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.
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 specialized 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 over $3000, if you can find it in stock. Other options include Leica's sublime Q3 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. And lastly there is the strange 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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The Leica Q3 is one hell of a camera. The images from the 60MP sensor are stunning, and the digital crop function makes the 28mm fixed lens so much more fun to play around with. Leica processing on its images shines through, shot after shot were keepers. Autofocus is great, quick, and snappy for zone focusing, with good human and eye detection.
However, animal detection on the other hand is a bit of a mess, with it correctly identifying more inanimate objects than anything else. And while 8K video is good, although with a few autofocus issues, and image stabilization is a still little shaky handheld. That being said, the Leica Q3 might well be the best walking-around camera you can buy today, it's just a shame the price is out of reach for many.
Read our full Leica Q3 review.
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.
The Leica Q2 is one of our favorite compact cameras... so it is no surprise that we also love the Leica Q2 Reporter. Yes, it is expensive – but if you want the absolute best in luxury cameras, without the camera shouting that it is a luxury camera, this is it. It is equally at home as a fully manual street camera, or as an automatic luxury point-and-shoot that produces stunning 47 megapixel images! If you have the money, want a camera that can blend into any surroundings and you’re looking for something compact with exceptional image quality, 4K cine video if needed, all in one body, but are willing to give up a tilting screen, buy the Leica Q2 Reporter – you won’t regret it
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
Even this second-generation RX1R is now over seven 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.
This camera is now discontinued, but can still be found on sale in some places.
How we test cameras
We test cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use both real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides.