Best high-end compact camera: 6 compared

The best back-ups or alternatives to your DSLR

Best high-end compact camera

Canon G15 - £400/AU$460/US$450

With styling cues apparently taken from a brick, the Canon G15 has a chunky, purposeful and solid feel. There's no lack of refinement beneath the skin, with the camera boasting a string of high-tech specs.

As one of Canon's HS System compacts, the G15 aims to deliver plenty of fine detail with minimal image noise, even under very low lighting. Sharpness should be helped along by an 'intelligent' four-stop optical stabiliser and a new, faster f/1.8-2.8 5x zoom lens with an effective range of 28-140mm.

Compared with the preceding Canon G12, the maximum burst rate leaps up from 2fps to 10fps, despite an increase in resolution from 10MP to 12.1MP. The LCD screen's resolution also takes a major step up from 461k to 922k, and it's physically larger at 3 inches. It's clearer and easier on the eye, but lacks the articulation of the Canon G15's design.

The 'Smart Auto' shooting mode has 58 different options to choose from in its automatic scene detection bank. In semi-automatic and manual modes, controls are intuitive and easy to get at, including a new dual-dial arrangement up on top for shooting modes and exposure compensation.

Handling benefits from richly textured, contoured surfaces. Access to shooting settings is intuitive, with dedicated buttons for metering and autofocus options, and the kind of quick menu that's found so much favour on Canon's recent DSLRs.

Autofocus is fast and accurate, while metering is reliable in wide-ranging lighting conditions. The latter does a good job when linked to Face Detection AF, producing well-exposed portraits even against bright or dark backgrounds. Auto white balance is a touch on the warm side, giving an appealing and natural look to images. The Canon G15 does well to produce detailed, low-noise images in very dull lighting conditions.

Outdoor images

Best high-end compact camera

Colour rendition has a pleasant warmth, and the Canon G15 does well to boost shadow detail, giving well-balanced exposures.

Resolution

Best high-end compact camera

There's bags of sharpness at low to medium sensitivity settings, and the Canon G15 does well to hang onto this even at very high ISO settings.

Noise

Best high-end compact camera
Noise at ISO 200

Best high-end compact camera
Noise at ISO 3200

There's precious little image noise even at ISO 3200, and the signs of smoothing aren't overly obvious, with good retention of fine detail.

Colour error

Best high-end compact camera

Scores are pretty average for colour accuracy, but images generally have very lifelike and natural colour rendition.

Image test verdict

The Canon G15 performs very well in all areas of image quality, making it one of the more desirable cameras.

Read our full Canon G15 review