How to find the best pocket-sized camera

We review four of the best compact cameras that fit in your (large) pockets, but offer pro-grade features.

Despite much recent talk focusing on interchangeable lens compacts aiming to provide the quality of a larger digitalSLR, not everyone wants to swap the lens on the front of a camera; indeed there’s still a market for one ring-fenced device that does it all.

That doesn’t just mean smartphone-inspired Wi-Fi and Internet enabled cameras like the Samsung Galaxy or Nikon S800c, that can do just about everything except make phone calls, but rather cameras that aim to cram in a full set of true photographic features. For, in the eyes of enthusiast photographers who are looking for a portable jack-of-all-trades, perhaps as a backup to an existing DSLR, there is still much to recommend the ‘premium’ or high-end compact.

These more portable cameras may not offer as large a sensor as a digital SLR, but the lack of lens swapping capability aside, they still boast most of the handling opportunities DSLR users expect. We’ve surveyed six examples of comprehensively featured compacts here, to find out which offers the best range of features and of course performance for their respective price tags. These are cameras for each and every eventuality, with plenty of opportunity for those who do want to get creative to do just that.

Small but beautiful

Of course, let’s be clear: the smaller size of the sensor here, when compared with digital SLRs or compact system cameras, plus the inability to swap the lens to best befit a particular subject, will inevitably mean that image results are not quite as pin sharp as one might expect from either of those two rival camera systems. But, even for the fussiest of photo enthusiasts operating on a non-professional basis, shots are certainly good enough. Indeed the fact that most premium compacts now come equipped with super bright lenses – denoted by a small number given for the maximum aperture (e.g f/1.8 or f/1.4) – allows photographers to not only potentially shoot in lower light conditions without flash than were hitherto possible, but also affords the chance for arty shallow depth-of-field effects. The ability to blur the background and foreground of a portrait, say, so only the eyes and nose are pin sharp, thus drawing the viewer in, was previously solely the preserve of the digital SLR user.

So for those creatives looking for a greater range of photographic possibilities without having to invest in a camera system that may tempt you to a greater spend over a period of time, the premium compact is a less fussy but still feature-packed option. Additionally, for that premium price tag we get a build quality and solidity that far surpasses cheaper point-and-shoot models. So click on the links below to discover the best of the currently available choices, and to find out what we thought of each.

Canon PowerShot G15 review

Canon’s G15 will certainly hit the mark for lovers of tank-like compacts, incorporating an arsenal of photographic features for creative camerawork.

Read our Canon Powershot G15 review.

Fujifilm XF1 review

The latest in Fujifilm's retro styled X series of premium-build compacts is top notch but awkward to turn on.

Read our Fujifllm XF1 review.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 review

The LX7 falls between the handling you’d expect of a point and shoot and its maker’s higher end G series

Read our Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 review.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review


Sony’s premium compact is a monster when it comes to features, plus delivers SLR-like pictures with a similarly hefty bite.

Read our Sony Cyber-shot RX100 review.

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