DPReview Recommends: Best Compact Cameras for Enthusiasts
There's a long tradition of high-quality compact cameras going back more than a hundred years, and even now, in the days of digital, there are some incredibly capable compact cameras on the market. Shop carefully and you can get excellent image quality, full manual control and plenty of other bells and whistles, provided you don't mind paying a little more than you might for the average point and shoot. Top-notch lenses, great sensors and plenty of control are the hallmarks of every one of our top five recommended compact cameras for enthusiasts.
Prices given are representative of street pricing, and our recommendations are arranged from most to least expensive.
Recommendations are subject to change and are current as of December 2013
$1300 / £955 | 16MP | 35mm F2 lens | 2.8" 460k-dot LCD | Hybrid EVF/OVF viewfinder
The Fujfilm X100S is one of our favorite cameras of the past year. Built around a 35mm (equivalent) F2 lens and APS-C format 16MP sensor, the X100S is compact, lightweight and capable of extremely good image quality. Compared to the original X100 Fujifilm made many improvements in the X100S, most notably when it comes to performance. The X100S is all-round a faster, more reliable camera and its hybrid phase and contrast-detection AF system makes a real difference in everyday photography, increasing AF speed and reliability.
The shutter is virtually silent, and its hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder makes it easy to compose images in a range of different environments in lighting conditions. The X100S's manual focus mode is also very capable thanks to aids like focus peaking and a digital 'split image' view. The small, discreet X100S is a great camera for candid, street and portrait photography.
Ricoh GR The 16MP APS-C format Ricoh GR was one of the quiet stars of 2013, offering excellent image quality, good overall performance and a great lens for a reasonable price. Although its fixed 28mm F2.8 lens is a touch wide for some subjects and F2.8 isn't the fastest aperture in the world, the GR's convincing high ISO image quality makes the camera very useful for street, landscape and interior photography in poor light.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
$750 / £565 | 20MP | 28-100mm lens | 3" 1.2 million-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100II builds on the success of its predecessor the RX100 with a new back-side illuminated 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor and the addition of thoughtful extras like a tilting (although not fully articulated) rear LCD and a hotshoe for adding accessories like a flash or optional electronic finder. The new sensor enables faster, more accurate autofocus in poor light, and ISO sensitivity tops out at 25,600. Don't expect to be making poster-sized prints at this sensitivity, but image quality is good enough for web sharing, and at more moderate sensitivity settings the RX100 II is capable of excellent results especially in Raw mode.
The RX100 II's lens is the same as that first featured on the original RX100, and spans a useful range of 28-100mm, but while it's very bright at the wide end, at F1.8, towards 100mm it closes down rapidly. A small built-in flash provides enough power for close-range social portraits if needed.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is, like the Olympus XZ-2, a camera that's been on the market for a little while, but it's one that we consistently recommend for its unusually fast (F1.4-2.3) zoom lens and very good image quality. The major limiting factor with the LX7 is its relatively restrictive zoom range of 24-90mm, but if you can live with this, the LX7 won't disappoint when it comes to low light and everyday photography.
Olympus Stylus 1
$750 / £550 | 12MP | 28-300mm lens | 3" 1.04 million-dot LCD | 1080/30p video
The Olympus Stylus 1 is Olympus's flagship zoom compact camera, offering an optically-stabilized 28-300mm lens, which means that it slots in nicely between longer zoom cameras like Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ200 and Sony's larger-sensor Cyber-shot RX10. Its 12MP BSI-CMOS sensor is of the 1/1.7in type, and ISO sensitivity spans 100-12,000. The Stylus 1 is a little more pricey than most consumer-oriented compact cameras, but its F2.8 constant aperture zoom is worth the extra cash, producing sharp and detailed images at all focal lengths.
As well as the usual details like Raw mode and full manual control the Stylus 1 also features built-in Wi-Fi, a built-in 3EV neutral density filter (useful for shallow depth of field portraits in bright light) and a 1.44 million-dot electronic viewfinder. The Stylus 1 adopts the useful dual mode stepped and stepless control ring from the XZ-2.
Nikon Coolpix P7800 The Coolpix P7800 offers a longer zoom than arch-rival the Canon PowerShot G16 (28-200mm equivalent) but not as long as the Stylus 1. It also boasts an articulating rear LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder. Image quality is excellent too, and at least on a par with the competition. Where the P7800 falls a little short is operational speed, especially when shooting in Raw mode. It's just not as snappy as the best of its competitors.
$500 / £450 | 12MP | 28-140mm lens | 3" 922k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
The Canon PowerShot G16 is a compact camera with a fixed lens and a considerably smaller sensor than interchangeable lens models, but it does have a lot going for it. The 28-140mm zoom lens lacks a bit of reach at the telephoto end, but optical quality is very high, and that's a perfect range for everyday photography of people and places.
The G16 is impressively fast, offering extremely responsive autofocus and rapid shot-to-shot times even in Raw capture mode. It also boasts full manual exposure control and plenty of 'hands on' control points. As such, the G16 makes a good second camera in a DSLR or mirror less interchangeable lens system. It's relatively compact, fast, and reliable.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 The LF1 marries the 12MP 1/1.7" CMOS sensor from the Lumix DMC-LX7 to a longer, slower 28-200mm equivalent F2.0-5.9 lens. It also includes a 202k dot-equivalent electronic viewfinder. Image quality is good, and while the viewfinder is relatively poor, it's better than none at all. The LF1 also offers Wi-Fi for remote control and wireless communication that can be set up using NFC.
$525 / £400 | 12MP | 28-112mm lens | 2.8" 460k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video
The 12MP Fujifilm X20 is Fujifilm's flagship zoom compact camera, and it has impressed us with its image quality and performance. Among its specification highlights are a 2/3" 12MP X-Trans CMOS II sensor which incorporates hybrid phase and contrast-detection autofocus and a fast, very sharp 28-112mm equivalent F2-2.8 zoom lens. It also includes a built-in optical 'tunnel type' viewfinder with exposure information overlay, which is helpful when composing images in very bright light, when the display on the rear screen can be hard to see clearly.
In terms of image quality, the X20 delivers good images in a range of different environments, and features like built-in Raw conversion and intelligently integrated automatic and manual exposure modes make the X20 a very attractive option for enthusiasts. Two of the few black marks against it are relatively poor battery life and sub-par video quality (despite the impressive specification) - something that Fujifilm hasn't quite mastered yet on any of its X-series models.
Olympus XZ-2 iHS The Olympus XZ-2 is a high-end zoom compact camera which has impressed us a lot with its combination of image quality, lens range and brightness, and a generous feature set. The 12MP XZ-2's 12MP 1/1.7in BSI-CMOS sensor is capable of excellent image quality. A recent firmware update has improved the XZ-2's autofocus performance in low light, which was one of our few criticisms of the camera.