Compact cameras are intended to be portable (pocketable) and are particularly suitable for casual “snapshots”.
Many incorporate a retractable lens assembly that provides optical zoom. In most models, an auto actuating lens cover protects the lens from elements. Most ruggedized or water-resistant models do not retract, and most with (superzoom) capability do not retract fully.
The digital camera is one of the most remarkable instances of this shift because it is so truly different from its predecessor. Conventional cameras depend entirely on chemical and mechanical processes — you don’t even need electricity to operate them. On the other hand, all digital cameras have a built-in computer, and all of them record images electronically.
The new approach has been enormously successful. Since film still provides better picture quality, digital cameras have not completely replaced conventional cameras. But, as digital imaging technology has improved, digital cameras have rapidly become more popular.
Are you comparing cameras or Are you planning to buy a camera for your needs? Our buying guide picks out the best compact cameras, best compact system cameras and best DSLRs on the market.
Best Compacts and Bridge Cameras
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 – Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a decent casual point and shoot with a long zoom. The DMC-G5 has a huge zoom and a handy electronic viewfinder.
- Sony RX100 III – Who’s it for? Enthusiast photographers who want top-notch image quality and an electronic viewfinder – it’s very good in low light.
- Panasonic Lumix LX100 – Who’s it for? Enthusiasts who want a compact with good manual controls – it’s similar to the RX100 but has more direct controls.
- Fujifilm X100T – Who’s it for? Professional street photographers and rangefinder lovers – a niche camera but a hugely impressive one with a clever hybrid viewfinder.Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 – Who’s it for? Casual photographers that want the flexibility of a very large zoom, but don’t need a pocketable camera.
Best Compact System / Micro Four Thirds Cameras
Sony A7 MK II – Who’s it for? Photographers who want a full-frame camera in a compact body. The A7 II is also very good for video.
Best Digital SLR
- Sony Alpha SLT-A77M2 – Who’s it for? Beginners and enthusiasts who don’t mind spending a little more. It’s more advanced than the A5000 and performs well in low light.
- Panasonic Lumix GX7 – Who’s it for? Enthusiasts who want an advanced mirrorless camera in a portable body, the GX7 has in-body image stabilisation, a useful focus peaking system and good handling.
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – Who’s it for? Mirrorless fans who value great handling and built-in stabilisation – it’s one of the best micro four thirds cameras around.
- Fujifilm X-T1 – Who’s it for? Serious photographers who want an APS-C sensor and great image quality. The X-T1 takes stunning photos and Fujifilm has a great lens line-up.
- Samsung NX30 – Who’s it for? Action photographers who want high-speed performance with less bulk – it has 15fps continuous shooting mode and is weather sealed.
- Canon EOS 100D – Who’s it for? First-time DSLR owners who want good performance at a low price
- Nikon D750 – Who’s it for? Serious photographers who want to switch to full-frame photography – it’s arguably the full-frame camera to have right now.
- Sony Alpha A77 II – Who’s it for? Action photographers who can’t afford top pro gear. It’s very fast and has outstanding auto focus and tracking.
- Nikon D4S – Who’s it for? Serious professional photographers and posers. It’s a monster of a camera that only real pros should consider.
What type of camera should I buy?
If you’re looking for the best cameras for casual use and don’t want to fuss about settings before hitting the shutter button, a compact camera is probably the best fit for you.
There are still plenty of cheap and cheerful compacts out there, but higher-end models also cater for the enthusiast. There are numerous kinds of these too. You’ll find chunkier advanced compacts that give you good manual control, and simpler ones that focus on providing a higher-end sensor and lens optics for better image quality and ease-of-use.
Bridging the gap between compact cameras and DSLRs are Compact System Cameras (CSC). Expect these types of snappers to offer an excellent balance of convenience and image quality, though at the very top-end we’re beginning to see CSCs that match or even exceed similar DSLRs. Sony’s full-frame A7-series is a good example. Within the CSC category, there’s a number of different types of sensor used, each giving quite a different experience.
Nikon’s CSCs use 1-inch sensors that provide lightning-fast shooting and dinky camera bodies, but not the best low-light performance. Olympus and Panasonic use Micro Four Thirds-size sensors, providing a middle ground. The latest MFT sensors are particularly impressive, seen in some of our favourite CSCs.
The largest sensors you’ll find in affordable CSCs are APS-C ones, used in cameras from Samsung and Sony. Of course, Sony has now gone even further, adopting full-frame sensors in the top-end A7 range. These provide the best image quality among CSCs, rivalling top-end DSLRs.
But the big daddies of the camera world remain the DSLRs. The most popular cameras among enthusiasts and professionals, DSLRs offer the greatest detail, the least noise and the fastest focusing. They’re evidence that size does matter sometimes. Larger sensors and larger, higher-quality lens glass is what the DSLR is all about.
Last up are the Bridge Cameras. These cameras are something between a compact camera and a lens system camera. They have permanent, generally very long zoom lenses and a similar feel to a DSLR. But Bridge Cameras have sensors that are similar sized to compact cameras, producing photos similar in quality.