Best compact camera 2021: premium compacts for photography

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

A woman taking a picture of her food using the best compact camera
(Image credit: Sony)

Although the smartphone has done irreparable damage to the state of the compact camera market, there’s still plenty of situations where a dedicated camera is the most sensible option.

For example, if you want the extra performance that a larger sensor brings - or a flexible zoom - but don’t want to add the bulk and inconvenience of an interchangeable lens camera into your life, a compact option could be the right choice.

Right now, there’s a decent range of different compact camera options in the market. There’s not a huge number of new models in this list, as manufacturers have mostly been concentrating on mirrorless models, but the good news there is that you can now snap up some fantastic bargains. If you’re a vlogger, there are also some great options here. 

Those looking for what could be considered the ultimate compact camera, capable of delivering both excellent videos and excellent photos, then there really is nothing better than the Sony RX100 VII. It delivers the goods, but it also has a hefty price tag to match. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to it, look to older models in the RX100 line for better savings.

Sony is fast becoming the go-to name for all things photographic, but you’ll also find plenty of other brands in our line-up here. There are models from Panasonic, Canon, Fujifilm and even Leica to feast your eyes on. 

 How to buy the best compact camera

We know that most people who are buying a compact camera will want to use them in a variety of different settings and with different subjects. As such, all of these cameras have been used in a host of different scenarios to discover exactly how good image and video quality is. We’ve also taken into account how well each camera handles, and whether it’s a pleasant experience to use it. 

With all that in mind, there are some factors that you might want to consider when shopping for the best compact camera this year.

Given the type of category, it’s probably true that for most people, size is the most important/deciding factor when choosing a compact camera. If you’re looking for a camera that will sit snugly in your jeans, then that helps to narrow down the choices somewhat - some of the models here are bigger (but offer other benefits as a trade-off).

Zoom is something that smartphones still don’t offer in the same way as a conventional camera. Although there are plenty of cameras that offer multiple lenses at different focal lengths to get you closer to the subject, it’s not quite the same experience as using one lens to zoom in and out. Look out for the zoom ratio of any compact camera you’ve got your eye on - those with bigger numbers will help you get closer to the subject, but often at the expense of having a smaller sensor. 

Lastly, it might be manual or in-depth controls that are the reasons for moving away from your smartphone. In which case, look out for those that offer a range of different shooting modes, allowing you the most creative control possible. 

Naturally, there are very few options that tick every box, or the requirement of every type of consumer, but it is the Sony RX100 VII that comes the closest. It’s pocket-friendly, has a decent zoom range, offers manual control, along with 4K video and vlogging-specific features, too. However, for getting that close to perfection, you have to be prepared to pay a high price too.

If we look at each favoured specification instead, then there are more affordable options that might suit you better. For example, if it’s zoom which is top of your list, then the Panasonic Lumix ZS80 / TZ95 or the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS are good choices. Here, we’ve got a compromise of a smaller sensor, so if you want to combine a large sensor and a long zoom (and are prepared to lose pocketability), then a bridge camera such as the Panasonic Lumix FZ2000, the Sony Cybershot RX10 IV or the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II are great solutions. 

Those that desire a large sensor and manual control, but aren’t too fussed on a very long zoom should look towards models such as the Panasonic Lumix LX100 II, which offers a larger sensor than most on this list, but comes with limited zoom. There’s also the Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III, which has a one-inch sensor, a good degree of manual controls and a small, but usable zoom. If you want something that lands nicely in the middle, then the Panasonic Lumix TZ200 has a large one-inch sensor and a 15x zoom.

If superior image quality is at the top of your list, then something with a large sensor - but a fixed length lens - is another compromise to consider. Compact cameras in this area include the Fujifilm X100V, which is an ideal choice for street photographers. It features an APS-C sensor, but you can go one step further with the Leica Q2 and its full-frame sensor. 

Finally, vlogging has become its own category in the past few years, and as such, manufacturers have started to directly respond to that. Sony’s ZV1 appeared fairly recently, and has a great range of specs for those who are mainly concerned with creating video content.

 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.

Fujifilm X100VT3 Award

(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.

Sony ZV1T3 Award

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony ZV1

Quite possibly the ideal vlogging camera - this one is a must for content creators

Reasons to buy
+Great video specs+Cheaper than RX100 fries+Fully-articulating screen
Reasons to avoid
-Limited touchscreen capability -No viewfinder

Rather than updating its line of RX100 cameras, in 2020 Sony took the decision to create a dedicated vlogging camera instead. That decision made a lot of sense, considering the RX100 VII was already far in advance of others on the market. 

If you’re somebody who favours capturing video over stills, then it makes a lot of sense to plump for this camera - especially as it’s cheaper than its RX100 cousins. If you are a vlogger who wants to be able to grab a couple of stills as and when necessary, it can do that pretty well, too. 

Good examples of the video-friendly specs it houses include 4K video recording, a vari-angle 3-inch touch-sensitive screen and the ability to use an external microphone. You also get useful modes such as “product showcase” too.

Panasonic TZ200T3 Award

4. 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.

Canon G5X Mark IIT3 Award

(Image credit: Canon)

5. 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 

The second version of this popular premium compact model represents a complete overhaul when compared to its predecessor.

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.

Canon G7X Mark IIIT3 Award

(Image credit: Canon)

6. 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.

Sony RX10 IVT3 Award

7. 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.

Panasonic LX100 IIT3 Award

8. 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.

Fuji X100FT3 Award

9. 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

If you are keen on the X100V, but don’t have quite the budget to buy it, then having a look at its predecessor is a smart choice - the main you thing you lose out on is the tilting screen.

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. 

Panasonic FZ2000T3 Award

10. 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. 

Canon G1X Mark IIIT3 Award

11. 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 

Although now starting to show its age a little bit, Canon’s G1X Mark III is still a good choice for anybody who wants high-image quality in a travel-friendly device.

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.

Nikon P1000T3 Award

12. 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 pricey “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.

Canon SX740 HST3 Award

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.

Leica Q2T3 Award

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. 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.

Sony RX100 VIT3 Award

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. 

Canon G7X Mark IIT3 Award

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. 

Panasonic FZ1000 IIT3 Award

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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Amy Davies
Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a freelance journalist that covers cameras for T3 and many other sites. She is also Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine and, when she's not writing about cameras, she's probably taking pictures of her cute dog.