There's a long tradition of high-quality compact cameras going back more than a hundred years, and even now, in the days of digital, there are some incredibly capable compact cameras on the market. Shop carefully and you can get excellent image quality, full manual control and plenty of other bells and whistles, provided you don't mind paying a little more than you might for the average point and shoot. Top-notch lenses, great sensors and plenty of control are the hallmarks of every one of our top five recommended compact cameras for enthusiasts.

Prices given are representative of street pricing, and our recommendations are arranged from most to least expensive.

Recommendations are subject to change and are current as of November 2014

Fujifilm X100T

$1300 / £1000 | 16MP | Hybrid electronic / optical viewfinder | 35mm equiv F2 lens

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Fuji’s X100 series has been immensely popular since it was first released, and has only gained fans on its passage through the X100S and now on to the X100T. Small, neat, stylish and highly effective machines, the X100 models produce images as good as the bodies look. 

At the heart of these cameras is the Holy Trinity that comprises a high-class 23mm f/2 Fujinon lens (that delivers an angle of view similar to that of a 35mm lens on a full frame sensor), the well-respected APS-C –sized 16-million-pixel Fuji X-Trans sensor and a viewfinder that combines both optical and digital views – sometimes simultaneously. 

The X100T brings the standard features we’d expect, but improves the viewfinder experience with a 2.3-million-dot resolution digital display and more complex information overlays when it is used in optical mode. The camera’s famous split-image manual focusing method can now be used with the optical view as well as in digital display mode, and even the 3-inch rear screen has undergone a refresh to now feature a much improved 1.04-million-dot resolution. 

Other significant changes include a new electronic shutter mode that allows completely silent shooting and a top shutter speed of 1/32,000sec, extended exposure compensation of +/-3EV, the addition of the Kodachrome-alike Classic Chrome to the film simulation modes, and an improved AF system that offers face detection. 

Also consider... 

Sony Cyber-shot RX1R: The 24MP Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R is a variation of the RX1, which had the impressive distinction of being the first full frame fixed lens camera to enter the market. The variation of the RX1R (the R stands for "resolution"), is that it lacks the anti-aliasing filter of its counterpart. With the absence of that filter, the RX1R gains sharpness and higher effective resolution. Its 35mm F2 lens is excellent and overall the RX1R is only let down by its relatively sluggish autofocus.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

$900 / £700 | 13MP 4/3 sensor | 2.76m-dot viewfinder | 4K/30p video

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The Lumix DMC-LX100 is a real departure for Panasonic, and in many ways for the entire compact camera genre – a large sensor compact, with a super-fast lens, which shoots 4K video and which has achieved one of the highest scores DP Review has given a camera in this category. 

Quite different from the previous models in the Lumix LX range, this model takes on the micro four thirds sensor used in the company’s Lumix G interchangeable lens series. This makes the body somewhat bigger than the LX7 that came before it, but the larger photosites in the 12.8-million-pixel recording area more than make up for this with their massively improved image quality.

Although the sensor size is a standout feature, it is actually the lens that has garnered most of the attention. The camera is fitted with a Leica DC Vario-Summilux f/1.7-2.8 zoom that acts like a 24-75mm would on a full frame camera – so effectively the fast upgrade standard lens that serious enthusiasts would buy for their DSLR. As an extra treat, f stops can be controlled via a clicking aperture ring and an additional control ring can be customised to operate one of a collection of other functions – such as ISO.

The camera features a built-in 2.76-million-dot electronic viewfinder, and multi-aspect ratio shooting is provided by a switch on the lens barrel. 

Video fans can enjoy 4K resolution 30p movie, while a further mode allows 8MP stills to be lifted, in-camera, from captured movie footage. 

Also consider...

Sony Cyber-shot RX10: Sony's Cyber-shot RX10 marries the 20MP 1"-type BSI-CMOS sensor from the RX100 II with a 24-200mm Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zoom lens that has a constant maximum aperture of F2.8. Although relatively expensive it's a cut above conventional smaller-sensor 'super zoom' cameras, and represents an impressively versatile, albeit not strictly speaking 'compact' package for both still and video capture.

Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III

$800 / £640 | 21MP | 1.04m-dot viewfinder | 3in, 1.2m-dot tilting LCD| 1080/60p video

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The Sony RX100 lll is one of the best compact cameras on the market, following on from excellent performances from the previous two models. Equipped with a 21-million-pixel 1-inch sensor (that’s a good deal larger than those in most compact cameras) this newest version brings the additional attraction of a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 Zeiss zoom – a super-fast lens that’s ideal for low light work and for creating shallow depth of field. It is the combination of the fast high-quality lens and that larger sensor that really helps this camera to stand out from the crowd, and to produce images that simply don’t look as though they were shot with a compact. 

The other surprising addition to this tiny body is a built-in pop-up electronic viewfinder. The new SVGA OLED 1.44-million-dot viewfinder is useful for getting a clear view of what you are shooting and menu systems in bright conditions, when the camera’s built-in neutral density filters will also come in handy for allowing those wide apertures to be used in full sunshine – and when recording video. 

Other significant features include a 3-inch tilting LCD screen with 1.23 million dots, full HD 1080/60p video recording, clean HDMI output and a customisable lens ring for changing apertures, focal length, exposure compensation and focus. 

Also consider...

Fujifilm X30: The X30 is Fujifilm's flagship zoom compact, and features a 2/3" X-Trans sensor, relatively fast 28-112mm equivalent F2-2.8 lens, and a design that fits right in with the company's other X-series models. The biggest difference between the X30 and the older X20 is the addition of a new electronic viewfinder, and improved battery life. 

Ricoh GR

$630 / £470 | 16MP | 28mm equiv F2.8 lens | 25600 max ISO| 1080/30p video

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With a long and admired heritage in film compact cameras, it took Ricoh a while to emulate its legendary qualities in the digital world, but the GR has hit the mark. Designed as a go-anywhere pocket camera, the GR features an APS-C sensor with 16.2 million pixels, and a first class 18.5mm (28mm) f/2.8 lens. Such a wide angle, zoom-less, focal length may not suit everyone, but those who appreciate this encompassing view will enjoy edge-to-edge sharpness and a more than usable widest aperture. 

The camera’s somewhat flat JPEG files are also not to everyone’s taste, but the universal DNG raw files are extremely flexible and filled with detail from the optical-low-pass-filter-free CMOS sensor. 

There is no optical viewfinder or option of an EVF, so images are composed on the rear 3-inch 1.2-milion-dot LCD screen, and a hotshoe accepts a range of Ricoh branded flash units. 

The camera is very similar to the Nikon Coolpix A, but it is cheaper and offers a built-in neutral density filter, the TAv exposure mode from Pentax, and a 35mm crop mode that reduces the pixel count to 10MP in exchange for a ‘longer focal length’. The GR’s AF has proved a little more snappy than Nikon’s too, and Ricoh offers a few other features that are absent from the Coolpix model. 

Video shooters will not be thrilled with the slightly automated and inflexible HD movie controls, but a collection of accessory wide angle adapters, filter rings and optical viewfinders might make up for that. It’s a stills, pocket, go-anywhere camera, and is very good at being just that

Also consider...

Nikon Coolpix A: The Nikon Coolpix A is a high-end compact camera with a DX (APS-C) format sensor, and a fixed 28mm (equivalent) lens. Offering full manual control and solid build quality, The Coolpix A offers DSLR-standard image quality and an excellent 28mm equivalent lens in a well-polished, pocketable camera. Its user interface will be immediately familiar to Nikon shooters and its results are dependably good.

Canon PowerShot G16

$500 / £450 | 12MP | 28-140mm lens | 3" 922k-dot LCD | 1080/60p video

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The Canon PowerShot G16 is a compact camera with a fixed lens and a considerably smaller sensor than interchangeable lens models, but it does have a lot going for it. The 28-140mm zoom lens lacks a bit of reach at the telephoto end, but optical quality is very high, and that's a perfect range for everyday photography of people and places.

The G16 is impressively fast, offering extremely responsive autofocus and rapid shot-to-shot times even in Raw capture mode. It also boasts full manual exposure control and plenty of 'hands on' control points. As such, the G16 makes a good second camera in a DSLR or mirror less interchangeable lens system. It's relatively compact, fast, and reliable.

Also consider...

Nikon Coolpix P7800 The Coolpix P7800 offers a longer zoom than arch-rival the Canon PowerShot G16 (28-200mm equivalent). It also boasts an articulating rear LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder. Image quality is excellent too, and at least on a par with the competition. Where the P7800 falls a little short is operational speed, especially when shooting in Raw mode. It's just not as snappy as the best of its competitors.