The Best Compact Cameras That Shoot Like DSLRs — and Take Up Half the Suitcase Space
In the age of ever-improving smartphone cameras, it might be tempting to think that if you’re buying a separate camera, you have to go straight to a giant DSLR or not bother. But your phone still can’t do everything, and if you’re setting out for the other side of the world, you don’t want to get there and be stuck just far enough from a breaching humpback whale that it only shows up as a grey blur on your iPhone zoom. Luckily, even point-and-shoot cameras have come pretty far, and can get you that far-off shot while still fitting in your pocket.
“Compact” mainly refers to a body style, but these smaller cameras are also ideal for throwing in your purse or pocket on the go. They don’t have swappable lenses, so you won’t be carrying around a kit. That said, you will need to consider how much of a zoom you’re going to want when you purchase since you can’t change it later.
Camera write-ups tend to be laden with technical specs (for good reason), and while we won’t get too granular here, there are some qualifications you do want to keep in mind depending on how you use your camera. If you like to be able to control your shots both in and after the moment, look for options to switch to manual controls, manual focus, and RAW shooting. Photos that you hope to put on your wall need to be shot at a higher resolution, ideally at least 20 megapixels. And if you want to just get straight on the ‘gram, Wi-Fi connectivity will allow you to pull photos straight to your phone.
In terms of numbers, a larger sensor size will mean better lower light performance and usually better quality photos in general. Zoom-wise, look at optical zoom numbers, not digital. Optical zoom is the physical zooming of the lens, while any additional digital zoom is basically your camera making up the rest of it.
These cameras come recommended by our traveling editors and photographers as well as the other travelers we know. If you’re concerned about high price tags, taking a step backward in generation can be a great way to find a deal. Just be sure to check the comparison statistics first to make sure you aren’t giving up a feature you’ll really need.
Nikon Coolpix A1000/A900
If your budget is on the lower end, we recommend the Coolpix A series. The A1000 has an eye-level viewfinder and touchscreen, along with the ability to shoot RAW files, but a reduced megapixel count of 16 compared to the A9000's 20. Both models have small sensors, but the 35x zoom is impressive for this category.
Olympus Tough TG-5
As you may be able to guess from the name, if you’re going to be shooting under strenuous conditions, doing some snorkeling, or are just prone to dropping your belongings, the Olympus Tough TG-5 is most likely the camera you want. It has a lower megapixel count than our other picks, but that actually helps improve its low-light photo quality—a definite bonus when you’re testing its 50-foot waterproof capability.
To buy: amazon.com, $400
Canon PowerShot GX Series
The G7 X Mark II, G9 X Mark II, and G1 X Mark III all have wonderful reputations as great all-around cameras, and the Mark III edition of the G7 just hit the market. The key differentiator here for most buyers will most likely be price point. And while you’ll get a quality shot out of any of these, the G1 X Mark II has an ultra-crisp electronic OLED viewfinder, making seeing what your shooting in even the sunniest of afternoons a breeze.
Panasonic Lumix ZS200/TZ200
Praised across outlets as one of the best all-around compact travel cameras currently available, the ZS200/TZ200 (ZS in the U.S., TZ internationally) offers a 15x zoom, one of the largest you can find in a camera this size, paired with a 1-inch, 20-megapixel sensor. If those numbers still don’t mean anything to you, just trust us––they’re good.
To buy: bestbuy.com, $700
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI
Sony’s RX100 series is another solid choice, and you’ll likely be happy with the IV, V, or VI models. Going top of the line with the VI most noticeably nearly triples your zoom range (up to 8.3x from 2.9x) and adds a touchscreen, but the most recent three models all have the same sensor.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
The LX100 II offers a good balance of features with an even larger micro four-thirds sensor—you’re more likely to find this sensor size in a larger camera, so this is a definite bonus. It should give you one of the best performances across lighting conditions, though you get a shorter optical zoom than the ZS200.
To buy: adorama.com, $898
As far as hugely popular Fujifilm options go, the X100F boasts great design that includes a hybrid viewfinder, large sensor and battery capacity, and a rehauled autofocus system. Using your camera shouldn’t be a chore, and James Madison, co-founder of Expressway Cinema Rentals, commented that the X100F, “has a really great look straight from camera and is incredibly fun to shoot. It also has a really convenient wireless camera-to-phone import feature, which makes it easy to manage your photos on the go.”
To buy: bestbuy.com, $1,300
The Q2 makes up for it what it lacks in zoom by having Leica’s historically superior lens quality. You’re getting a top-of-the-line camera—and paying for one. In addition to nearly double the megapixels as its discontinued sibling, the Q, the Q2 includes higher specs on the digital zoom (2x vs 1.5x) and a significantly faster max electronic shutter speed (1/40000 second vs. 1/16000 second). It also no longer charges via USB and is environmentally sealed, so you won’t have to worry about losing your significant investment to some waterfall spray.
To buy: Q2, adorama.com, $4,995