The compact point-and-shoot camera is in a tough spot. The cheapest models are heading toward the sunset after being replaced by smartphones, while casual users looking to step up their photography are moving toward interchangeable lens models. So, what’s a compact camera to do? Rev the performance to 11 by incorporating advanced guts found normally in bigger cameras. We’re talking about larger sensors, faster processors, and all the bells and whistles that blow phones out of the water – all without having to move up to something like a DSLR or mirrorless model. If you’re looking for such a mighty, small-sized shooter, here are some of the latest high-end compact shooters, all costing less than $1,000.
Don’t let its small size fool you. The RX100 II ($750), part of Sony’s flagship Cyber-shot R series, packs a big 1-inch 20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and 3.6x Carl Zeiss zoom lens with a fast f/1.8 aperture – great for shooting wide-angle images with a bokeh effect. Most importantly, the RX100 II takes beautiful photos and movies, and is well connected with Wi-Fi and NFC. A bright, tilting display and control ring make it easy to use. It has some cons: slow shutter speeds and full aperture range isn’t available across all focal lengths (just wide angle). Otherwise it’s a near-perfect compact, and is one of our favorites. Read our full review of the Sony RX100 II.
While the Coolpix A technically costs more than $1K ($1,100), we have seen it sold for way less (like at Adorama, which has it for $900), so make sure you do some comparison shopping. If the Sony RX100 II’s sensor is big, then the Coolpix A’s is huge. It has a 16.2-megapixel APS-C (Nikon calls it DX) sensor that’s found in Nikon’s DSLRs. Its rangefinder-like design feels solid, and well constructed. It has a 28mm f/2.8 that, coupled with the sensor, makes it ideal for street photography. Photos look beautiful, and the camera handles low light well. The lens is fixed, however, so there’s no zoom. Video isn’t as good as still imagery, but a camera like this is meant for photos. While pocketable, it’s not as small as the RX100 II. Still, it’s an acceptable sacrifice in return for a DSLR-class sensor. Read our full review of the Nikon Coolpix A.
Fujifilm is shifting its focus away from its FinePix point-and-shoot series to the more advanced and sharp retro-looking X-series, and it recently added a new compact with a 4x f/1.8 zoom lens, called the XQ1 ($500). The 12-megapixel 2/3-inch sensor is smaller than the other cameras mentioned here, but it’s much larger than what’s typically used in compact cameras of this size. The sensor uses Fujifilm’s X-Trans CMOS II technology, which uses a color filter array instead of an optical low-pass filter to produce high image quality and handle moire. It’s also the first Fujifilm X-series model to have an optional waterproof housing. With a strong sensor and an attractive price, the XQ1 could prove very popular with consumers.
Like the Nikon Coolpix A, the Ricoh GR ($800) uses a 16.2-megapixel DSLR-class APS-C sensor and fixed 28mm lens with an f/2.8-f/16 aperture. Design wise, it’s plainer looking than the Coolpix A, but it’s very capable at taking great photos and it offers a lot of controls and customization. There’s no anti-aliasing filter on the sensor for better image quality, but it uses a “chromatic moire compensation function” to minimize moire. It’s a very good camera, but the Coolpix A is stronger when it comes to performance albeit more expensive. Read our full review of the Ricoh GR.
Yes, we’re cheating here. As a Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera, the new Lumix GM1 ($750) technically doesn’t belong here, but because it’s currently the smallest MFT camera, it has a body that’s the size of a compact. It comes bundled with a pancake-size 12-35mm retractable zoom lens, but slap on a bigger lens and you lose that compactness, naturally. Still, there are some impressive features for a small camera, namely the fast autofocus (we did some hands-on and found the AF to be relatively speedy at locking onto things) and the flexibility of lens options.
The DP3 Merrill ($999) is considered a compact camera, but the large 50mm f/2.8 lens sticks out like a sore thumb, making it far less pocket-friendly than most of the cameras mentioned here. Yet, with a 46-megapixel APS-C Foveon X3 sensor and a high-performance lens that’s great for macro photography, the DP3 Merrill is a powerful compact that captures images with great depth. The DP3 Merrill is not for the faint-of-heart, though. You won’t find a movie mode or hand-holding auto settings; it’s a camera for photography purists. Look for our full review of the DP3 Merrill soon.