Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is a robust, multi-purpose camera that will cost you quite a bit, but what it delivers easily ranks the camera among the best in its class. The G7 X Mark II features a high-sensitivity, 1-inch, 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor with Canon’s DIGIC 7 image processor. It features a 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with a high-speed autofocus (AF) system that scans 31 focus points to optimize the focusing experience. It records Full HD (1080p) video, has a modifiable control ring for enhanced optimization and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for quick and easy photo sharing.
The fixed lens is a 24-100mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens with a range of up to 4.2x. That’s not a lot compared with some of the other cameras on this list, but if you’re considering buying a camera like this, you probably know your stuff and are interested in simply buying a dedicated device for close-up shooting.
It’s true that the number of megapixels a camera features is only one factor that helps to determine the quality of a camera, but it is generally thought that the more megapixels, the better. For the compact point-and-shoot category, you won’t find much better than the Canon PowerShot SX620 HS — at least in the sub-$500 price range. The SX620 features a high-sensitivity, 20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor powered by Canon’s DIGIC 4+ image processor, providing you with ample power to deliver impressive, high-resolution images.
It’s got a 25x optical zoom lens with Canon’s Intelligent IS (image stabilization) tech, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for quick and easy sharing of photos, a three-inch LCD and Full HD (1080p) video capabilities. Remember, megapixels aren’t everything, but when it comes to this list, the SX620 (along with the Canon PowerShot G7 X) offers the most.
Sony’s RX100 makes for a great beginner camera because it’s easy to use but doesn’t skimp on photo quality. It houses a large, 1-inch Exmor CMOS sensor that captures more light and detail than your average point-and-shoot, with ISO ranging from 125 to 6400. Tack on a large-diameter F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with 3.6x zoom, and you get a camera that takes pictures with very low noise.
As a beginner, you might want to save photos as JPEG files, but as you advance, you’ll appreciate that you can also save ultra-high quality RAW files. Its video capabilities are also worth mentioning: it shoots in Full HD 1080/60p and you can review footage on its 3-inch Xtra Fine LCD Display (1,229k dots). Measuring 2.29 x 1.41 x 4 inches, it’s perfect for someone who wants SLR-quality photos without the bulk.
If you’re simply after a compact point-and-shoot with a capable zoom function, check out the Nikon COOLPIX A900. This slim, fixed lens device features a genuine NIKKOR glass lens with 35x optical zoom. With dynamic (digital) zoom, the range effectively doubles to 70x. The A900 also has a 20-megapixel CMOS sensor and continuous shooting at 30 fps via UHD 4K video recording.
It also features a full suite of connectivity options: built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for quick and easy sharing of photos, as well as Bluetooth low energy (BLE). This is a highly capable little compact point-and-shoot (weighing just over half a pound) that’s sure to meet the needs of any novice or intermediate fan of zoom lenses.
The pocket-friendly PowerShot SD3500IS may be tiny, but it packs a powerful punch with all-around solid features. It has a 14.1 megapixel with 5x optical zoom lens, which is pretty respectable for a camera of its size, but its small sensor means it struggles in low light settings. It doesn’t have a viewfinder, but the 3.5-inch LCD display has above average quality with 460,000 pixels of resolution. The PowerShot SD3500IS makes recording in 720p HD resolution a breeze and you can connect it to your HDTV via a mini HDMI connector.
Battery life is on par with others in its class, but you can pick up a spare battery to use as a backup. Of course, when you’re on a budget, you’re forced to make some tradeoffs, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another camera in this price range with such good HD capabilities.
Most people who want to share their photos in a snap default to their smartphones because their connectivity makes it super easy. But if you want to take it up a notch, spring for the PowerShot ELPH 360, which takes noticeably better photos (especially in low light) thanks to its 20.2 megapixel CMOS sensor and its DIGIC 4+ image processor. It also boats 12X zoom, so you can get closer to the action than a smartphone will allow.
With built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, you can upload your photos and videos in real-time to the likes of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and more through Canon’s iMAGE Gateway, directly from the ELPH 360. You can also connect to compatible Android and iOS devices and upload your images to your phone via Canon’s free Camera Connect app, or print directly from a PictBridge (Wireless LAN) certified printer.
Zoom range - If you need to go the distance with your camera’s zoom function, make sure that it has quite a bit of focal length under the hood. While thin cameras aren’t necessarily famous for their incredible zoom abilities, some can easily hit the mark with 35x optical zoom and create images to impress.
Image quality - Small cameras typically contain smaller image sensors, which can have their downsides. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice image quality completely. Take a look at favorite photo sharing websites such as Flickr to see the kinds of results your camera might be able to produce.
Shareability - Want to share your latest photos with your friends and family? Check to see if the camera you are purchasing has built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities. Using these wireless standards, you’ll be able to transfer your photos and videos quickly to a smartphone after capture.