The 7 Best compact zoom cameras: Digital Photography Review

Updated Nov 23, 2023

Long gone are the days when all of us owned some kind of compact camera: the convenience and increasing quality of smartphones saw to that. But there are still some situations in which a compact can do things a smartphone can’t. In fact, there are several types of compact camera that each offer capabilities that aren’t easily replicated by even the best smartphones.

We’ll try to spell out what these capabilities are, and what the best compact camera is to provide them. Because there are definitely still some circumstances in which a compact camera still makes sense.

Our recommendations:

Long zoom cameras

Perhaps the greatest weakness of smartphones is their lack of zoom. Many of the best phones have a camera with a slightly longer focal length and then try to crop into their images and use AI algorithms to try to approximate the fine detail to give the impression of zooming, but this has its limits.

Dedicated cameras aren’t constrained by the need to slip into your pocket, which can afford them the space to have an optical zoom lens to gain you more reach than your smartphone can deliver. There can be a trade-off: the small sensors required to put lots of zoom in a relatively small camera will be outshone by the computational cleverness that modern smartphones will bring to bear on their images. But superzoom cameras can gain you the kind of reach that no current smartphone can get near.

Best long-zoom camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

20MP 1″-type Stacked CMOS sensor | 24-600mm equiv. F2.4-4 lens | 4K video

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Long, very sharp lens
  • Very good image quality
  • Impressive subject tracking
  • Excellent video quality and features

What we don’t:

  • Very expensive
  • Large and heavy
  • Some camera features locked while buffer clears

The Sony RX10 IV is a superzoom cameras with a large Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor and a 24-600mm equivalent F2.8-4.0 zoom lens. The large sensor gives it image quality up there with the best smartphones while the lens delivers a 24x zoom that smartphones can’t come close to matching.

The RX10 IV has been on the market for a while, so its autofocus isn’t as good as Sony’s newer cameras, but its fast Stacked CMOS sensor and excellent face detection system means it’ll track action very well. This combines with its ability to shoot at 24 frames per second to stretch its capabilities even further beyond those of a smartphone.

The RX10 IV offers a reasonable degree of direct control and customization, including a dedicated aperture ring, exposure comp dial and controls that can be kept silent for video shooting. It has a hefty, weather-sealed body along with a tilting touchscreen display and high-res OLED viewfinder.

“The RX10 IV offers a high level of competence across an impressively broad range of shooting situations”

The F2.4-4.0 lens means you can get a decent amount of light to the sensor at any focal length, which helps get the most out of the camera’s 1″-type sensor. The JPEGs’ color isn’t our favorite but the sophisticated sharpening and noise reduction mean they remain detailed even in fairly low light.

The camera’s oversampled 4K is some of the most detailed available and exhibits little in the way of rolling shutter. Mic and headphone sockets, along with a selection of tools to help judge exposure make the RX10 IV a very flexible all-in-one package.

The RX10 IV is an expensive camera but it’s also unique in its combination of zoom range, image quality, autofocus and excellent video with a lot of detail. It’s not the best possible solution to any one question but it offers a high level of competence across an impressively broad range of shooting situations.

Best ultra-zoom camera: Nikon Coolpix P1000

16MP 1/2.3″ BSI-CMOS sensor | 24-2000mm equiv. F2.8-8 lens | 4K video capture

Photo: Barney Britton

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What we like:

  • Focal range cannot be matched by any camera
  • Respectable image quality, given camera’s purpose
  • Raw support
  • Well-built, with logical control layout

What we don’t:

  • Large and unbalanced when zoom is extended
  • Lens is slow at long end, reducing sharpness
  • No touchscreen
  • Poor battery life

The Nikon Coolpix P1000 is a small sensor camera with a vast zoom lens. The Type 1/2.3 (6.17 x 4.55mm) sensor will be out-performed by a good smartphone’s clever merging of multiple images but the Nikon’s gargantuan 24-2000mm equiv lens is its selling point.

The small sensor means image quality isn’t the camera’s strength, but its frankly ludicrous zoom reach means it can photograph distant subjects in a way no other device (smartphone or dedicated camera) can.

The P1000 is a large camera that weighs a substantial 1.4kg (3.2lbs). We found it can be difficult to compose a photo at 2000mm equiv since the stabilization can’t fully correct hand movement. A ‘snapback’ function quickly zooms out so you can locate your subject. The P1000’s fully articulating LCD, is not touch-enabled. Connectivity to smartphones works well.

“When it comes to zoom power, there’s no camera that comes close to Nikon’s Coolpix P1000”

The P1000’s image quality depends greatly on the focal length. Photos are generally on par with other small-sensored cameras, with pleasant colors and a bit too much noise reduction. It offers Raw, though, so you can choose your noise/detail balance and modestly brighten shadows. Heat haze, coupled with the lens’s slow maximum aperture limit image quality at the longest focal lengths.

The P1000 has very good video quality for a camera with point-and-shoot roots. It can capture 4K video at 30p (with no crop) as well as 1080/60p and time-lapse/super-lapse clips. There’s a manual exposure mode, a zoom microphone and a socket for addition an external mic. Electronic Vibration Reduction is available at 1080p and below.

When it comes to zoom power, nothing comes close to Nikon’s Coolpix P1000. Whether it’s taking a portrait from 2 blocks away or getting up close and personal with a bird in the distance, this lens can do it. That said, while other cameras can’t match that lens, many will offer better image and video quality for the same money, especially those with larger sensors.

Compact superzooms

Another class of camera that offers the kind of zoom range that a smartphone doesn’t is the compact superzoom, also known as travel zoom cameras. These feature 10x or more zoom ranges (much more in some cases) in relatively small, convenient bodies. The downside is they typically use very small sensors that, without the sophisticated image combination that smartphones regularly do in the background, only offer their best image quality in good light. Canon and Panasonic (which invented this type of camera) still make compact superzooms, so if what you need is a bit more reach from something pocketable, this is what you’re looking for.

We haven’t had a chance to try Canon’s SX740 HS, with its 40x zoom, but it’s a continuation of a series that has always produced attractive color from cameras with simple, user-friendly interfaces. The small sensor and very slow aperture at the long end of the zoom mean it’s going to be a camera for outdoors and good light only, really. Similar things can be said of Panasonic’s 30x zoom ZS80, though this no longer appears to be available in Europe.

Best compact-superzoom: Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200

20MP 1″-type BSI-CMOS sensor | 24-360mm equiv. F3.3-6.4 lens | 4K video capture

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Good balance of zoom and size
  • Built-in EVF
  • 4K video capture

What we don’t:

  • Soft lens
  • 1.5x crop when recording 4K video
  • Some may be bothered by ‘color tearing’ on EVF

The more expensive Panasonic ZS200 (TZ200 in Europe) is based around a larger Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm), which is four times larger than the one on the cameras mentioned above. The zoom is a more modest 15x, but that’s more than enough for most photography, and it shouldn’t be as readily embarrassed by your phone, when it comes to image quality.

The ZS200’s metal body is well constructed and easy to grip thanks to rubber-like material on the front and back. The touch interface is responsive and the camera offers twin control dials: one top plate and one around the lens. Some users might find the field sequential EVF bothersome. But overall, the camera is easy to operate and customize.

“Ultimately, the ZS200/TZ200 is is the furthest-reaching Type 1 pocket camera on the market”

The ZS200 captures 4K UHD at up to 30p, but a 1.5x crop means it’s noisier than many of its competitors and prevents any wide-angle shooting. Dropping down to 1080p results in better quality with just a slight crop when using the 5-axis ‘hybrid’ IS system. Autofocus has to hunt in low light situations and some rolling shutter is visible if there’s any vibration present. There’s no option for external audio, which is a drawback.

Ultimately, the ZS200/TZ200 is the furthest-reaching Type 1 pocket camera on the market, and its combination of (so-so) 4K capture, touch-based interface, EVF, and twin control dials make it both versatile and easy to use. The cost of having all of that zoom power is a lens that isn’t always sharp across the frame. If you’re willing to trade some image quality for zoom reach, then the ZS200 is worth considering.

Waterproof cameras

Waterproof cameras are another specialty that smartphones can’t necessarily displace. Many flagship phones are waterproof to a decent degree but you shouldn’t try to submerge them to any appreciable depth. Waterproof cameras also tend to be pretty rugged, designed to withstand a lot more mistreatment than a phone will withstand, meaning you can carry them with you at all times, without ever having to worry about it. Great for bikers, climbers and custodians of small, inquisitive but necessarily careful children.

Best waterproof camera: OM System Tough TG-7

25-100mm equiv. F2.0-4.9 lens | 12MP Type 1/2.3 sensor | Waterproof to 15m (50ft)

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What we like:

  • Bright, wideangle lens
  • Built-in GPS, compass and manometer
  • Raw image capture allowing creating edits
  • Range of accessories

What we don’t:

  • 12MP is fairly low
  • Lens isn’t very bright at long end
  • Limited battery life
  • Relatively expensive

The OM System Tough TG-7 is a rugged, waterproof compact with a 25-100mm equivalent zoom lens. It is fully waterproof down to a depth of 15m (50 ft).

The OM System isn’t the only rugged waterproof still on the market, nor the cheapest, but it has several major factors in its favor. The first is that it lets you shoot Raw images, which gives you the ability to correct the white balance, which even the best cameras tend to get wrong when shooting underwater. Another factor is that there is a range of accessories for the TG-7, including a light guide that directs light from the built-in flash into a circle around the lens, letting you illuminate close-up objects.

“The TG-7 is relatively expensive but packs in a host of useful features that help it stand out”

Beyond this there are a few details that different users may find handy: it has an unusually wide-angle lens with a bright maximum aperture, helping the performance underwater and in low light. It also has a built-in GPS, compass and pressure sensor that lets you log your adventures. These all add up to a camera that’s worth the added expense, we feel.

Vlogging cameras

Smartphones are great for vlogging, but a dedicated vlogging camera can shoot better quality video, have more sophisticated microphones (and provide options for connecting better mics), and can autofocus very reliably, dependably delivering YouTube-ready footage.

Best vlogging camera: Sony ZV-1 Mark II

20MP Stacked CMOS sensor | 24fps burst shooting | 4K/30p, 1080/120p video

Photo: Shaminder Dulai

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What we like:

  • Low rolling shutter
  • 3-way mic array
  • Touchscreen interface for vlogging

What we don’t:

  • Limited body buttons/dials
  • No stabilization for stills
  • 8-bit color not ideal for grading

The Sony ZV-1 Mark II is one of three ZV-1 models and is by far the best. Its wide-angle 18-50mm equivalent F2.8-4.0 lens is ideally suited to self-shot video. Its excellent autofocus includes options such as ‘Product Showcase’ that focuses on the presenter, unless an object is held up to the camera.

A vlogging beast for smartphone users wanting to upgrade to a dedicated device for more control over exposures, file workflow, sound and optical zoom without a large learning curve.

The ZV-1 Mark II is primarily touchscreen-controlled to allow control while vlogging or shooting selfies. It’s lightweight and easy to hold but has limited control points if you want to take more manual control.

The ZV-1 Mark II is a big improvement on the original thanks to a more selfie-video-friendly zoom range. Video footage and autofocus are both very good. It is a camera that thrives in auto modes, making it best suited for users seeking a simple-to-use camera.

Enthusiast compacts

The final niche in which it’s difficult for a smarphone to compete is for enthusiast photography. No matter how good smartphone image quality gets, it’s difficult for a phone to provide the feeling of connection to the process of taking photos that an enthusiast compact with lots of direct controls can offer.

We’ve picked three cameras with large sensors that deliver good image quality, zoom lenses and direct controls. Both Sony models have built-in electronic viewfinders, for shooting when it’s bright outside, again giving a more pleasant experience than trying to use a smartphone.

Best enthusiast compact: Canon PowerShot G7X III

20MP 1″-type stacked CMOS sensor | 24-100mm equiv. F1.8-2.8 lens | 4K/30p video capture

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Nice grip and well-placed controls
  • 4K/30p recording with live streaming to YouTube
  • Fast burst shooting

What we don’t:

  • Lens is soft at wide-angle
  • Limited battery life
  • Contrast-detect only autofocus

The Canon PowerShot G7X III is an enthusiast compact built around a 20MP Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor with a bright 24-100mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 zoom.

The large sensor, and zoom that covers a really useful range help set it apart from a smartphone but it’s really the clicking control dial around the lens and the dedicated exposure compensation dial that help you feel you’re in the driving seat of the photo-taking process that makes us enjoy it so much.

“If you’re after a pocketable high-quality compact, the Canon G7 X Mark III is well worth a look”

Though it’s jacket-pocketable, the G7 X Mark III has a decent-sized grip and feels secure in the hand. The ‘clicky’ control rings around the lens and on the rear of the camera give good control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and the exposure compensation dial on the top plate is a nice touch. The touchscreen interface on its tilting 3″ LCD is polished and responsive.

Overall, we’re impressed by the upgrades on this model. The Mark III brings improved video and continuous shooting performance while maintaining excellent controls and a competitive price point. If you do a lot of wide-angle shooting, there are options with better lenses, but if you’re after a pocketable high-quality compact, the Canon G7 X Mark III is well worth a look.

Also worth considering

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VA is also worth a look, offering a short, bright 24-70mm equivalent zoom. This is a little shorter than the one on the Canon but we’ve found it to be more consistently sharp, on the units we’ve tested. It has a pop-up viewfinder, adding to the appeal but also to the price. The Sony’s autofocus is faster and more dependable than the Canon’s but we prefer the handling of the Canon, thanks to its exposure compensation dial and clicking front control wheel.

Best do-it-all compact: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII

20MP 1″-type Stacked CMOS sensor | 24-200mm equiv. F2.8-4.5 lens | Hybrid AF system

Photo: Dan Bracaglia

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What we like:

  • Industry-leading autofocus
  • Excellent image quality
  • Oversampled 4K video

What we don’t:

  • User interface can be overwhelming
  • Low light performance limited by slow lens
  • Slippery grip
  • Expensive

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII is built around a 20MP Stacked CMOS and a long, flexible 24-200mm equivalent lens. It’s not as bright at the long end as the zooms on the Mark VA or the Canon G7X III but it provides a lot more reach, still in a compact package.

The RX100 VII is the most capable pocketable camera ever made

The RX100 VII has a limited number of direct controls, but offers extensive customization for making the most of them. A touchscreen can be used for choosing a focus point or initiating AF tracking in video. The camera also includes the single-press pop-up viewfinder we liked so much on its predecessor.

The RX100 VII is easily the most-capable compact camera on the market thanks to its great image and video quality, fast shooting, versatile lens and a highly-capable, easy-to-use AF system, though all of that comes with a high price tag.

Why you should trust us

This buying guide is based on cameras used and tested by DPReview’s editorial team. We don’t select a camera until we’ve used it enough to be confident in recommending it, usually after our extensive review process. The selections are purely a reflection of which cameras we believe to be best: there are no financial incentives for us to select one model or brand over another.

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