For the enthusiastic photographer who enjoys excellent quality images without the weight of a bulky SLR camera, the compact system camera is really the best way forward. Progress and technology at it’s finest, these compact system cameras use the digital image capturing process directly instead of a conventional mirror function. This still allows for exchangeable lenses and it’s range of functions in a much more compact camera body.
10 Best Compact System Cameras
Let’s take a quick look at the cameras in our line-up.
- OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 Mark II Compact System Camera with 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens – Silver/Black
- CANON EOS M3 Compact System Camera with 15-45 mm f/3.5-6.3 Wide-angle Zoom Lens – Black
- SONY A7 Compact System Camera with 28-70 mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens
- OLYMPUS PEN E-PL7 Compact System Camera with 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens White
- FUJIFILM X-T10 Compact System Camera with XC 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS MKII Zoom Lens – Black/Silver
- PANASONIC Lumix DMC-G7EB-K Compact System Camera with Lumix G VARIO 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH MEGA OIS Zoom Lens
- SONY a5000 Compact System Camera with 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Zoom Lens – White/Black
- CANON EOS M10 Compact System Camera with 15-45 mm f/3.5-f/6.3 IS STM Wide-angle Zoom Lens – White/Black
- NIKON 1 J5 Compact System Camera with NIKKOR 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Zoom Lens – Silver/Black
- SONY a6000 Compact System Camera with 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Zoom Lens Black/Silver
We look at each of the cameras in turn at the bottom of this article.
6 Key Things to Look for When Choosing a Compact System Camera
If you are graduating to a compact system camera from a compact point and shoot, or a smart phone, among the things to consider are:
1. Lens fittings
Although the lenses are swappable meaning, you could change from a telephoto to a macro lens when the need arises, each manufacturer has created their own lens fittings for their cameras, this means that whichever make you decide on, the lenses will have to be able to fit that camera body.
Unless you’re already a Canon enthusiast, in which case, there are adaptors to fit the EF-range of lenses to the EF-M mounts which the compact systems need.
The newer, higher end models of these camera types come with Wifi built in which allows the transfer of data without having to connect the camera; or the need to remove the memory card from the camera to link it to the computer. In reality though, the Wifi and NFC functions would be best limited to sharing images over social media while still relying on the traditional direct connectivity methods for transferring files.
3. JPEG/RAW formats
Most compact system cameras will allow for both JPEG and RAW formats, this allows you to shoot in a compressed or non-compressed format, after which you could ’finish’ and touch up the image in your computer’s image processing software.
4. Auto-focus speeds
Both one of it’s advantages and it’s disadvantages is the fact that the majority of these cameras function primarily on auto focus. In their stripped down version of the SLR camera, most of these compact systems have done away with the options to use manual functions, relying solely on the auto-focus ability and technology.
While this might be in regions of micro, and mili seconds, it may be worth considering what your typical subject matters are. If they are for wildlife photography, speed or contact sports, it is important to consider how quickly the camera will respond to focusing and processing the images.
5. Image stabilisation and noise reduction
It’s safe to say that all compact system cameras come with image stabilisation and noise reduction. The question really is the extent of the processing that is carried out by the camera and how well it fits with your needs.
6. Video mode
Almost all of these cameras come with a video mode and the majority of them have an external mic adaptor which means that for the budding serious videographer, these compact systems are a great place to start.
Things to get used to when moving from a point and shoot compact camera or smartphone to a compact system camera:
No eye piece
The compact system cameras rely solely on an LCD display in the back of the camera. Most come with a swivel and tilt function. This digital display is the only viewable area on the camera as they generally do not have an optical eye piece.
Bulkier than standard compact
While these compact system cameras are smaller than standard SLR cameras, they are not pocket-sized. Combined with the ability to exchange lenses, and generally very high technical features, these compact system cameras while versatile and capable of very good images, are not exactly the lightest of cameras or pocket size.
A Closer Look
Now for a closer look at each of these cameras and how they compare to one another.
1. OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 Mark II Compact System Camera with 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS Zoom Lens – Silver/Black
This 16.1 megapixel Olympus E-M10 Mark II has a 14 – 42 mm lens with powerful image stabilisation technology ready for capturing images in low light or on the move. Using the Mark II’s 5-axis stabilisation, it has the ability to produce blur-free and pin-sharp images on the go. As with all Olympus, it uses the M.ZUIKO electronic lens with smooth, quiet focusing and zooming. The lens is are interchangeable with other M.ZUIKO lens and supports remote zooming and capture via app over WiFi. Use the Olympus Image Share app to download and share your shots. Powered by the TruePic VII image processor, it reduces block-noise in movie mode and produces low-noise, vibrant and detailed photos with stunning colour reproduction. As with all compact system camera, it comes with a 3-inch tiltable OLED touchscreen viewfinder. Finally, it supports Full HD 1080p video capture with high quality stereo sound.
The 24.2 megapixel camera from Canon has a sensor measuring 22.3 x 14.9 based on APS-C CMOS with an ISO sensitivity range of 100 – 12800. The 3-inch touch screen tilts to 180 degrees and down to 45 degrees for that perfect selfie or high-angle shooting. There Advanced Hybrid CMOS AF III autofocus system is fast and locks on to the subject quickly for accurate result. It uses 49 autofocus points spread across the frame. Capture your still in auto or manual mode with full expert control via a front dial, an exposure compensation dial and extensive custom functions to suit your shooting style. The camera shoots in RAW for advanced post shot editing.
The Alpha 7 has a bigger telephoto zoom lens 28-70mm and a big 24.3 megapixel full frame sensor measuring 35.8 x 23.9 mm based on APS CMOS. The camera has superior hybrid auto focus system that combines fast phase detection with accurate contrast detection at high speed. There are 117 densely placed AF phase-detection points for better AF performance. It can take up to 5 frames per second once locked onto a subject. With multi-frame noise reduction you can capture darker scenes without the need for a tripod or flash. The camera uses four shots and composites them with considerably higher speed to significantly reduce noise. Auto HDR expands the dynamic range of your images from the darkest shadows to brightest glow, effectively capturing the tones you see in real life. Apart from stills, the Alpha 7 also captures Full HD videos at 60 frames per second and has a 3″ LCD tilt screen OLED Tru-Finder to frame and preview your shots. For connectivity there is NFC and WiFi for easy sharing.
The Olympus 16.1 megapixel camera has a 17.3 x 13.0 mm Live MOS sensor capable of capturing images at ISO range between 100 to 25,600. The camera has a 3-inch tiltable LCD touchscreen that flips down up to 180 degrees letting you take photos at different angles including that all important selfie. The body is made from premium metal enhanced with faux leather finish making it a fashion piece at the same time. It uses M.ZUIKO electronic lens with a range of 14-42mm. Powered by the TruePic VII image processor, it produces crisp and clear image with fast auto focus and quick start-up. When you are ready, share the photos online or transfer it wirelessly via WiFi to Olmpus Image Share app for iOS or Android.
5. FUJIFILM X-T10 Compact System Camera with XC 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS MKII Zoom Lens – Black/Silver
The Fujifulm X-T10 has a 16.3 megapixels sensor measuring 23.6 x 15.6 mm based on APS-C CMOST II. It has super fast auto focus at 0.08 seconds and can take up to 8 frames per second in continuous mode. With Intelligent Hybrid AF, it picks the most suitable focusing system based on the chosen scene and locks on to the subject even if it is moving int he frame. The camera has a 76.2mm tiltable LCD screen to better frame your shots and sufficient zoom up to 50mm for everyday photography. The lens support Optical Image Stabilisation OIS that lets you shoot up to three stops lower without compromising or blurring the image. The X-Trans CMOS II sensor eliminates the need for an optical low-pass filter. WiFi connectivity makes shooting and sharing easier with remote trigger via app, instant transfers and location tagging.
ALSO: Fujifilm X-T2 Compact System Camera with XF 18-55mm lens – the camera supports 4K Ultra HD video recording with, fast autofocus, easy to use colour modes and video settings to bring out the creativity in your shots. The camera is a great all-rounder offering superior stills with fast autofocus speed and great video clips in a waterproof package. It also has a large 3-inch tilting viewfinder.
6. PANASONIC Lumix DMC-G7EB-K Compact System Camera with Lumix G VARIO 14-42 mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH MEGA OIS Zoom Lens
The Lumix G7 has a 16 MegaPixel sensor measuring 17.3 x 13.0 mm with Live MOS, the latest line of Panasonic’s DSLR mirrorless cameras. It supports 4K Ultra HD video recording offering incredible detail and realistic video clips at 30 frames per second with option to create slow motion sequences. The compact 14-42mm offers super wide angle for everyday photography. It also makes the package small and lighweight. The lens has a minimum focus distance of 20 cm and comes with MEGA OIS to take clear and stable shots. It has intuitive menu and easy to access controls via the 1040k vari-angle touchscreen giving you full control over the image and shooting from different angles. Finally, the rapid response AF has a contrast AF system, using the lights that passes through the lens for autofocus detection for better low light performance. There is also a Startlight AF mode that takes it one step further allowing you to photos of starts in the night sky. ISO sensitivity is 100 – 25600.
ALSO: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX15 Compact Camera with 1-inch sensor, fluid 3 x optical zoom lens and easy to use controls and tilting touch screen. The camera supports 4K video recording and a range of useful photo modes. The intuitive and hands-on aperture dial lets you manually control the amount of light that enters the lens.
The Sony a5000 in white with silver lense barrel lets the camera stands out from the crowd of largely black cameras. Sony still offers a black version but the white does have our vote. It comes with a 20.1 megapixel sensor measuring 23.2 x 15.4mm based on APS-C CMOS. The cameras is one of the more affordable options in the market and still packs the ability to capture great stills and Full HD 1080p video recording. No, 4K Ultra HD here unfortunately, given that you save a few hundred on this camera, you can probably save up a little more for a 4K action camera. Full HD video recording available in 60i/50i (NTSC/PAL) frame rate or lower 24p/25p (NTSC/PAL) frame rates. The ISO sensitivity is also smaller ranging between 100 to 16,000. There is a 3-inch TFT LCD screen that can be tilted up to 180 degree, great for selfies and group photos. For portraits photography, it also has Soft Skin Effect to smooth out wrinkles or dullness. While it comes with a 16-50 mm lense, it is intercheageable with E-mount lenses or use an A-mount lense with an adapter. For photo transfer, it comes with NFC for one touch photo sharing to NFC compatible smartphones or tablets to establish a WiFi connection to the device. Like most other WiFi enabled cameras, there is also a Smart Remote Control app for remote shooting options.
8. CANON EOS M10 Compact System Camera with 15-45 mm f/3.5-f/6.3 IS STM Wide-angle Zoom Lens – White/Black
The Canon EOS M10 is another affordable compact system camera with a wide angle 15-45mm lense. It is an 18 mega pixel camera with its APS-C CMOS sensor measuring 22.3 x 14.9mm. ISO sensitivity range is pretty standard between 100 – 12,800. For easy of shooting there is a 3-inch (76.2mm) tiltable LCD touchscreen for framing your shots as a digital viewfinder and changing the settings. Powered by a DIGIC 6 processor, it delivers high resolution images with Creative Assist to help you take advantage of expert level manual controls. The lense uses Canon EF-M mount. It has built-in WiFi with one touch NFC for wireless sharing of photos and videos. There is also a remote control app great for group shots or capturing images in low light.
Available in three different colour options; white, black or black and silver, the Nikon 1 J5 spots a retro look. The Nikon 1 J5 is a 20.8 megapixel camera with a 13.2 x 8.8 mm CMOS sensor. It has a 3-inch tiltable touchscreen viewfinder that flips 180 degrees up so you can take that selfies or group shots given its super wide angle lens 10-30mm and see what you are taking. Powered by dual-engine EXPEED 5A processor, the camera is smooth and takes images effortlessly with an incredible 60 frames per second at full resolution in continuous shooting mode with fixed focus. As with most cameras in this category, it comes equipped with WiFi and NFC for easy photo and video transfer. Pick from the extensive lense of NIKKOR lenses with Nikon 1 mount sold separately and not be limited to just the lens kit provided. It also features dynamic auto focus and continuous AF as well as Active Selection that takes up to 10 high resolution images per second and let you choose the best. Finally, the camera is capable of recording Full HD videos while taking stills at the same time manually or with Auto Image Capture. Apart from scene modes for stills, there are also movie modes (Fast Motion, Jump Cut and 4-Second Movie) so let the creative juices flow.
With interchangeable lenses, the Sony a6000 is flexible and speedy. It has a high performance processor that provides for superior autofocus taking only 0.06 second and lets you take up to 11 frames per second in continuous shooting mode. The camera has 179-point, high-speed, high-precision contrast-detection autofocus. Other shooting modes include Superior Auto and Intelligent Auto for point and shoot as well as fully manual mode for more control over exposure, aperture, white balance and more. The camera also lets you share shots taken easily with built-in WiFi and NFC. It also has a large 24.3 megapixel sensor for exceptional light capture. The sensor size measures 23.5 x 15.7mm based on APS-C CMOS with ISO range of 100 to 25,600 to ensure greater flexibility and performance even at dusk and low lighthing conditions. There is a 3-inch LCD tilt screen, a high resolution OLED electronic viewfinder that lets you frame your shots &and preview them easily.