The best compact cameras are no longer cheap and poor-quality – these days they can stand toe to toe with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in terms of quality of images, while also being more convenient to pick up and use. Whether you're an enthusiast looking for a do-everything camera, or a seasoned photographer who wants a capable second camera to carry in their pocket, the best compact cameras can be a fantastic investment.
So what defines a compact camera? It actually has nothing to do with size – while compact cameras tend to be smaller than DSLRs and professional mirrorless cameras, they don't have to be. A compact camera is defined as one with a lens that's fixed in place, and can't be changed. This may be a prime lens – one with a fixed focal length – or a zoom lens that covers a range of focal lengths.
While a zoom is better for shooting versatility, a prime lens offers significantly better image quality, and the potential for wider maximum apertures. Prime-lens compacts also tend to have larger sensors, which is again better for quality, but does bump up the price. We've divided our guide up into zoom and prime compacts; you can click the headings on the left to jump straight to the section of your choice.
When picking a compact camera, it's worth thinking about size, design and handling as well as image quality. If you prefer dial-based controls or a retro look, you may want to consider a camera that is built as such. This trend was very much kicked off by Fujifilm with its X100 series, now on its fifth iteration. Indeed, the X100V is the one of the best cameras on our list, and remains enduringly popular with photographers.
The quality in prime-lens compacts can get seriously high; for instance, the Leica Q2 Monochrom makes our list, and is an absolutely staggering camera (with a price to match). If you are looking for something at the top end of compact cameras, you might want to consider our guide to the best full-frame compact cameras, where we rank the best of the best.
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.
But enough preamble, let's get to the cameras...
The best compact cameras in 2021
Best zoom lens compacts
Canon really has done an amazing job with the G1 X Mark III. Yes, it is pretty pricey for a compact camera, but it houses pretty much the same 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in its slimline body as you'll find in Canon's EOS 80D DSLR and its EOS M mirrorless cameras. This is matched up to a zoom lens that's even more amazing, because it covers a 24-72 equivalent focal range and can still retract into the camera body when you're not taking pictures. It's true that the maximum aperture does drop off considerably as you zoom in, from f/2.8 right down to f/5.6, but you get this with compact DSLR and mirrorless kit lenses anyway. The G1 X Mark III might look pretty pricey, but it's actually not that dear compared to other APS-C compact cameras, and right now it's pretty much in a class of its own for a premium compact camera with 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.
The Canon G1 X Mark III is a great camera, but it has some limitations, notably its 3x zoom with its relatively modest maximum aperture and no 4K video. The G5 X Mark II offers a much broader range of specs, and it's also a little cheaper. You do have to accept a smaller sensor – a still-decent 1-inch 20MP sensor rather than the 24MP APS-C sensor in the G1 X Mark II, but the payback is a longer 5x zoom with a much faster f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture, 4K video, a super-fast burst mode and a body genuinely small enough to slip into a trouser pocket. If you really want a bigger sensor, keep reading, but the G5 X Mark II does give you a very rounded set of specs for a pocket camera. It's a little more expensive than the Lumix LX100 II, though, and has a smaller 1-inch sensor.
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, doesn't have a viewfinder, and it also has a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor rather than the larger Micro Four Thirds sensor in the Lumix LX100 II, so that's two reasons why it's a little further down our list. The smaller sensor and lack of a built-in EVF might put some people off, and the smooth finish to the body doesn't make for the firmest handgrip, but the responsive touchscreen is terrific, the dual control rings provide a very pleasing user experience, and the 24-72mm has one of the fastest zoom lenses around, courtesy of its f/1.4 to f/2.8 aperture range. Overall, this neat little snapper has the near-perfect balance of features, performance and pricing. It's small enough for your pocket but powerful enough for some serious photography.
Some might dismiss the ZV-1 as yet another Sony RX100 variant, but it’s much more than that. The sensor and lens might be familiar, but the body, the controls, the audio and the rear screen are all new and different and optimised brilliantly for vlogging. There are a couple of niggles. The huge change in the minimum focus distance when you zoom in is annoying and the SteadyShot Active stabilisation didn’t work too well for us, but the autofocus is exceptional and the ZV-1 is a joy to use, not least because here at last is a vlogging camera that really is designed specifically for vlogging, right down to that fully vari-angle rear screen and the supplied mic wind shield, which really does work brilliantly. It doesn't have the viewfinder of the RX100 VII, above, or the longer zoom range, but the quality of its still images is just as good, it's even better at video and it's a lot cheaper.
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 tend to divide opinions quite strongly. They are fearsomely expensive, built to traditional designs and standards that many consider dated or irrelevant, and rarely match modern rivals for features and technologies. But there's more to cameras than numbers on a spreadsheet, and everything about the Leica Q2 is superb, from its full frame image quality with its new 47 megapixel sensor, through to its Leica-made Summilux lens and its stripped, down minimalist design. Using a Leica isn't just about the images, it's about the experience too – so you just need to decide if the experience is worth all this money. Even if the price doesn't bother you, though, there is another hurdle – finding a retailer that has one in stock. Good luck!
The Fujifilm XF10 is less than half the price of the Fujifilm X100V above, but it's definitely more than half the camera. You don't get Fujifilm's fancy hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder here, so all your shots have to be composed on the fixed rear screen, and you don't get the bigger camera's traditional exposure controls. But you do get a top-quality 24.2-megapixel sensor, a very good 28mm f/2.8 fixed focal length lens and a very attractively-designed little camera. In fact, this camera is so slim you can easily slide it into a jacket pocket and it's this, as well as the relatively low price, that makes it so appealing for quality conscious photographers who don't want to speed a lot of money.
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.
Like the look of the Q2 further up the page, but want something a little more niche (and expensive)? As the name suggests, the Leica Q2 Monochrom is the black and white variant of the Q2. Leica has swapped out the 47.3-megapixel full-frame sensor used in the Q2 and has replaced it with a newly developed 47.3-megapixel monochrome sensor. Compared 50-50,000 ISO range on the standard Q2, the Q2 Monochrom's sensitivity range runs from ISO100 to 100,000, while dynamic range drops 13 stops compared to 14 stops on the Q2. Sticking to the mono theme and while the design is identical to the Q2, Leica’s removed any trace of colour on the body. And yes, there is a difference compared to a converted mono file from the standard Q2. If black and white is your thing, the images that the Q2 Monochrom can produce are gorgeous.
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