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The best compact cameras mean you no longer have to compromise on build or image quality to have a pocket-sized camera. These days, compact cameras are stiff competition for DSLRs and mirrorless systems with features such as 4K video recording, raw output and high-resolution images. Whether you’re a pro photographer looking for a camera to carry on you at all times or an enthusiast who wants an excellent all-rounder that is small and discrete, our list of the best compact cameras will help you decide which is best for you.
Despite being called a compact camera, its name actually has nothing to do with its size. Compact cameras by nature tend to be smaller than DSLR’s and top-end mirrorless cameras but actually, a compact camera is defined by having a lens that can’t be changed. Some compact cameras have a fixed prime lens while others include a zoom lens which makes them very versatile.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of lenses. Often a prime lens offers better image quality and quite often a wider aperture which is perfect for shooting in low light or getting really shallow depth of field. Zoom lenses on the other hand make it possible to shoot a wide range of subjects up close or from afar and the zoom range on some of the best compact cameras is phenomenal.
When deciding which compact camera to buy, you’ll need to think about size, design, handling and image quality. Some compact cameras are designed around vintage-style cameras such as the Fujifilm X100 series which have a retro look to them and include external adjustment dials. The Fujifilm X100V is the perfect example of a popular, retro feel compact camera and is one of the best cameras on our list.
Compensating on quality is no longer a given when purchasing a compact camera – in fact, the image quality for some prime lens compact is just as good as you’d get with top-end DSLR and mirrorless APS-C bodies. For example, the Leica Q2 Monochrom has a 47.3MP sensor and an f/1.7 lens, but it will set you back more than £4000. You might also want to think about some of the best full-frame compact cameras which will offer you even better image quality and low light performance.
Other cameras may offer a streamlined user interface that’s focused on making image-taking as quick and simple as possible. This is especially the case with zoom compacts, like Panasonic’s Lumix LX100 II. And zoom compacts don’t always have to mean a compromise in quality; the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III is a rare example of an APS-C compact camera with a zoom lens. It’s not far away from a pocket-sized DSLR.
We’ve put together a list of the best compact cameras that will suit a wide range of budgets from entry-level bits of kit to specialist compact cameras such as the Leica Q2 Monochrom.
The best compact cameras in 2021
Best zoom lens compacts
The Canon G1 X Mark III might be pretty pricey but it’s practically a DSLR in a compact body. It boasts an impressive 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, the same sensor you’ll find in the Canon EOS 80D. It has a versatile 24 – 72mm focal range that retracts into the camera to make it perfectly pocket-sized when you’re not using it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a fixed aperture but we can forgive that considering the size. At 24mm you can shoot as wide open as f/2.8 but at 72mm the aperture will drop down to f/5.6. It’s capable of recording full HD video, can shoot at 7fps in continuous burst mode and has wifi connectivity for transferring images on the go. It might sit at the top price end of compact cameras but it’s in a class of its own for a premium compact camera with a zoom.
The trouble with big sensors is that you need big lenses to go with them, so there goes any kind of pocketability. Usually. But Panasonic has really hit the sweet spot with the Panasonic LX100 II. It combines a Micro Four Thirds sensor that’s not much smaller than the ASP-C sensors in mode DSLRs, with a miniaturised lens assembly that powers down into a camera body slim enough to carry around anywhere. The LX100 II is a brand new version of the original LX100, which was, admittedly, starting to show its age. The new model has a 17-megapixel ‘multi-aspect’ sensor, which means you can use its native 4:3 aspect ratio, the 3:2 ratio used by most DSLRs and mirrorless models, or a 16:9 ‘wide’ format without losing lots of megapixels through cropping. With an external shutter speed dial, lens aperture ring and aspect ratio switch, the LX100 II is a dream compact camera for enthusiasts and experts.
One of the biggest limitations with the first two cameras on our list is the zoom range. While a 24 – 72/75mm focal length is still pretty good, you’ll still struggle to shoot anything that far away. The GFX Mark II comes with a zoom range that covers 24 – 120mm and has a variable aperture of f/1.8 – f/2.8 which means after at the telephoto lens you can still achieve a shallow depth of field. It does have a smaller, 1-inch 20MP sensor but that can be expected with the longer zoom range. It also features 4K video, a super-fast burst mode of 30fps, a slightly bigger body and a tilting, LCD touchscreen. It has a pop-up viewfinder should you choose not to shoot in live mode and also has a pop-up flash just in case you need some extra light. If you can live without a bigger sensor and would prefer a camera with a quick burst mode, this could be perfect but if you want something with a bigger sensor, read on.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII is mad on any number of levels. The plus points include its impressive 24-200mm zoom range in such a small camera, its pop-up electronic viewfinder in a camera that looks too small to have one, and its good-sized 1-inch 20.1MP sensor. It can also shoot 4K video, which is good, but then it all starts to get quite strange. This camera has a super-high-tech 357-point phase-detection autofocus system, a 20fps continuous shooting speed (up to 90fps in Single Burst mode), and 0.02sec AF response with Real-Time AF tracking. It also has Sony’s S-Log2 and S-Log3 video modes for high-end video recording and color grading – all in a pocket-sized camera. All this power is great, and deeply impressive, but it pushes up the price considerable and to some (well, us) might seem out of place on a camera like this. Nevertheless, if you’ve got the cash, this camera does things that few other compact cameras can.
The Panasonic LX15, which goes by the name LX10 in North America, lacks a viewfinder and rather than including a Micro Four Thirds sensor it has a smaller 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor. However, it is capable of recording 4K video and it has a super-responsive touch screen which makes focusing really easy. It has a zoom range of 24 – 72mm and a variable aperture of f/1.4 – f/2.0 making it one of the fastest, compact zoom lenses available. Overall, it’s a great little camera that has a perfect balance of features, performance and pricing. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket but is powerful enough to take some stunning photos.
Aimed at vloggers, the Sony ZV-1 might just look like another variant from the RX100 range but in reality, it’s so much more. If you’ve used one of the RX100’s, the sensor and lens will probably be quite familiar. Where this camera excels is the controls, rear screen and the body. It too has the poplar zoom range of 24-70mm with a variable aperture of f/1.8 – f/2.8 however, there is a big change in minimum focusing distance as you zoom which is annoying especially if you’re using it to record video. The SteadyShot active stabilization wasn’t the best however the autofocus is very impressive. It has a vari-angle, rear tilting screen that means it’s perfect for recording yourself or taking selfies and it comes with a mic-wind shield which means its audio quality even with the built-in mic is still pretty good. It doesn’t have the same quality viewfinder as the RX100 VII or the longer zoom range, but it produced high-quality images, even better at video and best of all, it’ll cost you less.
Until the arrival of the Sony ZV-1 (see above), the PowerShot G7 X Mark III was our top choice for vloggers. While it might be now overshadowed by the newer ZV-1, there’s still a lot to like about the G7 X Mark III. Popular with YouTubers, this compact camera can shoot uncropped 4K video using the full width of its 1-inch sensor, and has a 3.5mm mic port to allow you to plug in an external microphone for superior sound quality (though the lack of a hotshoe means you have to think a little more about the best way to set it up). The G7 X Mark III is also capable of livestreaming footage to your platform of choice – whether that’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitch or whatever else – expanding your options as a vlogger. The lack of a viewfinder may be a deal-breaker if you’re planning to shoot stills as well, but as a capable, portable video solution, the G7 X Mark III is outstanding.
Best prime lens compacts
We were expecting Fujifilm to put its latest 26.1-megapixel sensor into the new X100V, but the company has done a lot more besides. The X100V has a new, sharper lens than previous X100 models, in order to do full justice to the latest sensor, and the tilting touchscreen on the back makes this camera much easier to use at awkward angles, without compromising its slimline design. The improved autofocus and 4K video capabilities bring this classic camera design right up to date. The X100V has external lens aperture, shutter speed and ISO dials which, for those raised on film cameras, are just wonderful to use – and it’s amazing how they encourage all the key exposure skills photographers still need but which are easily forgotten about with ‘P’ modes and digital interfaces. It also has a clever hybrid optical/digital viewfinder which is not just super bright and clear but lag-free too.
Leica cameras are a bit like Marmite – you either love them or hate them. No matter which side you stand on, you can’t deny they are incredible cameras that offer exceptional image quality. The Leica Q2 features an impressive full-frame 47-megapixel sensor, it has a fixed 28mm lens at f/1.7 making it the fastest prime lens available on a compact camera. It doesn’t shoot in 4K but if you can cope with full HD it can still record good quality video. The biggest downside of this camera is the thing that will put most people off – the price. It’s an insanely expensive bit of kit and it would probably be higher on our list if it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. You could pick up one of the best mirrorless cameras and a lens for less, but sometimes the experience of using a Leica is worth the money. Other than the price, they’re relatively hard to get hold of so if you have your heart set on one, you might have to hunt for one first.
The Ricoh GR has a long history, both as a premium-quality compact 35mm film camera and now as a digital model. However, its specs and its performance are now looking a little behind the curve compared to its latest rivals. GR fans, or GRists as Ricoh call them, will love this update of an iconic camera. But in the world of multi-lens camera phones the wider appeal of this fixed lens compact will probably be limited. This is a beautiful-sized APS-C compact, ideal for carrying around in the pocket, and for discrete street photography. But this is sold at a luxury price that we do think is no longer justified by the the build quality or the feature set.