New year, new camera? If you're looking for the best compact cameras of 2014 then you've come to the right place. We will guide you through the hottest cameras to save you time when it comes to buying one from your local shop or online.
Compact cameras are plentiful. With releases and updates flooding the market every few months it's as much an assurance to know that the most up-to-date tech is out there as it is a hindrance to decide which one to pick.
Run this question through your head: "Which compact camera is best for me?" There are lots of ways to think through it - what do you want to use the camera for? Perhaps you want a versatile, all-rounder for a holiday or travel jaunt, a camera with an bonkers-long zoom for some extra curricular activities or spotting those lions and elephants on safari, a compact with a viewfinder built in, or that pro-spec DSLR alternative. There's something out there for everyone.
Here at Pocket-lint we've been cutting through the abundance of compact camera releases in 2013 and, as 2014 begins, the creme de la creme last year's models remain strong. We've broken our list of great cameras down into sub-headed categories to make things easier to digest. You name it, we've got you covered.
We’ll be regularly updating this feature with the latest and greatest compact cameras that we review in full - and only those we've seen and judged - so you can see where your money is best spent.
Best waterproof compact camera
Panasonic Lumix FT5
We've seen plenty of tough, waterproof, pretty-much-everything-proof compact cameras over the years. Even if none that we've handled produce the most pristine of picture quality, we've settled on the Panasonic Lumix FT5 as being the most well-rounded and complete tough model out there.
This brick-like beast comes complete with a 4.6x optical zoom for a 28-128mm equivalent zoom, all housed within a rigid body that's waterproof up to 13m under the waves. There's even built-in Wi-Fi and NFC (near field communication) for sharing images direct from the camera itself.
PRICE: £255 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: Tech-packed, built like a tank and with decent autofocus performance, it's the image quality limitations typical of tough cameras that holds the FT5 back from greater things. A good yet rather pricey all-rounder, it's not exactly a revelation but there're bags of features and decent movie mode in tow for the cash.
FULL REVIEW: Panasonic Lumix FT5
Best all-round compact cameras
Panasonic Lumix TZ40
It's said that smartphones are overtaking the bottom end of the compact world, so when it comes to buying a more serious dedicated compact camera there's a lot to think about. A model such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ40 has a wide-ranging 20x zoom that can deal with 24mm wide-angle shots for those group photos, or extend right through its 480mm equivalent to snap those far-away subjects large in the frame.
Built-in image stabilisation moves the lens by microscopic amounts to counteract any wobbly handshake, while the super-fast autofocus and hands-on touchscreen control is about as good as we've seen from a compact camera.
All that delivered from a small-bodied and pocketable model that can be carried anywhere. There's even built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for sharing pictures via a smartphone.
PRICE: £219 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: The TZ40's combination of 20x optical zoom, an excellent image stabilisation system and Venus processing engine open up a world of imaging potential. We've snapped close-up, from afar, in all manner of conditions and, despite some picky image quality quibbles when viewed at absolute scale, the overall sense is that pictures are good. The near-£300 price isn't small, but considering what's on board we think the TZ40 is worth every penny.
FULL REVIEW: Panasonic Lumix TZ40
Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
The SX280 HS is the very first Canon camera to introduce the Digic 6 processor. Its intentions are clear: this one's all about the image quality.
There's no touchscreen and more limited autofocus options than some of the competition mean this 20x optical zoom model isn't leaps and bounds ahead of its SX260 predecessor from last year. The addition of Wi-Fi connectivity is a nice to have for picture sharing, but we're not fans of the way Canon's implemented it - it's just a faff to use.
But the SX280 HS has got the good stuff where it matters: image quality is the best in class throughout the ISO sensitivity range, while that 20x optical zoom delivers detailed images that are extra steady in preview thanks to the lens-based image stabilisation system.
PRICE: £219 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: Even if the SX280 adds little new compared to its SX260 predecessor it does succeed in one important area: delivering the best-in-class image quality. Wi-Fi is a faff to use and there are fewer features than its more advanced Panasonic Lumix TZ40 competitor. But the Canon is all about the image quality: the pairing of this 12.1-megapixel sensor and Digic 6 processor seems like the perfect match.
FULL REVIEW: Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Best connected compact camera
Samsung Galaxy Camera (EK-GC100)
Connectivity is all the rage at the moment, as who wouldn't want a quick, easy and wireless way of sharing their pictures? But no camera company has been able to deliver that concept better than Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Camera may have its share of issues - image quality lacks biting sharpness, and the whole model is rather big - but it's a breeze to use thanks to its Android 4.1 operating system.
The Galaxy Camera is, in essence, a Samsung Galaxy SGS3 smartphone with a whacking great 21x optical zoom lens popped on the front of it. There's space for a micro SIM should you want to add a data plan and then it makes sharing direct from camera possible without Wi-Fi. It's better and just so much easier to work with than any of its connected competitors.
PRICE: £319 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: In many respects the Galaxy Camera is a breath of fresh air that succeeds in connectivity from camera to a level way beyond anything else out there. It's got as much pep as a top-spec smartphone too, so you can play apps and organise your life, or even make Skype calls from the Android 4.1 platform. In many ways its niche, but in others this is the mainstream model that will pave the way for future in-camera connectivity. Pay attention competitor camera makers!
FULL REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Camera
When it comes to something small and pocketable, but where image quality needs to be a step above the conventional compact there are various series of pocketable options on offer.
These tend to have shorter zoom lenses in order to retain best sharpness and clarity throughout their zoom ranges while offering more advanced optical features such as wider maximum apertures for low-light shooting or creating that pro-looking, soft-focus background effect.
Canon PowerShot S120
Canon's had it's claws deep in the high-spec compact camera market for a while now, and for good reason: the PowerShot S-series. The latest S120 model is the epitome of a pocketable yet powerful compact, so if small is your goal then there are few other competitors worth considering in our view.
The 1/1.7-inch sensor produces great-looking images straight from the camera and a maximum f/1.8 aperture at the widest angle setting - a third of a stop brighter than its S110 predecessor - makes for greater shooting control.
There are plenty of other techie features too: Wi-Fi, a touchscreen control, a physical lens ring control that we're particularly fond of and super-fast autofocus. It's a cracking compact camera only let down by some issues, if we're being extra critical: overexposure, limited battery life, the high price and a Wi-Fi setup that could be improved are the main shortfalls. But that doesn't hold it back from being a winner.
PRICE: £379 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: One for those seeking high-spec on a small scale. Save for the Panasonic Lumix LX7 there's little else worth looking at in this compact category, and the Canon sure does deliver on compact in its truest form. Despite some minor quibbles the Canon S120 is a cracker of a compact camera.
FULL REVIEW: Canon PowerShot S120
Panasonic Lumix LX7
Panasonic knows a high-end compact and we have a real soft spot for the LX7, despite it being a couple of years old now. It's got its own style, which includes a physical lens ring and other on-body controls that make it feel truly high end. Compared to its near competitors the build quality is a step above; this is next-level business.
Autofocus is also fast, raw and JPEG images are detailed from the 1/1.7-inch sensor and there's even a hotshoe that can be used to add an optional electronic viewfinder should you wish.
For our money this is the choice camera in this department - it's ideal as a DSLR supplement when you don't want to roll the big guns out, because the LX7 can happily live in your pocket or bag at all times. None too bad for the now affordable asking price either.
PRICE: £289 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: Even if the LX7 doesn't produce class-leading image quality at the mid-high ISO settings, there's just something magic about the design, layout and the way the camera feels in use. We love the physical aperture ring and the super-bright f/1.4-2.3 maximum aperture setting sets it apart from much of the competition. One not to be underestimated - this is all-round quality.
FULL REVIEW: Panasonic Lumix LX7
When normal compacts just aren't enough and you want to zoom in on those far-away subjects and make them appear large in the frame, a superzoom - sometimes called bridge camera - is just the ticket. Safari, bird spotting and the like all owe well to a superzoom camera.
These models may not necessarily replace a DSLR camera in terms of ability and final image quality, but by employing compact sensor sizes their respective lenses are smaller and far more affordable than a pro-spec camera. Modern superzooms combine significant zoom lenses in reasonable body sizes with an abundance of tech that makes them very attractive prospects.
Panasonic Lumix FZ200
Typically as a zoom lens extends, the amount of light it lets in dips, which potentially means image quality can suffer in low-light conditions. Not so with the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 - its wide-angle 24mm lens extends all the way through to a 600mm equivalent, all the while maintaining a maximum f/2.8 aperture. And that's been managed without significant impact to the model's fairly trim size.
This is a well-proportioned, advanced superzoom that, unlike most of its competitors, focuses on advanced control and a bright constant aperture instead of four-figure zoom equivalents. Still, the 600mm maximum equivalent is more than significant, even if it's less than some competitors out there.
PRICE: £349 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: The 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. King of the superzooms? We reckon so. Top stuff - unless a yet longer zoom is an essential to your needs.
FULL REVIEW: Panasonic Lumix FX200
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
The SX50 HS really does put the "super" in superzoom: its 24-1200mm equivalent lens is a whopper and, fortunately, is matched with top-notch image stabilisation to boot to ensure steady image preview even at the longest of focal lengths.
We love the camera's vari-angle LCD screen and how well it performs in bright conditions, while the fast autofocus is a step beyond its SX40 predecessor and the resulting image quality is impressive from such a camera.
But it's how the SX50 HS performs as a whole that makes it such a cracker. There's plenty of bang for the budget which, at the time of writing, has dipped to a £279. That's less than a DSLR body without even talking lens, so we can see the appeal.
PRICE: £279 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: The SX50 is the full package deal and delivers on the zoom front - its top-end 1200mm equivalent focal length is double that of the Panasonic FZ200. But it's not just big on zoom, it's big on image quality too and we don't think there's another superzoom on the market today that can deliver the same clarity as this Canon. The SX50 is pushing the limits of what's possible from a compact camera and, for the most part, succeeding.
FULL REVIEW: Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
Best advanced or enthusiast compact cameras
Here's where compacts step up a gear. Whether it's all the bells and whistles in the form of hands-on controls, a built-in viewfinder or a large sensor for optimum quality, there are all kinds of advanced compacts to suit different tastes.
Canon PowerShot G16
The G16 may be starting to look a little dated, particularly when you compare it to something like Sony’s sleek RX100 II, but that doesn't stop the Canon remaining a top-notch snapper all round. When something's right, it's just right - and the G16 largely represents that.
The camera delivers image quality that's consistently good, certainly among the best in class. Shoot raw, shoot JPEG, share with Wi-Fi - it's all pro. And when it comes to build and functions you’d be hard-pressed to find any fault.
It won't suit all photographers on account of its bulky size, but for those that it will, that 28-140mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture lens and fantastic image quality make it an undeniable winner. The G16 is a brilliant camera that's professional at every turn and you can fit it into a (rather large) pocket too.
PRICE: £469 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: Despite no vari-angle screen like some earlier G-series models, the G16 represents Canon's ability to refine and perfect the high-end compact. It's fairly bulky, but the G16 delivers some of the best image quality of any compact, while that quality lens makes it a hugely attractive creative prospect.
FULL REVIEW: Canon PowerShot G16
Sony Cyber-shot RX100
Why hello there. Beneath the RX100's rich black exterior is a 1-inch sensor - the same size sensor as you'd find in a Nikon 1-series compact system camera. Considering the RX100's relatively small size that's a whopper of a sensor.
Sony's gone in for the kill with this one, creating a high-resolution and high-quality compact thanks to the 24-megapixel sensor, which is balanced out with decent optical performance from the 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 equivalent lens. The maximum aperture does dip rather steeply when zoomed in, but that's the price to pay for a truly compact body with such a large sensor - we think it's an inventive play on the high-end compact concept, and one that will put creativity in plenty of palms. It's oh so good, even if there are technical limitations.
PRICE: £399 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: The RX100 rarely puts a foot wrong. It's truly pocketable - all the more impressive considering the 1-inch sensor size - and produces cracking image quality despite the high resolution. However its original near-£500 asking price was rather a lot, and the lack of any viewfinder or provisions to add one later may cause some to turn their noses up. Time has been a blessing, however, as the RX100 is now far more affordable price point that makes it an attractive prospect.
FULL REVIEW: Sony Cyber-shot RX100
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
Déjà vu? Almost. We had to put the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II into the top compacts list alongside the original model as, despite its similarities, this supped-up compact comes complete with a hotshoe for adding on an electronic viewfinder if you want - or can afford - it.
That's the main thing that'll throw people off the RX100 II's scent: the price. The original £649 recommended price certainly wasn't cheap, but with its brand new 1-inch sensor, tilt-angle LCD screen and wonderful-to-use rotational lens ring there's oh so much going for this camera.
PRICE: £545 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: We may have a fistful of niggles - no built-in neutral density (ND) filter, maximum aperture limitations, and its generalised focus area in low-light conditions - that hold the RX100 II back from perfection, but there's no getting around it: it's among the best compact cameras on the market today. But to own this wonderful slice of compact camera pie you'll need to fork out the cash. Is it worth it? Just take a look at the excellent image quality and it's hard to ignore just how good a compact the RX100 II truly is.
FULL REVIEW: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
We've got a lot of praise for the Fujifilm X20. There's something charming about its retro cool style, the 2/3-inch sensor makes for cracking image quality and the 28-112mm equivalent zoom offers up an f/2.0-2.8 maximum aperture which is ideal for blurred background effects or shooting in low light.
The X20 rarely puts a foot wrong - it even comes complete with an optical viewfinder with a digital overlay which, despite its somewhat limited 85 per cent field-of-view, blows similar models out of the water. Our one qualm is that there's no built-in neutral density (ND) filter, but that's about as much moaning as we can muster.
PRICE: £379 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: This quirky looking, high-end compact camera marries retro with modern. It looks great and produces equally great-looking images. There's a best-in-class optical viewfinder to boot and a wonderful 28-112mm f/2.0-2.8 equivalent lens that's only let down - if we're really picky - by the lack of an ND filter. Small rants are countered by big raves: we've got a lot of love for the X20, in fact it's one of our favourite cameras ever.
FULL REVIEW: Fujifilm X20
Best luxury, large-sensor compact cameras
When money is no barrier and quality is everything, there's a camera for that. DSLR sensor sizes in compact bodies and, typically, a fixed lens (no zoom) that's matched up to its respective sensor for best possible image quality. Here's where the compact goes pro; these two special specimens don't just match DSLR quality, they often better it.
Sony Cyber-shot RX1
Sony's RX1 is a full-frame compact camera. In fact it's the world's first and - excluding Leica's rangefinder models - only full-frame compact. Now that won't necessarily mean much to many, except those in the know. In summary it means that the RX1 has a whopping great sensor at its core - the same size as traditional 35mm film negatives, no less - the kind that you'd find in super-pricey pro-spec DSLR camera.
On the front of the RX1 is a fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens that doesn't compromise on quality, while the sensor is able to resolve wonderful image quality. But there's no compromise on price either: upon release the £2,500 recommended price tag saw the RX1 be among the priciest of compacts ever conceived.
All that cash doesn't mean a ticket straight to compact heaven, however, as we've seen chromatic aberrations - those purple fringes around subject edges - in shots, while the RX1's autofocus is, well, it's just sluggish.
PRICE: £2,269 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: Sometimes you love something enough for the great things it does to ignore its shortcomings. That's what the Sony RX1 has done to us - while it's got shortcomings aplenty, to a select group of snappers this chunk of well-thought-out metal and glass will be a full-marks camera. It definitely feels special, and that's why it's made our list - because it's like the (Japanese) Ferrari of the compact camera world and unlike anything else you can buy today.
FULL REVIEW: Sony Cyber-shot RX1
Fujifilm has stormed the high-end compact market with the X-range, and the X100S keeps the bar high for the series.
It's not be the model to pick if you're in to close-up macro shooting by any means, but what really sells the X100S is the unique-to-Fuji hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder. That may sound bonkers, but it's not: think of a wider-than-100-per-cent optical viewfinder with all the bells and whistles of an electronic overlay and that's what the X100S delivers. You can see beyond the frame's edges to help capture the shot at that decisive moment.
Image quality from the fixed 23mm f/2.0 lens - that's a 35mm equivalent when paired with the APS-C sensor and, yup, there's no zoom - is super crisp, in part thanks to Fujifilm's own special colour array design and the fact there's no low-pass filter to bypass light diffusion for heightened sharpness. It's perfect for those candid street photography snaps.
PRICE: £989 (at time of writing)
QUICK VERDICT: The X100S isn't going to be suitable for a huge audience as there's no zoom and its retro aesthetic is a specialist thing in itself - but that, in some regard, is all part of what makes this high-end compact so appealing. Image quality is DSLR-beating from the fixed 35mm f/2.0 equivalent lens and the camera's build quality is second to none too. It's an all-round improvement over its predecessor, even if it does cost a small fortune, is no good for shooting sharp close-up shots and is arguably difficult to justify due to Fujifilm's own X-E1 model. But we still got lots of love for it.
FULL REVIEW: Fujifilm X100S