With the holiday season in full swing, you’ll have plenty to photograph, but if you yearn for the kind of shots you just can’t get with a smartphone and you don’t want to carry a heavy DSLR around with you, a compact camera is the answer. Cheaper than a smartphone, they come in all varieties – whether you want a rugged model that can withstand being dropped in a rock pool or a superzoom for wildlife close-ups, there’s a compact camera to you. Open up a bright new world of photography possibilities from portraits, landscapes and macro close-ups to 4K video and image stabilisation, whatever your budget.

TOUGH COMPACTS

You can take them anywhere, throw (almost) anything at them, and they’ll still come back for more. 

Fujifilm Finepix XP130 - £149 

Fujifilm may have had snorkelers and skiers foremost in their minds when they made the XP130 waterproof to 20m, drop-proof to 1.75m, and freezeproof to -10°C, but this is a great little camera for capturing all sorts of outdoor activities. 

As well as a 5x optical zoom, there’s a 28mm wide-angle setting for when you want to get that little bit extra in shot. Images are taken with a 16.4Mp back-illuminated CMOS sensor. You can burst shoot at a rate of 10fps and, at the opposite end, you can also shoot timelapse or at regular intervals.

Some image stabilising and an eye-detect autofocus feature will help alleviate blur, and an electronic level gauge means there’s no excuse for a wonky horizon. Then when you’re all done, thanks to Bluetooth, getting photos to your phone or tablet couldn’t be easier. A solid little compact camera at a wallet-friendly price.

GoPro HERO5 Black Action - £299

If it’s compact you want, they don’t come much smaller than a GoPro Hero5. This matchbox-sized Pandora’s box not only goes wherever you go (now waterproof to 10m), it also allows you to edit your journey, then share it with a subscription to GoPro Plus.

Video is what GoPro is known for, and you can shoot up to 4K video at 30fps, or smooth slow-mos at 1080p and 120fps. Even better, with the Hero5, you can shoot great stills, too – 12Mp photos in RAW format. There’s even a wide dynamic range mode (HDR to anyone else) for tricky light situations. Distortion correction has been included for wide-angle shots, as has electronic image stabilisation. Controlling the Hero5 couldn’t be easier – a touchscreen on the back makes a world of difference, and it responds to voice commands as well. Bluetooth and WiFi are also supported. 

Even if you already own a Hero4, the Hero5 has so many new features that it’s worth upgrading. It’s not just headline features like stereo sound and GPS, but the little things too – audio is better because the mic isn’t sealed up, and the battery is removable. And did we mention the longer battery life?

Olympus Tough TG-5 - £379

When it comes to a camera that can take pretty much anything you throw at it, the TG-5 has it nailed. Waterproof to 15m (45m with housing), freezeproof down to -10°C, shockproof from 2.1m, crushproof to 100kg – you get the idea. Take it skiing, diving, rock-climbing… and it’ll still work flawlessly when you get home.

The TG-5 shoots 12Mp images with a fast 25-100mm lens boasting a maximum aperture of F2.0. As well as automatic and manually-selectable focus points, there’s a face-detect autofocus mode. When you absolutely don’t want to miss the moment, burst shooting is better than any action camera at a whopping 20fps. When it’s close-ups you’re after, you have macro zoom modes for pin-sharp shots. If macro is a passion, there are even options for focus bracketing and stacking, where several images, shot at different focus points, are combined to increase depth of field.

Stills can be saved in RAW (as well as JPEG), making it easier to take them into Photoshop and edit later. The TG-5 does video too, shooting 4K footage at a rate of 30fps, and 1080p at up to 60fps. It’s all topped off with a thermometer, a compass – and a GPS tracking feature to make sure you find your way home! They’ve thought of everything.

SUPERZOOM COMPACTS

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a compact camera with a massive focal range that fits in your pocket and puts your smartphone to shame.

Canon Powershot SX620 - £179 

With a 25x optical zoom and 20.2Mp images, this pocket camera punches well above its weight. The zoom is its real selling point. Equating to a focal range of 25-625mm makes it perfect for landscapes, and just as good for long distance close-ups – even a shot of the moon. It has an ISO range of 80-3200 at full size, so the SX620 performs well in poor light. If it’s action shots you’re after, the fast DIGIC 4+ processor means you can shoot 7.1fps in burst mode at 5Mp, or record to 1080p video.

Canon’s Creative Shot modes make it easy to find the right settings for the moment, or you can do the hard work yourself. When you’ve got your shot, edit it a bit, spice it up with some special effects filters, then use WiFi and NFC to start sharing your hard work. It couldn’t get much easier.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC WX500 - £269 £229

This ultra-compact and lightweight camera boasts an even bigger zoom range that the SX620. Its 30x zoom lens has an effective focal range of a whopping 24-720mm, and with five-axis image stabilisation you’re able to shoot handheld down to about 1/60 second.

That massive focal range has been achieved using a smaller sensor than those found in interchangeable lenses, but it’s twice as sensitive to light. This is because a back-illuminated design allows four times more light to hit the sensor. It has an ISO range of 80-3200, while its Sony Column A/D Conversion technology reduces image noise at higher ISOs, and its BIONZ X engine pulls out extra detail to give you images up to 18.2Mp.

There are plenty of creative options. The iSweep Panorama feature lets you shoot wide panoramas in a single shot, and an HDR feature copes with those challenging light variations. In-camera editing and smartphone apps give you even greater control.

When it comes to video, you can shoot at up to full HD (1920x1280) and up to 60fps, depending on the mode. Cleverly, you can also video in one format while simultaneously filming compressed MP3. This makes it perfect for speedy sharing via WiFi or NFC. Very well thought out.

Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90 - £379 £319 

Up a level from Sony’s DSC WX500, this model from Panasonic offers a similar 30x optical zoom with 80-3200 ISO range, but it has a few more tricks up its sleeve, as you’d expect for the price. 

Although its sensor is the same size as the Sony, it shoots at a slightly higher resolution of 20.3Mp and, unlike the Sony, it comes with a viewfinder as well as a touch-screen LCD display. But it’s video that really distinguishes the DC-TZ90. Not only is this compact camera capable of shooting full 4K video (3840 x 2160) at 30fps, but when you’ve shot that video you can extract 4K stills from it – perfect for shooting anything that moves.

That 4K video feature also comes into play with another handy feature – post focus. A short section of video is recorded using different focus points in each frame, so that afterwards you can choose the still with the focal point you want. The same idea enables you to do focus stacking too – ideal for macro photographers.

PREMIUM COMPACTS

Not just the ultimate smartphone upgrade, premium compacts also make the perfect backup camera for DSLR owners looking for a break from the weight.

 

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III includes Sony Grip and Case - £574 £499 

This is Sony’s ‘all-rounder’ compact – an upgrade on the RX100 II that comes with an electronic viewfinder to help when shooting in bright light. While its 20.2Mp Exmor R CMOS sensor is the same, its new BIONZ X processor gives you an ISO sensitivity range of 125-12,800 (and up to 25,600 in multi-frame noise-reduction mode).

However, it’s the lens that’s seen the biggest change from earlier models. Its focal length range is 24-70mm, less than the 28-100mm zoom in earlier models but a huge benefit at the lower end, where the wider angle gives you more scope. The other change is in the aperture, now F1.8-F2.8. As well as being able to shoot faster in low light conditions, it means you can be more creative with depth of field. Macro shots are easier too, with the minimum focusing distance for zoom now only 30cm away (rather than 55cm).

If the fast lens doesn’t sway it for you, video might. You can shoot 1080p footage at up to 60fps, or for smooth slow-motion there’s 720p at 120fps. Keeping everything steady is a five-axis image stabilisation system that does a remarkable job, whether shooting video or stills. Definitely worth it.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ200 - £729

With its 15x optical zoom, this is technically a superzoom, but its large 1-inch sensor clearly puts the TZ200 in the premium category. Achieving a 24-360mm equivalent focal range length is no mean feat in a camera of this size. As a result, the maximum aperture is F3.3-6.4, while the minimum is F8. Images are saved at 20Mp, either in RAW or JPEG, and it has an ISO sensitivity range of 200-25,600 (expandable to ISO 80-25,600) so low light won’t be a problem.

Image stabilisation is important, particularly at longer focal lengths. Although the five-axis hybrid image stabilisation remains unchanged from the TZ100, it works exceptionally well, and with a steady hand you can shoot as slow as 1/30 second at the full 360mm. 

Of course, IS is great for video too, which is a big part of the offering here. You can shoot 4K footage at up to 30fps, and then pluck 4K stills from the file. It’s also great at macro with minimum focal distance down to just 3cm. An excellent all-rounder.

Fujifilm X100F - £1,329 £1,199

Impeccable image quality and retro styling have come to define the X100 series over the last seven years, and the X100F (the ‘F’ is for ‘fourth’ generation) takes the series to new highs. While its lens might be the same 23mm F2 from earlier models, here you get a 24.2Mp X-Trans CMOS III sensor and X-Processor Pro helping to deliver markedly better image quality and autofocus.

The lens itself has a built-in three-stop neutral-density filter, and with an adapter you can add your own filters too. The ISO range is 200-12,800, although you can extend this to 100-51,200.  The advanced hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is one of the X100F’s best features. Look through it for an overlay of shooting information, including a live histogram and level.

WiFi has been well-integrated. Not only can you upload photos directly to your social media channels, you can also control your camera from a smartphone – it even gives you live view. But it’s the quality of your shots that counts most, and this is where the X100F excels itself. As well as great quality RAW files, you get JPEGs with colour rendition that’s spot-on. No wonder this is a favourite for the pros.

 

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