Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500
The DSC-WX500 takes great pictures and has a robust mobile app.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800
Our favorite camera under $100 takes very good pictures for the price.
The cute Polaroid Snap is a breeze to use, and you get prints instantly.
As smartphone cameras get better and better, point-and-shoot compact cameras are becoming a tougher sell, but there's 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. Plus, most point-and-shoots are fairly inexpensive, making it less of an investment—and worry—should they drop it.
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 costs less than $100, yet also 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.
Instant cameras offer some retro fun too: Our favorite is the Polaroid Snap ($99), 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 11 instant cameras, and ranked them from best to worst.
Make sure you check out all of our top picks for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and more on our best cameras page.
Latest News & Updates (August 2019)
- Nikon's new rugged point-and-shoot, the Coolpix W150, is waterproof to 33 feet, and can be dropped from heights of up to 6 feet. It has a 13.2MP sensor, 3X optical zoom, and can work with Nikon's Snapbridge app, so you can wirelessly transfer photos to your smartphone. The Coolpix W150 will be available in September for $169.
- Sony's new RX100 VII ($1,200), 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. The camera will ship in August.
- The Olympus Tough TG-6, the successor to the TG-5, is now on sale for $449. The camera has the same resolution and processor as before—as well as the same 50-meter waterproofing—but has improved functionality for its Microscope mode.
- Ricoh's GR III ($899), the latest version of its advanced compact camera for street photographers, is now available. The GR III has a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, 3-axis image stabilization, and an 18.3mm f/2.8 lens. Check out our hands-on with the Ricoh GR III.
This camera 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.
Best Budget Point-and-shoot
This camera is a compact 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 our favorite camera under $100, and is a good option for younger kids interested in photography.
Best Instant Camera
This fun and inexpensive shooter has a built-in Eink printer, giving your kids a measure of instant gratification once they press the shutter. The Snap also saves files digitally, so you can look back on your memories years after the print has faded. Using this camera is a cinch; just pop up the viewfinder, and the camera turns on.
Best Waterproof Camera
The successor to one of our current top picks, Olympus' new Tough TG-5 features a redesigned 12-MP sensor, f/2.0 lens, Olympus' latest 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.
Four things not to do when using a compact camera
It’s easy to want to jump right in and start shooting photos or video when you’re at an event, or you’re with family and friends. But before you get started, here are a few things not to do when using your digital point-and-shoot:
Don’t Lower Image Resolution: When you’re shooting photos, be sure to set your camera to capture the best quality images (without interpolating them). Avoid down-sizing them in order to save space. Memory cards are pretty inexpensive, so either buy a new card, or clear the images and videos you have on your existing card.
Don’t Use Digital Zoom: Most digital cameras include two types of zoom, optical and digital. In most cases, though, it’s best to go into the camera settings and disable the digital zoom, since this type degrades image quality on photos and video.
Don’t Compress Your Photos: Some cameras still allow you to create smaller-sized images by increasing the photo compression. But this will often introduce artifacts and aberrations into the image. So, try and use the least amount of impression.
Don’t Use a very high ISO: In most cases, it’s best to avoid the highest ISO settings (typically, anything higher than ISO 3200) on a point-and-shoot, since it will generally create grainy, noisy images or video clips. But if you do happen to use a very high ISO setting during a photo shoot, don’t forget to set your camera to a lower ISO setting or Auto ISO after the shoot or before the next one.
What features are you paying for in a compact point-and-shoot?
While many consumers choose to shoot most of their photos and videos on smartphones, some still like the convenience and quality you can get with a stand-alone point-and-shoot digital camera. But with so many changes taking place in the camera market, what features are you getting in the models that are available?
Not surprisingly, the better features—like longer optical-zoom lenses or in-camera image stabilization--are found in the pricier models, but competition is still keeping prices lower than in years past. In fact, a point-and-shoot that costs more than $300 will most likely be classified as a bridge camera or a rugged-and-waterproof camera.
Use the following list as a guide of what features you’ll begin to see at particular price points. Note that almost all point-and-shoots at this time have between 16 and 20 megapixel sensors:
- $50 or less: No optical zoom (fixed-focal length); 4x digital zoom; built-in flash; 1.8-inch LCD; runs on AA or AAA batteries; 720p HD video
- $75: 3x-5x optical zoom; 2.7-inch LCD; 28mm wide-angle lens; small selection of scene modes, such as panorama, beach, and sunset modes;
- $120: 8x optical zoom; 24mm wide-angle lens; smart auto mode (automatically determines the proper mode for the scene); digital or electronic image stabilization; larger selection of scene modes; includes help features or in-camera tips.
- $160: 10x optical zoom; built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity; optical image stabilization; improved low-light performance.
- $200: 12x optical zoom; stylish camera-body designs; 1080p full HD video; 3200 ISO; burst mode at 7 frames-per-second.
- $250: 25x optical zoom; RAW still-photos.
- $300: 30x optical zoom; Touchscreen and/or swiveling LCD; very good performance in low light; manual settings; burst mode of 10 frames per second; Top ISO of 12,800 ISO.
How we test compact cameras
We test the cameras under similar conditions for each model to get a comparative overview of their capabilities. For some of the testing, we left the cameras on their default settings. Then, to get a sense of exposure accuracy, we shot the cameras on Auto or Program Auto and, when possible, one of the semi-manual modes (aperture-priority and/or shutter-priority modes) using various ISO settings depending on the conditions. At the same time, we took note of the cameras' speed and overall performance.
Most of our test shots were outdoors, which also gave us the opportunity to see how well LCDs performed under bright sunlight. In addition to shooting some quick video clips, we tried to check out at least one of each camera's special creative options.