Best compact camera 2021: premium compacts for pro-level photography

T3's roundup of the best compact cameras to buy this year, with models from Sony, Panasonic, Canon and more

Best compact camera
(Image credit: Sony)

These days, most people rely solely on the camera already in their pocket (aka your smartphone). While it’s true that smartphones will likely be good for the majority of shooting situations you’ll find yourself in these days, there will also be times when only a dedicated camera will do.

If you’re looking for something that you can rely on to bring extra performance, but don’t want to add too much bulk and inconvenience to your bag, a compact camera could be the way to go. 

Whether you’re after a larger sensor, extensive manual control or a long zoom lens, a good range of options exist in the compact camera market that should outdo your smartphone. There are also some good options available for those looking for something well-suited to video work or vlogging.

If you’re after the ultimate compact camera that can deliver excellent photos and videos, then there’s nothing better than the Sony RX100 VII. Sony has long been an innovator in the compact camera arena, and while this model is expensive, it really does deliver the goods. If you want to save a bit of cash, look at one of the older models in the RX100 line, which are still fantastic.

As well as Sony, there are lots of other brands on our list. You’ve got options from Panasonic, Canon, Fujifilm and even Leica having good models for you to choose from.

 How to buy the best compact camera

When putting together our recommendations, we’ve used the cameras in a wide range of different settings and scenarios. We’ve tested them with moving subjects, in low light and assessed how good the image and video quality is. But we’ve also been keen to find out how well the camera handles, whether it’s intuitive and enjoyable. 

With those factors in mind, there are some key factors to think about when shopping for the best compact camera in 2020. 

For most people, size is often the most important or deciding factor for a compact camera. If you want it to fit neatly into your pocket, that will help narrow the choices down somewhat. If however, you can compromise on the size and go a little bit bigger, then you’ll be rewarded with other benefits - for example, a longer zoom. 

Zoom is one of the reasons why you might be wanting to get something to complement your smartphone. But you might also be keen to get your hands on full manual control or raw format shooting. 

Bearing all of the above in mind, there are not too many options that will tick every box. But the reason we’ve gone for the Sony RX100 VII is that it perhaps comes the closest to being the perfect compact camera. It’s certainly going to fit in your pocket, the zoom range is decent, it has a large sensor, offers manual control and comes with a host of fantastic specs such as fast shooting, 4K video and more. 

However, for this level of perfection, you do have to pay a high asking price - unsurprisingly. In which case, it’s probably wise to pick out the specification that is most important to you, and look along those lines. 

If that important specification is zoom capability, then the longest out there is the Panasonic TZ95 or the Canon PowerShot SX740. The compromise here is a smaller sensor, so if you want a big sensor too, then a bridge camera will likely be your friend. Here we can easily recommend the Panasonic FZ2000, the Sony RX10 IV or the Panasonic FZ1000 II

For those who want a large sensor and manual control but don’t need a super long zoom, some good all-rounders include the Panasonic LX100 Mark II and the Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III. Something which is a decent compromise between the two is the Panasonic TZ200, which has a large one-inch sensor and a long(ish) zoom. 

If an even larger sensor is what you want, then the Fujifilm X100V is an ideal choice - especially for street photographers. You’ve also got the Leica Q2, which although a niche option, is rather marvellous.

 The best compact cameras for you

Best compact camera: Sony RX100 VIIT3 Awards 2020

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony RX100 VII

Sony does it again with the best compact camera - but it’ll cost you

Reasons to buy
+Great image quality+Inbuilt viewfinder and tilting screen+4K video+Fast frame rate
Reasons to avoid
-Very high price-Slightly fiddly handling 

For those looking for the best possible image quality in a pocket-friendly body, Sony is the best candidate here. The latest model is the RX100 VII, which continues to build on Sony’s reputation for high-quality premium compact camera. The big new addition here is a microphone socket, which finally makes the RX100 series appealing to vloggers.

Otherwise, you’ve got a one-inch sensor which is offered by a 24-200mm (equivalent) lens, which should suit most everyday scenarios. Unlike earlier RX100 models, the lens doesn’t offer a super-wide aperture - which could be an issue if you’re often shooting in low light.

A retractable viewfinder and tilting screen round out the appealing specs list - but it all comes at a very high price. If your budget is a little more modest, take a look back through the older RX100 models - with them all on sale, you’re likely to find one which matches your budget.

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

2. Fujifilm X100V

The latest version of this premium compact camera is ideal for street photographers

Reasons to buy
+Beautiful design +Tilting screen+Large sensor
Reasons to avoid
-Single focal length-High asking price

With a beautifully retro design mixed with a host of advanced features, the X100V is the fifth generation of an extremely well-regarded premium compact camera. It was the original X100 which launched Fujifilm back into the realm of serious photography, after years languishing as the creators of cheap and cheerful point and shoots.

The X100V, like its predecessors, sports a DSLR-sized (APS-C) sensor, which is paired with a 23mm f/2 fixed length lens. That gives you an equivalent focal length of 35mm - the perfect length for street photography. It might seem restrictive to only have one focal length, but it many ways it’ll force you to get more creative with your photography - and that’s no bad thing.

What’s new here for the latest generation is a sharper lens, an improved viewfinder, a higher resolution and the addition of a tilting screen. The older X100F is still a good buy, but if you want the best all-rounder, it’s worth considering the extra outlay for the X100V.

Best compact camera: Panasonic TZ200

3. Panasonic TZ200

The best travel zoom compact camera you can buy right now

Reasons to buy
+Long zoom length+One-inch sensor+Manual control
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Fixed screen 

Panasonic’s TZ100 was an impressive little compact travel camera, but it upped the ante with the TZ200, boosting the zoom lens up to 15x. Panasonic says that both the TZ cameras will remain in its line-up, giving you two options designed to suit your budget and your needs. 

Design-wise, the two compact cameras are very similar, so we’re still lamenting the lack of a tilting screen for the TZ series, but otherwise, it’s a stylish pocket-friendly camera that is absolutely ideal for your travel needs. The one-inch sensor puts it in a realm above other travel compact camera, while the long zoom sees it outperform the Sony RX100 V. 

Other improvements to the model include a better electronic viewfinder and a new sensor which produces better colour. One area where it falls down a little is in low-light, so if you’re somebody who likes to do a lot of dim snapping, it may not be the one for you.

Best compact camera: Canon G5X Mark II

(Image credit: Canon)

4. Canon G5X Mark II

A great all-rounder which competes with Sony’s older models

Reasons to buy
+Inbuilt viewfinder+Wide aperture lens+Tilting screen 
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly high price-Reasonably limited zoom 

Coming along four years after its predecessor, this Mark II version is more than just an incremental upgrade - it’s a full-blown overhaul. 

You get an inbuilt retracting viewfinder (much like we’re used to seeing from Sony), a one-inch 20-megapixel sensor and a 5x optical zoom which although not particularly long, does offer wide apertures for shooting in low light.

Other useful features include 4K video recording, USB-C battery charging (great for charging on the go) and burst shooting up to 30fps. 

In short, this is a great all-rounder, which competes well with the Sony RX100 VII range at a more affordable price. You don’t get quite such advanced tech as the Sony offers, but on the plus side, it handles a little bit better.

If you’re a vlogger, take a look at the Canon G7X Mark III instead, which you can pair with an external microphone for improved sound.

Best compact camera: Canon G7X Mark III

(Image credit: Canon)

5. Canon G7X Mark III

Popular with vloggers, the G7X Mark III is now even better thanks to a mic port

Reasons to buy
+Uncropped 4K video recording +Inbuilt mic port+Pocket friendly
Reasons to avoid
-No viewfinder-Limited zoom range

The G7X Mark III is a great little compact camera which fits neatly in your pocket and appeals to both stills and video shooters. 

Its predecessor was popular with vloggers, but the newest model gets extra fans for including a mic socket. The 4K video recording is uncropped too, which is another tick in the box. 

There’s a one-inch sensor, which is joined by a 4x optical zoom lens - it’s not the lengthiest in the world, but it should suit most ordinary situations. 

If you’re primarily a stills shooter, you’d probably be better off going for the G5X Mark II, but if your budget can’t quite stretch – or you shoot a lot of video – the G7X Mark III is a canny investment.

6. Sony RX10 IV

A superb bridge camera that gets you even closer to the action

Reasons to buy
+Long zoom+One-inch sensor+Tilting, touch-sensitive screen
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky construction

The Sony RX10 IV is the latest in Sony’s line of super premium bridge cameras. Using the term “bridge camera” for a camera of this quality is a bit of a misnomer, since it offers so much more than a standard bridge offering. 

It keeps the same 25x optical zoom lens of its predecessor, which gives you 24-600mm in 35mm terms, with an f/2.4-4 aperture range giving you lots of scope when working in low light. Improvements have been made to the 20.1-megapixel one-inch sensor, which now uses a stacked designed for even better image quality. 

Other great features include the option to shoot at a whopping 24fps – perfect for wildlife photographers – a fantastic EVF, a tilting touch-sensitive screen and 4K video recording. The main drawback of the RX10 IV is its very high asking price – but with all those specs in a travel-friendly package, you do get a lot for your cash.

7. Panasonic LX100 II

A brilliant compact camera for the enthusiast photographer

Reasons to buy
+Large sensor+Small body+Good handling
Reasons to avoid
-Screen doesn’t tilt-Small upgrade

We had to wait quite a long time for Panasonic to produce an upgrade to its popular LX100 from four years ago. The resulting “Mark II” is more an incremental upgrade than all-out revolution, but arguably that’s just because the first model was so good.

Sporting a Four Thirds sensor in a body that you can almost fit into your trouser pocket, the LX100 II is ideal for travel and street photographers looking to travel light without facing too much of an image quality compromise.

Improvements come in the shape of adding touch-sensitivity to the screen, additional 4K Photo modes, more creative modes plus the ability to charge the camera via USB. The fact that the screen doesn’t tilt is a big let down for a camera so squarely aimed at street photographers, while some may feel restricted by the relatively short focal length. 

Overall though, the LX100 II is a top-notch premium compact camera that is capable of producing fantastic images in a range of different conditions.

Best compact camera: Fuji X100F

8. Fuji X100F

Look the business with this retro premium compact camera which is superb for street photography

Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous looks+Very large sensor
Reasons to avoid
-High price-One focal length only

The Fuji X100F is as beautiful as it is capable. If the retro look floats your boat, then the X100F is a thing to behold, just like pretty much every camera in Fuji’s impressive stable. 

The X100F is a compact camera but it’s got the same size sensor as a DSLR (APS-C). It’s paired with a lovely 35mm f/2.0 fixed-length lens - and while that sounds restrictive, it’s superb for capturing street life and travel images which really make you think about what you’re photographing before indiscriminately hitting the shutter release. 

There’s also a wonderful hybrid viewfinder which combines optical and digital technology for the best of both worlds. It’s a shame the screen doesn’t tilt, or the camera would be nigh-on perfect. 

Best compact camera: Panasonic FZ2000

9. Panasonic FZ2000

A bridge camera, but perhaps not as you know it - the FZ2000 is the ideal travel companion

Reasons to buy
+High image quality+Excellent controls
Reasons to avoid
-High price-Not pocket friendly

Time was that bridge cameras had a bit of a dodgy reputation. They offered a high zoom but the image quality was a bit ropey. That’s not the case any more with the current crop of well-performing and very appealing premium bridge cameras like the FZ2000. 

This is a genuine contender for a DSLR replacement, giving you a 20x optical zoom in a body which means you don’t need to carry around extra lenses. It’s also got a cracking viewfinder, a great free-angle screen and a range of 4K Video and Photo options. 

If you’re looking for an all-rounder for travelling, and have got more room than just a pocket, the FZ2000 is an excellent choice. 

Best compact camera: Canon G1X Mark III

10. Canon G1X Mark III

A DSLR in your pocket

Reasons to buy
+Huge sensor+Vari-angle screen+Small size
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Limited zoom range-Limited aperture range-Short battery life 

Canon’s G series has taken a little bit of a backseat in recent times, but the G1X Mark III puts the old favourite right back in the limelight (and onto the best compact camera list). This seriously impressive feat of miniaturisation sees a DSLR-sized (APS-C) sensor housed inside a teeny tiny body. It’ll even squeeze into your pocket, so long as you’re not sporting super tight skinny jeans. 

Of course, you do have some compromise here, most notably the short zoom range - there’s just 3x optical zoom available. That’s still excellent for a compact camera with such a large sensor - most others in this category make do with a fixed length lens. The biggest drawback here is the high asking price, but for something which puts DSLR image quality in your pocket, you may just think the money is worth it.

11. Nikon P1000

The king of all super-zooms

Reasons to buy
+Huge zoom+Great viewfinder+Manual controls & raw shooting
Reasons to avoid
-Very bulky-High price-Small sensor

Every now and then a camera comes along which feels more like a proof of concept than something that many people will buy. The P1000 is one such model – a £999 “bridge” camera that goes so extreme in this genre that you are likely to draw some interesting looks from passers-by in the park.

Packing a 125x zoom – so that’s 24-3000mm, you can quite literally shoot the moon with the P1000. Once you’ve done that on the first day out of the box, you’re left with a very bulky camera that can shoot super distant subjects, but doesn’t excel at it.

There are other things to like about the P1000 – it’s got a great viewfinder, offers manual control and raw format shooting, and the screen fully articulates. All of that comes at the price of having to carry a monster camera around – but if zooming’s your thing, it’s certainly worth having a look.

12. Panasonic TZ95

A travel compact camera offering a wide range of features in a pocket-friendly body

Reasons to buy
+Long zoom+4K Video / Photo+Touch-sensitive screen
Reasons to avoid
-Low light performance not great-Very small viewfinder 

A replacement to the TZ90, the TZ95 continues to build on the success of Panasonic’s range of “travel zoom” cameras. It packs a 30x optical zoom into a body which you can snugly fit into your trouser pocket. For now, at least, this kind of zooming isn’t possible from your smartphone, giving cameras like this the edge for holidays and day trips. 

This isn’t a massive overhaul from the TZ90, but alongside the same sensor and lens combination, you now get added Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, making it easier than ever to share your travel shots live from the scene. 

Other useful features include a small but useful electronic viewfinder which comes in handy when bright light prevents the screen from being used, Panasonic’s fantastic 4K Photo modes, and the ability to shoot in manual control in raw format. 

On the downside, low light performance leaves something to be desired - if you’re mainly considering the TZ95 as a holiday camera though, this may be of less importance.

13. Canon SX740 HS

The biggest zoom currently on the market, but it could do with a few more attractive features

Reasons to buy
+Great zoom range+Easy to use+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-No touchscreen-Poor in low-light

The SX740 is a great point-and-shoot for those looking for a travel-friendly compact camera. 

Although it has manual control options, it’s not really something we’d overtly recommend for advanced enthusiasts, especially as it doesn’t have raw format shooting. Having a 40x optical zoom is great for getting closer to the action, but such a long lens necessitates a small sensor – if you’re mainly going to be using this camera for bright daylight shots of your holidays, that shouldn’t be a problem, but for low-light and night work, it’s not the best performer in the world.

On the major plus side, at £350 it doesn’t represent a huge cash outlay, especially compared with some of the other models in our list.

14. Leica Q2

A full-frame sensor inside a compact camera body - but it’s not one for the budget conscious

Reasons to buy
+Full frame sensor+Great controls +Optically stabilised lens
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Not very flexible

The Leica Q2 is an upgrade to the 4-year-old Leica Q. Not exactly top of the list of “budget buys”, it’s never the less a very desirable product for those that have the readies. 

It features a supersized full-frame sensor (47.3 megapixels) and a fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens which combines together to produce beautiful results. Compared to its predecessor, the beautiful body, which features a great range of direct access controls and dials, it’s very similar. 

However, under the hood, there have been some significant improvements. That sensor has almost doubled in resolution - the older model offering 24.2 megapixels, while there’s a newly-developed Maestro II image processor which promises faster speeds. 

There’s a range of other advanced technologies in the spec sheet here, but at over £4250, it’s easy to assume that the most obvious customer of this compact camera is those with a penchant for the Leica red dot, no matter what it’s capable of producing.

Best compact camera: Sony RX100 VI

15. Sony RX100 VI

The perfect combination of high image quality and pocketability in this premium compact camera

Reasons to buy
+High image quality+Inbuilt viewfinder and tilting screen+4K video
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly awkward handling

If you want the ultimate in pocket-sized image quality, then you can’t go far wrong with the RX100 VI. This is now the last generation model, so it's more affordable than its initial high-asking price, meaning it still earns its place on the best compact camera list.

A large one-inch sensor is joined by a wonderful lens which offers a 35mm equivalent of 24-200mm - a classic walk around length. There’s also a host of other handy features, such as an inbuilt retractable viewfinder and a tilting touch-sensitive screen.

If you’re struggling to justify the high asking price, have a look at older versions of the RX100, such as the Mark V and the Mark IV which are still cracking models. 

Best compact camera: Canon G7X Mark II

16. Canon G7X Mark II

A well featured and smart premium compact camera which appeals to DSLR owners

Reasons to buy
+Intuitive operation+High image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey-No viewfinder

Canon’s range of PowerShot G series compact cameras are a great alternative to your DSLR when size and weight is of the utmost importance. There’s a great range to choose from, but the G7X Mark II sits nicely in the middle with a great balance between small size and a range of features. 

It’s got a 4x optical zoom, a tilting touch-sensitive screen and a large one-inch sensor. You can shoot in raw format and take full manual control, but the lack of a viewfinder may be off-putting for some traditionalists. If you can find room for a camera a little bigger, the Canon G5X might be the more appealing choice. 

17. Panasonic FZ1000 II

A good all-round bridge camera, available at a reasonable price

Reasons to buy
+Good image quality +Flexible zoom length +Excellent controls
Reasons to avoid
-Not much of an upgrade from FZ1000-Fairly bulky

If you don’t quite have the budget for the FZ2000 or one of the other best compact cameras, consider instead the FZ1000 II. Designed as a refresh to the original FZ1000, it’s a good option if you don’t need more than a 16x optical zoom lens and want to save a bit of cash. 

It’s got a large one-inch 20.1-million pixel sensor, 4K Video and Photo modes, 12fps shooting at full resolution and an electronic viewfinder that accompanies a fully articulating, touch-sensitive screen. 

The button layout has been refreshed a little, and now includes a “Zoom Compose Assist” function to help you keep track of distant subjects, but otherwise, it’s not a major overhaul from its predecessor. Bluetooth connectivity has also been added, which means you can maintain a constant connection between your smartphone and the camera.

If you want to save even more cash, keep a lookout for the older FZ1000 which is still a neat performer.

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