DSLRs have long-held the title as the most versatile cameras on the market, capable of delivering the highest quality images, robust build quality and advanced functionality, not to mention speed.

With compacts and bridge models providing a set of stepping stones up to the traditional DSLR, manufacturers noticed a gap in between that was waiting to be filled: the CSC (Compact System Camera) was born.

Fast forward to today and we have an ever-increasing array of CSCs available with varying levels of functionality. Quickly carving out their own hierarchy within the wider camera market, CSCs have now developed to form their own entry, mid and pro-level sub-categories, many of which are starting to see some overlap with previously unrivalled DSLR format cameras.

To sum up the essence of a CSC: it's a camera that strives to take as many of the desirable attributes of a DSLR as possible and shoehorn them all into a neater, more portable package.

Recent incarnations of the main manufacturer's offerings are closer than ever in terms of operability, performance and image quality to that of a DSLR, with APS-C sized sensors, Full HD movie recording and connectivity features like Wi-Fi and NFC becoming increasingly commonplace among new launches.

Improvements in image quality, noise suppression, AF speed and overall handling means that some CSCs now provide a viable alternative − and not just a backup − to your traditional DSLR, particularly when recent advancements in EVF and 'hybrid' viewfinder technology are taken into account.

While we wouldn't go so far as to say that the CSC is a 'DSLR killer', the latest petite powerhouses to come to the market are certainly capable of giving their larger brethren a run for their money. The upshot is an increasing array of options open to photographers, with some impressive offerings that successfully combine the versatility of having interchangeable lenses with the portability that comes from having a smaller camera body and matching accessories.

We've gathered our pick of the best CSCs in each category of the market to give you an overview of what's available to suit your needs and budget: read on to discover your perfect pocket-sized partner.