Best Compact Cameras 2014

Best Compact Cameras 2014

Traditionally, "compact cameras” were synonymous with point-and-shoots, but a new class of compact camera systems has emerged to challenge the paradigm. After debating whether to limit the scope of this article, we decided that the intent of our readers is to find the best small cameras on the market, and compact system cameras certainly fit that category. Below are our picks for the best compact cameras of 2014. 

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoots are the smallest of all cameras with fixed lenses, an increasing range of features, and the lowest prices. They also have smaller sensors than compact camera systems but image quality is better than ever before. 
Sony RX100 IIOur pick for the best point-and-shoot of 2014 is the Sony RX100 II. Sony has been masterful at fitting big sensors into compact bodies, and the RX100 II has a large 20.2-megapixel sensor, a Carl Zeiss zoom lens, RAW capability, and built-in Wi-Fi. For everything from travel and the outdoors to casual everyday use, the RX100 II will produce excellent images and weighs only 9.9 ounces. The original Sony RX100 offers similar image quality but with fewer features (it doesn’t have Wi-Fi or a hot shoe, for example). 
Another top advanced point-and-shoot for 2014 is the Canon PowerShot G16. In addition to excellent low light performance with a maximum aperture of f/1.8, the Canon G16 is packed with features like Full HD 1080p video, in-camera HDR and panorama modes, an optical viewfinder, and built-in Wi-Fi. Unlike some of its predecessors, the G16 is pocketable—Canon went without a flip-out screen that was on previous models like the G12.
In a slightly cheaper price range, the Panasonic Lumix LX7 is a favorite point-and-shoot among photography enthusiasts and a great value. Featuring a Leica lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, the Panasonic LX7 has superb low-light performance—even better than the Canon G16 above. In addition, the LX7 shoots fast at up to 11 frames per second, has Full HD 1080P video capability, in-camera HDR, and a manual aperture ring.
Canon PowerShot SX260Our pick for the top budget compact camera is the Canon PowerShot SX260, which boasts a 20x digital zoom, 1080p HD video capability, and GPS, among other features. You don't get the same low light performance as the cameras above, but the Canon SX260 is versatile, outperforms its price range, and weighs only 8.2 ounces. The newer Canon PowerShot SX280 is available with Wi-Fi and in-camera HDR but without 24p video. 
We would be remiss without mentioning the Nikon Coolpix A on this list. This pricey point-and-shoot (it costs over $1,000!) features an APS-C image sensor—the same as in Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs—in the body of a point-and-shoot that weighs only 10.6 ounces. So why isn’t the Coolpix A more heartily recommended? With a fixed 28mm lens, it doesn’t provide the versatility that most people need. The Coolpix A is an impressive camera but not a logical purchase for most consumers. 

Compact System Cameras

Compact system cameras—also called mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras—should finally hit the Big Time in the U.S. in 2014. They have considerably larger sensors than do point-and-shoots but without the bulk of a DSLR. Instead of traditional powerhouses like Nikon and Canon, this market is lead by Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic. 
Sony NEX-3NOur pick for the best budget compact camera system is the 16.1-megapixel Sony NEX-3N. At less than $350 with a 16-50mm kit lens, the NEX-3N features a DSLR-like APS-C image sensor in a lightweight set-up that weighs only 11.5 ounces total. All things considered, the NEX-3N offers far better image quality than most point-and-shoots without a significant increase in price. For those who want more features, Sony’s NEX line is strong top to bottom, including the Sony NEX-6 and Sony NEX-7.
Samsung is relatively new to the world of photography, but the Samsung NX300 is a nice mid-range compact camera system. It’s easy to use and offers touchscreen functionality, which is not surprising from the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. Connectivity is a prominent feature of the Samsung NX300, which integrates with Samsung tablets and smartphones via a “Smart Camera” app. One shortcoming of the NX300 is that you don’t get the extensive lens selections of the Sony NEX or Micro Four Thirds camera lines, but the 18-55m and 20-50mm kit lenses are fine choices for most people.
Without factoring price into the equation, our favorite compact system camera for 2014 is the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Pricey, yes, but the OM-D E-M1 captures professional-grade images, is weather-sealed, and has a terrific selection of Micro-Four Thirds lenses to choose from. For a cheaper option, the older Olympus OM-D E-M5 is now selling at a discount.

High-End Compact Cameras

Sony Alpha 7It’s hard to believe that digital cameras have come this far, but last year Sony introduced the DSC-RX1, a full-frame compact. The DSC-RX1 was limited by its fixed 35mm lens, but Sony stepped up in a big way with the new Sony A7 (24.3 megapixels) Sony A7R and (36.4 megapixels). These full-frame compact camera systems offer superb image quality in lightweight bodied, tipping the scales at under 15 ounces. The lens selection (Sony FE mount) is still limited but will increase.
Nikon’s answer to the A7 is the Nikon Df, another full-frame compact camera system. However, we prefer the Sony A7 over the Nikon Df for a few reasons. First, the Df has fewer megapixels (16.2 vs. 24.3). Second, it’s more expensive. Third, the camera weighs over 25 ounces, taking some of the novelty out of the compact concept. We expect Nikon to challenge Sony in this high-end sphere down the road, but unless you already own Nikon full-frame (FX-format) lenses, we recommend the A7.