We've just tested the Fujifilm X100V, a compact camera with a price that would make some shoppers wince. It belongs with other compacts such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII and the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which aspire to match the quality of good DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
Compact cameras don't tend to be this expensive and high-end. We've revealed Best Buys as low as £370, and tested only two other compacts priced at more than £1,000. Buyers looking for professional-grade quality will usually go for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, while compact cameras are preferred where there's greater risk of loss or damage, or where portability is paramount.
But the X100V tells us there is an appetite for premium models. Some photographers are adding them to their arsenal alongside their primary cameras, and some buyers are using them exclusively.
Although you will often see compact cameras with high megapixel ratings, what really matters is the size of the sensor. A larger sensor can let in more light, and this is the tool all cameras use to take crystal-clear, detailed, colour-balanced snaps. The largest sensor available for consumers is the Full-Frame sensor, but Micro Four-Thirds and APS-C sensors are also popular in DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
We've just tested the Fujifilm X-T4 which is a premium camera using an APS-C sensor. Sometimes we observe that smaller sensors have benefits such as quicker autofocus, so it's always worth looking beyond just the sensor, and into performance.
Compact cameras tend to use sizes such as a 1-inch sensor, a 2/3-inch sensor, or even smaller. Phone cameras also have small sensors such as the iPhone 11 which has a 1/2.55-inch sensor.
However, we're starting to see compact cameras with sensors common in DSLR and mirrorless cameras, like the X100V which has an APS-C sensor. So at the premium end of the market, compact cameras are bridging this gap. But inevitably, big sensors come with big prices.
The main benefit of these cameras is the option to swap their interchangeable lenses. You can use specialty lenses such as zoom and macro lenses, or you can buy different focal lengths, like 21-35mm wide angle lens, or a 70+mm telephoto lens for bringing subjects closer to the view. This is necessary to have the kind of versatility and control over your shots a professional or hobbyist photographer needs. With a compact camera, you are stuck with one fixed lens.
We have come to expect better performance from these more powerful models. For example, our best compact camera has a shutter delay of 0.4 seconds, while our best mirrorless camera has a shutter delay of 0.08 seconds. Other features such as large ISO ranges, better face detection and more autofocus (AF) points are expected with high-end DSLR/mirrorless cameras.
Once you start scaling down the price, mid-range and cheap DSLR/mirrorless cameras retain many features and perform well. Mid-range and cheap compact cameras start to shed features, sometimes even losing their viewfinder and running rudimentary autofocus technology with only a few areas of detection, which is more prone to failure and a lot slower.
Because DSLR/mirrorless cameras have so many peripherals and lenses you can buy, they tend to have longer life cycles and good resale value.
A premium compact camera isn't just a secondary part of a photographer's arsenal in some cases. There are benefits to compact cameras which help these luxury models stand up as rivals to high-end DSLR/mirrorless models.
Their portability makes them good for travelling. The rise of mirrorless cameras is proof that photographers want light models, but the compact camera is still unbeatable in this department. If you want amazing photos but wouldn't consider hauling around multiple lenses, there's no disadvantage to owning a fixed-lens camera.
Compact cameras also come with built-in flash. While the new X100V can illuminate pitch-black scenes with its flash, the new X-T4 requires you to buy a flash as an add-on and then attach it to the camera. This is more money and more hassle.
Their ease of use is also undeniably strong. Even if they have expensive technology, they maintain the point-and-shoot philosophy that makes them accessible, streamlined, and effective in automatic mode. A well-designed compact camera doesn't require a steep learning curve to use.
Although we were surprised at the £1,300 price the X100V commands, there is room in the market for compact cameras that use high-end technology. Although they innately have less versatility than DSLR/mirrorless cameras, they are more portable, and we're increasingly seeing that you can fit high quality into smaller sizes.
As smartphones constantly improve and continue to eat into the cameras market, it will be interesting to see if premium compact cameras such as the X100V can endure by outpacing them in quality, and so guarantee a future for fixed-lens cameras.