023
For those looking for the best possible image quality in a pocket-friendly body, Sony is the best candidate here. When we got our hands on the Sony RX100 VII, we described the results as 'bright, punchy and well-detailed, while the raw format files give you good scope to make edits in post-production'.
It gives you a one-inch sensor alongside a 24-200mm (equivalent) lens, which should suit most everyday scenarios. Unlike earlier RX100 models, the lens doesn’t offer a super-wide aperture - which could be an issue if you’re often shooting in low light. The big new addition here is a microphone socket, which finally makes the RX100 series appealing to vloggers.
If this sounds perfect for you, take a look at the full Sony RX100 VII review, or if your budget is a little more modest, look back through the older RX100 models for some cheaper options.
With a beautifully retro design mixed with a host of advanced features, the X100V is the fifth generation of an extremely well-regarded premium compact camera. The X100V, like its predecessors, sports a DSLR-sized (APS-C) sensor, which is paired with a 23mm f/2 fixed-length lens. That gives you an equivalent focal length of 35mm - the perfect length for street photography. It might seem restrictive to only have one focal length, but in many ways, it’ll force you to get more creative with your photography, and that’s no bad thing.
What’s new here for the latest generation is a sharper lens, an improved viewfinder, a higher resolution and the addition of a tilting screen. The older X100F is still a good buy, but if you want the best all-rounder, it’s worth considering the extra outlay for the X100V.
For more on how we got on with this premium compact camera, read the Fujifilm X100V review.
A tight budget doesn't have to mean losing out on quality, the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 is the best budget compact camera because it manages to pack a lot in for a more affordable price. Included in its list of features is 49-point AF with face and eye detection, 10x optical zoom, shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000, 10fps burst shooting and RAW as well as JPEG files.
We tested this camera out and were pleasantly surprised by what happened, describing the photos as 'vibrant without wandering into overly processed territory' and going on to say that 'in lab tests, the Lumix was a very strong competitor for the Sony RX100 IV and the Canon G5 X.'
If cheap makes you feel more cheerful then the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 / TZ100 review should be your next stop.
Best compact cameras 2023: best of the rest
Panasonic’s TZ100 was an impressive little compact travel camera, but Panasonic has upped the ante with the TZ200, boosting the zoom lens up to 15x. Design-wise, the two compact cameras are very similar, so we’re still lamenting the lack of a tilting screen for the TZ series, but otherwise, it’s a stylish pocket-friendly camera that is absolutely ideal for your travel needs.
Other improvements to the model include a better electronic viewfinder and a new sensor which produces better colour. One area where it falls down a little is in low light, so if you’re somebody who likes to do a lot of dim snapping, it may not be the one for you.
Do you need a camera with impressive zoom? You should read the full Panasonic Lumix TZ200 review.
If you need something to capture specific underwater activities - such as snorkelling, then a camera like this is just the ticket. It also comes in useful as a general family camera for day trips and holidays, its ruggedness making it useful for beach-side and pool-side escapades.
The Tough TG-6 is waterproof down to 15 metres. By contrast, most water-resistant smartphones only manage about 1 metre, and usually are only guaranteed for a short period of time (say 30 minutes). You also get crush-proofing and freeze-proofing too. Other useful features include an f/2.0 lens, macro modes, 4K video recording and some - albeit limited - manual functionality. Raw format shooting is also available so you can make tweaks after the fact if you need to.
Are you the adventurous type? Have a look at more of our takes on this camera in the Olympus Tough TG-6 review.
In comparison to its predecessor, the ZV-E10 adds a larger handgrip and, more importantly, a first for the series in the ability to change the lens on the front to best serve what we’re shooting. Naturally, some vlogging-specific features found in the ZV-1 have been carried over including Background Defocus to transition smoothly between a sharp and a blurred background, plus a Product Showcase setting that automatically shifts the camera’s focus from the subject’s face to an object being highlighted.
As with the original camera, further intuitive features include a side opening, tilt and swivel LCD screen, which leaves space for content creators to mount an additional microphone on top of the camera for more professional audio.
For those seeking a more advanced set-up, the ZV-E10 fits the bill. Look for a set that adds an E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS compact zoom lens for what we believe is a good value deal.
The second version of this popular premium compact model represents a complete overhaul when compared to its predecessor. You get an inbuilt retracting viewfinder (much like we’re used to seeing from Sony), a one-inch 20-megapixel sensor and a 5x optical zoom which although not particularly long, does offer wide apertures for shooting in low light.
Other useful features include 4K video recording, USB-C battery charging (great for charging on the go) and burst shooting up to 30fps. In short, this is a great all-rounder, especially for travel and it competes well with the Sony RX100 VII range at a more affordable price. You don’t get quite such advanced tech as Sony offers, but on the plus side, it handles a little bit better.
If you're serious about photography then you might want to consider a compact mirrorless camera system instead, this one has a 40.2MP resolution which is huge for something so small. The benefit of opting for a mirrorless camera is the fact that you'll get much more control over your photography, thanks to the selection of lenses you could hook it up to.
This is likely to be one of the easier mirrorless systems for a beginner too because of the analogue-style dials and eye-level viewfinder, as well as the LCD screen. We were impressed by the shots on its default point-and-shoot settings as well, they're not too oversaturated and make the image look very natural.
Perhaps a compact mirrorless system is the better choice for you, in which case, take a look at the Fujifilm X-T5 review to find out more about it.
Now that it's a few years old, the Sony ZV-1 is a fantastic affordable compact camera option for content creation that not only takes lovely snaps but is also up there amongst the best compact cameras for shooting video.
In its T3 review, we were particularly impressed by the Background Defocus button and the fact that the screen flips all the way forward, as well as the sound quality from the microphone. There are a few small sacrifices to be made, though, like the fact that it's not so good in fast movement and the buttons can be a tad fiddly.
If you're looking for an affordable compact camera for vlogging then you should check out the full Sony ZV-1 review.
If you want the ultimate in pocket-sized image quality, then you can’t go far wrong with the RX100 VI. This is now been pushed out of the limelight but the newest generation, so it's more affordable than its initial high-asking price, meaning it still earns its place on the best compact camera list.
A large one-inch sensor is joined by a wonderful lens which offers a 35mm equivalent of 24-200mm - a classic walk-around length. There are also a host of other handy features, such as an inbuilt retractable viewfinder and a tilting touch-sensitive screen.
You can check out the Sony RX100 VI review to find out more about it.
How to buy the best compact camera
Compact cameras come in handy for a variety of reasons, and for recording a variety of different subjects and settings. As such, our list takes into account how well the device handles various subjects, as well as how pleasant the camera is to use, and whether it represents good value for money.
As such, there are some factors that anybody buying a compact camera might want to consider when browsing for the best compact camera. Think about the following:
Size - This is often the most important or deciding factor for some. If you want something that will slip into a pocket for always having with you, then look for something small, neat and truly compact. Several of the models in our list won’t provide that for you - but have other benefits as a trade-off for being bigger.
Zoom - Here’s another factor that often isn’t catered for by the average smartphone. Even the best smartphones for photography tend to offer a relatively limited optical zoom. As such, compact cameras with lengthy zooms provide maximum flexibility and might be particularly favoured for travel and day trip photography.
Manual controls - Enthusiasts might also feel that their smartphone doesn’t provide them with the same level of control or tactility that a “real” camera does. As such, those which allow you to take complete control over shooting settings, particularly with real dials and buttons can be very appealing.
Ruggedness - Most smartphones are water resistant these days, but some compact cameras go that step further and allow you to go diving with them, or take them into very cold conditions, or withstand quite a hefty knock around. The best tough cameras are ideal for adventurers.
As you might imagine, there are only a limited number of cameras that will tick every box for you. Probably the closest (non-rugged) option is the Sony RX100 VII. It’s pocket friendly, has a decent zoom range, gives you full manual control and raw format shooting and also includes 4K video and blogger-friendly features. You do pay a price for that perfection though, so if you can compromise on at least one of the features there might be something that makes more sense for you.