After 42 hours of research and testing over the past few years, we’ve found that the Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS is the best cheap point-and-shoot camera. It produces crisper, clearer photos than even some more expensive models, while fitting better into tight jeans pockets. But before you buy one, you should ask yourself whether you really need this camera or if you could just use your smartphone instead.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS is an able companion for most shooting situations. Thanks to its simple, straightforward design, you can take good photos without having to fiddle with manual controls, which makes this model great for outings with friends or kids’ birthday parties. It’s small enough to go everywhere with you, slipping into a bag or your pants pocket, but the buttons are still big enough for adult fingers. You can record Full HD video clips that’ll look great on your computer screen or TV, and the 12x zoom lets you get close to the action without putting yourself in harm’s way. Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC make moving your photos to your phone, tablet, or computer easy. The older Canon PowerShot ELPH 350 HS is identical in features and performance, and at this writing is still available from some sellers, so buy whichever model is cheaper.
The best cheap compact camera
Canon PowerShot ELPH 360 HS
Greater zoom and battery life, but more expensive
Canon PowerShot SX620 HS
Why you should trust me
To find the best cheap compact camera, I combed through manufacturer spec sheets, read numerous reviews from authoritative sources, and took our test subjects to places as far-flung as Vietnam and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for hands-on shooting.
Additionally, I’ve been writing about cameras and the camera industry since 2006 for sites such as Digital Camera HQ, Reviewed.com, and Pentax Forums. I’ve spent time with virtually every DSLR, mirrorless camera, and point-and-shoot that has come out in the past decade, so I know each manufacturer’s lineup inside and out—and more important, I know which features are essential in real-world situations. I’m also an avid photographer in my own right, and from time to time, people have even paid me to take pictures.
Can’t you just use your smartphone?
The cheap compact camera is on life support, facing an existential threat from ubiquitous smartphone cameras. In response, camera manufacturers have pruned their lineups to a startling degree. In years past we would see dozens of new models launched every year. Today, only a handful of models are available, and the pool of choices is shrinking fast.
It’s not hard to see why: Today’s best smartphones take better photos, particularly in low light, than what you can get from these point-and-shoots. From a technical perspective, the only advantages cheap compact cameras really offer are optical zoom and image stabilization (though more smartphones are offering the latter, and getting close to the former with dual-lens shooting). If you’re already an avid smartphone shooter and you haven’t found yourself routinely wishing for those capabilities, you probably don’t need a stand-alone camera—or at least not one this pared-down.
But a cheap dedicated camera can still make sense. For some people, the simple, button-driven interface of a camera like our top pick may be less confusing than the modern touch interface of a smartphone. And while the battery capacity of cheap compacts is necessarily limited by their svelte design, they’ll still last longer during a day of shooting than a smartphone that’s also in use for navigation, texting, and video chat. When you’re away from your charger for an extended period, that can be a big deal. The low price of beginner-level compact models also means that if your camera is lost or damaged, it’s a lot less painful to fix or replace, making them a great choice for kids and tweens.