The functional definition of extended-spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL) activity is a clinical challenge. Here we report a rapid and convenient assay of β-lactamase activity through the competitive inhibition of fluorescent substrate hydrolysis that provides a read-out nearly 40× more rapidly than conventional techniques for functional definition. A panel of β-lactam antibiotics was used for competition against β-lactamase enzyme-activated photosensitizer (β-LEAP) yielding a competitive index (Ci) in 30 min. Significant differences in the relative Ci values of the panel of β-lactams were determined in vitro for Bacillus cereus penicillinase. Additionally, the relative Ci values for whole bacterial cell suspensions of B. cereus 5/β were compared with the relative minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) values and a correlation coefficient of 0.899 was determined. We further demonstrated the ability of β-LEAP to probe the capacity of ceftazidime to inhibit the enzyme activity of a panel of ESBL-producing Escherichia coli. The bacteria were assayed for susceptibility to ceftazidime and the relative MIC values were compared with the relative Ci values for ceftazidime yielding a correlation coefficient of 0.984. This work demonstrates for the first time the whole cell assay of the competitive inhibition of β-lactamase enzyme activity and derivation of associated constants.