Best Compact Camera for Professional & Enthusiast Digital Photography
Even as a professional photographer, I’m always on the lookout for the best compact camera to take photos each day.
I simply love the convenience of having a camera in my pocket, ready to capture a high quality image – maybe you’re the same?
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Compact Cameras
Like everyone else, I still take the odd snap-shot on my iPhone, but this is usually just for ‘throwaway’ images or things I want to quickly share on social media.
Despite the advances of smartphone cameras in recent years, a handful of compact cameras still have a definite edge on them when it comes to taking photos.
Whether that’s the ability to shoot in RAW, longer zooms, faster operation, better low-light capabilities, or simply better ergonomics, there’s still lots of good reasons to invest in a state of the art compact digital camera here in 2021.
Best Compact Cameras in 2021
|Fujifilm X100V||View Price →|
|Sony RX100 VII||View Price →|
|Sony RX1R II||View Price →|
|Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II||View Price →|
|Ricoh GRIII||View Price →|
|Leica Q2||View Price →|
Whether you’re going on holiday and need something smaller and lighter to document your memories, or simply want something you can throw in your jacket pocket on a day out, this is the buying guide for you.
So what are the best compact cameras in 2021?
Top 6 Compact Cameras in 2021
1. Fujifilm X100V | All Round Best Compact Digital Camera
Sensor Size: 23.5mm×15.6mm (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS 4
Dimensions: (W) 128.0mm × (H) 74.8mm × (D) 53.3mm /(W) 5.04in × (H) 2.94in × (D) 2.10in
Weight: 478g / 16.9oz
- Awesome hybrid optical + electronic viewfinder
- Sharp, fast lens
- X-Trans IV sensor
- Highly customizable
- In-lens ND filter
- Great tilting touchscreen
- Compact, beautiful design
- 17 film simulations
- Poor grip
- No dual card slot
- Limited weather sealing
This small digital camera is the one that started my craze for fixed lens compacts… and I’m guessing that’s true for a lot of photographers out there.
As with past iterations of the X100 series, the X100V fixed 23mm f/2 makes an excellent travel lens, and thanks to a broad range of improvements, its capabilities put it up there with the Fuji flagship models.
In a market saturated with mediocre travel cameras, the Fujifilm X100V truly stands out.
For those of you who still haven’t heard about this remarkable X-Series camera, let’s have a closer look at why it’s my pick of the best compact camera in 2021.
Image quality should be top of the list when researching cameras. If the final image doesn’t look notably better than a photo shot with your smartphone, there’s little point wasting your money on a dedicated camera.
Thankfully the images out of the Fujifilm X100V are nothing short of incredible, regardless of if you are shooting RAW or JPEG.
The X100V is the most aesthetically beautiful camera I’ve ever used – it pains me to say it, but if you can’t afford a Leica and want something just as beautiful, get one of these…
I’ve shot many different cameras over my years as a photographer, but the ones that really resonate with me are the ones that produce images with a certain something else – that ‘X’ factor (pun not intended!)
With the Fujifilm X100V, a combination of Fujifilm’s legendary imaging know-how, the unique and new f/2 23mm version 2 (35mm equivalent) lens, and the latest 26.1MP X-Trans sensor delivers rich, contrasty images with excellent skin-tones.
White balance on the Fujifilm X100V is actually even better than the $2,000+ pro DSLRs I used to use to shoot weddings.
When shot wide open at f/2, bokeh is beautiful, with subject separation normally only reserved for cameras with much larger sensors (and lenses) – the sensor in this camera is APS-C, but you’d be forgiven for assuming you’re shooting full frame – the image quality really is that impressive.
Image quality straight-out-of-camera on the X100V is actually so good that it’s one of the few cameras I’m comfortable to shoot JPEG-only.
Thanks to the 17 Fuji film simulations, as well as new colour chrome and colour chrome blue effects, you can create punchy, contrasty images that look like they’ve been taken on your favourite Fujifilm film stock with a 35mm film camera.
The film simulations are all way better than any other small camera systems on the market. Fujifilm’s film stock know-how has clearly come into play here, with film simulation that’s simply unrivalled… and a whole lot of fun.
If you’re tired of having to edit countless RAW images in front of your computer, the X100V is like a breath of fresh air – simply shoot regular JPEGs or choose one of the film simulations… and you’re done!
As an additional time-saving workflow hack, you can mark your favourite images during playback, and have them automatically transfer, wirelessly, when you next pair your smartphone or tablet – all via the free Fujifilm app.
Then you can share the images to social media from there, or add them to Lightroom CC to have them synced and backed up to your online catalog!
As for shooting RAW, it’s nice to know that the RAWs contain enough data to push/pull every spare pixel and really get the most out of the dynamic range.
It’s important that any camera is ‘fun to use’, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Fujifilm X100V.
Aside from its gorgeous retro design which begs to be picked up, the manual dials and minimal layout encourage fast muscle-memory – you quickly develop a kinship with this camera.
Further to this, it drives a love of photography and being able to control every aspect of your photographic experience. The hybrid optical + electronic viewfinder really is unique, and a whole lot of fun to use.
Being able to adjust the aperture using the lens ring is also a unique feature that will appeal especially to fans of rangefinders.
The tactile, silky smooth click-click of every knob, dial and button on the Fujifilm X100V add to the whole experience too – I love customising the rear dial to exposure compensation and leaving the rest to the camera (with auto ISO, auto WB and aperture priority taking care of it all).
The Fujifilm X100V, however, now delivers exceptionally fast autofocus performance combined with the coveted, flagship-standard eye and face detect feature.
The improvement in this area has been dramatic and makes shooting my fast-moving kids as easy as cake.
Another nice update is the LCD tilting touch screen, which allows you to compose low angle shots without bending down, and take over-head shots with ease.
The tilting touchscreen implementation is excellent and much better than any Sony cyber-shot camera that exists. You can flick through photos during playback, pinch/double-tap to zoom, and even focus and shoot using any of the AF modes.
Using face/eye-detect, there’s really no need to use the new joystick AF point selector at all – you simply point the camera at your scene, and let it recognise any people, or just tap on the screen wherever you want it to focus and/or shoot.
A small peeve for me is the grip, or lack of it – despite having a textured facade, the Fujifilm X100V can feel rather slippy…
I would have loved it if Fujifilm had taken a leaf out of Leica’s book with their rubberised fronts – the look would remain the same, but the camera would be much easier to grip one-handed.
Of course, to amp up the retro style and look you can pair it with the Fujifilm half leather case that provides a significant amount of extra grip – see my article on the best accessories for Fuji cameras.
A key change in this model is the movie performance as it now supports 4k video at 30p. While this will never be a video camera, it does have a surprisingly good output which is more than enough for capturing your holidays.
In fact, it now shoots 4k video in both DCI (4,096 x 2,160) and Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) resolutions at 24 or 30fps, with a bit rate of 200 megabits per second. It can even output 10-bit 4:2:2 video over HDMI into an external recorder!
All in all, though, the X100V is an amazing little camera that deserves every photographer’s serious consideration.
All you need to do is decide between silver/black and all-black… and that’s a pretty hard decision since both options are gorgeous!
2. Sony RX100 VII | Highly Recommended
Sensor Size: 1 inch (13.2mm x 8.8mm)
Dimensions: 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.7 in. (102 x 58 x 43 mm)
Weight: 10.7 oz (302 g)
- Most versatile optical zoom range
- Crazy fast Single Burst Mode (90fps!)
- Excellent AF performance
- Amazing slow-mo modes
- Front facing LCD screen
- Pocketable & lightweight
- Great image quality for 1-inch sensor
- Lens ring for custom functions
- Poor ergonomics
- Sub-par battery life
- No external charger included
If you’re in a line-up of one of the most popular compact camera series of all time, you have a lot to live up to… fortunately, the Sony RX100 VII doesn’t disappoint.
I spent a few weeks shooting this powerful little camera for a full Sony RX100 VII review, and have decided to name it the top compact camera of 2021, out of so many other great products on offer.
First off, let’s get the price out of the way – the Sony RX100 VII (aka the Sony cyber-shot RX100 VII) is definitely an investment (check the latest price here).
Despite being expensive, I do actually think it’s good value for money. There’s just SO much packed into its svelte, pocketable body – you can actually slip it into the front pocket of your jeans!
Top of the list is the incredible zoom lens – a 24-200mm, wide to telephoto equivalent range that’ll leave your jaw on the floor. Check out the image below for what I mean.
I also love the fact that LCD displays the optical zoom focal length as you’re zooming, so you can set it to 35mm for example, and leave it there if that’s your preference when shooting primes – this is what I found myself doing since I rarely shoot at 24mm.
Auto Focus performance is incredible, as you can expect from a Sony cyber-shot camera.
There are a confusing amount of AF options and modes, but after you find the one you want and set up a button to control Eye AF, it’s pretty hard to actually miss a moment.
Taking photos of our fast-moving kids is a cinch – just point the Sony RX100 VII in their general direction, hold down the Eye AF button for one of the 357 phase and 425 contrast AF points to lock onto the nearest face, and fire away – at a frankly ridiculous 90fps, nothing can escape your shutter! This is a huge step up from the Sony RX100 VI which had 315 phase AF points, 25 contrast AF points and a maximum burst mode of 24fps.
I actually switched the mode from high to medium, as found I was taking too many photos!
Sony’s Real Time Eye AF means the Sony RX100 VII is constantly tracking faces and eyes, even before you press the shutter button – it makes capturing a subject almost too easy…
Image quality is great, whether shooting JPEG or RAW. The lens is sharp across its frame, and dynamic range is decent too – shooting at low ISOs and underexposing the image allows you to bring back a good amount of shadow data later in Lightroom.
In practice, shooting at ISO125 and brightening in the post was similar to having shot at ISO800~1600 and nailing the exposure.
High ISO performance is decent, with clean images up to 1600, then quickly degrading after 2000 – as is expected on a camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor.
Start-up time is fast, as is the zoom speed. I also love the ability to set the lens ring up as a custom function – I had mine as exposure compensation, so shooting in Aperture Priority was intuitive and fun.
Speaking of aperture, the only slight disappointment is the variable aperture of f/2.8~4.5. The RX100V featured f/1.8~2.8, but the focal range was limited to a 24-70mm equivalent.
The Sony RX100 VII offers a tilting touchscreen, albeit a limited one. You’re able to touch to change AF points, focus, then shoot – is a really handy feature for capturing candid moments, especially when combined with the tilting display. On the VI the tilt is 90 degrees down and 180 degrees up, making it perfect for vlogging.
The VII also offers fast AF, a new 4K video HDR mode, 4 -stop image stabilisation, Active Steady Shot for video recording and a larger buffer – 233 vs the V’s already impressive 150.
The shot below was one of about 30 in quick succession – my son was actually sprinting along the rope bridge, and the RX100 VII didn’t miss a beat with the focus.
For some, having a 24-200mm zoom lens in your pocket will be reason enough to invest in the latest Sony RX100 VII model.
It really is incredible having such range at your disposal, and as long as you’re in decent light, shooting at 200mm (and f/4.5) yields some great bokeh. Image-stabilization also helps a lot too.
I’m not even a big fan of zoom lenses, preferring normally to ‘zoom with my feet, but I found myself constantly zooming in and out with this fun little camera, often just to see ‘how far I could see’!
It’s convenient being able to zoom in to 200mm on some distant action before your subject has noticed your presence, and having such range on a compact camera is a huge plus while traveling, since it’s not always possible to physically move closer.
How about the cons of the RX100 VII? Well, holding it is akin to holding a wet bar of soap…
Why on earth Sony would design such an incredible camera and make it have all the ergonomics of a pane of glass is beyond me! The first thing I’d recommend you do is purchase this grip – at least it’s cheap.
Another annoying aspect related to ergonomics is the lack of a regular strap eyelet – there’s only the tiny hole for the included wrist strap, which seems pretty flimsy.
Then there’s the battery life, which is pretty poor at around 260 shots or 30 minutes 4k video per charge. On the plus side, you can charge the camera via micro-USB, and spare batteries are affordable.
Unusually, the camera doesn’t come with a dedicated charger either, but third party options are cheap too.
The pop-up LCD is good in bright sunlight and I’m glad they included it, but I didn’t find myself using it much otherwise – it’s a little cramped, as is to be expected on a camera of this size.
Whether you’re a fan of video or not, the 960fps incredible High Frame Rate mode will leave your jaw on the floor, and make you want to film everything to see how it looks when played back slooooooow.
A first for the RX100 series is the inclusion of a 3.5mm mic jack for those that are serious about video.
Overall, the Sony RX100 VII is a helluva lot of camera squeezed into something the size of a deck of playing cards. The zoom range is astounding, auto-focus performance mind-boggling, and frame rate something that no other compact camera can match.
If you’re looking for a feature-packed camera with incredible stills and 4k video performance, that’s so small that you can have it in your pocket every day and not even notice it’s there, look no further. This is it.
3. Sony RX1R II | Best Compact Camera for Professionals
Sensor Size: Full frame (35.9 x 24 mm)
Dimensions: 507 g (1.12 lb / 17.88 oz)
Weight: 113 x 65 x 72 mm (4.45 x 2.56 x 2.83″)
- Incredible image quality
- Great dynamic range
- Great ISO performance
- Good ergonomics
- Amazing detail (42.4MP!)
- Excellent build quality
- Tilting LCD
- Good customisation options
- Good macro feature
- Beautiful bokeh
- Poor battery life
- Sluggish performance
- No touchscreen
- No weather sealing
Released back in October 2015, this is one of the few full frame compact cameras in existence (i.e. ones with a 35mm sensor).
As such, it’s a camera you can slip into a coat pocket that offers unrivalled image quality – beautifully creamy shallow depth of field, great dynamic range for expanded latitude when post-processing, great high ISO performance… basically amazing image quality that’s superior to 99% of other cameras in its size class.
You do pay a pretty price for the Sony RX1 RII, though. Squeezing a big sensor into a small camera body evidently still costs a lot for manufacturers, and due to the nature of the sensor size, the lens needs to be a certain size to accommodate – while small, this isn’t a camera for your jeans pocket.
You can buy a more feature-rich, versatile full-frame inter-changeable lens camera like the Sony a7III for the price of the RX1 RII, and still have some change in your pocket for a new lens… so why would you invest in this one?
After spending a few weeks road testing the Sony RX1 RII, it was clear to me that this is a very unique camera. Sure, you could buy something more versatile and better value for money, but that would be missing the point.
The Sony RX1 RII is by far the most enjoyable, most involved, and most tactile Sony mirrorless camera I’ve ever used. It’s more like… dare I say it… a Fujifilm than a Sony!
Investing this much money into the RX1 RII is like trying to explain why to buy a Ferrari over a Tesla S – both get you from A to B really fast, but ask any Ferrari driver how it feels to drive. The same can be said for this camera.
(Incidentally, if the Sony RX1 RII is the Ferrari of the full frame compact cameras, the Leica Q2 which we’ll get to soon is the Rolls Royce…)
With a fixed 35mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar f/2 lens, this camera is arguably all you’d ever need as an everyday camera or something for travel – my only hesitation for recommending it as a camera for your next holiday is the price, of course – you wouldn’t want to lose this one by the pool…
The Sony RX1 RII offers most of the functions of a high-end Sony camera that you’d expect – tilting LCD screen (though no touchscreen), good WiFi/NFC connectivity, decent electronic viewfinder (that retracts into the body when not in use), customisable dials/buttons and a dedicated exposure compensation dial.
Everything feels amazing – the build is great, and dials and switches are reassuringly solid.-feeling The on/off switch is reminiscent of an old range-finder, and far more satisfying than pushing a button, which is the usual way to fire up most cameras.
Start-up time is a little sluggish though, as is usability in general. Zooming in 1:1 is a painful experience, but then there are 42.4 Mega Pixels, so that’s understandable. Buttons feel slightly mushy and unresponsive at times too.
Auto Focus is good and includes Sony’s enviable Eye AF, which is akin to black magic at finding the eye of your subject (though not nearly as good as the latest Sony a7/a9 series cameras).
5 fps is sub-par in 2021, but this definitely isn’t a camera designed for fast action.
I shot the Sony RX1 RII on auto white balance, and skin tones looked great. I actually prefer the colours out of this than other high-end Sony MILCs – this might be something to do with its amazing low pass filter, which helps deliver such stellar image quality.
I love being able to control the aperture on the lens ring like a rangefinder, and the macro mode is similarly located. The lens in general just feels great – movement of the rings is reassuring and fun to operate.
I’d go as far to say that this is the first Sony I’ve ever used that doesn’t feel like a mini-computer, and for that, I love it! It feels like an old-fashioned camera body, despite housing some incredible, modern technology.
The Sony RX1 RII doesn’t make much sense on paper, nor when you try and explain it to your peers after splurging so much on something when there are many better value options… but it’s still an endearing camera that will bring you joy every time you pick it up, not to mention whenever you view the gorgeous high-resolution files on your computer screen.
In summary, I’d confidently recommend the Sony RX1 RII to any professional photographer, no matter what brand they usually shoot with. It’s a Sony camera like no other Sony camera – truly unique in the lineup.
4. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II | Best Budget Compact Camera
Sensor Size: 1 inch (13.2mm x 8.8mm)
Dimensions: 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.7 in. (106 x 61 x 42 mm)
Weight: 11.2 oz (318 g)
- Excellent value for money
- Great image quality
- Fast lens (f/1.8)
- Fast burst shooting
- Great ergonomics
- Great zoom (24-100mm equiv.)
- Fast startup time
- Built-in ND filter
- Tilting LCD touchscreen
- Responsive/fast handling
- Sub-par battery life
- No tracking in burst mode
- Small buffer
- Unreliable metering in some modes
- Limited movie options (no 4k video)
The hugely popular Canon Powershot series attracts many photographers of all standards, due mainly to the promise of great image quality, those fabled Canon colours, and useful features trickled down from their pro-line, all for at attractive prices.
With the Canon Powershot G7X Mark II, Canon has made a big improvement over the first iteration, with a host of great features, and still managed to keep the price nice and low – check here if you can still get it under $500.
The design remains largely unchanged from its predecessor, with the most notable addition (at least for me, with my large hands and clumsy fingers!), is the new grip, which is moulded, tactile and perfectly placed on the front and rear of the body.
Due to the pocketable dimensions of the Canon G7X Mark II, the grip is a welcome addition and makes for a comfortable shooting experience, not to mention a lot more security when holding it with one hand for long periods.
The LCD screen can now also be articulated downward by a full 45 degrees, allowing you to hold the camera above your head and compose for an interesting viewpoint.
The screen still faces the front and does so in one quick and simple action which you can perform with one hand. Face-detection does a fine job for the all-important selfie!
The touchscreen itself is a joy to use – responsive, fast and full-featured – far better than the crippled Sony touchscreen offering. Being able to tap any menu item seems logical in 2021, and is an enjoyable way to navigate the camera.
One other nice feature of the Canon GX7 II is the lens control ring, which can be easily customised to control a range of functions, from the 3 components of the exposure triangle, down to aspect ratio or the zoom.
This allows for a practical and enjoyable shooting experience, with one-hand controlling the shutter button and the other left to support the camera and adjust the lens ring.
Image quality is excellent, as we have come to expect from the world leader in camera imaging technology. Colour rendition is excellent, with skin tones having that warm, slightly-reddish tone to them, typical of Canon files.
The 20MP BSI CMOS sensor allows you to print decent-sized photos, or crop in on shots during editing with minimal loss in quality.
When the light begins to drop, you have two options with the Canon G7X Mark II – use the pop-up flash, or crank up that ISO dial (which is either within the menu or assigned to the lens ring).
I found that I could shoot up to around ISO800 comfortably, with noise creeping in after that – pretty much standard for a 1-inch sensor.
Thankfully, there’s still a decent amount of image data in the RAWs, so if you know what you’re doing with post-production, it’s pretty easy to salvage even a noisy image – the one below was taken at ISO10,000, but with a quick tweak in Lightroom using the ‘Texture’ slider, the black & white edit looks fine!
Autofocus performance is good, with face-tracking working ok during testing. Don’t underestimate the importance of this feature – trying to chase a subject around the screen with a single AF point is a painful experience!
Burst mode is impressive, with Raw and JPEG shooting over 8fps with One Shot AF, or around 5 with Servo.
A couple of caveats here, though – tracking doesn’t seem to work while using burst mode, and it takes a while for the buffer to clear, during which time the camera’s playback or settings mode is frozen.
The f/1.8~2.8 lens is ‘fast’ for a camera of these dimensions, allowing you to blur the background relatively easily.
It should be remembered, however, that the maximum aperture of f/1.8 can only be used before zooming the lens (i.e. at 24mm) – this is the sacrifice with most zoom lenses found on small digital cameras, with the plus side being just how small the camera can be when the lens is retracted – the Canon G7X Mark II is the smallest camera on the test, and only marginally heavier than the next smallest option from Ricoh.
As for battery life, there’s a large improvement from its predecessor, but at around 270 shots during testing per charge still puts the Canon G7X Mark II behind some of its competition.
Thankfully, spare batteries are relatively inexpensive, with numerous third-party options available.
Controlling the camera with the Canon Camera Connect App was painless, and worked well for controlling the camera from a distance, or simply transferring JPEGs to my iPhone.
You can also use the app to track your location while shooting, although this can quickly drain the battery.
Unfortunately, there’s no 4k video, nor mic/headphone jacks, but 1080p video quality looks nice nevertheless.
Overall, I found the G7X Mark II enjoyable and intuitive to shoot, with the biggest pluses for me being its overall responsiveness and the impressive image quality.
It’s the kind of camera that packs enough performance to warrant using it over your smartphone but still retains the dimensions to ensure it’s always in your pocket.
Here in 2021, we’re fortunate to be able to get a great camera for under $500. If you’re on a tight budget, this is your answer.
5. Ricoh GRIII | Best Compact Camera for Street Photography
Sensor Size: APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm)
Dimensions: 4.29 x 2.44 x 1.3″ (127 x 75 x 52 mm)
Weight: 257 g (0.57 lb / 9.07 oz)
- Great image quality
- Great image stabilisation
- Truly pocketable size
- Feather light
- Minimalist design
- Unique focus modes
- Good value for money
- Great grip/ergonomics
- Great touchscreen
- Sub-par low-light AF
- Poor battery life
- Reflective screen
- No viewfinder
- Limited movie options (no 4k video)
I feel a little bit sorry for Ricoh’s photography division. Despite Ricoh being a large, successful company, their cameras are still relatively unheard of… at least, to the uninitiated.
Ask any street photographer worth their salt to name two camera brands synonymous with capturing some up-close pavement action, and their answers will include: one expensive German brand… and Ricoh. Not Ricoh in general, either, but the Ricoh GR series.
I spent a few weeks shooting with the Ricoh GRIII, and found it a hugely pleasurable experience… my wife fell in love with it too.
A few years ago I tried a previous generation of this camera. I was quite impressed by the image quality coming out of this little compact but the sluggish auto-focus annoyed a bit too much to invest in it. The Ricoh GRIII Ricoh is much improved and things are much snappier.
Speaking of ‘snap’, there’s a focus option on the GRIII (and other Ricohs) called ‘Snap Focus’, which basically forces the camera to immediately focus on a specified distance, increasing in 50cm increments from 1m to 5m, then to infinity.
You can set up the camera to ‘snap’ to the pre-defined focal distance when you fully press the shutter (as opposed to half-pressing it, which would engage the regular focusing).
This is one of the features that make the Ricoh GRIII so well-suited to street photography. Sure, you can ‘zone focus’ using any camera, but with this one, you essentially have a zone-focusing system and a regular auto-focusing system in one shutter button – ingenious!
The autofocus isn’t the only improvement over the GRII. The Ricoh GRIII boosts just about every critical feature. The sensor is now up to 24MP, the lens much sharper and now with macro capabilities, and the battery life is much improved. There’s even image stabilisation and a touchscreen.
The 3-axis sensor stabilisation is a welcome addition – in practice, I was able to blur motion without the use of a tripod with shots as slow as 1/2 second. See Kai Wong’s video above for an example of how this could be used in the street.
The touchscreen on the Ricoh GRIII is snappy and responsive, with that all-important tap-to-focus-and-shoot function, allowing for the most inconspicuous photos – perfect for incognito street photography.
I keep mentioning how this is the best small digital camera for street photography, but the reality is, I didn’t actually get to test it out on ‘the street’!
Living as I do next to a beach, all I had to practice on were my kids… but it’s safe to say that if the Ricoh GRIII can capture them when they’re running around, pedestrians would be a cinch!
Image quality is fantastic for a compact of this size, especially the Jpegs. I shot in Vivid with the contrast increased for some additional punch, but there are plenty of nice-looking B&W filters to choose from too – another nod to classic street portraiture, with contrasty, gritty B&W options aplenty!
Raw image quality is also quite impressive, with a decent amount of dynamic range from the GRIII’s new APS-C sensor. It’s definitely a step up from the GRII, as the 8 additional megapixels not only make the images sharper, they give you additional cropping ability as well.
The lens width remains the same – 18.3mm (28mm equivalent), and I’m happy about that. A 28mm focal length is fun and easy to shoot. It gives you a unique perspective that immerses the viewer into the shot, without overdoing it and becoming too wide or adding in too much distortion.
You can always crop into the image in post, thanks to the additional mega pixels too.
As for the design and ergonomics, I love that the Ricoh GRIII is the most ‘stealth’ camera I’ve ever come across. The exterior has minimal branding, the rubberized grip conforms perfectly to the hand, and the buttons blend nicely into the camera body.
Sony really should take a leaf out of Ricoh’s book there, to avoid more slippery camera offerings!
It’s not easy to be one of the smallest and lightest digital cameras out there while maintaining excellent ergonomics, but the Ricoh GRIII manages to pull it off.
It’s grippy enough to be used one-handed all day long and can slide inside a shirt pocket. Yes, you read that right, shirt pocket. This is truly a miniature marvel of a camera.
So what don’t I like about it? Well, the battery life could be better (I got 280 shots per charge), and I do wish the touchscreen flipped… but then again, that would probably ruin the overall design.
It’s also not the best at focusing in low light, and the LCD, despite being beautifully sharp, tends to reflect a lot in bright sunlight – since there’s no viewfinder, this can sometimes be annoying.
Also, the camera seems to take a split-second to render images on the LCD during playback – it’s barely perceptible at first, but once you see it, it’s hard not to notice it again.
All in all, though, I’m struggling to find bigger reasons not to love this camera. Trust me, the Ricoh GRIII is a truly unique compact that deserves a lot more attention than it’s been receiving. It’s well worth checking it out!
6. Leica Q2 | Best Luxury Compact Camera
Sensor Size: 1 inch (13.2mm x 8.8mm)
Dimensions: 5.12 x 3.15 x 3.62 in. (130 x 80 x 92 mm)
Weight: 25.33 oz (718 g)
- Outstanding image quality
- Outstanding build quality
- Great ergonomics
- Good macro performance
- Minimalist design
- Weather sealed
- Gorgeous electronic Viewfinder/Screen
- Ingenious gripped facade
- Continuous AF issues
- No USB charging
Sooo, we’re reaching the end of the article, and have I really left the best until last?!
I was in two minds about whether to include the Leica Q2 in this list – not because of its price (we’ll come to that in a minute), but because it’s not exactly ‘compact’ in its dimensions. It does, however, have a fixed lens, so let’s run with it…
First off some good news – if you’ve got 5 grand to spare, you’ll still have enough change for a cappuccino after purchasing the Leica Q2! (Check out the latest price here if you dare.)
Jokes aside, after shooting solidly with the Q2 for a week, I’ve now had a taste of that delicious Leica Koolaid, and have decided that this camera-come-work-of-art is actually worth the money. Yep, I know – crazy, right?! 🤑
The coldness and heft of the solid metal body, the reassuringly solid feedback of the dials and buttons, the ingenious rubber grip that blends into the facade, even the curiously addictive electronic shutter sound… all this adds up to an experience that’s unlike any other camera I’ve ever used.
The Leica Q2 really is a design masterpiece and something that begs to be fondled – and that’s even before you’ve turned it on.
Other unique design details include a diopter adjustment dial which retracts when not in use; lens measurements that appear and disappear with macro mode; a perfectly-sized thumb-grip indent; a solid-metal memory card door; a contrasting silver battery release lever… even the way that the battery has no cover and needs to be tapped to be released – this is master craftsmanship that you simply can’t find elsewhere.
Describing the minute design details of the Lecia Q2 may sound insignificant and fanciful on paper, but in use it’s practical, elegant and utterly sublime.
I don’t think I’ve written so many paragraphs on how a camera looks and feels before, so I’ll move on… how does the Q2 perform when you actually switch it on?!
Well, as you’d expect from a 47.3MP full-frame sensor combined with a 28mm f/1.7 Summilux stabilised lens, the image quality is nothing short of mind-blowing.
In the image above when viewed on my 27″ monitor, I could zoom in even further than 100% and make out the faces of all the people in the reflection of the sunglasses, with everything remaining sharp.
Shot wide open, images have a 3D-like quality, with a razor sharp focal point which recedes quickly but smoothly to buttery soft bokeh.
Stopped down, the lens continues its reign of tack sharpness, although it’s way too tempting to try and shoot this thing wide open all day long – I found myself taking photos of random objects, just to see how amazing they’d look at f/1.7!
It even adds 4K video (UHD and Cine4K) recording to its arsenal of features, with plenty of frame rate options across 4K and 1080p.
Macro mode is easily accessed with a firm twist and satisfying click of the lens ring, as is manual mode, which is engaged in a similar way, with focusing aided via peaking and magnification – every movement on the camera seems meaningful and engaging. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable handling experience.
‘X factor’ image quality aside, the Leica Q2 is a reassuringly powerful camera to shoot with. 10fps may not sound so impressive next to the other cameras in this article, but considering the Maestro II image processor is pushing such enormous 47.3MP files around, this is no mean feat.
Auto focus is apparently better than the original Q, but it definitely can’t keep up with the Sonys of this world. Whether you’ll be wanting this camera to shoot fast moving action, though, is unlikely.
I also found continuous AF to constantly ‘flutter’ back and forth (annoying, but apparently all digital Leicas do this until the subject actually moves), and in really low light, the AF occasionally struggled to lock on to subjects.
High ISO performance is acceptable for a full frame sensor – not amazing, but no slouch either. I’d be comfortable shooting it up to ISO3200, and any higher than that, I’m not too bothered about the noise creeping in, since the files look great with a sneaky black and white edit.
Dynamic range is fine too – nothing outstanding for a full frame sensor, but enough latitude to underexpose by 4 stops and return a clean file at lower ISOs.
The LCD touchscreen is amazing – sharp and responsive with a matte finish – I wish all cameras offered this. The EVF is similarly excellent – one of the best I’ve used. Startup time is great too.
One unique feature with the Leica Q2 is the in-camera frame cropping options, which allows you to shoot with a 35mm, 50mm and 75mm frame ‘outline’, which results in 30, 14,7 and 6.6MP images respectively.
In Lightroom, you’re left with two of each image – the original 28mm version and the in-camera cropped version.
If you shot a whole succession of in-camera crops, it could get rather annoying during post-production with all the ‘duplicates’, but I guess this feature is intended for the ‘odd shot’, rather than regular use.
I also found it a little odd trying to compose with the cropped frame outline within the original 28mm viewfinder – I definitely prefer the APS-C crop mode implementation on other mirrorless cameras, which zooms the actual viewfinder display.
I also wasn’t a fan of the placement of the rear dial, which seemed a bit too close to the edge of the camera for my liking. I’m sure I’d get used to it, though.
I was, however, a big fan of the placement of the macro mode dial, and how you engage manual focus via an indented knob on the lens ring – this combined with focus peaking and viewfinder magnification makes manual focusing simple and a lot of fun.
To conclude, I’ve decided to call the Leica Q2 the best luxury compact camera of the year. It really is in a class of its own, literally nothing like the other cameras on this list – for better or worse, you simply can’t compare it.
Why don’t I recommend it as the best compact camera for professionals? Well, even though pros will be looking for the best image quality out of a camera of this size, I think they’d also be looking for a slight size/weight saving on their main ‘workhorse’ body… and the Leica Q2 is of comparable dimensions to most full frame MILCs.
Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the average pro would be comfortable carrying a camera that’s probably more expensive than their main camera, just as an everydayer/holiday camera. I know I wouldn’t, despite thoroughly enjoying my time with the Q2.
In summary: yes, it is expensive, but to some, it’s definitely a price worth paying.
How We Chose the Best Compact Camera
Each and every camera on this list is one I can imagine the average person taking out every day with them.
They’re not the cheapest prices on the market (although the best budget compact camera is included in this list). Conversely, they’re not all priced solely for those with deep pockets.
What matters most in our selections is that each camera here will literally blow your smartphone out the water when it comes to features and image quality.
They can also teach you the fundamentals of photography and offer full manual control, as well as viewfinders for aiding composition… all without being too tricky to use.
Basically, these cameras are perfect for anyone looking for something small, yet superior to a smartphone, for recording all their precious memories.
Some of my selections (and omissions) may surprise you. Let me explain why I’ve come to these decisions by way of clarifying what this review is actually about.
The definition of ‘compact camera’ is admittedly rather obscure – I’ve taken it to mean: any camera you can fit comfortably in your jacket pocket that has a fixed lens.
There are many mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC’s) that fit the bill as being compact, but this is highly dependent on the lens you choose to attach to the camera body.
Aside from size, the other factors I took into consideration with the recommendations were:
- Value for money – if you want a cheap camera, you’re better off sticking to your smartphone to be honest, since the quality of the final image will usually be similar. You’ll need to invest a little more to get better results, but the cameras below still represent excellent bang for your buck.
- Image Quality – obviously IQ needs to be head and shoulders above the best smartphone cameras, most notably in low light.
- Ease of use – for those used to a smartphone for image capture, the best pocket cameras need to be as simple to use, but still offer expanded functionality when the need arises.
- Functionality – the cameras need to have useful functions that are not offered by smartphones, or be able to perform functions better than smartphones.
- Fun factor – slightly vague I admit, but all the top cameras in this review are inherently fun to use – if they’re not, we may as well stick to our trusty smartphones!
- Camera age – when cameras are vying for pocket space with smartphones, it’s important that they offer all the most up to date technology in order to compete. Usually, this means the latest model.
As for the humble point and shoot camera, I’ve reserved these simpler, less feature-rich and generally more affordable products for another article altogether.
Needless to say, the cameras investigated here are for those of you who are ready to invest in a tool capable of producing professional-grade images and last several years.
Quick Summary Buyers Guide
If you don’t have time to read all the full reviews below, here’s a quick summary to help you decide which camera is best for your pocket… both figuratively and literally!
📸 Only got $500 to spend? Get the Canon G7X Mark II. Fast auto focus, impressive zoom range, and a nice fast lens for low-light photography and to blur the background.
📸 Need the best in class AF & zoom range? Get the Sony RX100 VII, with its mind-blowing eye AF and frankly ludicrous 24-200mm zoom lens.
📸 Want those beautiful Fujifilm tones? Get my favourite, the Fujifilm X100V. Gorgeous JPEGs straight out of the camera, or RAWs with impressive dynamic range… all in an exquisite retro body.
📸 Want the smallest camera that doesn’t compromise on quality? Get the cult-classic Ricoh GRIII, with its versatile 28mm f/2.8 lens, ideal for street and documentary photography.
📸 Money ain’t no object? Lucky you! Get the Leica Q2, and be the envy of every other photographer with a pulse! The ultimate way to capture a photo.
Even though your definition of ‘compact’ may be different to mine, you can be sure to amazing quality images out of all these cameras, coupled with a fun shooting experience that’ll leave a smile on your face.
Remember – you’re investing in a tool that’ll knock the socks off your smartphone, even if it does have a fancy portrait mode, or whatever other gimmick is in the latest Apple or Samsung devices!
Don’t fool yourself into thinking your smartphone is good enough – get a proper camera that you can carry with you everyday, without a second thought.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which compact camera is best?
Our top pick right now is the Fujifilm X100V. Excellent image quality, fun film simulations, unique hybrid viewfinder, reliable auto-focus and drop dead good-looks round out this impressive point and shoot.
What is the best compact digital camera for travelling?
The Sony RX100 VII earns our vote for its amazing autofocus, superior zoom range, and ultra-fast burst shooting mode. As an all-round camera for travel, it’s hard to beat.
What is the best compact camera for low light?
The Sony RX1 RII’s frame sensor offers unrivaled low light capabilities and dynamic range. If you’re going to be shooting in low light situations, but still want a lightweight camera that slips easily into your pocket, this is an excellent option.
Is it worth buying a compact camera?
With the ever-increasing quality of smartphone cameras, you may be tempted to write off compact cameras as unnecessary. But they can certainly be worth the investment if you want a pocketable device that offers more features, more flexibility, and superior images to what can be delivered by a smartphone.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time shooting all the cameras used in this guide. There’s something about having a camera that’s small/light enough to have on you every day that I find endearing – I love the feeling of having a capable device to capture all of life’s precious moments.
Buying a compact camera is an investment, but rightfully so – without spending appropriately, you’ll only be left with something that’s as good as, or potentially worse at capturing an image than your smartphone.
All the cameras in this guide are able to produce stellar images. A larger sensor will yield more pleasing bokeh and low light performance, but the flip side is usually a larger camera body too.
Decide what’s most important for you – do you need something pocketable with lightning fast auto-focus? Or are you able to neglect those features in favour of the absolute best image quality and bokeh that can rival a much larger camera?
I have to admit, I’m stuck in the middle… so will probably end up purchasing a couple! How about you? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.