The Best Point-And-Shoot Digital Camera

Click to enlarge
Testing the field of cameras at Donner Summit, CA.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Which point and shoot camera is the best? With technology constantly changing cameras into complicated little devices, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. So we took the top nine point and shoot cameras worthy of your adventures and put them through real-time testing, finding out which cameras excelled in image quality, low light performance, ease of use, video quality, and flash performance. With such a technology and information dense product, check out our informative buying advice article; you might even learn a thing or two about photography while you’re there.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Tommy Penick ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab December 30, 2013

Top Ranked Digital Cameras Displaying 6 - 9 of 9 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #6 #7 #8 #9
Product Name
Fuji X20
Fuji X20
Read the Review
Nikon Coolpix L820
Nikon Coolpix L820
Read the Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
Read the Review
Canon SX50 HS
Canon SX50 HS
Read the Review
Editors' Awards         
Street Price $500
Compare at 1 sellers
$184
Compare at 1 sellers
$449$399
Compare at 1 sellers
Overall Score 
100
0
67
100
0
60
100
0
56
100
0
54
Editors' Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Good in low light, intuitive functionality, classy styling.Inexpensive, large zoom range, easy use.Inexpensive, good design, fast frame rate video.Great zoom range, sharp lens.
Cons Larger than most, awkward zoom, lack of video controls.No controls, overly simplistic, below average image quality.Poor lens quality, lots of distortion, bad in low light.Poor low light performance, slow full-featured motor drive, lack of video controls.
Best Uses Street photography, low light situations.Long zooms, trips with no re-charge option other than replaceable AA batteries.High speed video in a small package.Long zoom uses.
Date Reviewed Feb 01, 2014Feb 01, 2014Feb 01, 2014Feb 03, 2014
Weighted Scores Fuji X20 Nikon Coolpix L820 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Canon SX50 HS
Image Quality - 35%
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
6
Low Light Performance - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
4
10
0
3
Ease Of Use - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
Video Quality - 15%
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
Flash Performance - 10%
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
4
Product Specs Fuji X20 Nikon Coolpix L820 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Canon SX50 HS
Size (width x height x depth in inches) 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 4.4 x 3 x 3.4 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 4.8 x 3.4 x 4.2
Weight in ounces (with battery and card) 12.5 oz 16.6 oz 10.5 oz 21 oz
Effective Megapixels 12 megapixels 16 megapixels 10.1 megapixels 12.1 megapixels
Lens Zoom Range (35mm equivalent) 28-112mm 22.5-675mm 24-90mm 24-1200mm
Lens Aperture Range f/2.0 - 11 (variable to f/2.8 through zoom) f/3.0 - 5.8 f/1.4 - 8 (variable to f/2.3 through zoom) f/3.4 - 8 (variable to f/6.5 through zoom)
Lens Type Fujinon 4x optical zoom lens NIKKOR lens with 30x optical zoom LEICA DC VARIO-SUMMILUX / 11 elements in 10 groups / (5 Aspherical Lenses / 9 Aspherical surfaces / 2 ED Lenses(1 Aspherical ED lens) / 1 Nano surface Coating Lens) Canon 50x optical zoom
Screen 2.8-inch (7.1 cm), TFT color LCD monitor (460K-dots) 3-in. (7.5 cm), (921k-dot) 3.0-in (7.5cm) TFT Screen LCD Display (920K dots) 2.8-inch (7.1 cm) TFT Color Vari-angle LCD with wide viewing angle (461k dots)
Battery Life (Estimated shots based on CIPA standards) 270 870 with lithium AA, 320 with alkaline AA 330 315
Sensor Size Category 2/3" 1/2.3" 1/1.7 1/2.3"
Sensor Size (mm) 8.8 x 6.6mm 6.17 x 4.55 mm 7.60 x 5.70 mm 6.17 x 4.55 mm
Continuous Drive Speed (in frames per second) 12 fps 8 fps 11 fps 13 fps in burst mode
Buffer Size in Full resolution 11 frames 6 frames 12 frames 10 franes
Aspect Ratio 3:2 4:3 Adjustable from 16:9 to 1:1 Adjustable from 16:9 to 1:1
ISO Range ISO 100 - 12800 ISO 125 - 3200 ISO 80 - 12800 ISO 80 - 6400
Video Capabilities 1080@60p 1080@30p H.264 1080@60p AVCHD 1080@24p
Video Audio Recording Built-in Stereo Microphone/No external input Built-in Mono/No external input Built-in Stereo Microphone/No external input Built-in Stereo Microphone/No external input
Image Stabilization No Yes (optical) Yes (optical) Yes (optical)
Storage Type SD SD SD SD

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Sony RX100 II
$699
100
0
89
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Canon G16
$499
100
0
81
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Fuji X100s
$1299
100
0
86
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Ricoh GR
$799
100
0
79
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Fuji X20
$499
100
0
67
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Canon SX50 HS
$430
100
0
54
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
$449
100
0
56
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Nikon Coolpix L820
$199
100
0
60
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Which point and shoot camera is the best? With new technology constantly transforming cameras into complicated little devices, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. So we took the top nine point and shoot cameras worthy of your adventures and put them through real-time testing, finding out which cameras excelled in image quality, low light performance, ease of use, video quality, and flash performance. With such a technology and information dense product, don't forget to check out our informative buying advice article. You might even learn a thing or two about photography while you’re there.

Throughout the review you can see with side-by-side photos how we judged these cameras. Click on the photos and see them at full size to get a feel for the differences in each camera. You can also see all of the side-by-side comparison photos here on our photo comparison page, also accessible by the tab at the top.


Night Time Photo


Sony RX100 IIPanasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

We don't want to flood you with useless bits of information, like the proprietary name of Camera X's processor. And we're not going to copy and paste stats from a manufacturer's website. Instead, we aim to guide you to the best camera for your own needs from our actual use in the field.

Selecting the Right Camera
Click to enlarge
Testing the field of cameras at Donner Summit, CA.
Credit: Tommy Penick

Types of Cameras
We all know that there are tons of cameras out there. At OutdoorGearLab we believe that the best category of cameras for outdoor adventures and travel generally are compact point-and-shoot cameras, mainly due to their smaller size than that of DSLR’s, better image quality than cell phones, durability, and overall ease of use.

There are sub-categories within point-and-shoot cameras, which we’ve broken down into compacts, super zooms, and prime lensed bodies.

Super Zoom Point-and-Shoots
Click to enlarge
Credit: Tommy Penick
These cameras, such as the Canon SX50 HS boast massive zoom ranges, which is great in some ways and not in others. Typically, the more specialized a lens, the better optical quality it will produce. Professional photographers and cinematographers use primes (lenses that don’t zoom) as much as possible because they offer stunning results in terms of sharpness, color, contrast, and maximum aperture openings. Super zooms forgo insane sharpness and trade it for insane zoom ranges, which can be a huge advantage when looking for a camera that’s going to be a “one-camera quiver.”

Most of the super zoom cameras we tested zoom from 24mm to 1200mm (35mm equivalent). For reference, those massive lenses you see on TV next to the football field? Those are 400mm lenses. For the pros to go bigger, here is a 1200mm lens for a Canon DSLR, and it costs $120,000. That’s the price of a decent house.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/find/newsLetter/Canon-EF-1200mm.jsp

Yet, super zoom cameras can accomplish this equivalent in one lens that also shoots very wide. This leads to optics that are of lesser quality, but great versatility. While the lenses don’t come up to your waist like the Canon above, they do add some bulk and weight to the camera compared to other point- and-shoot cameras. These are our heaviest and largest cameras, but you can still fit them in a big ski jacket pocket. If you’re going to be shooting wildlife or other distant objects, these zoom ranges can help you out, but in most situations offer little advantage to cameras that fall into the standard compact point and shoot category. Otherwise, stick to the old photography proverb: zoom with your feet.

Compact Point-and-Shoots
Click to enlarge
The pockets on our ski touring pants are small at best, but the RX100 still fit just fine, which let us get some quick shots on the fly that we otherwise would have missed.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Most of the cameras tested fall into this category that could be called “standard point-and-shoot.” This category gives you the best of both worlds — decent zoom ranges that rival any professional photographer’s camera bag, good optics, great image quality, and you get to toss them in your shirt pocket when you’re done shooting. An old adage says “the best camera is the one that you have with you, which matches with more old sayings like “f/8 and be there”….etc. The point is you’re not going to take a photo of something cool that happens randomly if you don’t have your camera, and the chances of not having your camera skyrocket when you’re not motivated to carry a big, clunky body.

Point-and-shoots are the solution to this problem. And with the advent of new technologies, point-and-shoot cameras are better than ever.

Prime Lensed Point-and-Shoots
Click to enlarge
The Fuji x100s.
Credit: Tommy Penick
As already mentioned, professionals frequently pass on the convenience of zoom lenses and opt for prime lenses due to their awesome quality. Camera companies have been listening. Two of our tested cameras, the Fuji X100s and the Ricoh GR, both have prime lenses. While it would not seem like a big enough difference to categorize them differently, it totally affects how you need to shoot the cameras, and what skills you need to bring to the table. As a professional photographer, I love shooting primes. I don’t mind being stuck at 24mm all of the time, and “zooming with my feet,” But it significantly limits creative abilities when you’re stuck at 24mm and can’t changes lenses, ever. Even portraits become a bit difficult. However, some people really love shooting with prime lenses, and they absolutely have their advantages. Decide how important zoom is to you before deciding which camera you want to buy; a prime lens camera with the best image quality may not satisfy your needs.

History of Digi Cams
Digital cameras are the product of many inventions originally intended for other purposes. The technology is the process of electronically storing information encoded in a series of 1’s and 0’s. The first device capable of making a scan of a photograph and encoding it digitally was constructed by Russell Kirsch in 1957 at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. The technology was used in spy satellites and by NASA in space exploration photography using something called a camera tube; the digital information was stored on devices such as cassette tapes.

In 1973, Fairchild Semiconductor released a new technology called the CCD image sensor chip, which is still integral to digital cameras today. CCD stands for “charge-coupled device,” and works by capturing light on a sensor and converting it into voltage, which can then be converted to digital information to be stored on a hard drive, memory card, or flash drive. Shortly afterward, in 1975, Bryce Bayer developed what is known as the Bayer mosaic filter for Kodak which allowed CCD sensors to capture RGB color images, an improvement over the original gray scale. Around the same time Steve Sasson, also working for Kodak, developed the first digital camera using a CCD sensor, but it could only capture 0.01 megapixels (100 x 100 pixels) of information, took 23 seconds to capture an image, and was designed simply as a technical exercise.

It wasn’t until 1986 that Kodak developed the first 1.0 megapixel CCD, allowing for printing of a 5x7 inch photograph. 1988 saw the standardization of the JPEG and MPEG methods for compressing large amounts of information. These new developments led to production of consumer models of digital cameras, with the first U.S. release around 1990. Over time digital cameras became so popular that they caused the phasing out of the old film technology. In 2008 Polaroid stopped making instant cameras and in 2009 Kodak halted production of its Kodachrome 35mm film.

Today, even more ubiquitous than the digital camera is the camera-phone. Between 1993 and 1995 the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (a part of NASA run by Caltech) developed CMOS image sensors, also known as active pixel sensors. CMOS sensors, in many ways comparable to CCD sensors, are cheaper and easier to manufacture, paving the way for the installation of cheap cameras within phones. The first recorded public sharing of a photo taken with a phone occurred in 1997, and the first commercially available phone that included a camera hit the market in 2000. Who can imagine what our hyper-connected society driven by social media would look like without these technological progressions?

Criteria for Evaluation
We tested these cameras aggressively through field observations. We picked the five areas that are most important: image quality, low light performance, ease of use, video quality, and flash performance.

Image Quality
Image quality obviously is a massive determinant for how your photos are going to look at the end of the day, but it encompasses many things that people don’t often think about. Image quality comes from a number of physical elements of a camera, from the lens quality to the sensor, the processor to the wiring. It’s intensely complicated and we’ll leave the full understanding to electrical engineers and instead focus on the actual performance.


Sunset Photo


Fuji X100sCanon G16

Image quality is best seen through the image on a computer, viewed at the same resolution, and comparing the pixel structure, sharpness, dynamic range, color gamut, and other aspects. We disregard color saturation and contrast, because this is drastically affected by the cameras’ built-in color profiles, which are proprietary, and can be adjusted to personal preference. See our Buying Advice for more information on this topic.


Close Up Photo


Fuji X100sCanon SX50 HS

We were blown away with the Fuji X100s for image quality. This camera made us rethink our DSLR camera decisions with its smooth, sharp, and colorful images. Additionally, the built-in high dynamic range setting worked very well and provided smooth sky gradations even when we had dark subjects, without seeming too manufactured or artificial. Fuji's proprietary prime lens provided great sharpness and contrast to match the bomber sensor and processor.

Low Light Performance
Click to enlarge
The Fuji X100s blew us away with low-light performance and dynamic range. After we packed away the rest of the cameras, the X100s became our walk-around camera this night. This image is unprocessed. 1/30th, ISO 1600, f/2.8.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Low light performance has been a hot-topic over the past few years. Before the advent of digital cameras, we were restricted to using one film speed per roll. Additionally, high-speed films look absolutely terrible. Since digital cameras have incredibly sensitive sensors allowing for high ISOs, we are blessed as photographers with nearly unlimited creative abilities. Cameras are almost approaching the same sensitivity as the human eye. But it comes at a cost — poorly made electronics, packing too many pixels into a small sensor, bad processors, too much heat, and so many other factors that can lead to noisy images. Noise is that pesky colored (or not) grainy appearance to digital photographs, which some people mistake as “pixilation.” Unless you’re only going to shoot summit photos at high noon, low light performance is very important; it ends up playing a part in more aspects of your photography than you might think.


Night Time Photo


Fuji X100sCanon G16

Larger sensors handle noise better and it came as no surprise that the Fuji X100s took the top spot in for low light performance. The APS-C sized sensor provided beautiful images even as the falling sun turned to darkness. Even though the X100s is not equipped with optical image stabilization, the camera was easy to handhold and could achieve shutter speeds as slow as 1/15th routinely, further making the X100s a low-light powerhouse.

Ease of Use
Click to enlarge
Credit: Tommy Penick
Cameras are complicated, without a doubt. Add features like Wi-Fi, creative modes, and proprietary names for features you’ll probably not use, and a camera seems like you’re operating a space shuttle. Taking your gloves off in the cold to bumble around for the right dial to change something on a camera dramatically reduces your overall enjoyment of life, especially when those cold hands never warm up and you’re miserable. Bumbling over dials also wastes tons of time, and how many times have we heard “Oh I missed it…” from dream-crushed photographers?

We not only tested the cameras to see how easily they functioned in more traditional modes (Manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority), but we also tested the efficiency of their auto modes. Some cameras, such as the Sony RX100 II have impressive intelligent-auto modes that have scene detection that helps the camera make decisions based on what you are shooting.


Frame Rate


Panasonic Lumix FZ200Canon G16

Camera manufacturers have realized that we're tired of complicated cameras. The need for a simple camera is amplified when you're standing on a tiny rock ledge, or a 45-degree slope on your skis. The simpler a camera, the more likely we'll be to pull it out when the going gets rough. Out of the field, the Sony RX100 II and the Canon G16 were the easiest to use due to many different modes, fast frame rates, easy autofocusing, and the basic layout of menus and buttons.

Video Quality
Gone are the days of separate video cameras from still cameras, especially in the consumer market. Instead, these little point-and-shoots offer impressive video quality. All of them shoot 1080p and most shoot up to 60 fps for slow motion. However, with the advent of video-capable still cameras, manufactures have managed to make it possible by slamming high-compression “codecs” on these cameras, which downgrade the quality. If someone thinks a $300 point-and-shoot camera shooting 1080p is going to offer the same quality as a $60,000 RED Epic, they are out of their mind. Similar to mega-pixels in still cameras, video resolution isn’t all of the equation for image quality. Additionally, some point-and-shoot cameras don’t have all of the control you need for shooting super-high quality videos, such as manual controls.

While categories like Ease of Use make a pretty small split in the pack, Video Quality was huge. At the top of the pack the Panasonic FZ200 impressed us with its versatility, multiple frame rates, and control. Combined with a smooth zoom and a pivoting LCD screen, the FZ200 was a clear winner for video performance. We even started carrying this camera around to mix in with our DSLR shoots based on its frame rate options. Though it still doesn't have an input for a microphone (this plagues DSLRs, too), the on-board audio was ample to at least get a sync track or basic ambient sound. Take a look at the FZ200's versatility in this video:



Flash Performance
Flash can be a bit nasty sometimes, but if it comes down to 1. Get the shot or 2. Don’t get the shot, we prefer the first option, which makes flash necessary from time to time. We not only wanted to see how well the flash worked, but whether the cameras were smart enough to deploy pre-fires for focusing, and if the camera would decide to force fill flash in action. Additionally we wanted to make sure we could disable the flash.

Click to enlarge
The X100s had the best fill-flash capabilities, which produced reasonably soft and well balanced light to subjects.
Credit: Tommy Penick

A few cameras, such as the Canon G16, sport hot shoes that give the ability to use external flashes. In addition to external flashes, these hot-shoes also support equipment for using off-camera flash. With off-camera external lighting, the possibilities are endless. We even took our full-powered studio strobes and ran them with our Pocketwizards on the G16 for some interesting results.

While most of the cameras offered the more or less same performance in flash, the Fuji X100s was again the clear winner, with surprisingly soft fill flash and the ability to manually dial in the flash power. Additionally, the X100s has a hot shoe and Fuji offers a line of hot shoe mount flashes.

Editor’s Choice Award: Sony RX100 II
Click to enlarge
Like all batteries, the RX100 II faded quickly on us in the cold, but a quick warm up in our glove and we were back to shooting images like this in the Sierra backcountry.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Sony went all out on this little camera. Don’t let its small size and sleek design fool you; this camera packs a punch, sporting spectacular image quality and a really nice Car Zeiss lens that offers low distortion and great sharpness. The camera feels like a quality piece of equipment from the moment you pick it up. The RX100 is really intuitive. Even in the menu for selecting modes more information for the beginner user is provided. The only complaint we could find was that it lacked grip. Unlike some of the competition such as the Canon G16, the RX100 II is mostly polished metal, which might be tough to grip in gnarly situations.

Best Buy Award: Canon G16
Click to enlarge
The G16's portability and durability proved to be king. While it wasn't the smallest camera tested, we felt confident throwing it in a backpack and taking it along with us. In this photo, we used a tiny collapsable tripod for a self-portrait.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Canon has forever been known for creating great cameras, and the G series hasn’t broken the spell. The G16, the most recent iteration of their point-and-shoot line introduced in 2000, has stuck with the traditional shape and handling of the series with newly introduced features. It offered the most features, highest image quality, and overall beefiness.

Top Pick Award for Advanced Users: Fuji X100s
Click to enlarge
The Fuji X100s blew us away with low-light performance and dynamic range. After we packed away the rest of the cameras, the X100s became our walk-around camera this night. This image is unprocessed. 1/30th, ISO 1600, f/2.8.
Credit: Tommy Penick
The X100s instantly brought back the magic of photography when we pulled it out of the box. The sleek design, solid materials, sharp lens, and high quality viewfinder took us back to simpler times of film: working quietly and smoothly and spending evenings in darkrooms. Fuji designed the X100s (and the rest of the line, including the Fuji X20) like an old school 35mm rangefinder. While Fuji isn’t the first company to do so, they’ve also managed to do it for about $4,000 less than the originators. The X100s has great image quality and stunning low-light performance.

The prime lens is quite sharp (other than at f/2), but the lack of zoom could turn off many users. The viewfinder doesn’t reveal what the image will look like, nor will it even show the framing correctly, but with some practice you can get the feel for it. The killer image quality and overall handling outweighed these negatives for us, but it may not fit everyone’s needs. This is the perfect camera to supplement a DLSR setup that you’ve grown weary of carrying everywhere, and is great for capturing moments on travels.

Best for For Video
Click to enlarge
The Panasonic Lumix FZ200.
Credit: Tommy Penick
The Panasonic Lumix FZ200 is an impressive camera for video. Not only does it boast more features that give you control back, but it also has a great codec and high speed features up to 240 frames per second, although sacrificed in resolution. The pivoting screen is a fantastic feature for any video shooter and moves fluidly with lots of options for position. The interface for video is quick and easy.

Tommy Penick
Buying Advice
How we Test
Helpful Buying Tips
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Recent Editor's Award Winners