The bottom end of the camera market is being challenged by smartphones, but advanced and mid-range point-and-shoots are thriving. In 2016, you can get a compact camera with a larger sensor, more megapixels, and more connectivity options and features than ever before (even 4K video is now available at this level). Whether you’re a professional looking for a smaller alternative to your DSLR or mirrorless camera, or an amateur looking to improve your photography, below are our picks for the year’s best point-and-shoots. For more information on the category, see our buying advice below the picks.
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: The best value on the market.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder or 4K video.
Over the past few years, Sony has released four versions of its high-end RX100 series. The RX100 IV below is selling for a whopping $948, but we still love the original at less than $500 (we’ve seen it as low as $400 in recent months). The biggest differences between the RX100 and the RX100 IV are that the latter has a pop-up electronic viewfinder and 4K video, but with the original you still get a large 20.1-megapixel sensor, a fast Carl Zeiss lens, and RAW capability, all packaged in a lightweight and durable body. And the RX100 has a longer zoom range at 28-100mm than the IV at 24-70mm. All four versions are terrific pro-level cameras, but we love the value of the RX100 against the competition.
See the Sony RX100
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: Great image quality and intuitive to use.
What we don’t: No 4K video.
The second iteration of a new camera often is better than the first, which is precisely the case with Canon G7X Mark II. This small point-and-shoot (11.3 ounces) packs a big punch in terms of image quality, with a large 1” image sensor and fast f/1.8-2.8 lens. Compared to its predecessor, the Mark II shoots faster, processes faster, focuses more accurately, and has improved ergonomics with a handy grip on the front. Keep in mind that the G7X Mark II does not shoot 4K video, but that isn’t an important feature to you, this is one of the best compacts on the market.
See the Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: Huge zoom for such a small, unassuming camera.
What we don’t: Slower lens than the competition.
Panasonic always seems to have great travel cameras, and the new ZS100 is just that. With a large 1” sensor and 25-500mm Leica lens, the ZS100 can shoot many times further than any other high-end compact on this list. The sacrifice comes with the speed of the lens: the Panasonic is f/2.8-5.9, while others in its price range are f/1.8 (all of the Sony RX100 series) or f/2 (Ricoh and Fujifilm). We do favor a faster lens for better low light performance and bokeh, but the 500mm reach makes the ZS100 a winner for travel and those who want big zoom. You also get 4K video, a nice perk in this price range.
See the Panasonic DMC-ZS100
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: A proven advanced point-and-shoot packed with features.
What we don’t: It's just too expensive for our taste.
With its continued dominance of the high-end point-and-shoot market, Sony just keeps rolling out new versions of its RX100 series. The fourth is the best and most expensive, featuring new 4K video capabilities, faster shooting speeds, and a higher resolution LCD screen. And you get all the functionality that made older versions so popular, including a large sensor, fast Carl Zeiss zoom lens, and unique pop-up electronic viewfinder. Despite losing the top spot due to its cost, the RX100 IV is still one of the premier compact cameras on the market. If you don’t need the 4K video, we love the RX100 below—it also lacks an electronic viewfinder but offers similar overall image quality and is much cheaper. The RX100 III (no 4K video) and RX100 II (no 4K video and no viewfinder) are now the worst values of the bunch in our opinion.
See the Sony RX100 IV
Sensor size: 328 sq. mm
Zoom: 28mm prime lens (no zoom)
What we like: Extra large APS-C image sensor (the largest on this list).
What we don’t: The prime lens isn’t for everyone.
The Ricoh GR II doesn’t represent a major update from the original GR, but it’s still one of our favorite point-and-shoots of the year. Its most notable feature is the huge APS-C image sensor—the same size as many digital SLRs—in a compact body that weighs less than 8 ounces. You also get built-in Wi-Fi and other minor improvements like faster shutter speed and buffering. Keep in mind that the GR II has a fixed focal length lens equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera, which is great for travel and outdoor photography but isn’t for everyone. If you want professional-grade image quality in a tiny package, the Ricoh GR II is better at 28mm than any other model on this list. If you want the versatility of a zoom lens from your point-and-shoot, a camera above is a better bet.
See the Ricoh GR II
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
Weight: 7.4 oz.
What we like: Super lightweight and the same sensor and image processor as the pricier G5 X.
What we don’t: Not quite as good in low light as the cameras above.
The G9 X may be the simplest of Canon’s advanced point-and-shoots, but it’s also the best value. In terms of features, you won’t find an optical viewfinder or ultra-high resolution articulating LCD screen, and there are fewer manual controls than on a camera like the G5 X above. More, the G9 X has less zoom at 28-80mm and a slower lens. But the G9 X boasts the same 1” CMOS sensor as the other two models, and is extremely light at only 7.4 ounces.If you’re choosing between this camera and the RX100 above, the sensors and megapixels are identical, but the 20mm of extra zoom on the Sony does have some value for uses like travel photography. On the other hand, the G9 X has built-in Wi-Fi, which is a nice touch.
See the Canon PowerShot G9 X
Sensor size: 58 sq. mm
What we like: It doesn't get better than Fujifilm color.
What we don’t: Not everyone loves the retro styling.
Fujifilm is known for its accurate color rendition and retro styling, and it’s a brand that we use frequently for work and personal use. For travel and street photography, the Fujifilm X30 can go head-to-head with any compact camera on the market. With a fast 28-112mm f/2.0-2.8 lens, electronic viewfinder, Full HD 1080p video, and RAW capability, the images and footage produced by the FujiFilm X30 are superb.
Given the price and specs, you can think of the new Canon G9 X and Sony RX100 as competitors. It’s a tough call as those cameras have larger sensors, but the X30 has an electronic viewfinder, which does have a lot of value to some photographers. If you’ve shot with Fujifilm in the past and want a viewfinder, the X30 is a great option.
See the FujiFilm X30
Sensor size: 43 sq. mm
What we like: Great image quality and feature packed.
What we don’t: For $400 you can buy a decent mirrorless camera.
The Canon G16 is a feature-packed compact camera geared toward enthusiasts. First and foremost is the lens, which has a handy zoom range of 28-140mm and maximum aperture of f/1.8, producing great images when natural light is low. You also get Full HD 1080p video, an optical viewfinder, and a number of manual controls. Despite all the functionality, the Canon G16 still is pocketable (to achieve this, Canon went without a flip-out screen that was on previous models).
Given the image quality and controls, the G16 is a nice option for those who own a DSLR but also want a smaller camera option too. The addition of Wi-Fi from the older G15 is a nice touch, although connectivity has become fairly standard in this category. If you want a compact camera from Canon with a larger sensor, check out the new Canon G9 X and G5 X above.
See the Canon G16
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: Huge zoom.
What we don’t: Smaller image sensor than the Canon G16 above.
Powerful zoom is one way that point-and-shoots can differentiate themselves from smartphone cameras, hence the rise of the compact superzoom. The Canon PowerShot SX700 HS is one of the leading cameras on the market under $300 and checks all the boxes for most consumers. For travel, kids, and sports, the camera reaches an equivalent of 25-750mm, shoots Full 1080p HD video, and has built-in Wi-Fi. And at only 8.2 ounces, the SX700 HS easily fits in your pocket. The biggest downside is the relatively small 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, which will perform fine if you don’t plan on enlarging your photographs or shooting in adverse conditions. The SX700 HS has been discontinued, which can lead to lower prices as inventory clears out for newer models.
See the Canon SX700 HS
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: Big-time zoom and a great value.
What we don’t: Heavy and bulky compared to other cameras on this list.
If you’re looking for huge zoom at a reasonable price point, check out the popular Canon SX530 HS. For less than $250 you get a massive 24-1200mm of zoom along with image stabilization and Canon’s signature easy-to-use functionality. Why is this camera not higher on our list? The two models above have shorter zoom ranges and are more expensive, but also are considerably smaller and lighter (the Canon SX530 HS feels more like a DSLR than a traditional point-and-shoot). This camera may not slide in your pocket, but for travel, sports, and everyday use, it packs a whole lot of punch for the price. For these reasons, we like the SX530 HS as a budget DSLR alternative for those who care about image quality but won’t be making huge prints or shooting in tough conditions.
See the Canon SX530 HS
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: A great value and a lot of zoom.
What we don’t: Samsung prioritizes features over sensor size.
Everyone seems to like Samsung’s easy-to-use functionality. The Samsung WB350F is a winner on most fronts: it has an impressive zoom range equivalent to 23-483mm, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, and a nice design with range of color options to choose from. We also like that the WB350F can slide into your pocket for travel and photography on the go.
Two shortcomings of the Samsung WB350F are its small 1/2.3" image sensor and required MicroSD memory card. The cost of a MicroSD card actually is a bit less per MB than a traditional SD card and you can use them in many non-Apple smartphones, but if you already have an SD card from a previous camera, you’ll have to spend the extra $10 to $20. For even more functionality and a larger touch screen, try the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2.
See the Samsung WB350F
Camera Comparison Table
|Sony RX100||$498||20.2||116 sq. mm||28-100mm||f/1.8-4.9||8.5 oz.|
|Canon G7X Mark II||$799||20.1||116 sq. mm||24-100mm||f/1.8-2.8||11.3 oz.|
|Panasonic DMC-ZS100||$698||20.1||116 sq. mm||25-500mm||f/2.8-5.9||11 oz.|
|Sony RX100 IV||$949||20.1||116 sq. mm||24-70mm||f/1.8-2.8||10.3 oz.|
|Ricoh GR II||$620||16.2||328 sq.mm||28mm (prime)||f/2.8||8.6 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot G9 X||$429||20.2||116 sq. mm||28-80mm||f/2.0-4.9||7.4 oz.|
|FujiFilm X30||$499||12||58 sq. mm||28-112mm||f/2-2.8||14.9 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot G16||$379||12.1||43 sq. mm||28-140mm||f/2.8-5.9||12.6 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot SX700 HS||$239||16.1||28 sq. mm||25-750mm||f/3.2-6.9||9.5 oz.|
|Canon Powershot SX530 HS||$279||16||28 sq.mm||24-1200mm||f/3.4-6.5||15.6 oz.|
|Samsung WB350F||$209||16.2||28 sq. mm||23-484mm||f/2.8-5.9||7.6 oz.|
- Image Sensor
- Low Light Performance
- LCD Screen
- Rugged Cameras
- What About a Memory Card?
Marketers push megapixels as the central factor in determining the image quality your camera produces, but in reality it’s the size of the sensor. A common analogy in photography is that megapixels are like buckets used to collect rain (rain being light and color). The larger the buckets, the more rain they will collect. Accordingly, 20 megapixels on a small sensor (small buckets) are much less effective at capturing light than 20 megapixels are a large image sensor (large buckets).
Below are common sensor sizes found on point-and-shoot cameras:
- 1/2.3" (6.17 x. 4.55mm = 28 sq. mm)
- 1/1.7" (7.60 x 5.70mm = 41 sq. mm)
- 1" (13.2 x 8.8mm 116 sq. mm.)
- Micro Four Thirds (17 x 13mm = 224 sq. mm)
- APS-C (23.6 x 15.6mm = 368 sq. mm)
Almost all entry-level and some mid-range point-and-shoots have 1/2.3” CMOS image sensors. The higher the price the more likely you are to get a larger sensor—most high-end point-and-shoots either have 1” or 1/1.7” CMOS sensor. Some professional compact cameras have APS-C or Micro Four Thirds image sensors but those are a rarity (the Ricoh GR II has the largest on this list).
A pixel is one dot of information, and digital photographs are made up of millions of these dots. To make the calculations more palpable, we use the term megapixels (mega = million). So if a camera has 18 megapixels, the photographs are comprised of 18 million tiny dots.
As described above in relation to the image sensor, the number of megapixels can be misleading. If Camera X has 24 megapixels and Camera Y has 12 megapixels, this does not necessarily mean that Camera X produces higher quality images. If Camera Y has a larger sensor, higher ISO sensitivity, and a superior lens, you can expect better photos from fewer megapixels.
You shouldn’t totally ignore megapixels either. An astute camera buyer should look at sensor size first, then the number of megapixels, and try to gauge how those two numbers stack up against the competition (we’ve tried to make things easier with our handy comparison table above). Generally, the more you pay for a camera the larger the sensor and higher the number of megapixels.
Point-and-shoot cameras have an attached lens, as opposed to interchangeable lenses found on DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, and many models have a fairly versatile zoom. For example, the Sony RX100 IV has a zoom range of 24-70mm; the Canon G16 has a longer zoom range of 24-140mm; and the Canon PowerShot SX700 HS offers a very impressive 24-700mm, albeit at the sacrifice of other features.
A popular trend in 2016 is superzoom cameras, which have an extremely long zoom range up to 1000mm or more. Smartphones are notoriously poor at zooming and this is one way that camera manufacturers can continue to drum up interest. Superzooms are really cool cameras—we love the Canon PowerShot SX530 HS, for example, which has 24-1200mm of optical zoom and costs under $300. Superzooms have two main issues, however. They are considerably heavier and bulkier than normal point-and-shoots (closer to a DSLR than a point-and-shoot, in fact), and the image sensors on superzooms usually are small, often 1/2.3". But for travel, sporting events, school plays, or wildlife photos, these are very fun cameras to use.
Before making a purchase, we recommend thinking through which types of photos you will be taking most. Generally, wide-angle photos are taken from 18 to 24mm, street photography at 24 to 35mm, portraits from 50 to 100mm, and telephoto shots from 100mm and up. Only get a superzoom if you plan on using that end of the zoom range frequently.
A major point of differentiation between budget and high-end point-and-shoots is the low light performance of the lens and camera. In terms of the lens, the important number to look at is maximum aperture, expressed in f-stops ranging from f/1.4 to f/22 or higher. The lower the number, the wider the lens can open and the more light enters the camera. At the low end of the spectrum is a camera like the Pansonic Lumix LX7 with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and the Sony RX100 series with maximum apertures of f/1.8. Most mid-range and budget point-and-shoots have maximum apertures from around f/2 to f/3.5. You’ll notice that maximum aperture is expressed in two numbers covering both the wide and telephoto end (f/1.8-4.9, for example).
In terms of the low light performance of the camera itself, the number to look for is ISO sensitivity (commonly referred to simply as ISO). The higher the ISO, the more sensitive a camera is to light and the less likely you are to get noise (graininess you often see on photos taken by cheap cameras or your smartphone). A camera like the popular Canon ELPH I70 IS isn’t particularly good in low light with an ISO sensitivity of 100-1600, while the Sony RX100 IV has a much more impressive range of 125-12800. Taken together with the maximum aperture of the lens, these factors are what determine the low light performance of your point-and-shoot.
Like zoom, video is an increasingly sought-after camera feature. Full HD 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) is standard in 2016, even on point-and-shoots. Some budget models only shoot 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) but they are increasingly scarce. At the top end of the spectrum, some professional compacts are now offering 4K video (4096 x 3072 pixels) like the Sony RX100 IV and Panasonic DMC-ZS100.
In terms of overall video quality, there is more to evaluate than just the resolution. The quality of the autofocus, ISO sensitivity, size of image sensor, and other features like image stabilization all play a role in the video your point-and-shoot produces. Dedicated videographers also like to experiment with different movie speeds, with the most common being 60 fps, 30 fps, and 24 fps. Pricier point-and-shoots usually offer more video speeds to choose from.
A final feature you’ll often see referenced is a “dedicated movie button.” This means that instead of having to navigate through the menu via the buttons or touchscreen, one button (usually red) on the outside of the camera will have you shooting video almost instantaneously. Again, point-and-shoot manufacturers have to compete with smartphones, and the dedicated movie button is another way that they do so.
The method of plugging in your camera to a USB port on a desktop or laptop and uploading photos manually is becoming increasingly unnecessary. Built-in Wi-Fi is a nice perk on many new point-and-shoot cameras, allowing you to transfer and upload photos and video to your device or social media platform directly from the camera. Some even offer light editing directly on camera. The software and Wi-Fi platforms vary by manufacturer, and some are easier to use and less buggy than others, but we like the option of using Wi-Fi when it’s convenient.
The rear LCD screen is another point of differentiation between point-and-shoots. Most screens are LCD and around 3 inches in size, with the resolution varying significantly across price points. Higher resolution and brighter screens come in handy when the conditions are tough and you are trying to line up a shot. On some high-end models you get a tilting LCD for difficult angles and even touchscreen functionality that can be easier to navigate than with buttons. The LCD screen isn’t a make-or-break feature for us, but they do get nicer as you spend more and the difference is noticeable.
Some advanced point-and-shoots have either an electronic or optical viewfinder. This desirable feature means that instead of lining up photos via the rear LCD screen, you can look through the viewfinder located at the top of the camera. For professionals and enthusiasts who demand accuracy and produce a high volume of photos, a viewfinder almost is a necessity. Again, electronic viewfinders are rare on point-and-shoots and usually the territory of DLSRs and some mirrorless cameras, but on new high-end models like the Canon G16 or Sony RX100 IV, having an electronic viewfinder undoubtedly is advantageous.
There are a number of “rugged” digital cameras on the market, with our favorite being the Olympus TG-4. These cameras are essentially entry-level point-and-shoots with an exterior casing that makes them waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof (the specificities such as waterproof depth depend on the model).
First and foremost, no camera is actually waterproof—you can see by combing through various reviews on sites like Amazon that rugged cameras can spring the occasional leak. More, you pay quite a premium for the extra protection, often getting a camera that is relatively basic in terms of image quality. The Olympus TG-4 currently retails for a pricey $379, despite having entry-level specs—you can get an excellent mid-range point-and-shoot that isn’t weather resistant like the Canon G16 for around that price.
Rugged cameras make the most sense for activities with serious exposure to the elements like rafting, surfing, fishing, climbing, and skiing and snowboarding in inclement weather. They work well for beach vacations too—sand is one of the biggest enemies of any camera or lens and the extra sealing helps to prevent tiny pebbles from entering your electronics. For normal travel and outdoor use, we recommend buying a regular camera that is optically superior and taking reasonable care to store it. Even a normal case inside a Ziploc bag will protect your camera in most conditions.
The good news for consumers is that memory cards continue to get faster and cheaper. Just a couple of years ago, Class 10 cards, which have a minimum write speed of 10 MB per second, were expensive and there was an actual decision to make between those and slower Class 4 cards. By 2016, the price of Class 10 cards has dropped to the same range as Class 4 cards and it’s a no-brainer (Class 4 cards soon will be extinct).
Our favorite SD memory card for point-and-shoots is the SanDisk Extreme, which offers fast write and read speeds (up to 40 MB/s write and 60 MB/s read). You also get protection from the elements: the SanDisk Extreme is rated as waterproof, shockproof, X-ray proof, and can operate in temperatures from -13 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. We like the extra peace of mind, but if you don’t care about the durability of your card, the SanDisk Ultra is slightly cheaper.
In terms of storage, 16GB is a good size that won’t have you consistently running to your computer to upload and delete photos. If you frequently shoot high resolution video or won’t have access to uploading or another card, 32GB or 64GB cards are available and offer even more bang for your buck.