Point-and-shoot cameras are designed for simple operation. Most use automatic systems for setting exposure, auto focus or focus free lenses for focusing, and have flash units built in.
Want to take pics that look better than what your smartphone can get you, but not quite ready to invest in an expensive DSLR or mirrorless camera? A point-and-shoot camera will provide you with that nice middle ground.
Better smartphone cameras have forced point-and-shoot camera manufacturers to really step up their game in recent years.
4K video recording, built-in WiFi, and face-detection all used to be premium luxuries. Now you can find them in almost every mid-range point-and-shoot camera. But as with smartphones, it can be a bit daunting to sort through all the countless models, brands and features to find the right one for you.
Here are the seven best point-and-shoot cameras we believe you can buy for less than $500 right now.
Canon Powershot G9X
Best Overall Compact Digital Camera
Maybe you’re a fresh-faced beginner. You might be a lifelong photo-enthusiast. Doesn’t matter. The Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II is hands-down the best DSLR substitute for novices, and a more than serviceable B camera for professionals.
As slim and lightweight as you could ask for, this compact camera, with its DIGIC 7 processor, resolution-rich 20.1 MP 1 inch sensor and built-in lens (28-84 mm and f/2.0 – 4.9 Aperture), excels at capturing high quality images in low light or high ISO environments, making it perfect for darkly lit shoots or for taking nighttime holiday Instagram photos with friends and family.
If our two poles of comparison were to be a high end phone camera and a top end digital camera, the G9 X Mark II is closer to the latter.
Its superb aluminium build quality stands out in a sea of similarly priced plastic alternatives, so don’t be too worried about heaving the device up and down your hastily packed bag as you cram yourself onto a crowded bus with little room to move, because odds are it’ll be left unscathed with no real damage in sight.
Worried about having to deal with motion blur? With a vibration-free 5-axis stabilizer acting as an effective gimbal stand-in, flexible touch-screen based autofocus, excellent face tracking, and full HD 23, 30 and 60 frames per second photo and video capture, you will catch everything you want to in every frame no matter how fast the object is moving.
Sporting built-in WiFi to transfer pictures straight to your PC, Phone or upload them to social media, pre-installed scene moods that can fine-tune your settings based on your environment, and full autonomy in controlling your lens with a nifty dial at the front that you can oscillate to change aperture, ISO and shutter speed at your whim, the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II comes on top if you’re after functionality.
You won’t find an input for an external mic on the camera, but Canon’s prioritized its internal one, constructing it to be competent enough to filter out all the traffic noise you could see yourself running into. For those looking for a similar camera that has the flip up feature for selfies that the otherwise handy G9 X Mark II lacks, you could check out the pricier but almost identical G7 X Mark II.
Overall, the G9X mark II checks all the boxes you expect from a good compact digital camera. A 1-inch CMOS sensor, superb video quality with built-in image stabilization and great build quality to top it off.
Panasonic Lumix LX10
Runner-Up Compact Digital Camera Under $500
Sleek, compact and equipped with a 20.1 MP inch sensor, the Panasonic LX10 (LX9 in Japan and LX15 in some regions) on the outset comes across as indistinguishable from the G9 X Mark II, right down to its 24-72 mm built-in lens (a slight variation of the former’s 28-84 mm).
Why pick the Panasonic LX10? Well, for starters, it’s capable of shooting in 4K (UHD – 3840 x 2160 video resolution), albeit at 30 FPS. It lacks the versatility of the Mark II’s F2-4.9 aperture, but is arguably minutely better suited for low-light scenarios with its own F1.4-2.8 zoom lens. The touch screen interface also gives you a solid user interface to control everything with.
A tilting adjustable LCD that’s ideal if you like to be flexible with your shooting positions, a lightning fast 1/16000s mechanical shutter, 260 shots of battery life (compared to the 235 of the G9X Mark II), and being able to use a focus stack, focus bracket and post focus modes, all elevate the LX10 a notch above its competitors.
The spotty performance of its autofocus, a slow start-up time, shallow RAW buffer depth, an absence of NFC or Bluetooth features and a bigger and bulkier build make it a slightly inferior option compared to the G9X mkII for travel photography, but more experienced enthusiasts can definitely get over those hurdles.
Sony RX100 III
Best for travel photography
What it lacks in features, it makes up for with its small form factor. The Sony RX100 III (24-70 mm with an F1.8-2.8 Carl Zeiss Lens) is the most travel-friendly point and shoot camera on this list – its pocket-friendly design might be just what you’re looking for.
Sony’s RX line has always been the subject of praise, largely because it manages to pack in a quality 1-inch image sensor into such a tiny enclosure. RX cameras typically cost closer to 4-figures, but the RX100 III often goes on sale for under $500.
Unlike the touchscreen centric G9X Mark II and LX10, Sony smartly opted to implement an electronic viewfinder into the device for those who prefer it; this is sure to help you hold the camera firmly and steadily at all times. The RX100 III nevertheless has a beautiful OLED tilt monitor to help you frame up your subject when you shoot from particularly low or high angles.
The image quality, with its 20.1 megapixel 1.0 sensor and back-illuminated technology, coupled with a flip screen feature for vlogging that you won’t find on the G9X Mark II, is as sound as any of its competitors, particularly in well lit scenarios. The autofocus performance is solid and it nails exposure and white balance. The RX100 III can handle higher ISO noise levels a lot better than most of its pocket camera rivals.
The RX100 III falls short in its heavier-handed noise processing, and it’s noticeably higher price point, although you could just buy an older model with virtually identical features (barring WiFi interactivity) if it really speaks to you.
Panasonic Lumix FZ80
Best Bridge Camera Under $500
The fact that the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 4K Digital Camera can even be mentioned in the same breath as the other options on this list is a minor miracle, as its retail price is an absolute steal and more than worth the cash you shell out for it.
A bit of of a downgrade compared to the other cameras we’ve listed so far with its lower quality but still excellent 18.1 megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and 60x optical zoom lens and contrast-detect autofocus system, the Lumix FZ80 is a more than a serviceable option for consistent autofocus performance in decent light conditions, especially when you take advantage of its fast wide focal lengths.
The FZ80 is inferior in build quality to the G9X mark II, Lumia LX10 and RX100 III, and will struggle in low-light situations when you really make full use of its 60x superzoom lens, but you might be willing to put up with both of those shortcomings because of the camera’s staggeringly low price point.
What it does offer that the G9 X mark II and the LX10 won’t give you is the ability to capture high resolution video and photo in 4K (3840 x 2160) at 30 FPS. The FZ80 also sports ready WiFi connectivity to your mobile device, a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display, and flexible USB charging.
Nikon Coolpix B600
Runner-Up bridge camera
Want smooth transitions from a long shot to a close up or vice versa? The relatively compact Nikon Coolpix B600 with its 60x telephoto lens is certainly a viable choice.
The 60x optical zoom lens, an upgrade from the Nikon Coolpix B500’s 40x optical zoom lens, comes with an f/3.3-6.5 aperture, letting you focus all the way down to 1 cm in macro mode. You can govern your zoom control anyway you see fit, using the left side of the lens barrel to control your top zoom control and your side zoom control.
For all its advanced zoom functionality, the Nikon B600 unfortunately lacks a plethora of basic features you could find in the comparably priced Panasonic FZ80 (which also comes with a 60x optical zoom lens) including a lower battery life and a lack of 4K photo and video capture.
While you might wrongly assume that effectively makes the B600 obsolete, keep in mind the B600’s slightly lighter weight and smaller form factor, which makes it a little more comfortable to carry around.
Canon Powershot SX740 HS
Best Compact Camera With Superzoom
A bit cheaper than most of the options on our list, the PowerShot SX740 HS is Canon’s successor to the SX730 HS, boasting a new Digic 8 image processor and 4K video recording at 30 FPS alongside WiFi and NFS connectivity.
The 40x zoom lens, while not as all-encompassing and versatile as the 60x zoom lenses of the Lumix FZ80 or the Coolpix B600 offers a resourceful enough focal length equating to, in 35mm camera terms, 24-960 mm, consistently backed up by its 5-axis optical image stabilization and 20.3 megapixel sensor to keep long focal length shots sharp.
It tends to focus quickly and powers up fast in most lighting conditions. The exposure metering strikes a satisfactory balance between shadow detail and preserving highlight, but some higher contrast shots may look dull and uninspiring with a somewhat restricted overall dynamic range.
The SX740 HS is definitely more than operational, and comes at a relatively low price, but it lacks the touchscreen features of the G9X mark II and Lumix LX10, and its smaller 1/2.3-inch image sensor produces a noticeably inferior image quality to those two.
The SX740 HS is also missing the electronic viewfinders of the RX100 III, Lumix FZ80 or Coolpix B600, and can’t shoot RAW with it either. The plastic build quality gives off the vibe of a less than premium product and it falls short when you compare it to the aforementioned quality of life features of its competitors, but that shouldn’t put you off too much as the SX740 is meant to be a budget camera.
Olympus Tough TG-5
Best Waterproof Point and Shoot
The Olympus TG-5 Tough Weatherproof and Waterproof Camera is the ideal low-budget point and shoot camera for anyone dedicated to underwater shooting. More amphibious than aquatic, the Olympus TG-5 also functions just fine as an everyday compact camera.
As for the defining feature itself, the TG-5 can take dustproof and waterproof photos 15 metres (50 feet) deep, making it exemplary for professional and recreational scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming and more. The TG-5 is also somewhat cold-resistant.
While it’s 12MP sensor is hardly a showstopper, the TG-5 is a surprisingly capable camera. The lens is fast at the wide end (with a maximum aperture of f/2.0), has excellent macro performance and suffers from barely any geometric distortion. For stills, the TG-5 and its large LCD screen offer a much better shooting experience than the GoPros and other action cameras which now dominate watersports.
While the TG-5 is a great camera, there’s no running away from the fact that you’re paying a premium for its toughness and underwater capabilities. So it should really only be considered if you’re planning to use it for underwater or beach photography on a regular basis.
Point And Shoot Camera FAQ
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions from point and shoot camera buyers:
Does More Megapixels Mean Better Image Quality?
The idea that more megapixels means better photos is probably the longest-standing misconception in digital camera history.
The reality is there is far more to a camera’s output than the number of megapixels it has. Do you really think the 48MP camera on a $200 Xiaomi smartphone could outperform any of these cameras on this list?
So, What Specs Do I Need To Look Out For?
Blindly comparing specsheets to make a purchase decision is a terrible idea. You really need to be looking at photos that have been taken and reading user feedback.
However, in the point and shoot camera market you should always have the idea of sensor sizes in the back of you mind. A jump in sensor size is perhaps the only easily measured spec that makes a tremendous difference.
In this list, half the cameras sport a larger 1.0-inch type sensor, whereas the rest are smaller. Expect significantly better results from the ones using the larger sensors.
What Is A Bridge Camera?
Bridge cameras try and blend the superior ergonomics of premium DSLRs with the point-and-shoot convenience of compact digital cameras. They tend to take advantage of their large bodies by almost always offering superzoom capabilities. In this list, the Panasonic FZ80 and Nikon B600 are two such bridge cameras.
Does a Bridge Camera Produce Better Image Quality Than Travel Compacts?
A common misconception is that bridge cameras are for the camera enthusiast. They certainly look like more capable pieces of equipment, but the reality is they usually have fairly small image sensors.
In this list, the FZ80 and B600 have 1/2.3-inch sensors, which are smaller than the 1-inch sensors found on the G9X, LX10 and RX100 III. If you want the best image quality and don’t care for long, 60x zoom lenses, go with the latter.
Should I Just Buy A Mirrorless Instead?
Before mirrorless cameras took over the world of photography, point and shoots had an obvious advantage over DSLRs—size.
But compared to DSLRs, today’s mirrorless cameras are closer to compact digital cameras in size. While mirrorless cameras typically cost more than point and shoots, there are some (like the excellent $600 Lumix G85) which are highly affordable.
So should you just get a mirrorless camera instead?
In my opinion, they’re definitely worth considering. They’re fairly compact, produce better photos and have intelligent automatic modes that mean you don’t need any additional know-how.
However, point and shoot cameras still have several advantages. They’re truly compact, whereas even the smaller mirrorless cameras are significantly heavier and need to be worn around your neck or carried in a camera bag. They also require far less maintenance—No worrying about switching out lenses or putting on the lens cap.
I’m Looking For Something Cheaper!
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Check out my recommendations for compact cameras under $300.
I’m a photographer and the chief editor of Capture Guide. After spending several years in parts of South America with my trusty old Nikon D7100, I’m now back home patiently waiting for borders to re-open.