Which point-and-shoot camera is the best? A lot of the time it is the smartphone you’re carrying in your pocket. Thanks to improved camera tech, iPhones and the like have overtaken the traditional digital camera as everybody’s favorite go-to gadget for capturing our everyday moments, essentially becoming today’s modern point-and-shoot. It appears that neither adding Wi-Fi nor lowering prices can stop the declining sales of the pocket camera of yesteryear.
Just a few short years ago, we thought the point-and-shoot’s days were over. (What’s a point-and-shoot? The term describe s an all-in-one pocket camera with a fixed lens that’s easy to use, but it could also include larger long-zoom shooters or advanced models that could rival DSLRs in image quality.) Companies were cutting models or pulling out of the sector entirely. Sony, which manufacturers a significant percentage of camera sensors, saw overall sales of point-and-shoot cameras continue to decline — year over year — based on its research.
But despite the gloomy forecast, there is a bright spot. While sales are down at the very-low-end, there’s an uptick in premium point-and-shoot models that offer advanced features and high-end specs. Many of these cameras offer larger sensors, not to mention telephoto zoom, rugged build quality, and other specialty components not found on today’s smartphones. This growth could be attributed to step-up users who are upgrading from smartphones and low-end point-and-shoot cameras in an effort to improve their photography, without having to opt for an interchangeable lens camera that might require a greater level of expertise.
Of course, some of these premium point-and-shoot cameras carry a price tag to match, but there are plenty that cost less than $500 – all offering greater performance and features than the digicams of yesteryear. Meet the new generation of the point-and-shoot cameras. Here are our nine favorites for 2017.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV
Why should you buy this: This super compact is a jack of all trades.
Who’s it for: Photographers who want a small but high-performance camera.
How much will it cost: $1,000
Why we picked the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV:
If you had to pick one compact camera that does it all, this is the one. Sony’s RX100-series defies the limitations of a tight space. With every new model, Sony demonstrates its engineering chops. This pocket rocket is highly compact, yet it has a large, 20.1-megapixel, 1-inch sensor that uses a new “stacked” design that provides faster performance, like 40x super-slow-motion at 960 frames per second (fps), 1/32,000th electronic shutter speed, 16-fps burst mode, and 4K movie capture.
If you’re looking for a versatile pocket camera with a hot-rod engine, this is the ultimate.
The best long-zoom point-and-shoot camera
Canon PowerShot G3 X
Why should you buy this: It has an image-stabilized, long-zoom lens.
Who’s it for: Travelers who want a DSLR alternative with telephoto
How much will it cost: $900
Why we picked the Canon PowerShot G3 X:
The G3 X is one seriously heavy camera, but that’s because of the 25x, image-stabilized optical zoom lens, which touts a max f/2.8 aperture at its widest angle. Categorized as a long-zoom point-and-shoot, the G3 X is powered by a 20.2-megapixel, 1-inch sensor, and offers loads of advanced shooting modes and features commonly found in Canon DSLRs. The red accent around the dials and buttons even channels the coloring of Canon’s high-end cameras and lenses. With that said, it’s on the pricier side — in line with a Canon Rebel DSLR — and it lacks a viewfinder.
The best luxury point-and-shoot camera
Sony Cyber-shot RX1R II
Why should you buy this: Capturing the highest-resolution image quality, period
Who’s it for: Street and portrait photographers who print their images
How much will it cost: $3,900
Why we picked the Sony Cyber-shot RX1R II:
If you were a pro photographer, the RX1R II might be the pocket camera you carry. At more than $3,000, you better have the budget to buy one, too. But this advanced point-and-shoot is special not just because of the many modes and features, but the 42-megapixel full-frame (35mm) sensor inside — the same sensor inside Sony’s lauded A7R II mirrorless camera, one of the highest you can currently get. It also has a fast, fixed prime lens (35mm at f/2.0) that delivers superb images.
This isn’t a camera for everyone — for the price, you can buy a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera — but it feels so luxurious in the hands.
The best large-sensor (1-inch) point-and-shoot camera
Canon PowerShot G9 X
Why should you buy this: An affordable, highly compact camera with 1-inch sensor
Who’s it for: A strong large-sensor option for those on a budget
How much will it cost: $430
Why we picked the Canon PowerShot G9 X:
The G9 X Mark II is the slimmer sibling to its older, beefier G3 X brother, but both share the same 20.2-megapixel, 1-inch sensor. The G9 X functions more like the popular PowerShot S-series we’ve loved in the past, but the larger sensor delivers better quality images than the 1/1.7-inch used in the PowerShot S120 — and it’s only $100 more. Although it has advanced shooting features, it’s more of a simple point-and-shoot than the G3 X, and features a shorter 3x lens.
Consider this the budget alternative to Sony’s RX100 cameras. We’ve spent a good amount of time with the original G9 X, and find the image quality not only pleasing, but also a nice replacement to the much-loved S-series. Note: Canon recently announced the G9 X Mark II ($530), which uses the newer Digic 7 image processor, delivering faster autofocus tracking. However, you can still find the original, which costs less and is still just as great.
The best point-and-shoot for budding pro photographers
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III
Why should you buy this: A camera with long zoom, 4K video, and high-end performance and features
Who’s it for: Any photographer looking for a DSLR alternative
How much will it cost: $1,600
Why we picked the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III:
Imagine the RX100 IV as a larger camera with a premium lens, and what you get is the Cyber-shot RX10 III. It shares the technologies found in the smaller camera, but the RX10 III has an 25x Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens. It has a DSLR-like body that provides the user with a good grip, and it’s weather-sealed against the elements. Sony also upgraded the camera’s video-capture capabilities, rendering it a budget-friendly filmmaking camcorder that’s well suited for things like YouTube.
The price, however, puts it in the enthusiast category; if you decide to go this route, you’ll need to decide if you want a fixed lens solution or opt for an interchangeable DSLR or mirrorless model. For a zoom with a constant f/2.8 aperture, Sony also offers the RX10 (Mark II) with a 8.3x zoom, for less money ($1,200). It’s more than double the cost of Canon’s G3 X, but you get Sony’s latest and amazing tech.
The best smartphone lens add-on
Why should you buy this: An iPhone accessory that elevates your photography
Who’s it for: iPhone-nographers who like to share their photos instantly
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the DxO One:
The DxO One is an unusual camera in that it’s designed to work with an iPhone with a Lightning connector. When paired, the iPhone (or iPad) is used as a viewfinder and for changing settings, as well as a means for sharing to your favorite social networks. The camera itself uses a 1-inch, 20.2-megapixel sensor, which is far larger than the one inside the iPhone. With the 32mm f/1.8 lens, it’s able to capture higher quality images, too, and it can shoot in uncompressed RAW. It’s expensive and its phone compatibility is limited, but this small camera packs the performance of a Sony RX100 II.
We also love that DxO continues to upgrade the camera through firmware updates, instead of forcing you to buy a new model. The late update lets you use the camera unattached (remote operation), and DxO recently released a number of accessories, like a waterproof housing.
The best rugged point-and-shoot camera
Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
Why should you buy this: Tough as nails camera that withstands the elements
Who’s it for: Travelers who take their cameras into the water
How much will it cost: $300
Why we picked the Olympus Tough TG-Tracker:
Rugged cameras are essentially point-and-shoot cameras that are built to be tanks, and the new Tough TG-Tracker is the most powerful yet. Like all rugged cameras, it’s waterproof, freeze-proof, dustproof, and shockproof. But what sets it apart is a sensor that captures data — latitude, longitude, altitude, direction, temperature, etc. — and overlays it on top of your video content (up to 4K). This is great for, say, a point-of-view bike ride where you want to see how fast you’re going at any given moment.
It also makes for a great vacation camera, since it’s easy to pack yet can take a hit in any weather condition. During an end-of-summer vacation, we took the TG-Tracker into the pool and submerged it for long periods, and we didn’t encounter any issues with performance or water seeping into the camera.
It’s easy to use, and photo and video quality are very good. The LCD, however, was difficult to view in bright sunlight, and we had difficulty understanding how the sensor data works (nor was it useful). Still, it’s a feature-rich compact that’s highly durable.
The best large sensor (APS-C) point-and-shoot camera
Ricoh GR II
Why should you buy this: When you want more resolution than a 1-inch sensor can muster
Who’s it for: Street photographers or those looking for DSLR resolution in a compact
How much will it cost: $600
Why we picked the Ricoh GR II:
If Sony’s $3,300 RX1R II is out of reach, Ricoh’s GR II could be considered the runner-up. It has the largest sensor (size wise) out of every camera listed here except the RX1R II – a 16.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, the same-size sensor used in many DSLR and mirrorless cameras. While it isn’t full-frame, it shoots higher quality than a 1-inch variant.
The camera is also easy to operate, but it can be more sophisticated if you want it to be. The GR II has a fixed 18.3mm lens with an f/2.8 aperture. The camera is a minor refresh over the original GR (click the link to read our review), but adds Wi-Fi and some performance enhancements.
The best cheap point-and-shoot camera
Panasonic Lumix ZS60
Why should you buy this: A versatile and affordable compact camera that shoots 4K
Who’s it for: Budget-conscious buyers who want a feature-rich compact camera
How much will it cost: $450
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix ZS60:
The Lumix ZS60 is a compact point-and-shoot with a very long 30x Leica lens — a pretty impressive feat considering the size of the camera. It can shoot 4K video, and has Panasonic’s 4K Photo feature, which is comprised of three different burst-shooting modes that let you extract a JPEG still from a 4K video. Long-zoom cameras like this are great to take on vacations, and the ZS60 is light enough to carry without sacrificing the zoom capability of a DSLR or larger super-zoom.
However, the convenience comes at the expense of a smaller sensor, and it works best during the day as sensitivity is only good up to ISO 800. But for the price and features, the ZS60 is an attractive pocket cam.
How we test
To find the best models, in addition to image quality, we factor in criteria such as speed, low-light strength, video performance, durability, form-factor/compactness, and any unique features that help them one-up the competition.
Our selections are based on our long- and short-term testing; experience with earlier models; familiarity with the companies’ technologies; consultation with industry experts, fellow journalists, and users; online forums; lab results (such as DxO); and other third-party reviews. We look across the board – not just our own experiences – to find consensus on what we think are the best-performing cameras you can currently buy. We also look at list pricing to determine if a product is worth the cost, product availability, and future proofing qualities. We may even recommend cameras that aren’t new, provided the features are still best-in-class.
The camera market evolves constantly, with manufacturers often introducing better models with new features. So, you can expect our picks to change, as well. But don’t worry: The models you see here will be with you for some time, and if we anticipate there could be better models in the horizon, we will state that upfront to help you decide whether you should buy now or wait.
What is a point-and-shoot camera?
As the name suggests, a point-and-shoot is a camera designed to be easy to use – just point the camera and press the shutter button. They can be simple compact devices that are fully automatic, or larger, more advanced options with myriad shooting modes and settings. This type of camera had been the most popular during the previous decade, but the smartphone has essentially usurp the traditional point-and-shoot’s dominance.
But many standalone point-and-shoots, particularly the advanced models we mention here, offer things a smartphone can’t, and oftentimes that’s because of pure physics: larger sensors, optical zoom lenses with image stabilization, adjustable modes and settings, unique features, and more powerful performance in burst shooting and autofocusing, to name a few. Some, like the RX10-series from Sony, can even stand in as filmmaking cameras. While today’s smartphones are ideal for everyday shooting and capable of capturing nice images, advanced point-and-shoots go the extra mile for users who want a bit of control over their camera.
For more on the difference between a DSLR, mirrorless, or point-and-shoot camera, check our guide here. We also have tips on how to buy a camera, and if you’re buying your first DSLR camera, read up on how to select some lenses.
To learn more about the difference between the various sensors used by point-and-shoot cameras, check our explainer here.