by Gavin Stoker Published 10/04/2015
With CSC sales rising as technology improves, while DSLR adoption drops, are you among those considering making the switch to a more portable picture taker? Gavin Stoker rounds up some compact contenders worth considering
As Mike McNamee notes elsewhere in this issue, compact system camera ('CSC') ownership and use is on the rise among enthusiasts and professionals. These image-capture devices have been around as an alternative to a digital SLR since 2008/2009 and the first releases from Panasonic and Olympus in the G4 and E-P1 respectively. But it feels as if in the past couple of years that they've started really coming into their own as technologies have improved and - equally importantly - there is an ever-expanding range of compatible lenses and accessories available to really get the best out of the smaller format and, in some cases, such as those utilizing a one-inch or Four Thirds chip, a sensor size smaller than the standard APS-C of digital SLRs.
On top of improvements to the cameras themselves - and partly because of it - we now have respected professionals in our trade such as Trevor and Faye Yerbury and Damien Lovegrove acting as brand ambassadors for Fujifilm's X series, and The Societies' regular Damian McGillicuddy pledging his allegiance to Olympus' OM-D system. These are just a few names among many, now that manufacturers have realised that to seriously 'sell' the CSC concept to the pubic, they need the backing of respected names. When I last spoke to Panasonic, they had 20 pro brand ambassadors lined up for their Micro Four Thirds G system, and Sony has a growing number praising the virtues of its full-frame A7 line up.
If you are a pro or high-end enthusiast actively considering these models, however, it will quickly become apparent that most can't yet compete with Canon or Nikon for firepower when it comes to sheer quantity of compatible lenses. For example, while there are currently 16 directly compatible NX lenses in the Samsung NX range, which is more than enough for most amateurs, Canon and Nikon offer around 70 own-brand optics each at last count.
Whichever manufacturer or name photographer you talk to, the spiel is always the same: these might be smaller in the palm and the camera bag than your full frame DSLR, but nevertheless their output is certainly 'good enough' for the production of professional imagery. On top of this, the fact that the compact system cameras are lighter and more portable is seen as a distinct advantage by our pro colleagues, as is the fact that the systems are more affordable - even when you add a bag full of lenses - than their 35mm equivalents. Prices typically range from £400 for an entry-level CSC, to £1,500 for the flagship models.
So, if you've long been tempted by a smaller format system camera, which range should you buy into? You might be a lifelong Nikon or Canon man (or lady) but generally speaking both those manufacturers have been slow to market the CSC with real conviction; Canon's just-announced EOS M3 arriving almost two and a half years after its inaugural EOS M. To help provide some impartial buying advice we're presenting you with an informal round-up, detailing the cream of what's currently available from this particular crop.
"There will be those who have been tempted by the rangefinder-resembling 'X' series cameras released by Fujifilm..."
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