DSLR cameras can be a bit mind-bending at times.
With that in mind, unless you're an experienced snapper, a compact camera is probably more down your alley. However, you still may want a camera that delivers the highest image quality and lots of other features.
So what if you want to take top notch photos without having to fiddle with a DSLR? And what if you're going travelling and need a great camera, but don't want a DSLR due to the bulk?
What you need is a high-end compact camera that can deliver amazing shots, while keeping weight, bulk and fiddly bits to an absolute minimum.
Here are the five best compact cameras that come the closest to matching DSLRs blow for blow.
1. Canon PowerShot G10
If you want to opt out of the DSLR market but still want a brilliant compact camera, the Canon G10 might well be the next best thing.
One of the most useful improvements in this camera is the switch from the old camera's 35-210mm equivalent 6x zoom to a shorter-range 28-140mm lens.
Yes, it's a drop from a 6x zoom to a 5x zoom, but you get a proper 28mm equivalent wide angle rather than the half-hearted 35mm equivalent of the old lens.
There are two other things worthy of special attention. One is the RAW mode... and it's not just the fact that the G10 has one, but that this camera can shoot and save RAW files as quickly as a DSLR.
The other improvement is in the LCD. The size is the same as the G9, at 3 inches, but the resolution is doubled at 461,000 pixels. It's very crisp, saturated and vibrant, and with a wide viewing angle too.
The image quality scarcely sets new standards, but the Canon PowerShot G10 itself is a cast-iron beauty that's a pleasure to use.
Other makers might know a thing or two about image quality, but Canon certainly knows how to make cameras. Read our full review
2. Panasonic Lumix LX3
As well as making enthusiast-friendly digital compact cameras, Panasonic has also made a name for itself in recent years with a range of luxury 'LX' models, the LX1, LX2, and now the LX3.
In a brave and unusual move, Panasonic decided to stick with the 10 million-pixel resolution of the LX2, rather than increasing the pixel count of its new flagship in line with other models in the Lumix range.
Panasonic claims this decision was taken to optimise the image quality and, if true, it represents a refreshing change from the 'pack 'em in' approach to digital camera's pixel counts that we have seen in recent years.
Overall, in the LX-3 Panasonic has delivered a cracking digital compact camera, and one that will not only satisfy the majority of 'enthusiast' point and shoot photographers, but also a lot of DSLR photographers who hanker for a lightweight, compact backup.
Image quality is great at low to medium ISO sensitivities, and apart from some softness and fringing in the corners of images shot at the 24mm end of the zoom, pictures from the newly developed 10 million-pixel sensor look lovely, especially when created from raw files converted using the supplied Silkypix software.
The LX-3 might not be cheap, but you get what you pay for, and this is one of the best and most versatile compacts we've ever tested. Read our full review
3. Leica D-LUX 4
While Leica is one of the most well-known names in photography, you'll be hard pushed to find someone who's ever bought a Leica camera. You're probably more accustomed to using Leica lenses on other-brand cameras. But Leica sell cameras too – and this is a cracker.
If the picture looks familiar it's because the Leica D-LUX 4 is exactly the same as the LX3 above – but with the Leica badge on it instead of a Panasonic one.
Of course, as a premium brand, the D-LUX 4 will cost you up to £200 more than the LX3 will – despite them being almost identical cameras. The only real difference between the two cameras is the more subtle exterior on the D-LUX 4 as well as some altered default parameters.
If you're a fan of Leica – this is the camera to buy. If you're not, you'd be mad to spend the extra money!
4. Ricoh Caplio GR II
The 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens on the Ricoh GR Digital II is great for landscapes, interiors, architecture and 'street' photography, but hopeless for portraits, long-range sports photography and all but the tamest wildlife.
The autofocus system is no faster or slower than those on other compacts, but you can also switch to Infinity Focus, Snap Focus (fixed at 2.5m) or Manual Focus. And this is where the Ricoh's depth of field control comes in.
There are many other smart features which set this apart as a camera for the cognoscenti rather than the casual snapper. Images can be saved as RAW files as well as JPEGs, and there's a choice of aspect ratios including the standard 4:3 ratio of digital compacts, the 3:2 ratio of digital SLRs and even the old 1:1 square ratio of 6x6 medium-format cameras.
Of course, you can crop any digital image to these ratios in your image editor (and in-camera with the Ricoh, too), but that's not the point.
It's only when you're working with these aspect ratios 'live' that you'll really learn to exploit their compositional potential. Read our full review
5. Nikon CoolPix P6000
Right now it seems as if Nikon can hardly put a foot wrong with its digital SLRs.
So when it turns its hand to a high-end compact to rival Canon's PowerShot G10, we should all sit up and take notice.
They're both aimed at keen photo enthusiasts and share similar though not identical specifications. The G10 is fat, heavy and slightly more expensive; the Nikon P6000 is lighter and slimmer and has slightly lower resolution (though 13.5 megapixels versus 14.7 is hardly a significant difference).
The Nikon P6000's high points include a distortion-correction option that works so well it should be compulsory; but low points include a continuous shooting speed of just 0.9fps.
You can forget any thoughts of capturing next Saturday's goal-mouth action – crown green bowling's more this camera's level.
It's hard to understand Nikon's thinking. All the basics are in place – a well-made camera with good specs and all the manual controls that serious photographers would demand.
But then it's been spoiled by badly-judged image processing, a weak and uninspired control layout and innovative but complex technology which could only be of value to a very small proportion of users. Read our full review
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