Best big sensor compact

Small cameras usually come with small sensors, but these beauties give you the best of both worlds

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Compact cameras come in all types and sizes, from pocket-sized point and shoot models through SLR-sized superzooms right to the top end of the market – high-end compacts.

These offer the photographic controls of a 'proper' camera like a DSLR, but in a camera small enough to slide into a jacket pocket.

In the past this has brought a serious compromise. Small cameras always came with small sensors. At best, you might get a 1/1.7-inch sensor or a 2/3-inch sensor, just a small step up from the tiny sensors in point and shoot models – and a long, long way from the much bigger sensors in compact system cameras and digital SLRs.

But that's changed. Camera makers are finding ways to shoehorn bigger sensors, and the bigger lenses that come with them, into pocket-sized bodies. Bigger sensors mean better definition, better defocusing effects, higher ISOs and less noise, so these high-end compacts can now compete with DSLRs not just for photographic controls, but for quality too.

Panasonic LX100

Sensor size: Live MOS, Micro Four Thirds | Lens: 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 | Pixel count: 12.8Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 11fps | Maximum video resolution: 4K

Panasonic LX100

• See our full Panasonic LX100 review.

The newest camera in this list, the LX100, combines everything that is great about the Micro Four Thirds range but with a fixed, zoom lens.

There are plenty of control options, including a traditional aperture ring and shutter speed dial which can both be set to auto when you want to concentrate on composition.

An excellent inbuilt viewfinder makes this feel closer to DSLR shooting than some of the other compacts in the group, and the view inside is clear and bright. It includes a sensor for automatically detecting when the camera is lifted to your eye.

There's also inbuilt Wi-Fi for remote shooting and quick sharing of your images, and the only downside here is that the screen isn't touch sensitive, which is an unusual move for Panasonic.

There's no room on the body for an inbuilt flash, either, but one is supplied in the box – you just have to remember to take it with you.

Overall, though, these are small objections, because the sensor size, design and superb images created by the LX100 make it a dream for enthusiasts.

Sony RX1R

Sensor size: CMOS, full frame | Lens: 35mm f/2 | Pixel count: 24.3Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: Optional | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 5fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p

Sony RX1R

• See our full Sony RX1R review.

The RX1R might be the most expensive camera in the group, but it's also the only one with a full-frame sensor.

Its traditional controls will be appreciated by enthusiasts, while the fixed length 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens is ideal for street photography, but also works well as an all-purpose optic.

Colours are vibrant, while noise is controlled well in low light, and the lack of anti-aliasing filter means that detail is resolved exceptionally well, too.

On the downside, there's no inbuilt Wi-Fi, no touchscreen display and battery life is somewhat lacking, sometimes lasting just a couple of hours – you'd be well advised to invest in a spare. It's also the most cumbersome camera in this group – you'll have trouble fitting it into a jacket pocket.

Nevertheless, the combination of a full-frame sensor and that Carl Zeiss lens means the image is quite superb. This is not a camera for the masses, but if you match the RX1R's audience, you won't be disappointed.

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II

Sensor size: CMOS, 1.5-inch | Lens: 24-120mm f/2-3.9 | Pixel count: 12.8Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optional | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 5.2fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p


News Reporter

Amy (Twitter, Google+, blog) is a freelance journalist and photographer. She worked full-time as the News Reporter / Technical Writer (cameras) across Future Publishing's photography brands and TechRadar between 2009 and 2014 having become obsessed with photography at an early age. Since graduating from Cardiff Journalism School, she's also won awards for her blogging skills and photographic prowess, and once snatched exhibition space from a Magnum photographer.