Of all the categories in this year’s Editors’ Choice Awards, perhaps our favorite is the Compacts category. That’s because compact cameras used to be a sore point with professional shooters—when we gathered together, we would always grouse about the low-quality compacts that seemed to flood the photo channels each year. “Why,” we asked, “oh, why, can’t someone create a compact camera that creates images so good we could leave our professional rigs home when we went out on any excursion, ranging from an outing to a weekend getaway?”
Now there are plenty of compacts to fit the bill, and to fit just about several other bills as well. Super-tough and waterproof? Check. Hyper-focal ranges? Check. 4K video that’s commercially usable? Check.
It’s no wonder that we now look forward to seeing what clever things the manufacturers can do within the constraints of a small package.
BEST PROFESSIONAL-QUALITY COMPACT
Sony DSC-RX1R II
When we first saw the RX1R II, we didn’t know what to make of it. Sony took the full-frame, high ISO sensor of the interchangeable a7R II and somehow shoved it into what seemed like a body too impossibly small to perform well. But perform it does, and the RX1R II has become our favorite pro-quality compact camera of all time. The 35mm ƒ/2 Zeiss lens is a perfect focal length for either landscapes or close-up portraits and gives the 42-megapixel sensor plenty of detail to chew on. The RX1R II is a super-stealthy street camera thanks to its silent shutter and exceptional face-detection AF, and the fact that it doesn’t look like anything better than a toy. When you want to travel incognito, but still take professional images, it’s the best choice on the market.
BEST FOR THE ADVENTURE SPORTS FANATIC
Olympus Tough TG-870
It’s nearly impossible to destroy the Olympus TG-870 camera. Go ahead, give it a shot, we’ll wait. See, it’s nearly indestructible. The TG-870 has a 16-megapixel sensor and full HD recording capabilities, but who cares about that. What matters is that it takes great images at depths of up to 50 feet and can be crushed under the weight of an adult standing on it and still keep going. You can drop the camera from up to seven feet and freeze it down to 14°F without it skipping a frame. We’ve taken TG models and dropped them from moving bikes, tossed them in the ocean and stuck them in the freezer without any adverse effects. When you’re done torturing it, use the built-in WiFi to transfer your images to your phone or computer.
BEST COMPACT FOR VIDEO SAFARI
Sony DSC-RX10 Mark III
The Sony RX10 Mark III just barely fits into the “compacts” category—the body is almost the size of an SLR, but the actual space savings is in what you don’t have to bring along as well. The RX10 Mark III fits a Zeiss 24-600mm (35mm equivalent) ƒ/2-4.4 lens into a package that’s smaller than most SLRs with a kit lens. If the killer super-zoom lens weren’t enough, the RX10 Mark III can capture UHD 4K video at 30p and 120 fps slow-motion video at full HD. An ingenious slow-motion feature buffers video until the shutter release is pressed, and then the camera records everything up to that point, allowing you to trigger capture after peak action has occurred.
BEST POCKETABLE COMPACT
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
The Canon G-series compact cameras were the first to offer the features the pros wanted in a body that could actually fit into a pocket of a pair of skinny jeans. The G7 X Mark II ties this year in the Best Pocketable Compact category, and it still has the pro in mind with a set of features usually found on bigger cameras. The 20-megapixel sensor is backside-illuminated for better image quality in low light, the 24-100mm lens is ƒ/1.8 to a respectable ƒ/2.8 at the longest telephoto setting, and the camera creates nice “bokeh” thanks to the design of the lens’ aperture blades. Built-in WiFi and NFC round out the capable package for a versatile and excellent all-around compact.
BEST POCKETABLE COMPACT
Nikon DL18-50 F/1.8-2.8
The Nikon DL18-50 is one of a trio of new Nikon compacts and is the other Best Pocketable Compact this year. As the name implies, it has an 18-50mm equivalent lens, from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/2.8 at the widest setting, and a capture rate of up to 20 fps. What we also like is the 4K UHD video recording and the company’s SnapBridge technology, which allows the camera to stay connected to a mobile device (and the Internet) without having to constantly reconnect to the camera.