Compact System Cameras Explained

30 May 2013 12:24:36 PM AEST

Compact System Cameras (CSC) are also known of as Hybrids, because they are a blend that gives you the compact size and simple automated features of a compact camera as well as the image quality and manual functions of a DSLR. They also have interchangeable lenses, offering you more flexibility with your shooting. CSC cameras range from the very simple and mostly automatic, to those designed for more manual use. They are ideal for travellers who want top quality shots without compromising size, professionals who need a walk-around camera with manual controls, or for people who want to capture DSLR quality images without too much fuss. Yes, they really can cater to almost everyone.

How do they do it?

The secret to CSC camera size and quality is all in the design. Digital SLR cameras have an optical viewfinder and mirror box shutter system which can add considerable bulk to a camera. When the shutter button is pressed the mirror flicks up and the sensor is exposed to light through the lens. With CSC cameras there is no mirror box at all- the light travels straight through the lens to the sensor which then displays the view through the LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder. This means faster focusing and faster frame rates (how many pictures a camera can take in a row, measured in frames per second), with a drawback of the sensor being exposed every time a lens is changed. This design lets them keep the size of the camera as small as possible while still using a large sensor to produce top-notch images. The size of the sensor varies depending on the manufacturer. Keep in mind that while a larger sensor should provide better images it also requires larger lenses.

For example, let us look at some of the most popular CSC cameras; The Sony NEX, the Nikon 1, and the Olympus PEN series. All have differently sized sensors and therefore differently sized lenses. The smallest is the Nikon 1 with a 1” sensor and an almost pocket-sized form. The Olympus CSC cameras use the Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is slightly larger with lenses to match. Sony uses an APS-C sensor (the same size as what you will find in an entry-level DSLR camera) and while the camera is small the lenses can get quite large.

Which one is right for me?
There are plenty of different Compact System cameras to pick from and knowing which one is right for you can be a bit tricky, so here is a handy guide to the different brands and what they can do.

The Canon EOS M has been designed with the casual user in mind. Perfect for travellers who would rather experience the scene then worry about camera settings, the EOS M has the same sensor, processor and software features as the 650D (including the touch screen) all in a much smaller body. While it does have manual shooting modes it really flourishes in Automatic and when using the various Scene modes and shooting filters. Existing Canon EF lenses can be used on the body with an adapter.

Sony NEX cameras follow a similar philosophy to the EOS M, in that they produce DSLR quality shots without too much messing around. The really fast focusing and APS-C sensor ensure great photos with very little effort. At this stage they have more models than the EOS M, and as such have more features and shooting options the higher you go. The Sony NEX can also use old Sony Alpha lenses with the help of an adapter.

Samsung NX cameras also offer simple use but have really embraced WiFi technology, including it for all of their SMART NX models. Featuring fast focusing and brilliantly exposed pictures this line of cameras is well worth a look for any casual user or enthusiast photographer.

The Nikon 1 series cameras are small, speedy and perfect for those who just want to point and shoot quickly. They are best suited to those who are content to let the camera do the work, so you can quickly point and snap the shot you want, but who also like the flexibility of using different lenses. Existing Nikon D lenses can be used with an adapter.

Panasonic Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras provide top-notch image quality, especially when using their top-quality Leica lenses. They can also use the same lenses as the Olympus PEN and OMD cameras, so you have a wide range of lens options to choose from. The G series is lauded for its video shooting capabilities, which include full-time AF tracking which can be activated by touching the subject on the screen.

Olympus PEN cameras are designed to look great and to take even better pictures. The PEN Lite cameras are a slightly more simplified version of the flagship, but still with enough grunt and controls for enthusiasts to get creative. The entry-level PEN Mini’s are favourites among users who want a basic camera with plenty of art filters and scene modes and an easily navigated menu system. The PEN series offer a wide range of lenses which can also be used on the OM-D series cameras. They can also use Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses.

The Olympus OM-D is kind of like the Olympus PEN – indeed it uses the same mounting system – but with more stuff. It’s geared more toward the photographer looking for outstanding images, manual controls and extreme speed; a really fast frame rate as well as 3D AF tracking make it brilliant for sports, and the much-loved electronic viewfinder has little to no lag time. The OMD can take a lot of punishment - it’s dustproof and splash-proof when teamed up with a weather-sealed lens such as the 12-50mm.

The Fuji X cameras are much beloved by photographers who love the shooting-style and aesthetics of old-school rangefinder cameras but appreciate the advances in digital camera technology. They have a particularly advanced sensor system to provide top-notch shots and most of their lenses (so far) are fixed length with wide apertures, which tend to be preferred by serious enthusiasts. As you can see, there are plenty of options to pick from. If you’re still not sure where to go from here feel free to pop into one of our stores or to call us on 1800 186 895 for a chat to our staff. Happy Shooting!

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