Buying guide: Best compact zoom cameras

If you want a compact camera that produces great quality photos without the hassle of changing lenses, there are plenty of choices available for every budget. All of the cameras in this buying guide have zoom lenses, at a wide variety of focal lengths.

The majority of the cameras in this guide use 1"-type sensors, which fall in-between the tiny chips used in smartphones and cheap compacts, and larger sensors found in mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Larger sensors offer more control over depth-of-field and usually (but not always) have less noise at high sensitivities.

If you don't need a zoom, you should also read our Prime Lens Camera Buying Guide.

Our pick: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

The Sony RX100 VII is one of the most capable cameras that you can slip into your pocket, primarily thanks to its impressive autofocus. The VII's lens covers the 24-200mm range, its tilting LCD and mic input are well-suited for vlogging, and the pop-up EVF is incredibly useful when shooting outdoors.

While not amazing in low light due to the lens's slow aperture range, image quality is generally excellent, with pleasing colors, good detail capture and wide dynamic range. The RX100 VII's 4K video quality is very good, as well.

Where the RX100 VII really stands out is its autofocus system, which is the most advanced of any compact on the market. Just point it at a subject - whether it's a body, face or eye, and the camera will follow it around the scene seamlessly. And it can do this at 20 frames per second.

Handling is the main area about which we have mixed feelings. The user interface is complex, buttons are too small, and the body is slippery and easy to drop. The RX100 VII is expensive for a compact camera, but if you need its 'capture-the-action' capabilities, then you won't be disappointed with your purchase.

For a brighter lens: Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II

The Canon G5 X II has a shorter, faster lens than the RX100 VII, giving the option of blurrier backgrounds and better image quality as the light level falls. It still manages to cover a versatile 24-120mm equivalent range.

The G5 X II produces very good photos, with good Raw image quality and JPEGs with the kind of color one expects from Canon. Video quality is reasonable, though since it lacks a mic socket, the G7 X III and RX100 VII are better choices for vlogging.

The design of the camera is very good, with a customizable, 'clicky' front control dial, dedicated exposure comp dial, flip-up touchscreen LCD and that handy EVF. It's responsive to use and its interface is simple and focused. On the negative side, the G5 X II's autofocus system which, while very good, just can't keep up with the RX100 VII. Battery life isn't great either, although the camera does support USB charging.

We considered all of the cameras below when picking our winner, and even though Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII is our top pick, the cameras on our short list are also worthy contenders.

If you're not convinced by our recommendations, read through the full buying guide for a detailed breakdown of each contender's strengths and weaknesses.

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