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The best full-frame compact cameras in 2021: but don't expect a long list!

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

What do you do when even the best APS-C compact camera doesn't pack a large enough sensor? You go full-frame, of course! Full-frame compact cameras offer the ultimate combination of unbeatable image quality wrapped up in a camera small enough to carry in a jacket pocket.

It all sounds too good to be true, and sadly for most of us, it probably is. Few people demand such specialized compact cameras, so just two manufacturers make full-frame compacts: Sony, and Leica. These are luxury models - so don't make our rundown of the cheapest full-frame cameras.

While Sony's RX1R II is the cheapest option, it'll still set you back around $3000/£3000. Your other current option is Leica's sublime Q2, but even a fistful of platinum credit cards may not be enough to get your hands on one, as Leica only produces the Q2 in limited numbers. Alternatively, you can still get the now discontinued Leica Q Typ 116 if you want a slightly more affordable version of the Q2. Or, if you want something completely different, there is now the Leica Q2 Monochrom that restricts you to shooting black and white images.

These exclusive cameras may also stretch your definition of 'compact', with the Leica's 130 x 80 x 92mm dimensions being similar to some smaller mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

But if only the best compact camera will do, one of these pocket powerhouses is for you.

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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
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.

• Also consider the Leica Q2 Monochrom which is a special edition of the Leica Q2 that only shoots black and white image.s

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2. Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II

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, maximising 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%. Colours 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)

3. 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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