We’re all feeling pretty cooped up these days, and there’s no better way to stretch your legs and your creativity than by taking a photo walk (while, of course, keeping a safe social distance). But if you’re torn between the convenience of bringing your pocket-friendly smartphone camera or your cumbersome but higher quality interchangeable lens camera, don’t forget that there’s a solid third option. While the glory days of the point-and-shoot camera are long over (thanks Apple iPhone!), there are still a number of excellent options out there that offer the best of both worlds. In this gear guide, we pick our five favorite compact cameras for 2020 to help you shoot great photos and videos both inside and outside your home.
Sony RX100 VII: Premium Power in Your Pocket
The Sony RX100 VII is a Swiss Army knife of a compact camera. This pocket-friendly point-and-shoot does so much, it will give you a good reason to leave your bigger and bulkier interchangeable lens camera (mirrorless or DSLR), or even your smartphone camera at home. (No, the RX100 VII doesn’t make phone calls or text message, which is probably just as well.)
The RX100 VII features a new 1-inch, 20.1-megapixel sensor with Sony’s latest BIONZ image processor, so image quality, even in low light at high ISOs (it can shoot at up to ISO 25,600, extended) is excellent. But the RX100 VII’s versatility really starts with its 8x (24-200mm equivalent, f/2.8-4.5) image stabilized lens, which lets you capture sharp close-ups of distant wildlife or wide-angle scenics with just a turn of the zoom ring.
The RX100 VII is fast and responsive, mimicking the sports shooting capabilities of Sony’s top-of-the-line A9 II mirrorless camera. It can fire off 20 frames per second bursts of images with subject tracking and features fast and accurate autofocus with eye detection for people and pets. The RX100 VII’s video skills are top-of-the-line for a compact as well, with great 4K video and an external port for adding an optional microphone. There’s also a handy tilting touchscreen and a pop-up electronic viewfinder.
All these premium features, however, don’t come cheap: at nearly $1,200 the RX100 VII is one of the more expensive compact cameras on the market. Estimated price: $1,198.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III: A Vlogger’s Dream Camera
The Canon PowerShot G7 X camera line has long been a favorite of vloggers thanks to its exceptional video features and compact profile. The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III ups the ante further with a flip-up screen that lets you see yourself while vlogging (gotta make sure you look good on camera!), and a new live streaming feature that allows you to post video from the camera to YouTube via WiFi. So, if you’re homebound like most of us these days, you can still do live updates to your photography channel from the comfort of your living room, or basement, or even your back porch.
The G7 X III adds 4K recording with no cropping, letting you use the full wide angle from the camera’s 4.2x (24-100mm f/1.8-2.8) optical zoom lens while shooting video. Sound options have also improved; the camera now has a built-in microphone jack so you can you attach a high-quality mic.
For capturing still photos, the G7 X III is a solid little shooter. The camera’s 20.1-megapixel, 1.0-inch image sensor is significantly larger than what you’d find in a smartphone, so image quality is quite good for a compact. Plus, you can shoot RAW images, letting you get the most out of your photos during editing. Landscape photographers will appreciate the G7 X III’s built-in ND filter for shooting gorgeous snaps of skies, lakes and rivers. Estimated price: $749.
Ricoh GR III: Fast and Stealthy
Ricoh’s GR series of compact cameras have developed a “cult status” among street photographers for their inconspicuous design, quick shooting capabilities, and excellent image quality. While the streets may be largely deserted these days with people staying indoors and “social distancing” during the coronavirus, the new Ricoh GR III is still a great choice for heading outside and firing off quick shots of uncluttered landscapes, urban or otherwise.
At the heart of the GR III is its 24.2MP APS-C size sensor which is as large and as high-quality as what you’d find in much bigger, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. Though the GR III has a fixed lens, not a zoom, it’s an 28mm f/2.8 optic that’s fast and sharp. In-camera “shake reduction” image stabilization helps keep things steady.
We like how responsive the GR III is to use, particularly it’s zippy hybrid autofocus. If you see something that’s photo worthy, just pull the camera from your pocket and hit the shutter button for an instant snap. (Since there’s no zoom, you don’t have to wait for the lens to deploy.) The GR III also has a built-in ND filter and macro performance has significantly improved from the previous model. The camera’s discreet, all-black camera body won’t turn any heads (which is the point) but it’s surprisingly durable and ergonomic.
At $899, the GR III is pricey, especially for a camera with mediocre video (there’s no 4K), a fixed rear LCD screen and no viewfinder. Photographers who appreciate performance though, will love this “grab-and-go” stealth shooter. Estimated price: $899.
Fujifilm X100V: Throwback Design, Forward-Thinking Features
The Fujifilm X100V has a distinctive retro look but this rangefinder-style compact camera is thoroughly modern. The fifth model in Fujifilm’s classic X100 series line, the “V” is a beautifully designed fixed lens camera that will beg you to take it out for a shoot.
The X100V features Fujifilm’s new 26.1-megapixel APS-C image sensor, which produces excellent image quality with rich detail and relatively low noise even at high ISOs (it shoots at up to ISO 51200 extended). The most impressive thing about the updated X100V though may be its superb new 23mm f/2.0 “pancake” lens, which produces sharp photos and crisp 4K video while maintaining the camera’s overall slim profile.
As with most of Fujifilm’s cameras, the X100V has an array of fun film simulation modes including our favorite Velvia and “Classic Chrome” films looks along with the newly added Eterna Bleach Bypass, which produces a striking de-saturated, high-contrast effect on your images. The rear 3-inch tilting touchscreen is a nice addition as well, letting you more easily compose shots while holding the camera above or below you (it also works great as a waist-level viewfinder).
While the Fujifilm X100V has been billed as a street photographer’s camera, we thought it performed exceedingly well for portraits, particularly environmental portraits, with true-to-life skintones. Just remember to maintain a safe distance from your subject! Estimated price: $1,399.
Nikon Coolpix A1000: Big Zoom in a Small Package
At first glance, you wouldn’t think the small and slender Nikon Coolpix A1000 houses such a serious zoom lens. In fact, when the camera is powered down, the A1000 doesn’t look much bigger than a deck of cards. Fire it up though and watch that 35x (24-840mm-equivalent lens) unfurl, and you’ll realize that this Nikon Coolpix has been hiding something special.
Designed as a do-it-all pocket camera, the A1000’s impressive zoom power with lens-shift vibration reduction (VR) makes it suited for shooting everything from landscapes to mid-range portraits to bird photography and even shots of the moon. For even more extended range, there’s a digital zoom feature that expands the reach to up to 70x, or equivalent to a 1680mm zoom, plus an effective Macro mode for 0.4-inch close-ups. There are some trade-offs to this affordably priced, versatile compact. That digital zoom, of course, will produce degraded image quality and while the 35x optical zoom is impressive, its aperture range is just f/3.4-6.9, so fully zoomed shots will be on the soft side.
Meanwhile, the camera’s 16MP sensor is small, just a 1/2.3-inch chip, so it’s not a great low-light performer. Nonetheless, you do get good bang for your buck with the A1000 including a tilting 3-inch rear touching screen, an eye-level electronic viewfinder, Raw image capability and 4K video. Good things do still come in small packages. Estimated price: $479.