Despite smartphone cameras challenging the low end of the point-and-shoot market, 2015 should be a strong year for mid-range and high-end point-and-shoots. These compact cameras have larger sensors, more megapixels, and an array of features and connectivity options. And if you’re willing to spend, you can get features like professional-grade low light performance and even 4K Ultra HD video. Whether you’re an amateur looking for better image quality than your smartphone, or a professional photographer looking for a pocket camera as an alternative to a larger set-up, below are our picks for the best point-and-shoot cameras of 2015.
Entry-Level Point-and-Shoot Cameras
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, and the electronics giant is making a push in digital cameras. 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 relatively 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
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: Huge zoom.
What we don’t: Smaller image sensor than the Canon S110 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. At only 8.2 ounces, the SX700 HS also easily fits in your pocket.
It’s a tough call between this camera and the Panasonic DMC-ZS40S below. Both have similar zoom ranges, image sensors, and apertures, with the Canon SX700 HS coming in about $70 cheaper. However, the Canon lacks a viewfinder, meaning that you must line up your shots using the rear LCD screen. If you want a viewfinder, go with the Panasonic. If not, we recommend saving some dough and choosing the SX700 HS.
See the Canon SX700 HS
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: Impressive zoom for the price.
What we don’t: No 1080p video or Wi-Fi.
If you’re in the market for a budget point-and-shoot, you want a clear delineation in quality or features from a smartphone. Setting the Canon ELPH 170 IS apart is the 12x optical zoom, equivalent to 25-300mm. You also get a 20-megapixel image sensor and easy-to-use 720p video. For travel and everyday use, the ELPH 170 IS far exceeds the 8 megapixels and 3x digital zoom of the iPhone 6, although the latter does shoot 1080p video. In this price range you won’t get Wi-Fi connectivity or a high resolution rear LCD screen, but the image quality is great for the price (isn’t that what really matters?).
See the Canon ELPH 170 IS
Mid-Range Point-and-Shoot Cameras
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: Still one of the top point-and-shoots on the market.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder.
Over the past few years, Sony has released four versions of its high-end RX100 series. The new RX100 IV is selling for a pricey $948, but the original RX100 is a steal at $450 and can go head-to-head with any camera on this list. The biggest difference between the RX100 and the RX100 III and IV is the lack of an electronic viewfinder on the older model, but you still get a large 20.1-megapixel sensor, a fast Carl Zeiss lens, manual settings, and RAW capability, all packaged in a lightweight and durable body. Both the RX100 and RX100 II have longer zoom ranges at 28-100mm than the III at 24-70mm, but the latter is slightly faster at the telephoto end. All are terrific pro-level cameras but we love the value of RX100.
See the Sony RX100
Sensor Size: 41 sq. mm
What we like: Great image quality and feature packed.
What we don’t: For $450 you can buy a decent mirrorless camera.
The Canon PowerShot 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 G7 X below.
See the Canon G16
Sensor size: 28 sq. mm
What we like: Huge zoom, electronic viewfinder and Leica lens.
What we don’t: Smaller sensor than the Panasonic LX7.
Canon dominates the budget end of point-and-shoot spectrum, but Panasonic is a contender in the mid-range and high-end. The Panasonic DMC-ZS40S is an excellent compact camera for travel and any other use that requires serious zoom. With a small form factor and weight under 10 ounces, you still get a massive 27-720mm. Others perks are the electronic viewfinder, which is rare in the price range, and a plethora of connectivity options including Wi-Fi and GPS.
If you don’t need the zoom, we prefer the older Panasonic DMC-LX7. Boasting a larger sensor than the ZS40S and a fast maximum aperture of f/1.4, the LX7 has the best low-light performance of any point-and-shoot on this list. In addition, the camera shoots fast at up to 11 frames per second and has a handy manual aperture ring. Both cameras are solid options.
See the Panasonic ZS40S
Sensor Size: 58 sq. mm
What we like: 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 for 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 produced by the FujiFilm X30 are superb.
Given the price, you can think of the original Sony RX100 as a competitor (that camera is now under $500). It’s a tough call between the two as the RX100 has a considerably larger sensor but no electronic viewfinder. If you’ve shot with Fujifilm in the past and want a viewfinder, the X30 is a nice option. If you prefer a more modern-feeling camera, try the RX100.
See the FujiFilm X30
Sensor size: 328 sq. mm
Zoom: N/A (28mm prime lens)
What we like: Large APS-C image sensor.
What we don’t: Fixed lens limits versatility of the camera.
Ricoh’s GR series has a cult following and this pro-level compact is particularly adept for outdoor and street photography. Despite weighing only 8.6 ounces, the Ricoh GR boasts a massive APS-C image sensor, the same that you’ll find on many digital SLRs. The catch for some is the 28mm equivalent fixed lens, meaning you don’t get any zoom capability at all. Therefore even though the image quality is superior to any other camera on this list, you don’t get the versatility of Sony’s RX100 series of the Canon G7 X. The 28mm f/2.8 lens does sit exactly half way between our preferred 21mm for landscapes and 35mm for street photography, making it a viable camera for both. The Ricoh GR quietly has been discontinued but there are rumors of a 2015 successor, likely without the GR moniker.
See the Ricoh GR
Sensor Size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: The best point-and-shoot on the market.
What we don’t: The steep price tag.
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 the RX100 III so popular, including a large sensor, fast Carl Zeiss zoom lens, and unique pop-up electronic viewfinder. It’s the top compact camera on the market in 2015 for professionals and enthusiasts.
At nearly $1,000, that’s a whole lot of cash for a point-and-shoot. If you don’t need the 4K video, we love the RX100 above at around $450—it lacks an electronic viewfinder but offers similar overall image quality. With the release of the newest version, the RX100 III is now cheaper than ever before. The RX100 II is the worst value of the bunch in our opinion.
See the Sony RX100 IV
Sensor size: 116 sq. mm
What we like: A camera to challenge the RX100 III.
What we don’t: No electronic viewfinder and pricier than the comparable Sony options.
Sony had a long run at the top of the high-end compact heap, but Canon has released a direct competitor to the RX100 series. The Canon G7 X features a 1” CMOS image sensor that is same size as Sony’s RX100 III, and the lens and form factor are eerily similar. With the G7 X you get a fast f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture, 24-100mm of zoom (more than the RX100 III and roughly the same as the first two versions), and a size at 10.7 ounces that essentially amounts to a large pocket camera.
The biggest shortcoming on the Canon G7 X is the lack of an electronic viewfinder. The LCD screen is large and easy to view, but many photographers who spend $700 on a camera prefer not to shoot via the rear display. In addition, the RX100 and RX100 II, which also lack electronic viewfinders, are cheaper than the G7 X. It’s a close call, but at the G7 X's current price, we give the nod to Sony.
See the Canon G7 X
Sensor size: 225 sq. mm
What we like: 4K video and impressive image quality overall.
What we don’t: Again, $800 is a lot to spend for a point-and-shoot.
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 is a polarizing camera: it has tons of upside but notable shortcomings too. Its big feature here is 4K Ultra HD video—the LX100 is the only point-and-shoot on the market that shoots 4K and one of only a handful of cameras of any type. It also performs extremely well in low light with a Leica f/1.7-2.8 lens and comes with built-in Wi-Fi. The price tag is a bit tough to swallow, but with 4K video and advanced features like an electronic viewfinder, the LX100 is an intriguing option for enthusiasts and professionals.
Given that this is the first version of the camera and Panasonic was aggressive with the new functionality, there have been issues. Some users have reported receiving lemons, and others have had problems with the automatic level feature. And if you take out the 4K video factor, we wonder how much better the image quality is than the trusty LX7 that is less than half the cost. We look forward to future versions of the camera and hopefully an LX8 as well.
See the Panasonic LX100
Point-and-Shoot Camera Comparison Table
|Samsung WB350F||$195||16.2||28 sq. mm||23-484mm||f/2.8-5.9||7.6 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot SX700 HS||$279||16.1||28 sq. mm||25-750mm||f/3.2-6.9||9.5 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot ELPH 170 IS||$139||20||28 sq. mm||25-300mm||f/3.6-7.0||5 oz.|
|Sony RX100||$448||20.2||116 sq. mm||28-100mm||f/1.8-4.9||8.5 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot G16||$399||12.1||41 sq. mm||28-140mm||f/1.8-2.8||12.6 oz.|
|Panasonic DMC-ZS40S||$310||18.1||28 sq. mm||27-720mm||f/3.3-6.4||8.5 oz.|
|FujiFilm X30||$499||12||58 sq. mm||28-112mm||f/2-2.8||14.9 oz.|
|Ricoh GR||$529||16.2||328 sq. mm||28mm prime||f/2.8||8.6 oz.|
|Sony RX100 IV||$949||20.1||116 sq. mm||24-70mm||f/1.8-2.8||10.3 oz.|
|Canon PowerShot G7 X||$649||20.2||116 sq. mm||28-112mm||f/1.8-2.8||10.7 oz.|
|Panasonic Lumix LX100||$798||12.8||225 sq. mm||24-75mm||f/1.7-2.8||13.9 oz.|
Point-and-shoot cameras run the gamut from budget models under $100 to high-end compacts that professional photographers use a backup. Below are the main buying considerations in terms of both image quality and features that separate the pack.
Sensor Size and Megapixels
The image sensor is the most important piece of hardware on any digital camera. It captures light through millions of tiny pixels and converts them to a digital signal. Conventional wisdom and marketing state that the number of megapixels determines overall image quality and resolution, but the size of the sensor itself arguably is more important. This is because not all megapixels are created equal—if you jam too many megapixels onto a tiny sensor, they will be small and capture far less light and information. Ideally, you want is a healthy combination of a large sensor and a high megapixel count. We’ve listed both on the specs for each camera model above.
Point-and-shoots come with a wide variety of features, from bare bones models to feature-laden machines that do can just about anything you want them to. You’ll want to consider the screen on the rear of the camera in terms of its size and type. Video is very popular these days, so take a look at the available resolutions (720p, 1080p and even 4K). Many newer point-and-shoots have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing you to transfer photos wirelessly and share quickly via your social networks. And some models offer creative filters and features like in-camera HDR and panorama modes. All of these add up to the feature set that a makes a point-and-shoot more or less desirable (and expensive).
Point-and-shoot cameras have an attached lens, as opposed to interchangeable lenses like DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, so you should take zoom into consideration. Generally, wide-angle photos are taken from around 18 to 24mm, portraits from 35 to 80mm, and telephoto shots from 100mm and up. Many point-and-shoots have a reasonable zoom range that is suitable for most uses. For example, the Pansonic Lumix LX7 has a zoom range of 24-90mm. The popular Canon PowerShot G16 has a longer zoom range of 24-140mm. And if you want big zoom for kids, sporting events, or wildlife photos, you may want to consider a superzoom camera. These point-and-shoot cameras are heavier and not as good in low light as other compacts but specialize in extra long zoom. The Canon PowerShot SX520, for example, has zoom equivalent to a massive 24-1008mm.
Low Light Performance
A major point of differentiation between budget and high-end point-and-shoots is the low light performance of the lens and camera itself. 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 is able to enter 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, the Panasonic Lumix LX100 with a maximum aperture of f/1.7, and the Sony RX100 III with a maximum aperture of f/1.8. All three are excellent in low light but also cost a pretty penny. 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.
In terms of the low light performance of the camera itself, the number to look for here is ISO sensitivity (commonly referred to simply as ISO). The higher the ISO range, the more sensitive a camera is to light and the less likely you are to get noise (the graininess you often see on photos taken by cheap cameras or your smartphone). A camera like the popular Canon SX150 isn’t particularly good in low light with an ISO sensitivity of 80-3200, while the Sony RX100 III has a much more impressive range of 125-12800. Generally, the more expensive a point-and-shoot is, the higher the ISO sensitivity. Taken together with the maximum aperture of the lens, these factors are what determine the low light performance of your point-and-shoot.
What About Mirrorless?
If you plan on spending $300 or more on a point-and-shoot, you should give serious consideration to an entry-level mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. These relatively new cameras have large image sensors like DSLRs in small bodies that are lighter and less bulky. The good news for consumers is that a number of entry-level mirrorless models are now available at reasonable price points. The Sony Alpha a5000 is under $450 with a 16-50mm lens, which we would pick over any similarly-priced point-and-shoot, or you can our full list of the best mirrorless cameras of 2015.