Best Compact Cameras 2017

Product Use case Rating
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 Best Overall 9
Best for Travel Nikon Coolpix S9900 9
Best for Kids Polaroid Snap 7
Best Rugged Compact Camera Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5 8
Sony DSC-W800 Best Under $100 9


The holiday season is upon us, which means we're generally looking for gifts for family and friends. Point-and-shoot cameras make great gifts this time of year, since we're often shooting indoors and in lower light, which can be tricky to capture with a phone, even top-tier models. A decent point-and-shoot not only lets you avoid shots that look grainy or underexposed, but provide you with an optical zoom lens, a better flash, and better image stabilization than you'll get on a smartphone.

Our favorite compact camera is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500, which costs just under $300 and has a wide focal range, flip-up LCD, and a bevy of other features, such as Wi-Fi and image stabilization. Or if you want to capture the action with a rugged-and-waterproof camera, consider the Olympus Tough TG-5, which has lots of options for capturing great low-light shots. For instance, you can adjust the TG-5's flash output, for just the right amount of illumination, or switch to its Portrait + Nightscape scene mode, which fires off the flash (to light the subjects) but uses a slow shutter speed to capture more of the ambient light

Instant cameras make great gifts, too, providing instant gratification with printing out a small photo right from the camera. One example is the Polaroid Snap ($99), which is a fantastic, fun and inexpensive gadget that offers the novelty of instant photos with the convenience of modern technology, as it includes the ability to save a digital version of your shot on a memory card. But there are some other instant models to consider as well, including models from Lomo and Leica. With them, there's no more worrying about sharing pics on social media, because all you need to do is shoot, print and hand out a good 'ole fashioned photo to your friends and family.

Three Ways Compact Cameras Produce Better Low-light Shots Than Smartphones

There's no doubt that smartphones continue to improve, and are often the camera of choice for most consumers, since it's the camera they always have with them. But in some situations, like low light, you'll find that many point-and-shoots produce better quality photos than you can take on a smartphone. Here are three ways compact cameras achieve this.

1. Better quality and more versatile built-in flash. Most phones have a weak LED light, that literally pales in comparison to the more powerful built-in flash available on point-and-shoots. What's more is that some compacts offer other flash settings, such as slow or rear sync mode (which fires off the flash at different points in time, but leave the shutter open for capturing the ambient light) or the ability to increase or decrease the flash output.

2. An optical-zoom lens. Because most smartphones still don't have an optical zoom lens, and most compacts do, you're more likely to produce a better quality photo. That’s because if you zoom in with a smartphone, in many cases you'll be using digital zoom, which will introduce noise or grain and degrade image quality. When you use an optical zoom lens, this is less likely to occur.

3. Better image stabilization. Although these days you'll find that more smartphones include image stabilization, it's often an electronically stabilized image, which isn't as robust as optical or mechanical (sensor-shift) IS. If your compact camera comes with optical or mechanical IS, you'll get sharper shots in low light.

A note on the compact point-and-shoot market: Major digital camera manufacturers are introducing far fewer compact point-and-shoots than in years past. The main reason is that few types of consumer electronics have been as adversely affected by the boom in smartphone and smartphone photography as these types of inexpensive stand-alone digital cameras. In short, since most people choose to capture candids, informal photos and videos on their smartphones, they don't seem to find it necessary to invest in an additional point-and-shoot.

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.

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  • daddywalter
    I have the Canon SX620 and love it! Excellent pocketable camera at a good price (I bought mine direct from Canon's website.) The closest thing to a downside I've found so far is that it's so small, but that's common with cameras of this type -- I have medium-size hands for a man, and I have to be sure I'm not covering the pop-up flash or touching any rear-panel buttons. As a former film-SLR user I do miss having a viewfinder, but few small cameras have them and the LCD screen is good under most lighting conditions; if the sun is behind you, use your body to shade the screen, and all is well.
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