In your pocketSize does matter. A dSLR's body is big, and with its lens on, it can be huge. Add all your accessories, and you'll soon need a dedicated bag to carry all that gear. Of course, all this equipment is useful, and help you improve the quality of your photos. In some situations though, you might need to be as light or as discrete as possible. For example I would not want to bring my dSLR for skiing; a camera which fits in a pocket would feel much more practical to me. Some other times, like when you hang out with your friends, you just don't want to be the guy with the big professionnal-looking camera.
High-quality compact cameras are smaller than dSLR, even though some, like Canon G12 and Nikon P7000, are not that different from a dSLR's body. Much more portable ones include Canon S95, Samsung EX-1, Panasonic LX5, Olympus XZ-1.
PricePrice is also an issue, dSLR bodies are expensive, and as I said, you need accessories as well. All this has a cost, you will easily spend $1500. I am not saying you can have the same level of quality and flexibility with a single compact camera, but with $400 or $500 you can have a high-quality image capable, ready-to-use compact camera with full manual control.
High-quality?High quality refers to high image quality of course. I will not dive into the details of the image quality these cameras can provide, you can visit reviews websites like dpreview for that. Just know quality is there, no problem about it.
To high quality I would add high functionnality. High-end compact cameras provide advanced modes and settings, just like dSLR. You can use manual mode, set bracketing, the camera generates RAW files letting you do all the changes you want.
Who would buy one?I believe these high-end compacts can attract many different people.
dSLR users may find it nice to have a more portable camera when their main gear is not practical to carry. Even when they do have their equipment with them, these compacts can make great second cameras (for example if your dSLR has a fixed length focal on and you need zoom at the same time).
People who are afraid of getting to the dSLR world yet, because of the financial investment can get one of these. While they will have access to many manual controls, they have a flexible lens, don't cost too much and have nice quality. Plus, these cameras have full auto modes, everyone can use them. Whenever they want to get themselves a dSLR, a high-end compact will still be of use.
Recently I wrote about how expensive it is to get a waterproof housing for your dSLR to take underwater shots. It turns out compacts cases are less expensive, and if you want a good quality, a high-end compact with a waterproof housing can be a good choice!
Read moreIf you want more information on these cameras, I recommend the following links, including some reviews:
- High-quality compact group test on dpreview
- Samsung TL500/EX1 group on flickr
- Canon G12 group on flickr
- Canon PowerShot S95 group on flickr
- Nikon P7000 group on flickr
- Panasonic LX3 & LX5 group on flickr
GalleryHere is a little selection of what high-quality compact cameras can do.