As smartphone cameras get better and better, point-and-shoot compact cameras are becoming a tougher sell, but there are still a few good reasons to pick one up. A decent compact camera is a great way to introduce your kids to photography. Not only will it help them learn the fundamentals, but provide them with an optical zoom lens, a better flash, and better image stabilization than you'll get on a smartphone.
Our favorite compact point-and-shoot camera is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500, which has a wide focal range, flip-up LCD, and a bevy of other features, such as Wi-Fi and image stabilization. Our favorite budget model is the Sony DSC-W800, which takes reasonably good pictures for the price.
If you're looking for a rugged point-and-shoot camera, consider the Olympus Tough TG-5, which is waterproof to 50 feet and has lots of options for capturing great low-light shots. The newer Olympus Tough TG-6 has the same resolution and processor as before—as well as the same 50-meter waterproofing—but has improved functionality for its Microscope mode.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 is the best compact camera overall, as it takes great photos in a variety of situations, thanks in part to Sony's image stabilization, which really kicks in when you want to take clear pictures with limited light. A wide range of PlayMemories apps let you make adjustments and add effects to images on the fly, and built-in Wi-Fi allows you to easily transfer them to your smartphone. And, for such a small cost, it has a good range of features and performance for the price.
This camera is a portable 2.1 x 2 x 0.9 inches, and weighs 3.5 ounces. It has a 5x zoom, and shoots 20-MP photos that had strong color and detail in bright conditions. However, quality drops as things get dark, and the camera's flash is easily covered by your finger.
Still, the DSC-W800 is the best compact camera under $100, and is a good option for younger kids interested in photography.
This fun and inexpensive Polaroid Snap Touch has a built-in Zink printer, giving your kids a measure of instant gratification once they press the shutter. Unlike other instant cameras, which will automatically churn out a print even if it's snapped by accident, the Snap Touch lets you preview, choose, print or discard any shot so you waste less precious paper.
The Snap Touch makes our list of the best compact cameras because it also saves files digitally, so you can look back on your memories years after the print has faded. And, it can record video, too. Using this camera is a cinch; just pop up the viewfinder, and the camera turns on.
The best compact camera for taking on underwater excursions, the Olympus Tough TG-5 features a 12-MP sensor, f/2.0 lens, Olympus' TruPic VIII image processor and a 4X optical zoom. The TG-5 also sports what Olympus calls a Field Sensor System, which tracks your movement, temperature and location, so that you can see your stats later, or embed that info directly into your footage. And because this camera is part of Olympus' Tough line, you get some serious durability that includes water-resistance up to 50 feet, shock-resistance up to 7 feet, and operating temperatures that extend down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The TG-5's successor, the TG-6, has a few improvements, such as a better microscope mode, but this camera can now be found for less, making it a good deal.
While its numerous dials give it a decidedly retro feel, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is a packed with forward-looking features, including great 4K video and fast autofocus. It has a large 16.8 megapixel sensor and a sharp 3.1X Leica optical zoom lens that has an f/1.7 maximum aperture for very shallow depth-of-field photos, a quality found in many professional images. In addition, the LX100 has a rear LCD and an electronic viewfinder. All this in a sturdy, nearly pocketable magnesium alloy frame that makes the LX100 a pricey, but great compact camera.
While it doesn’t have the longest reach of the cameras we tested, the 65X telephoto lens of the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS is the best compact camera with an ultrazoom lens. It gets you very close to the action, and captures everything in sharp detail, whether you're taking photos or shooting video. It also has an external mic jack, and can shoot in RAW, something few other ultrazooms can do.
Its very comfortable handgrip, swiveling LCD, and powerful image stabilization make it capable of capturing sharp photos or jitter-free video of hard-to-reach shots, such as shooting over your head. And, it does all this for less than you might think.
If you're looking for an even longer zoom, check out the Nikon CoolPix P1000, which is twice as expensive, but has a 125x (3000mm-equivalent) zoom lens.
With a 15X zoom (24-360mm equivalent), the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 is the best compact camera for travelers who are looking for a small yet versatile shooter. It's easy enough for beginners, but has an array of dials and controls for advanced amateurs to take command of all of the camera's settings. Although its rear display doesn't tilt, we also liked its sharp electronic viewfinder. Low-light shots were good, and also did great when shooting 4K video.
Quick shots are the best shots
Instant cameras offer some retro fun too: Our favorite is the Polaroid Snap Touch, which not only prints out a physical photo but saves a digital version of your shot on a memory card. But there are some other instant models to consider as well. We tested a bunch of instant cameras and ranked them from best to worst.
Sony's new RX100 VII, the latest in its line of premium compact cameras, features a new 1-inch 20.1MP sensor, the latest Bionz X image processor, 357-point phase-detection and 425-point contrast-detection points, 24-200mm F2.8 – F4.5 lens, and can shoot 4K HDR video, as well as up to 20 fps when shooting still images.