Best high-end compact cameras 2015: the top DSLR stand-ins

Real photographic power but in a more portable package

Best high end compact camera

Top-quality cameras don't have to be huge. Provided you're prepared to sacrifice the versatility of interchangeable lenses, you can still get the same kind of picture quality – and the same range of photographic controls – in a camera small enough to fit in a jacket pocket.

These are 'high-end compacts', a clunky phrase to describe cameras which are some of the most desirable for enthusiasts. Many DSLR and mirrorless camera fans also lust after a second camera small enough to carry round with them everywhere but good enough to meet their standards.

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Not sure if this is what you need? Then read our step-by-step guide: What camera should I buy?

High-end compact cameras offer full manual modes, quality fixed lenses and a host of other useful extras in a smaller body, and many have sensor as large as those in DSLRs. Such uncompromising build and performance doesn't come cheap, but we've selected our top picks to suit every budget.

Panasonic LX100

1. Panasonic LX100

It's not the smallest high-end compact camera, but the LX100 is a joy to use

Sensor size: Micro four thirds, Live MOS | Megapixels: 12.5 | Lens: 24-75mm-equivalent, f/1.7-2.8 | Screen: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 11fps | Video: 4K 2160p | User level: Enthusiast/expert

Large sensor
4K video
16MP sensor produces 12.5MP images
No touchscreen

The LX100 gives you bags of control and produces high quality images. Although it technically has a 16-megapixel sensor, you'll never see more than 12.5 million pixels because of Panasonic's Multi Aspect Ratio system – the result is 12.5Mp images, no matter which aspect ratio you shoot in. The lens's fast maximum aperture of f/1.7-f/2.8 across its focal range means you can expect some attractive bokeh blur. Elsewhere there's an EVF, dedicated shutter speed and aperture rings, as well as built-in Wi-Fi with NFC. But the LX100's stand-out feature is its 4K video capability, making this our high-end compact camera of choice.

Read the full review: Panasonic LX100

Sony RX100 III

2. Sony RX100 III

Premium performance in a super-small package

Sensor size: 1-inch, CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 | Lens: 24-70mm-equivalent, f1.8-2.8| Screen: 3-inch tilting, 1,228,800 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert

Especially compact size
Wide aperture lens
Fiddly EVF activation
No touchscreen

Despite being smaller than the Panasonic LX100, the RX100 III still packs a 1-inch sensor and a 2.9x zoom lens with a large maximum aperture. There's also a high resolution pop-up EVF, Wi-Fi with NFC, 10fps continuous shooting and a customisable control ring around the lens. Whether shooting in raw or JPEG, images are vibrant and detailed with well controlled noise levels. Where the Sony loses out to the LX100 is its relative lack of physical controls and inability to record 4K video. The RX100 IV is also due imminently, so watch out for clearance deals on this version.

Read the full review: Sony RX100 III

Canon PowerShot G7 X

3. Canon PowerShot G7 X

The G7 X packs a punch, with a 1-inch sensor and 4.2x zoom

Sensor size: 1-inch, CMOS | Megapixels: 20.2 | Lens: 24-100mm-equivalent, f1.8-2.8 | Screen: 3-inch flip-up touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: No | Continuous shooting: 6.5fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/Expert

4.2x large aperture lens
Touchscreen control
No viewfinder
Tilting screen only, not vari-angle

The G7 X is aimed squarely at Sony's RX100 series and features the same sized 1-inch sensor and near-identical 20.2MP resolution. However, the Canon edges ahead with a greater 4.2x optical zoom, whilst still maintaining the same f/1.8-f/2.8 maximum aperture range as the RX100 III. With its relatively large sensor, the G7 X is capable of very good image quality. You get accurately exposed shots with decent detail levels and pleasant colours straight from the camera. Even high sensitivity images up to ISO 12,800 look respectable. It's a real shame the G7 X doesn't have a viewfinder, as it's otherwise a superb performer.