If you’re looking to take DSLR-quality images and video without the inconvenience of having to lug around a large weighty camera, consider this world-conquering pocket compact. Sony’s sensational, aluminium clad compact isn’t much bigger than a packet of cigarettes yet it comes fitted with a relatively huge one-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor that, in conjunction with its bright f1.8 – f2.8, 2.9x Carl Zeiss zoom lens and super-fast autofocus, yields outstanding images as detailed and vibrant as any consumer D-SLR. The versatile RX100 II features a control ring for instant access to preprogramed functions, NFC, Wi-Fi operation via an Android or IOS device, two impressive Intelligent Scene modes, full HD video capability and a wealth of Hipstamatic-like picture effects.
Sony DSC-RX100 IV
This fourth incarnation produces even sharper 20mp shots than before and can also shoot in 4K. It also comes with a vastly improved pop-up viewfinder, an articulated 7.5cm monitor with better angle adjustment and, get this, the wherewithal to shoot video at up to 1,000 frames per second (the best the new iPhone can muster is 240fps). For advanced users it also offers full manual control and supports shooting in RAW. Granted, it’s not the most comfortable camera to hold and it’s definitely not cheap, but right now there isn’t another compact on the market that can match it for both size and image quality. Matchless kit.
This streetwise 16 megapixel compact is not much bigger than the Lumix LX7 above so its doubly impressive that Nikon managed to equip it with the same large DX sensor as that fitted into its consumer DSLRs. However, there is a caveat: the Nikon Coolpix A's f2.8 lens is fixed at 18.5mm, which means you can’t zoom in to any subjects from afar. You'll just have to walk there. Nevertheless, that lens is arguably better than the kit lens supplied with most consumer DSLRs.
The Nikon Coolpix A comes with all the manual controls you’d expect at this price point plus a few on-board digital effects. It also shoots 1080 HD video though, ridiculously, it doesn’t come with a dedicated record button; you need to delve into the menu system to assign the video function to the shutter button. The Coolpix A is great for architecture and landscapes, and an ideal companion for street photographers who don’t want to draw attention to themselves. But although it produces striking images and is the fastest to switch on and shoot, it just seems too expensive for what it offers.
Nikon Coolpix A
The Canon PowerShot S120's 1/1.7" sensor is smaller than that in the Sony RX100 II but it takes fantastic pictures all the same. The Canon S120 also has a smaller, more rounded body, so it's even more pocket friendly. This tidy travel compact is crammed with a tantalising smorgasbord of features. Firstly, it's the only camera here to come with a touch-sensitive monitor which makes navigating menus so much easier. Its retractable lens, too, sports an impressive maximum aperture of f1.8 along with a better-than-average 24mm to 120mm focal range.
Other features include a Background Defocus mode, Wi-fi and GPS, an HDR option, an integrated Neutral Density filter (for slow shutter speed shooting in daylight), 60fps HD video, a bunch of photo effects and the same useful lens-mounted control ring as fitted to its predecessor and the company's new G16 model. The S120 produces consistently good images and its close-ups are among the best. As a travel option, it's a no brainer.
Canon PowerShot S120
The magnesium-encased Fuji X30 is just the ticket for those who want full manual control over their images. It also comes with an optical viewfinder - a useful option for when the sun's too bright to use the rear 3" tilting monitor. The Fuji X30's 12 megapixel, 2/3" sensor occupies the ground between the Nikon Coolpix and the Sony RX100 II. The manually controlled lens is a top-quality Fujinon armed with a multipurpose focal range of 28mm to 112mm and an aperture of f2 to f2.8, which means first rate optical performance across the entire zoom range.
Image quality is exceptional, with fine detail and excellent colour tone across the frame; you can even set the camera to emulate some of Fuji's classic old film stocks. The Fuji X30 shoots HD video, too, at up to 250 frames per second, though resolution naturally suffers at this speed. Although among the largest of cameras on test, the X30 is still way easier to carry about than any DSLR. And it's reasonably priced too.
Those who remember the good old days of film will doubtless appreciate this retro homage to the classic Rangefinder. The Fuji X100S is equipped with a DSLR-sized 16mp APC-C sensor so you can be sure that images will be punchy and big enough to expand and crop without major loss of resolution. Like the Nikon Coolpix A, the Fuji X100S’s lens has a fixed focal length (a full-frame equivalent of 35mm) so there’s a limit to what you can photograph. But it’s certainly well suited to street use, architecture and landscape photography.
The lens’s maximum aperture is f2 which is fast and bright but at this price you’d expect something in the region of f1.8 or even f1.4. The camera’s body, too, is about the size of a DSLR which kind of defeats the object of having the X100S as an alternative to a DSLR. For instance, you could buy Nikon’s small-bodied D3200 DSLR and Nikkor’s stunning f1.8 35mm lens for around £650, and still have enough left over for a separate zoom lens.
The X100S cannot be recommended for those who rarely venture beyond full automatic mode. This is a camera designed for the enthusiast who understands the functions of exposure, ISO and aperture. It’s also one of only a few cameras that requires regular referral to the instruction manual. The Fuji XS100S is superbly built and it takes top-notch pics to boot, but it just doesn’t scream ‘buy me’ like some of the other large sensor compacts on this page.
Most camera sellers will stress the importance of megapixels, but that’s only half the story. The size of a camera’s sensor – the light-sensitive rectangular plate that sits behind the lens – is just as significant a factor. A larger sensor (like that in a DSLR) absorbs more light through the lens which in turn allows for bigger, sharper images and better low-light performance. Of course, the disadvantage of having an extra large sensor is that the camera itself needs to be big enough to accommodate it. Thanks to significant advances in miniaturisation technology, camera manufacturers are now able to equip even their smallest fixed-lens compacts with sensors larger than ever before. We’re talking pocket-sized snappers that are sometimes good enough to complement or possibly even replace your bulky, oft-neglected DSLR.
The bigger the sensor, the better the image
Despite having one of the smallest sensors on this page (1/1.7”) and a comparatively low 10 megapixel resolution, the Panasonic Lumix LX7 has at least one ace up its sleeve: a superb Leica lens sporting an SLR-equivalent focal range of 24mm-90mm and an impressively wide maximum aperture of f1.4, which is perfect for hand-held, low-light shooting and for creating blurred backgrounds. It also has an exceptional macro setting that produces tack sharp images from as little as 1cm away.
Additional features include a clever intelligent auto setting, a sweep panorama mode, a plethora of cool picture effects, time lapse, HDR and the ability to record movies at 1080/60p. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 isn’t as small as the Sony RX100 II but it takes brilliant pictures all the same. If you like full manual control over your images, you've come to the right place. This one's designed with the advanced user in mind but is equally happy in auto mode. The Panasonic LX7 is very comfortable in the hand, relatively easy to use and extremely well priced.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
This addition to the Canon pasture occupies the ground between the disappointing G1X and the excellent S120. The Canon G16 comes with a sharp f1.8 to f2.8, 5x zoom lens and a 1/1.7" sensor. Actually, we're quite surprised the sensor isn't bigger given that Sony managed to fit an inch-sized version into a camera two-thirds the size of this one. Nevertheless, the Canon G16 delivers on most fronts. It's fantastic to hold, the controls are easy to use and it takes commendable pictures. It's also built like a brick outhouse. No really, this camera feels tough enough to withstand a lob against a granite wall.
The Canon G16's three-inch monitor isn't touch sensitive like that on the S120 but it does have a small but useful viewfinder. Other features include wi-fi, a built-in ND (Neutral Density) filter - good for shooting with slower shutter speeds in broad daylight - a Background Defocus option, 60fps video recording, a host of app-style creative filters and that all-important Canon innovation, a lens control ring. The G16 has also been equipped with something Canon calls Digic 6, which is jargon for a technology that supposedly reduces noise on an image shot with a very high ISO setting. All you need to know is that this chunky, solid-feeling compact delivers in spades. It takes impressive pics and, above all, is a joy to use.
Canon PowerShot G16
This unique bolt-on lens-cum-camera turns any Android or IOS phone into a fully-fledged high-performance snapper. It sports an 18 megapixel sensor and a 10x optical zoom with a DSLR-equivalent focal range of 25mm to 250mm – way longer than any phone camera can handle. It also shoots 1080p video and comes with built-in Optical SteadyShot. The QX10 works via Sony’s PlayMemories app (Android and IOS). Simply attach it to the front of your phone, connect the two together via wi-fi (Android and IOS) or NFC (Android) and snap away using the phone’s screen as a viewfinder. All images are streamed to the phone and saved to the camera’s MicroSD card.
The QX10 takes excellent pictures and utterly trounces any phone camera when fully zoomed. But we just can’t see the point of it. Most compacts will fit into a jeans pocket. This one doesn’t. So why bother? If we wanted better quality pics on the move we’d rather take along something like Sony’s similarly-priced WX200 compact. That way we’d have a pocket-sized camera for taking shots as good as the QX10 and be able to use the phone for phone-type things. Besides, by the time you’ve set up the app and clipped the QX10 to your phone, the photo opportunity will have long since passed.
Panasonic’s TZ70 is equipped with a Leica lens that sports a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 24mm to 720mm – enough to cover every base, from people, landscapes and architecture to long-distance wildlife and spectator sports. Don’t be dissuaded by the camera’s modest 12mp sensor as Panasonic has proved time and again that nothing beats a good quality lens. And Leica produces some of the very best. In many respects, the TZ70 is the ideal travel camera. It’s small enough for the pocket, superbly built and its focal range is suitable for any photographic eventuality.
Panasonic Lumix TZ70
We love the simplicity of this svelte no-fuss pocket snapper. Its 8x optical zoom and wide-ish 28mm focal length covers a multitude of situations, whether it’s shooting a bald eagle from a hundred paces, capturing the full width of the Sistine Chapel or nabbing a crisp close up of a honeybee. Power up to shutter release is commendably quick, so there’s little chance of you missing a shot, and even if you don’t have the steady hands of a surgeon, Canon’s excellent Intelligent IS image stability system will kick in to iron out the shakes. The Ixus 165 also shoots Full HD 1080p video and will provide several days’ moderate use from a single charge. A nice bright 2.7-inch rear monitor completes a tidy package. This feature-packed 12 megapixel budget pocket compact is just the ticket for those who just want to snap away without having to fork out a fortune.
Canon Ixus 165
A high quality compact is a fine alternative to bulky DSLR and this new entry from Panasonic is a case in point. This aluminium-clad snapper is superbly built and small enough to slip into a coat pocket. It’s not as small as its main competitor, the Sony RX100 IV, but it does sport a few better specs. Its 12.8 megapixel Micro 4/3 MOS sensor is bigger than the Sony’s and it can record single-take, 4K video shots for longer periods. But that’s about it. The LX100 uses a pristine Leica F1.7-2.8 24-75mm lens and it comes with a viewfinder too. It also features a time-lapse function.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
However, any beginner used to the universal control dial (the one with M, TV, AV etc) fitted to most cameras may really struggle to get a handle on it. Instead of that single function wheel, the LX100 offers two: one for instant exposure control and the other for shutter speed. On paper a system like this is actually easier and quicker if you know what you’re doing. But casual users will likely find it unintuitive. The same thing applies to the onscreen menu interface which is simply too confusing and not very nice to use. The aperture control ring on the lens is a useful addition but the picture format switch above it can all too easily be changed by accident and before you know it, half of your images will be in a different format ratio. No question, the LX100 is a stunning camera capable of taking images and 4K video as good as the majority of mid-priced DSLRs. But unless you’re a pro photographer or an experienced amateur, we’d advise eschewing the LX100 in favour of the smaller, easier and, in our opinion, better RX100 IV. Even if it does cost a couple of hundred quid more.
If Sony’s world-conquering RX10 III is too much for the wallet to handle (see our DSLR & Bridge Cameras page), consider this excellent super-zoom compact from Panasonic. The camera’s 1/2.3-type sensor isn’t as large as the RX10’s and it doesn’t sport as many high-end features, but its 25mm-750mm Leica zoom lens is equally adept at photographing and videoing game from a huge distance away. And what’s more, it all fits perfectly into a breast pocket.
One of the coolest things about this camera is that it also allows the user to adjust focus after the shot has been taken. Using the rear touch-screen, simply tap the part of the image you want to adjust and that section of the frame springs into sharp focus. The TZ80 also shoots in 4K and comes with 5-Axis image stabilisation and an electronic viewfinder for more accurate framing.