After three months researching all of the large-sensor compact best point-and-shoot cameras able today and testing five, we’re convinced that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 best point-and-shoot cameras is that the best way to get an improved photography experience than a smartphone, from a camera that’s still small enough to slide into your pocket. Its excellent lens and sensor, abundant physical controls, and smart touchscreen interface create a combination that no rival can match.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 best point-and-shoot cameras the competition because of its combination of a 24–72mm optical lens that allows a lot of light, a responsive touchscreen, convenient physical controls, and fast autofocus. It also shoots crisp 4K video, and it leverages that function for innovative still-photography modes—like 4K Photo, Pre-Burst, and Post Focus—that help you get the proper shot even when your reflexes aren’t quick enough.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 best point-and-shoot cameras is kind of a bit costlier than our top pick for similar still-image quality. But its pop-up electronic viewfinder makes composing shots on sunny days easier, and it bests the Panasonic LX10 in 4K video: Its 4K footage is noticeably sharper than the LX10’s, and therefore the RX100 IV can output live, uncompressed 4K footage via HDMI, making it a much better choice for vloggers. Its LCD screen doesn’t have touch functionality, though, making focusing and menu access more difficult than on our top pick.
If you’re just entering into photography, or want an especially compact camera with better image quality than your smartphone can muster, the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II best point-and-shoot cameras best point-and-shoot camera fits the bill. It cuts some corners to gain its low asking price—it lacks 4K video, has fewer physical controls, and has neither a tilt screen nor a viewfinder—but it offers a decent lens, a sensor almost like the one in our other picks, and an intuitive touch interface that produces transitioning from smartphone shooting simple.
Who should buy this
If you own a recent smartphone, you’ve got a pretty good camera in your pocket right away. But you’ve probably also noticed that your smartphone camera has limitations: If you look at your photos on anything bigger than a phone screen, you see blurry, blocky results that are far from the shots you’d get from a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Using your phone’s digital zoom only makes the image quality worse. Want to capture action shots? Forget about it.
If you’re frustrated by these limitations, here’s why an advanced compact camera is probably right for you:
- Better image quality: These cameras use much larger image sensors than phones, offering correspondingly improved image quality—especially indoors or when the sun goes down, thanks to better low-light performance.
- Smartphone-like shooting: Most excellent point-and-shoots have a touchscreen interface for switching essential settings and picking your locus point, which makes the quicken from smartphone photography even smoother.
- Room to grow: Although you can just pick one of these best point-and-shoot cameras up, point, and shoot, they also include all the custom control you’d get from more-expensive DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. This makes them a great place to start if you’re just beginning to get serious about photography.
- Fast-focusing: Smartphones focus much more quickly today than they used to, but they’re still nowhere near as fast as a proper camera with a proper autofocus system. The exception is night and day when you’re tracing moving subjects like sports, kids, and pets.
- Still portable: Although these best point-and-shoot cameras are bigger than phones, they’re still small enough to slide into jeans or jacket pocket, or a little bag, without weighing you down. Their large sensors and wide-aperture zoom lenses capture a lot of light, providing most of the ability of a full DSLR or mirrorless system without the majority of a larger body and a set of lenses.
- More flexible than a phone: Most cameras in this category pack versatile 3x zoom lenses that go from wide-angle to portrait focal lengths without degrading image quality. Many also provide nifty extras, like a flip-up screen or an electronic viewfinder, that make shooting easier.
- Better video: The best point-and-shoot cameras are also excellent tools for videography, producing noticeably crisper footage with less noise and more detail than what you get from even a flagship smartphone. YouTubers and Twitch streamers will mainly like the 4K recording capability, uncompressed HDMI output, and flip-up screens that the top models provide.
You might be wondering why you shouldn’t just buy a DSLR or mirrorless camera. After all, those models give even better images and videos, more convenient ergonomics, and more physical controls. The answer, of course, is size and weight. The cameras we recommend in this guide provide an obvious bump in image quality over a smartphone but can still fit in a pocket or purse. Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs require a bigger bag, and their added weight can give you a sore neck or shoulder over a long day of shooting.
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How we picked
To find the best point-and-shoot cameras, we started by establishing a couple of key traits that any great camera should possess.
- A large sensor: Since we’re searching for cameras that provide significantly better image quality than a smartphone, it is smart to look for a significantly larger sensor. A sensor’s size isn’t the sole factor in determining image quality (lens design also plays a significant role), but it’s a giant one. All else being equal, a bigger sensor has larger pixels that may capture more light. This design reduces image noise and lets the sensor record bright and dark areas within the same shot without turning skies white and shadows black. Since most smartphone cameras use 1/2.3-inch sensors, we targeted a 1-inch or larger sensor for this guide. (If you would like to dig deeper, here’s an in-depth explanation of the numbers behind confusingly named sensor sizes.)
- A wide-aperture lens: to make the most of their big sensors, these cameras should have lenses with a good aperture throughout the zoom range—the wider the better. a good aperture allows more light, which allows you to shoot at a lower ISO setting (reducing image noise) or a better shutter speed (reducing blur). It also lets you shoot shallow-depth-of-field portrait photos with more noticeable blur (or bokeh) behind your subject. Our top pick, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10, includes a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 at full wide-angle (24mm) and f/2.8 at full telephoto (72mm). as compared, most inexpensive point-and-shoots are limited to apertures of f/3.2 or f/4.5 at any zoom setting, leading to blurry or noisy pictures. (If aperture and f-numbers are new you, here’s an easy-to-understand primer.)
- A compact design: a decent photographic camera is one that you just can comfortably carry each day, which means it should fit in a pants pocket or a little bag. This rules out most superzooms and so-called travel zooms and usually leaves you with cameras that have smaller zoom ratios of around 3x.
- Ease of use: All of those cameras are easy to use in auto mode, and lots of owners elect to not go anymore. But if you select to dive into the menus, the main menu should be easy to navigate, and also the camera should offer a quick menu for convenient access to key shooting settings. Customizable buttons and dials allow you to line up the camera for the way you prefer to shoot, so we gave bonus points for those.
- Touchscreen, tilt screen, or electronic viewfinder: These features add a lot of usability to any camera, so having one or more of them could be a big plus. Touchscreens allow you tap to focus, and they make navigating settings menus and swiping by photos in playback much simpler. Tilt screens allow you to simply shoot below (and sometimes above) your head, and usually flip-up 180 degrees for selfies. Electronic viewfinders make it easier to form shots on especially bright days when light wipes out the image on the rear display.
- Wireless connectivity: It’s 2018, so you would like how to get your photos to your phone without browsing the cumbersome process of putting an SD card in a card reader, transferring the pics to your computer, then emailing them to yourself or uploading them to Dropbox. Whether it’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, or some combination of the three, these cameras should have how to directly connect with your phone. Fully tethered shooting—in which recently shot images automatically convey to the connected device—is a plus but not a requirement.
- Solid video specs: With their high-quality sensors and lenses, these cameras can capture excellent video, so they must record at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second at the least. Since 4K displays have become more common, we gave bonus points to models capable of recording at 4K resolution at a minimum of 30 fps. Other extras, like uncompressed HDMI output and more-advanced video-codec options, are icing on the cake, but important for people like vloggers and Twitch streamers.
With these criteria in hand, I examined the compact cameras currently accessible from all of the top brands. Honestly, there aren’t that many straight away. Canon’s PowerShot G-Series comprises five models, but we immediately ruled out two of them (the PowerShot G1 X Mark III and G3 X) due to their larger bodies and lenses. We had already dismissed the PowerShot G5 X and G7 X Mark II in a very previous version of this guide due to underwhelming specs. Panasonic’s LX100 and newly announced LX100 II, alongside Fujifilm’s X100F, are too large to be called pocketable, partly due to their Four Thirds and APS-C sensors. Nikon and Olympus do not make enthusiast compact cameras. We also rejected otherwise capable pocketable compacts like the Ricoh GR II and Fujifilm XF10 because they don’t have zoom lenses.
We were left with last year’s picks, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 and therefore the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III. We also decided to check the newer Sony RX100 IV, the tiny but still powerful Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II, and therefore the new Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200, which surprisingly packs a 15x telephoto lens into a body not much larger than those of the opposite contenders.
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How we tested
I tested these best point-and-shoot cameras over the course of a month and a half, both in head-to-head studio tests and on extended outings in the world. I carried them with me on day trips around Southern California; a long drive through the forests and rivers of Bend, Oregon; a hike amidst the majestic sweep of the Colorado Rockies; and a quick but breathtaking visit to the rocky canyons of Utah.
Although these best point-and-shoot cameras have plenty to offer to enthusiasts who may already own more-advanced models but appreciate being able to hold something smaller occasionally, we think they’re most appealing to people that are taking their opening up from a smartphone camera. with that in mind, I focused on testing for pain points that may frustrate, annoy, or otherwise put off newcomers from using these cameras.
I performed the standard tests for things like sharpness, bokeh, close-focusing ability, low-light performance, dynamic range, image stabilization, and autofocus speed. But I also analyzed the usability of every camera’s menu system, the responsiveness of its touchscreen, the reflectiveness of its display, the number and value of the on-screen data is provided, the tactile feel of its buttons, and—especially for cameras with an electronic viewfinder—how easy or difficult the controls were to search out and operate by feel. I connected each best point-and-shoot cameras to my smartphone to check whether remote shooting and image transfers were pain or pleasure.
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Our pick: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 best point-and-shoot cameras best point-and-shoot camera produces beautiful photos in all but the most extreme lighting conditions. It has an intuitive touchscreen interface, its screen flips up 180 degrees for selfies and 4K video streaming, and it focuses quickly. Many of its rivals have some of these features, but none offer such a compelling combination at such a reasonable price.
Image quality is the most important reason to augment your smartphone with a camera like this, and the LX10 delivers. Straight out of the box, it gives crisp JPEG images that aren’t overly sharpened or cartoonishly soaked, unlike some rivals. The zoom lens covers a useful (24–72mm equivalent) range that starts wider than most smartphone cameras, zooms in tight enough for portraits, and allows for smoothly blurred backgrounds when you’re shooting close-up. The Leica-branded lens is sharp at all focal lengths and aperture settings, and it can focus down to 3 centimeters—closer than those of the Sony RX100 IV and Canon G9 X Mark II—for impressive macro images. It’s also optically stabilized, which helps you get clear shots even with slow shutter speeds.
Since the LX10 delivers JPEGs with less contrast and saturation than some other cameras when you’re using the Standard photo style, you’ll have to edit the photos to get them to pop on Instagram or Facebook. We actually prefer it that way: The more editing a camera does, the less latitude you have to edit your photos to suit your taste. But if you’d prefer more-stylized results right out of the camera, you can choose from other “photo styles” (Panasonic’s term for JPEG presets), including Vivid, Monochrome, and Scenery, that provide more- or less-punchy results. You can edit these presets, or you can create your own custom photo style with specific contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, and saturation settings. Alternatively, if you want to feel all of the processing yourself, you can shoot in default mode and take your photos using digital-darkroom software such as Adobe Lightroom; it’s the best way to get the most out of your camera, but it adds significant time to the process.
Although the LX10 is not the tiniest camera we examined, it is quite compact. When it’s turned off, the lens protrudes about half an inch from the front; there’s a shorter hand grip off to the side.
The LX10 gives plenty of physical controls, so you can easily change settings without diving into the menu system. The coolest is a dedicated aperture ring with click-stops that lets you directly control the f-stop when shooting in aperture-priority or manual mode. In front of that is an easily rotating secondary dial, and atop the camera, you’ll get a third control wheel; you can customize both of these to control a large range of camera settings. Around back, a four-way directional pad grants direct access to exposure coverage, white balance, drive mode/self-timer and focus mode choices. You also get dedicated buttons for Panasonic-exclusive highlights such as 4K Photo mode and Post Focus, which we’ll discuss later.
When you do have to go menu-diving, the LX10’s excellent touchscreen interface makes the process pretty easy. Through the customizable Quick Menu, you get access to 11 of your most frequently used settings—such as ISO, exposure compensation, and AF mode—with just a couple of finger taps. Inside the main menu system, you can tap and scroll through submenus to find less-often-used options. If you’ve used a smartphone, it’s a piece of cake.
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Flaws but not dealbreakers
If there’s one thing the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 is missing, it’s an electronic viewfinder. Every Sony RX100 model since the Mark III has had one, and it’s a serious advantage—especially when you’re shooting in bright sunlight, where it can be tough to see the screen, or in particularly dark environments, where you don’t want your camera screen to be a distraction for other people. Additionally, although the LX10’s touchscreen tilts up 180 degrees, it doesn’t tilt down like the RX100 IV’s, so you can’t easily shoot above your eye line (over the crowd at a concert, for example). As a last option, you can flip the camera upside down and use your left thumb for the shutter dial, but photos you shoot this way come out upside down and need manual rotating later. However, even though we wish the LX10 had a viewfinder and a tilt-down screen, we think its extra physical controls and touchscreen interface still make it more enjoyable to shoot with overall, and unless you really require the RX100 IV’s better video production, the Sony is not deserving its substantially higher price.
Battery life is a serious concern for all of these large-sensor compact cameras. The Panasonic LX10 is rated for 260 shots in mixed-use, 20 less than the Sony RX100 IV (though the Sony actually has shorter stated battery life if you use its electronic viewfinder). In real-world use, this number can vary wildly depending on how many videos you shoot, how many special shooting modes you employ, and how often you turn the camera on and off. In general, you won’t have to worry if you’re shooting an event that lasts a few hours, but for a full day of sightseeing where you want to take a lot of snapshots, you’re probably better off buying and carrying a second battery (or charging via a USB battery pack between shots).
The LX10’s clicky aperture ring is convenient and feels great, but it can also be misleading. Since the maximum aperture becomes smaller when you zoom in, what you see on the dial isn’t always what you get. When you zoom to 72mm, for example, you’re shooting at f/2.8 even if the ring says f/1.4. This is a concern only at the widest aperture settings, though—after f/2.8, the setting is always accurate. It’s also slightly annoying that the aperture ring can’t serve another purpose when you’re using a shooting mode without aperture control; if you’re in Program or Auto mode, for instance, it’s totally useless.
Unlike similar models from Sony and Canon, this Panasonic camera lacks a neutral-density filter that would enable wide-aperture shooting in bright sunlight and super-long exposures (think star trails or wispy white waterfalls). Panasonic addresses the first scenario by providing the option to use an electronic shutter with speeds up to 1/16,000—fast enough to shoot at f/1.4 in bright light. Just be aware that shooting fast-moving objects using the electronic shutter mode can produce rolling-shutter effects, making moving objects look slanted. As for super-long exposures, well, you’d need to buy a physical neutral-density filter for that, but there’s no elegant way to mount one on the LX10’s lens.
My other complaints are relatively minor. I would have preferred a more substantial grip, perhaps with a bit of rubber to feel more secure in the hand. I also want it was possible to start the camera directly in playback mode without increasing the lens, something both the Sony and Canon cameras we examined can do; this feature saves battery life and reduces wear and tear on mechanical components over time.
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Runner-up: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV
If you’d prefer an electronic viewfinder, or if you place heavier emphasis on video quality and codec options than most people, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV best point-and-shoot cameras are a great choice. In the RX100 family tree, it’s two generations old, behind both the RX100 VA and Sony’s brand-new RX100 VI. But we think the extras those cameras offer—faster burst shooting, deeper buffers, hybrid autofocus, and in the case of the RX100 VI, a touchscreen and a longer lens—aren’t worth the substantial price increase for most people. In contrast to our top pick, the RX100 IV’s screen lacks touch functionality—a specialty that dramatically enhances ease of control and is standard on most of the rival(s).
The RX100 IV gives excellent photos, almost equal in quality from what you’d get from our top pick. The two cameras use near-identical 1-inch sensors, and the RX100 IV’s lens design is very close to the LX10’s, covering a nearly identical zoom range and providing similar background blur for portraits. On default settings, our JPEGs from the RX100 IV had a little more contrast and saturation than those from the LX10, but you can tweak the effect to your preference. If you shoot raw, you’d be likely to see as much variation in sharpness between multiple units of a single camera model due to manufacturing tolerances in lens construction as you would between, say, a Sony model and a Panasonic model receiving the identical sensor design.
The biggest design difference between the Sony RX100 IV and the Panasonic LX10 is Sony’s pop-up electronic viewfinder—an excellent addition for people who prefer eye-level composition over framing shots on the rear display. Analyzing the overall size of the camera, the EVF is notably large and clear, and the clever retracting design is different in this class. The EVF makes shooting in bright daylight less of a guessing game, and it also provides a way to shoot more discreetly in dark environments, since the camera’s rear display doesn’t light up when it’s in use. In extension, the RX100 IV’s rear display is more manageable than our top pick’s, allowing you to tilt it down 40 degrees so that you can easily shoot over your head.
Like the LX10, the RX100 IV shoots 4K video at up to 30 frames per second and a 100 Mbps bit rate. But Sony allows more formats and codecs, including its exclusive XAVC S. This Sony camera’s video footage is sharper across the board, in both 4K and 1080p recording modes—not a huge difference, but noticeable. XAVC S footage looks best but requires an SDXC UHS-II card with at least 64 GB of storage. I used a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-II card; it worked flawlessly, but the kind of performance it offers doesn’t come cheap.
The RX100 IV crops 4K video much less aggressively than the LX10, which means you can shoot wide-angle footage. And although the LX10 can record 1080p 120 fps footage for 2x slow-motion, the RX100 IV can go up to 960 fps to slow things down by a factor of 32x (albeit for only two seconds at a time and at reduced resolution). As the icing on the cake, the RX100 IV can output live, uncompressed 4K video via its HDMI port—perfect for YouTube and Twitch streamers.
The built-in three-stop ND filter is used for shooting at wide apertures on sunny days, so you can still blur the background following your subject. Using the ND filter also allows you to set longer exposures to turn rivers, waterfalls, and traffic into beautiful bursts of motion. Although you can enable and disable the ND filter manually, it has an Auto setting that you should probably just leave engaged.
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Budget pick: Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II isn’t as powerful, flexible, or customizable as our top picks, but it has two things going for it: a low price and a supremely compact package. If you want the smallest, cheapest camera you can get with a 1-inch sensor, this is the one to get.
At less than half a pound, the G9 X Mark II is one-third lighter than either the Panasonic LX10 or the Sony RX100 IV. It’s more modest, too: just 1.22 inches dense and donning a thinner lens lump. Set the three cameras side by side, and the difference doesn’t look huge. Pick them up, though, and the difference is clear—the G9 X Mark II would be a lot easier to carry around all day.
Still-image quality is very similar to what you’d get from our top picks, though Canon’s default JPEG processing skews toward a style I’d call “Insta-ready.” Photos are visibly oversharpened—to the point where in-focus subjects have obvious jagged edges—and color saturation is slightly out of control. But the camera has plenty of alternative JPEG picture styles that calm things down a little, so if you don’t want overly punched-up shots, it’s an easy fix. Like all of the other cameras we tested, the G9 X Mark II also shoots raw, and our raw images looked just like those we got from the LX10 and RX100 IV.
Like the Panasonic and the Sony, this Canon model has a 3x zoom lens, but the zoom range is distributed differently. Canon’s lens starts out with a view that’s basically the same as on most smartphones and can zoom in a little further than the others we tested. We prefer Panasonic and Sony’s entrance since the loss at a wide-angle is far more prominent than the increase at telephoto. But the real bummer here is the Canon model’s narrower aperture range of f/2–4.9. It limits the background blur you can get for portrait shots and makes shooting at telephoto much more difficult in dim environments; the narrower the aperture. This compromised lens is a direct consequence of the G9 X Mark II’s slimmer overall design.
The slim design has other consequences. One of the biggest affects battery life, as the included battery is rated for just 235 shots on a charge. Canon should probably include a second battery in the box; if you plan to go on extended outings with this camera, you should definitely pick one up. The built-in flash is smaller, has a shorter range than the ones in the LX10 and RX100 IV, and can’t tilt up to diffuse the light. The screen doesn’t articulate, and there’s no EVF, so you’re firmly in the old-school point-and-shoot territory when it comes to shooting positions.
The fixed screen is touch-sensitive, though, and Canon’s user interface is particularly simple to navigate with your finger. The main menu is a lot less complex than Panasonic’s and Sony’s, which means it offers less flexibility for advanced shooters, but it’s correspondingly less daunting for people who aren’t already photo enthusiasts. The LX10 and RX100 IV are enthusiast cameras that work as point-and-shoots; the G9 X Mark II is a pure point-and-shoot.
Raw still-image quality aside, the G9 X Mark II is a step behind our top picks in many technical areas. Burst shooting is more delayed, and so is the highest shutter speed. The top ISO setting is one stop below, which is linked with the narrower aperture range causes shooting in dim settings more challenging. Video excels out at 1080p and 60 frames per second, with the highest bit rate of 35 Mbps. The results are serviceable but not nearly as sharp as what you’d get from the Panasonic and Sony models.