Compact high-performance cameras with non-interchangeable lenses have been around since the dawn of the digital era. But until fairly recently, most have incorporated small image sensors in the 1/2.5-inch range. Small sensors make it easier for manufacturers to design more compact cameras with longer zoom ranges and greater depth of field.
Today, incredible advances in sensors as well as image processors allow large-sensor point-and-shoot cameras with high pixel densities to achieve impressive levels of image quality, versatility and user satisfaction.
In the Beginning
The first large-sensor, digital P&S to reach the market was the original Sigma DP1 of 2008. It incorporated a slightly-smaller-than-APS-C-size version of Sigma’s proprietary three-layer Foveon X3 sensor. It was also fitted with a high-quality 28mm-equivalent f/4 lens. The minimalist DP1 created a sensation and established a loyal cult following. It thus set the stage for Sigma’s current APS-C-format Foveon X3-sensor DSLRs and its Quattro line.
Furthermore, the DP1 also made camera manufacturers take notice of an untapped segment of the market—serious enthusiasts and pros looking for a high-quality, high-performance, walk-around compact capable of delivering image quality on a par with DSLRs. The rest is history, and reading about the large-sensor cameras we’ve selected here will give you a good idea of how far we’ve come over the past eight years.
Big Sensor = Higher Image Quality, Higher Performance
For any given megapixel rating, the larger the sensor the bigger its individual pixels. And sensors with larger pixels deliver less noise at high ISO settings. They also provide enhanced dynamic range (the ability to accurately capture extreme highlights and shadows), a wider color gamut, better color differentiation within a hue, and increased color saturation.
In addition, larger sensors require lenses with proportionally longer focal lengths to cover any given angle due to their lower crop factor. This being only 1.5x for an APS-C-format camera versus 5x–6x for a typical P&S. Since longer lenses provide shallower depth of field, large-sensor cameras with fast lenses in the f/1.8 to f/2.8 range enable users to create striking pictorial effects by using limited depth of field and bokeh creatively.
It’s also worth noting that large-sensor point and shoots are almost always high-end, full-featured enthusiast models sporting fast, high-performance lenses. Features can include RAW capture; auto HDR; noise reduction; Full HD 1080p or 4K video capture; also state-of-the-art image stabilization and AF systems. Add to that blazing, full-res burst rates, impressive responsiveness and minimal shutter lag times.
When Sony announced its full-frame DSC-RX1 at a price just shy of $2,800, we all considered it a gusty move. It was the first fixed-lens model with a full-frame 24.3MP sensor as well as a non-interchangeable Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 lens. Consequently, that camera and its successors are firmly established as leading contenders among pros and serious shooters.
Like the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, all of the cameras listed here offer a distinctive personality, an enticing blend of authenticity and style, as well as real-world performance creds.
A Compendium of Compact, Large-Sensor P&S Cameras
This handsome compact employs a 20.8 megapixel Nikon CX-format backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor (1-inch). It has a 2.7x crop factor and is coupled to an advanced Expeed 6A image processor. Together they provide 4K UHD video recording at 30p/25p plus Full HD as well as a superlapse mode that doubles the viewing speed. As its name implies, the camera uses a wide, variable aperture Nikkor 18–50mm* f/1.8–2.8 ED VR lens. Additionally, the lens provides image stabilization and a 7-bladed diaphragm for enhanced depth-of-field control.
Also featured are a hybrid AF system with 171 focus points (105 phase detection), 20-frames-per-sec (fps) continuous bursts and ISO settings to 12,800. It has a 3-inch, 1,037K-dot, tilting OLED touch screen. And it also offers SnapBridge support with built-in Wi-Fi, NFC (Near Field Communication) and Bluetooth connectivity. Traditionally styled controls include a command dial, rotary multi-selector, zoom ring and a customizable ring to set aperture, shutter speed, manual focus or white balance. $849.95. nikonusa.com
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
This svelte, higher tech follow-up to the RX-100 III has an ingenious, pop-up, 2,359K-dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) with Zeiss T* coating. The EVF complements a 3-inch, 1,228K-dot multi-angle LCD. It also features Sony’s Bionz X processor and a 1-inch, 20.1MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor. Plus its wide-aperture Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 24–70mm f/1.8–2.8 zoom lens facilitates easy bokeh effects.
Other features include: Full HD movie capture in the XAVC S codec; 4K UHD video clip recording; internal S-Log2 Gamma; 40x, slow-motion video capture at 960 fps; and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC. The RX100 IV shoots 16-fps, full-res bursts and provides sensitivity settings up to ISO 12,800. For serious enthusiasts, the camera has a direct manual control ring, built-in ND filter, 12-exposure multi-frame noise reduction and dynamic range optimizer (DRO). $999.99. sony.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
This high-performing Micro Four Thirds model uses a 4/3-inch, 16.8MP, multi-aspect, High Sensitivity MOS sensor. Also featured is a fast, sharp 24–75mm f/1.7–2.8 Leica DC Vario-Summilux zoom lens. The LX100 can capture breathtaking 4K QFHD 3,840×2,160 video at 30 and 24 fps and 8MP stills from video clips. For viewing, there is a swiveling, 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD and a 2,764K-dot OLED live viewfinder.
It addition, it shoots 11-fps, full-res bursts, provides ISOs from 100–25,600 and has built-in Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity. Other features include: manual controls; RAW capture; 0.14-sec Light Speed AF; slo-mo animation; highlight/shadow gamma curve control; a focus-peaking display with a control ring; a digital level gauge; and a hot shoe to attach an included external flash. $699.99. panasonic.com
This large-sensor entry has a cool, retro look reminiscent of a classic rangefinder camera. And it combines high style with high tech. Its unique 16.3MP APS-C-format X-Trans CMOS II sensor is designed with a randomized pixel pattern to reduce moiré patterns and aliasing without a low-pass filter. It also features Fujifilm’s high-speed EXR II processor, a fast, sharp Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens and 1/32,000-sec shutter speeds.
Notable is the X100T’s innovative optical and electronic hybrid viewfinder that lets users choose between OVF and EVF viewing. There is also a 3-inch, 1,040K-dot TFT LCD monitor. And an intelligent hybrid AF system employs contrast- and phase-detection methods for improved autofocus speed and performance.
Other features include: manual settings; in-camera RAW processing; ISO 100–51,200; Full HD 1080p video recording at various rates; film simulation modes and advanced filters, including a 3-stop ND; Wi-Fi; and a hot shoe. $1,299. fujifilmusa.com
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II
We like this large-format offering in Canon’s enthusiast/pro-aimed G series. The rugged-looking machine has a Digic 6 processor and a 12.8MP, 1.5-inch High Sensitivity CMOS sensor that’s nearly equal in size to the APS-C format. Along with a 1,040K-dot, 3-inch tilting, touch-screen LCD, it provides RAW and JPEG capture, an HDR scene mode and Full HD 1080p 30p video capture.
Its hybrid image stabilizer workswith a fast 24–120mm f/2.0–3.9 zoom lens incorporating ultrahigh refractive index glass. The lens has dual control rings and customizable functions with operation similar to interchangeable lenses, allowing full-time manual focus. And creative bokeh can be produced due to its 9-bladed aperture.
Other key features include: built-in Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity; high-speed AF; 5.2-fps, full-res bursts; an electronic level; a range of manual and automatic shooting modes; and a host of creative effects. $699.99. usa.canon.com
Sigma dp0 Quattro
Distinctively wide but still compact, Sigma’s dp0 Quattro incorporates significant technical advances designed to provide enhanced image quality, responsiveness and speed. These include a higher res, 29MP Foveon Quattro CMOS sensor that uses Sigma’s signature three-layer design to capture full color information at each pixel point. Not full APS-C size (23.5×15.7mm), it is tested to be the equivalent of a 39MP Bayer sensor.
Other upgrades are its True III processor and 3-inch, 920K-dot TFT LCD monitor. The camera also boasts an ultrawide-angle 21mm f/4 lens with four “F” low-dispersion (FLD) glass elements said to be equal to fluorite glass. The Quattro offers an ISO sensitivity range of 100–6400 in 1/3 steps as well as RAW capture at a maximum resolution of 5,242×3,616 pixels. Other features include: contrast detection AF; a manual focus ring; and PSAM modes. $999. sigmaphoto.com
Ricoh GR II
This cunningly slim, advanced, large-sensor P&S employs a 16.2MP APS-C-format sensor and a GR Engine V processor to provide high resolution and impressively fast response times. The low-pass filter was eliminated to enhance resolution and detail. Along with its ISO 100–25,600 sensitivity range, a 28mm f/2.8 lens enables shooting in low light and creative use of shallow depth of field.
A 3-inch, 1,230K-dot LCD gives shooters crisp, detailed viewing and playback, and there is a choice of two optional optical finders that slide into its hot shoe. The camera supports RAW and JPEG formats and Full HD 1080p video recording.
Other key features include: an AF system that focuses in 0.2 sec; macro mode; 17 creative effects modes; several auto modes; 4-fps, full-res bursts; a dual-axis electronic level; wireless flash; and integrated Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity plus Eyefi wireless card compatibility. Black, $699; silver, $749. ricohimaging.com
Leica Q (Type 116)
This elegant, fixed-lens, full-frame compact boasts a 24MP CMOS sensor and high-performance 28mm f/1.7 Summilux Asph lens. In addition, its sensor pairs with Leica’s low-noise Maestro II processor to produce notable image quality, artistic bokeh and blazing speed.
The large-sensor P&S features an ultrahigh-res 3.68MP LCOS electronic viewfinder complementing a 3-inch, 1,040K-dot touch-screen LCD monitor. It also utilizes an advanced contrast-detection AF system. The aluminum-and-magnesium-bodied Q can capture Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps as well as full-res, 10-fps bursts.
Other features include: ISO settings maxing out at 50,000; live view mode with focus peaking plus live view zoom; support for DNG, RAW and JPEG file formats; flash sync up to 1/500 sec; a wind-noise filter; built-in Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity; and a hot shoe. $4,250. us.leica-camera.com
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II
This newer iteration of the first full-frame (24x36mm), fixed-lens compact (the DSC-RX1R) boasts a fast 42.4MP BSI CMOS sensor with dynamic range. Geared for pros and beautifully made, the premium P&S debuts the first optical variable low-pass filter that lets user control LPF effects to achieve their vision. They can choose from either Off, to prioritize image resolution; Hi, to reduce moiré and color artifacts; or Standard, to balance those priorities.
It also offers a 35mm f/2 Zeiss Sonnar T* lens, a 3-inch, 1,229K-dot Xtra Fine LCD, and a 2,359K-dot OLED EVF with Zeiss T* coating. Other high-end features include: a Bionz X processor; ISO 100–102,400; 14-bit RAW shooting; 5-fps, full-res bursts with continuous AF; a high-speed hybrid AF system; automatic eye AF; Full HD 1080p video capture at 60p/30p/24p in the XAVC S format; multi-frame noise reduction; creative styles; auto HDR; D-range optimizer. Another plus is built-in Wi-Fi with one-touch remote plus NFC. $3,899.99. sony.com
* All lens focal length ranges are in 35mm equivalents, unless otherwise noted.