Group test: Compact system cameras

Nick Broughall
5 October, 2012
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It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago, the vast majority of cameras required you to crack open up the back panel and insert a roll of film in order to work. Even the best photographers were shooting blind, pressing the shutter button then having to wait until the roll of film was complete before they knew if they had a great shot or not.

Fortunately, the rise of digital photography over the past decade has taken what was once a fairly expensive niche hobby and turned it into something everybody can enjoy.

While the fundamental science behind film photography – things like aperture and shutter speeds – translated across to digital and the form factors changed little (except for the addition of an LCD screen), digital also opened up huge opportunities for camera manufacturers to introduce intelligent new features and functions.

One of the biggest developments in digital photography in recent years is the rise of a new category of camera. Going by a variety of names – Compact System Camera (CSC), Mirrorless System Camera (MSC), Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) and, best of all, Electronic Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) – the new category is exploding in popularity.

With small, compact bodies, yet with the benefit of an interchangeable lens system, these cameras aspire to offer the best of both worlds, combining lightweight, comfortable form factors with amazing picture quality.

They accomplish this feat by doing away with the bulky mirrors found in SLR cameras. Instead of bouncing the image through the lens up to a viewfinder via a couple of mirrors, CSC cameras translate the image directly off the sensor, displaying it on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder.

Because of the purely digital collection and display of images, CSC cameras have a huge advantage over full-sized DSLRs, in that many models can actively display settings changes in real time. In other words, if you adjust the aperture or shutter speed of a framed shot, you can see the difference each adjustment will make on the camera’s screen.

For novice photographers looking for a way to delve into the manual settings of a camera in order to become a better photographer, these advancements make the process significantly simpler.

Not everything is an improvement though. In many cases – but not all – the reduced body size means a smaller image sensor, which can affect the image quality at larger print sizes.

There’s also the fact that the smaller cameras largely require an entirely new lens ecosystem to exist. While some cameras offer adapters to legacy lens mounts, it’s never as simple a proposition as sticking with a full-sized DSLR.

Still, the benefits of an interchangeable lens camera with a lightweight, compact body far outweigh the downsides. Whether it’s for a compact user looking to get more out of photography than their current fixed- lens can provide or a seasoned DSLR user looking for something to carry around on the weekends, CSC cameras are delivering on digital photography’s promise.

Here is our compact system camera group test rundown:

Nikon 1 V1

PROs: Beautiful photos; great 1080p video

CONs: Shooting modes buried in menus; camera doesn’t preview changes to settings on LCD
RRP: $999 (10-30mm lens); $1099 (10-30mm & 30-110mm lenses)



Sony NEX-F3

PROs: Lightweight, compact design; impressive filter selection

CONs: Settings are all buried deep in menus; Auto mode tends to overexpose
RRP: $699 (SEL1855 lens); $999 (SEL1855 & SEL55210 lenses)



Samsung NX-200

PROs: i-Function lenses make controlling settings easy; gorgeous AMOLED display

CONs: No in-body stabilisation; no dedicated video button.
RRP: $799 (18-55mm lens)



Olympus OM-D E-M5

PROs: Stunning photos; fantastic image stabilisation; weather resistant

CONs: Small, squishy buttons; potentially daunting menu
RRP: $1199 (body only)



Panasonic DMC-GX1

PROs: Superb build quality; customisable controls

CONs: Screen could be better; no in-body image stabilisation
RRP: $1199 (14-42mm lens); $1599 (12-35mm lens)



Pentax K-01

PROs: Brilliant image quality; full K-mount lens system support

CONs: Bulky and heavy; slow and noisy autofocus
RRP: $799 (body); $849 (40mm F2.8 XS lens); $849 (DAL18-55mm lens)

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