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The best full-frame compact cameras in 2021: a short list, but a great one!

best full-frame compact cameras
(Image credit: Leica)

The best full-frame compact cameras are for those time when an APS-C sensor just won't cut it. Marrying unbeatable image quality with the convenience of a compact, these cameras really do provide the best of both worlds – though it is not a combo that comes cheap.

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If you're looking for an affordable compact camera, we're going to stop you right here and suggest you check out our list of the best APS-C compact cameras. These cameras are so specialised and premium that for most people, owning one will only be a dream. Most manufacturers don't even bother making full-frame compact cameras, and there are only three on our list: Leica, Sony and Zeiss, and the Zeiss camera is only available in the US. None of the models here have made our run-down of the cheapest full-frame cameras, that's for sure.

Currently, Sony's RX1R II is the cheapest option, but it'll still set you back around $3000/£3000. other options include Leica's sublime Q2 or the impressive Leica Q2 Monochrom, though both of these are both costly and limited editions, so even all the riches in the world may not be enough to get your hands on one. You might have better luck hunting down the now-discontinued Leica Q Typ 116, especially in the second-hand market. And lastly there is the strange new beast that is the Zeiss ZX1, which has Adobe Lightroom software built into it.

These exclusive cameras are not only pricey, but hefty too; they're very much "compact" in name only. But if only the best compact camera will do, one of these pocket powerhouses is for you.

Best full-frame compact cameras

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1. Leica Q2

The absolute best compact camera that money can buy (and you'll need a lot of it!)

Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 47MP | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Leica build quality and handling
Superb Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens
Full frame 47MP sensor
Price!
Fixed LCD panel
No pop-up flash

The original Q's full-frame sensor was capable of gorgeous image quality, but its 24.2MP resolution was starting to look somewhat pedestrian. The Q2 rectifies this as its full-frame sensor now boasts a huge 47.3MP resolution. This not only beats the Sony RX1R II, it's enough to outdo most DSLRs and mirrorless system cameras.

Another neat addition to the Q2 is it’s now dust and weather protected, with an IP52 rating. There’s a new minimum ISO 50 sensitivity, while max ISO remains a respectable 50,000. The top mechanical burst mode is still 10fps, but there’s now an electronic shutter option that delivers a blistering 20fps.

Autofocus is claimed to be as fast as 0.15 seconds and we found it to be rapid and responsive in real-world use. The manual focus ring on the optically stabilised 28mm f/1.7 lens is joined by a mechanical aperture ring as well as a macro ring, which when engaged allows you to focus from 0.17m to 0.3m. The lens is one of the fastest on a compact camera, which combined with the large sensor makes it easy to get shallow depth of field effects and attractive bokeh blur.

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Best full-frame compacts: Lecia Q2 Monochrom

(Image credit: Leica)
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Best full-frame compacts: Lecia Q2 Monochrom

(Image credit: Leica)
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Best full-frame compacts: Lecia Q2 Monochrom

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Best full-frame compacts: Lecia Q2 Monochrom

(Image credit: Leica)

2. Leica Q2 Monochrom

For true purists, this is the Leica Q2 without the color filter!

Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 47.3MP | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Sublime monochrome images
Exceptional low-light performance
Handles like a dream
Fixed LCD

A huge part of making great photographs can be embracing limitations. As the saying goes, "art through adversity". Leica is determined to turn this theory into praxis with its ever-running pursuit of the "pure" photographic experience, and as such the firm has introduced the Leica Q2 Monochrom. It's basically the exact same camera as the Leica Q2, except with one crucial difference. Can you guess what it is? We bet you can.

That's right: the Leica Q2 Monochrom has no color filter array, and so is categorically incapable of capturing images in color. Black and white is all you get, and we'll be honest, shooting with this thing is a joy. It's a streamlined experience that gets you thinking about light and shade, while the combination of an f/1.7 lens and impressive high-ISO performance means the camera performs like a dream in low light.

It's obviously not cheap; it's a Leica. You could argue that a four-figure price tag is a bit much for a camera that shoots exclusively in monochrome, but if you're going to argue that, you were never the target audience for this camera anyway. For those who have the resources and inclination to buy a Leica Q2 Monochrom, you absolutely will not be disappointed. 

Read more: Leica Q2 Monochrom review

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3. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II

Superb image quality from a camera that maximizes detail

Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 42.4MP | Lens: 35mm, f/2 | LCD: 3in tiltable LCD, 1.228 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Terrific image quality
Top-notch AF performance
Premium build
Short battery life
Screen isn’t touch-sensitive
Hefty price tag

Even this second-generation RX1R is now over three years old, but its 42.4MP resolution is still impressive today. The sensor boasts the world’s first variable optical low-pass filter that can switch the effects of an OLPF on or off depending on the subject you’re shooting, maximizing detail without increasing the risk of moiré patterning. The sensor is paired with a 35mm fixed focal length Zeiss Sonnar T* lens with an f/2 max aperture.

It all comes together to produce stunning image quality with amazing detail. Real-world shots taken throughout the sensitivity range look fantastic at standard printing sizes, and also hold up well to scrutiny at 100%. Colors are beautifully saturated, too.

All this does take its toll on battery life though - a second battery is a must. Other annoyances are a lack of optical image stabilization, and the 3-inch, 1,228k-dot screen isn't touch-sensitive. You do however get an electronic viewfinder which retracts into the camera body, and there’s a hybrid autofocusing system with 399 phase-detection autofocus points and 25 contract detect points, boosting focusing speeds by 30% compared to the original RX1R.

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Best full-frame compact camera

best full-frame compact camera - Leica Q (Image credit: Leica)

4. Leica Q (Typ 116)

The original Q can still be found on sale

Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 24MP | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | LCD: 3in fixed touchscreen, 1.04 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Max video resolution: Full HD | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Leica build quality and handling
Superb Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens
Less expensive than the newer Q2
Half the resolution of the Q2

Before the Leica Q2 launched in 2019, the original Leica Q was one of our favorite compact cameras of all time. Its superb engineering and simple controls are hard not to fall in love with... and its fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens were perfect for old-school travel, documentary and street photography. The key thing that makes this an inferior model to the newer Q2 is the resolution... this only has a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, although this of course is still capable of taking superb images. Video similarly, offers a lower high-definition output – maxing out at 1080P. The Leica Q (Typ 116) had technically been discontinued – but can still be found in some stores, at prices that may make you consider this older, but still beautiful, camera.

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Best full-frame compacts: Zeiss ZX1

(Image credit: Zeiss)
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Best full-frame compacts: Zeiss ZX1

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5. Zeiss ZX1

An unusual compact with Adobe Lightroom built-in – and limited availability

Type: Compact | Sensor size: Full frame | Megapixels: 37.4MP | Lens: 35mm, f/2 | LCD: 4.34in fixed touchscreen, 2.76 million dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 3fps | Max video resolution: UHD 4K | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

Excellent Zeiss lens
Lightroom built in!
Available in US/Germany only
... and VERY expensive

It's been a long road waiting for the Zeiss ZX1 since it was first teased at Photokina 2018. But now it's here! And it's... well, interesting. It's a full-frame compact camera with a number of unusual features, not least of which is the fact that it has an Adobe Lightroom Mobile app built in, for on-the-go in-camera editing. Zeiss partnered up with Adobe to ensure that the app would run smoothly on the camera's high-quality LCD screen.

The camera itself is built on pretty solid fundamentals, using a 37.4MP sensor paired with a Distagon T* 35mm f/2 lens with leaf shutter, one that's been designed specifically for this system. This all sounds reasonable enough, but the big thing to consider is that the camera comes with an eye-watering RRP of $6,000. That is, by anyone's standards, a big chunk of change, even more than the asking price of the Leica Q2. And when you consider the fact that the camera's USP of built-in Lightroom Mobile can be pretty accurately replicated with a smartphone and a Bluetooth connection, you have to ask, is it worth the money?

Well, unless you're in the US or Germany, you won't have the opportunity to find out, as the Zeiss ZX1 is restricted for sale in these territories for the time being. 

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