Compact cameras are multiplying like Mogwai in water. Look away, turn back and suddenly there's hundreds you've never clapped eyes on before. So, what do you do in the face of this ever-encroaching apertured army? It's not a trick question. You've already done it. You come to this very page on Pocket-lint, of course, and we tell you which are only the very best compact cameras to worry about.
We'll be updating this page each time we review another compact that we think deserves a place on this coveted camera hot list. That way you can rest assured that whenever you're looking here, what you see before you are only the finest compact cameras available to humanity.
Best for the beach
Canon PowerShot D20, £280
There’s a lot of choice out there when it comes to waterproof compact cameras. The Canon PowerShot D20 certainly ticks the boxes when it comes to underwater use, but it’s the awkward design and the lack of the core image quality elements that leave it short of the mark as an all-round toughcam. Nonetheless, if it’s a beach camera that you’re after, right now, it’s the best.
Compared to some of its cheaper rivals, it has a good autofocus options, a resolute and therefore detailed 3-inch LCD screen, it’s highly capable when it comes to close-up focusing and the inclusion of lens-based image stabilisation is a further plus point. You might not like the quirky stylings but it certainly performs.
Best for enthusiasts
Canon PowerShot G15, £529
The Canon PowerShot G15 is an undeniably impressive compact camera. It's not going to suit all tastes, on account of its bulky, larger-than-average build but, for those after full control and both exceptional performance and image quality, there are few other places to look that deliver to this level. It's a seriously good compact bolstered by a superb wide-aperture lens and image stabilisation system.
Far from being a breed of camera that's had its day, this photographic ninja's redesign helps it deliver the photographic equivalent of a one-inch punch - it's small, powerful and impossible to argue with. We didn't quite see it coming; the G15 is the best G-series compact camera that we've ever used. Full stop.
Best rugged compact
Olympus Tough TG-1, £309
The Olympus Tough TG-1 does sell itself on the usual waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and freezeproof features, but it comes up a little short as a standalone camera. All the same, if it’s hardiness you need, then look no further. The f/2.0 lens is not as good as it could be because of the lack of aperture control, the zoom performance is slow and the autofocus, although quick, is often inaccurate but, fortunately, image quality is okay given that this camera’s raison d’etre is not IQ.
In short, the Olympus Tough TG-1 is not as good as we’d like it to be but no one’s really got this part of the compact market right just yet and, for the moment, this camera is the best of a bad bunch. You might actually want to find a protective case for the compact you already own rather than reinvest in something like this.
Best for zoom
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, £449
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS lands one big hit with its 24-1200mm lens. It's not all 100 per cent rosy though. Limited aperture when close in forces you into high ISO settings and that can make for some softness and colour fringe issues. Considered in context, for a superzoom, the SX50 HS images and raw capture puts it right up there among the best, though.
We love the vari-angle LCD screen and how well it performs in bright conditions, the fast autofocus is a step beyond its SX40 predecessor and the image stabilisation system is really impressive too - even if the longest of focal lengths stretch this last feature a little too far. It feels great in the hand and delivers plenty of bang for the budget buck.
Best for pocketability
Nikon Coolpix S01, £149
There's small and then there's really small. Nikon has put the compact in compact with its Coolpix S01 model; a truly dinky, palm-of-the-hand-sized compact camera. Although miniature, this £149 compact isn't as tricky to use as we first assumed it might be either.
The downside is that a small size means a smaller-than-average 1/2.9-inch sensor but that’s how it keeps the optics, and therefore lens size, to a minimum, though the 3x optical zoom range (28-87mm equivalent) is neither particularly wide-angle nor long. The other price you pay is with the AF system, which is the slowest we've seen in a compact camera for a while, but you cannot deny the S01 its title here.
Best budget buy
Canon PowerShot A3200, £74
With the compact camera market static in terms of growth and lower-range models being picked off by mobile phones with built-in cameras, the Canon PowerShot A3200 IS seeks to buck that trend with a fair price, a solid construction and design that stops just short of upstaging the IXUS range.
It sports just enough features to stop you from getting bored, and few enough for the camera to remain easy to use. So, there’s no 3D shooting nor automatically stitched Sweep Panorama modes but does anyone really care about those anyway? The Canon A3200 IS comes across, therefore, as the digital camera equivalent of a bacon butty - it may not be fancy but it certainly fills a gap. At £74, you really won’t find a better compact.
READ: Canon PowerShot A3200
Best luxury buy
Leica X2, £1,575
We love the Leica X2. Its distinctiveness makes it a desirable camera. Not only does the X2 look delectable but its images are equally great too. Compared to the Leica X1, there’s a raft of improvements - higher resolution, quicker autofocus, stiffer control dials, a higher pop-up flash, significantly better battery life and an accessory port to add an electronic viewfinder should you wish.
The X2 sits in a niche market that’s not got a huge amount of competition. Most are zoomier and have bigger and better LCD screens but the APS-C sized sensor and Leica glass make for some stunning shots. What’s more, owning a Leica is part statement, part camera. A real cracker, if you can afford it.
READ: Leica X2 review
Best for travel
Panasonic Lumix FZ200
The Panasonic FZ200 has its f/2.8 aperture trump card to play, which will beat any other superzoom competitor out there - even the larger-sensor versions. Now that’s quite a statement, but this is quite a camera. It’s a shame there’s no touchscreen, the viewfinder suffers lag and continuous focus is short of the mark but, otherwise, the FZ200’s performance is well on the money in this camera class. Image quality is easily on par with its competitors - though it isn’t going to outperform a large-sensor camera.
Despite the expense, the FZ200 gives what other kit doesn't - a 600mm equivalent lens at f/2.8 all the way down the barrel paired with optical image stabilisation. Now that’s what makes this Lumix a real winner. King of the superzooms despite its hefty price tag? We reckon so. Top stuff.
Best for video
GoPro HD Hero 3, £359
We can have a scuffle about semantics if you really want but, as far as we're concerned, the GoPro HD Hero 3 counts as a compact camera. It takes stills, it's compact and that's good enough for us. More to the point, this latest version of the popular action-cam delivers 1080p at 60 or 50 frames per second and can capture 720p at 120fps.
It's teeny-tiny, mountable on just about anything and even comes with built in Wi-Fi but you might want to turn that off every now and then to save battery life. As one would expect, the footage results are super smooth and there are plenty of accessories to go with it if you get hooked.
Best for all round use
Panasonic Lumix TZ30, £329
What’s not to like? The TZ30 has taken everything that made the TZ20 good and made it one step better. As follow-ups go, it's as good as one could possibly hope. Yes, battery life could be longer and image quality could be improved further but that’s fairly common for most, if not all, compact cameras.
So, why is it such a good all-rounder? The massive zoom is an obvious attraction but it also works extremely well and is backed up by impressive image stabilisation. The auto-focus is among the fastest you’ll find in a compact camera and there’s the host of other technologies including a great 1080p movie mode that makes the TZ30 an immediate crowd pleaser. It’s rare to find a compact camera that’s got so much going for it.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100, £479
It might not have the hotshoe attachment and some of the bells and whistles of our enthusiast compact camera king further up the page, but the Sony RX100 has a large 1-inch sensor and masses of resolution to brag about. A whole 20.2-megapixels to be precise, and it's this that makes it appealing to the demanding, high-end user that wants a compact to sling in a pocket when out and about.
We love the RX100's silky smooth lens focus ring, bright WRGB LCD screen, fast performance and that high quality, wide-aperture lens. These features add up to exactly what many demanding photographers have been waiting for: a truly pocketable high-end, large-sensor compact.