With a compact system camera you get many of the features of a digital SLR, including interchangeable lenses, in a smaller package. So whether you’re on a budget, or need a powerful bit of kit that’ll fit in your pocket, we’ve highlighted five of the best compact system cameras for you.
How we test cameras
At Which? we’ve tested around 30 currently available compact system cameras alongside a number of digital SLRs to see how they compare. Many of the compact system cameras give the SLRs a run for their money, offering plenty of features in smaller, lighter packages. We’ve highlighted just a few that are worth your notice, depending on your needs. If they’re not right for you, see our digital SLR Best Buys to see all our recommended SLR-quality cameras.
Sony NEX-C3 – Best for portability (from £380)
If you’re looking for something relatively small, take a look at this Sony NEX-C3.
It’s Sony’s most compact NEX system camera, measuring 11.5 x 8 x 10.5cm (height x width x depth) and weighing 530g with the 18-55mm kit lens attached. Put a pancake lens on it and you may even be able to get it in your pocket.
Our testers also remarked on its suitability if you’re new to system cameras and digital SLRs:
Sony’s thinking with the NEX-C3 is to make camera adjustments as approachable as possible for first-time system camera owners… settings are laid out in plain-speaking terms – there’s a ‘Bkground defocus’ mode, for example, to encourage less confident users to play with depth of field.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 – Best for video (from £950)
This micro-four-thirds camera doesn’t come cheap and it’s little on the large side for a compact system camera, but the interchangeable lenses that it’s compatible with are smaller than standard DSLR lenses.
It’s got a 16.2Mp sensor and the actuated 3-inch LCD screen makes it easier to shoot at odd angles.
The DMW-MA1 lens mount means there are plenty of compatible lens options available, including a 3D lens. We tested it with the 14-140mm kit lens attached which has a silent zoom and has been specially designed to capture great video.
Our testers were impressed with its video quality:
The GH2 has been designed as a specialist piece of video kit. It can record Full-HD video at a resolution of 1080p, at 24 frames per second with a bit rate of up to 24Mbps. The results of our testing were outstanding.
Samsung NX11 – Best on a budget (from £330)
This Samsung model is a bargain at around £330 including the i-Function 18-55mm II IOS lens.
It boasts a 14.6Mp APS-C sensor more commonly seen on digital SLRs and includes an electronic viewfinder as well as an AMOLED screen.
Our testers remarked on its picture quality:
The NX11 takes good outdoor shots in bright light on the auto setting and with the tested lens. Face detection works well to keep people in focus, but the image stabiliser in the lens isn’t the best – you’d be wise to use a tripod.
Nikon V1 – Best for a viewfinder (from £640)
The Nikon V1 – from the Nikon 1 range – has plenty of features in a small package and if a viewfinder is a must for you, it may be preferable to the Sony NEX-C3.
At 10Mp, the sensor is rather small for a compact system camera and the V1 doesn’t include the pop-up flash of the Nikon J1, but there is a hot-shoe mount that can be used to attached a number of accessories, including a flash.
The electronic viewfinder on the V1 is high quality, while keeping the camera to a still relatively portable size of 12.5 x 8 x 9 cm (height x width x depth) and 525g in weight with the 10-30mm VR lens attached.
Our review remarked on lens compatibility:
Though the new Nikon 1 system has its own lens mount compatible with the ‘1 Nikkor’ lens range (four lenses will be available at the outset), an adaptor (the Nikon FT1 lens adaptor) will be able to attach standard AFS and AFI Nikkor lenses to the 1 system cameras.
Nikon V1 review – read our full review to find out whether the small sensor impacts on picture quality
Olympus PEN E-P3 – Best for retro styling (from £450)
You don’t have to give up old-school style for the latest tech, and this Olympus Pen E-P3 is proof of that.
The Olympus Pen E-P3 micro-four-thirds camera produces great looking pictures – we tested it with the 14-42mm kit lens attached.
It has an OLED touchscreen for operation and includes a pop up flash. Although there’s no viewfinder you can get a viewfinder accessory to attach to the hot-shoe mount.
Our review says of picture quality:
Where the E-P3 certainly delivers is with its picture quality, and if you’re using this model as your first foray into system cameras, then the results are bound to please. Even DSLR owners are likely to be impressed with the detail made possible by the large 12Mp sensor.
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