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

High-end compact cameras are perfect for photo enthusiasts who like to travel light but don't want to sacrifice image quality or the control of a DSLR or compact system camera. They offer full manual modes, quality fixed lenses and a host of other useful extras in a camera you can fit in your pocket. Of course, high-end compacts are also facing competition from compact system cameras and smaller SLRs, but they're still holding their own, especially now models with bigger sensors are upping the ante. Such uncompromising build and performance doesn't come cheap, but we've selected our top picks that 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.

Read the full review: Canon PowerShot G7 X

Canon PowerShot G1 X II

4. Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II

Canon returns to top premium camera form

Sensor size: 1.5-inch, CMOS | Megapixels: 12.8 | Lens: 24-120mm-equivalent, f2.0-3.9 | Screen: 3-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: optional EVF | Continuous shooting: 5.2fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert

Built-in Wi-Fi
Touchscreen
No viewfinder
Comparatively large

Only the G1X's relative bulk and lack of viewfinder drops it this far down the order, as in most other respects it's a brilliant camera. A large 1.5-inch, 12.8MP sensor and sophisticated Digic 6 image processor produce beautifully colourful and detailed images with little image noise. This is helped by the 5x optical zoom lens's fast f/2 maximum aperture, whilst the minimum focussing distance has been cut to just 5cm – a big improvement over the original G1X. Other benefits include a touchscreen LCD and integrated Wi-Fi. Although this revised G1X isn't cheap, its high image quality and optical versatility make it good value.

Read the full review: Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II

Fuji X30

5. Fujifilm X30

Despite a fairly small sensor, the X30 is capable of excellent results

Sensor size: 2/3-inch X-Trans, CMOS II | Megapixels: 12 | Lens: 28-112mm-equivalent, f/2.0-2.8 | Screen: 3-inch tilting, 920,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 12fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Enthusiast/expert

High quality EVF
Tilting screen
Larger body than predecessor, but same size sensor
No touch sensitivity

Can't stretch to our top options? The X30 is more affordable, and though it has a small 12MP 2/3-inch sensor, it's nonetheless capable of respectable image quality. There's also a superb electronic viewfinder identical to that used on Fuji's higher-end X-T1 system camera. You even get a decent 4x optical zoom lens with a large wide angle aperture to help in darker conditions. While the X30 is somewhat limited by its small sensor, it fights back with in-built Wi-Fi and some attractive film simulation modes. In a market dominated by smooth aluminium and coloured plastic, the X30's retro look is also refreshingly different.

Read the full review: Fujifilm X30

Fuji X100T

6. Fujifilm X100T

A gorgeous camera that produces beautiful images: there's a lot to love about the X100T

Sensor size: APS-C, CMOS II | Megapixels: 16.3 | Lens: 35mm-equivalent, f/2.0 | Screen: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: Hybrid optical/EVF | Continuous shooting: 6fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Expert

Beautiful design
Traditional controls
No NFC or touch-sensitivity
Fixed focal length lens

The X100T is technically superior to the X30, but it's also less versatile and over twice as expensive. It uses Fuji's unique 'X-Trans' APS-C sensor which does without an anti-aliasing filter in order to boost sharpness. We're fans of the camera's period look, as well as the dials for manually adjusting shutter speed and lens aperture. There are some other neat extras like 14-bit raw file recording, a hybrid contrast and phase-detection AF system, and a 'Classic Chrome' film simulation mode. The X100T's relatively high price and fixed focal length lens means other cameras offer better value, but it's still a tempter for purists.

Read the full review: Fujifilm X100T

Leica Q

7. Leica Q (Type 116)

A compact camera with a full-frame sensor and a 28mm f/1.7 Leica lens? Oh go on then

Sensor size: Full-frame, CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens: 28mm, f/1.7 | Screen: 3-inch, 1,040,000 dots | Viewfinder: EVF | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Expert

Class-leading image quality
Wide aperture lens
Prohibitive price
Fixed focal length lens

If your pockets are very deep and your desire for exceptional image quality is high, then the Leica Q is the compact camera for you. However, with a price tag this stratospheric, it'll only ever be a dream for most. Within the beautiful body is a 24.2MP full-frame sensor that outperforms a Sony Alpha 7 II system camera and produces incredibly detailed results as high as ISO 12,500. Although its body is rather chubby, the construction quality is flawless and you get plenty of traditional controls as well as an excellent EVF. A bright, f/1.7 28mm lens rounds off this work of art.

Read the full review: Leica Q (Type 116)

Sony RX1R

8. Sony Cyber-shot RX1R

Meet the world's smallest full-frame digital camera

Sensor size: Full-frame, CMOS | Megapixels: 24.3 | Lens: 35mm, f/2.0 | Screen: 3-inch, 1,229,000 dots | Viewfinder: Optional EVF | Continuous shooting: 5fps | Video: 1080p | User level: Expert

Full-frame sensor
Compactness
Poor battery life
No EVF or touchscreen

Sony's compact camera tour de force has winning potential, so what's it doing this low on our list? Well it's not due to the image quality, which is stellar. The original RX1 made waves by shoehorning a full-frame sensor into a wonderfully compact body, and this R version ditches an anti-aliasing filter to improve image sharpness. As with the RX1, you get a 24.3-megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor that produces rich, detailed images, but with more noticeable noise at higher ISOs than before. Trouble is, all this performance costs a pretty penny, and the extra cash won't buy you much battery life or a viewfinder.

Read the full review: Sony Cyber-shot RX1R