Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

1st Feb 2013 | 16:05

Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

Get the best compact system camera for your budget

Best compact system cameras

Update: We've added the latest great CSCs and updated the listings with current selling prices, including Australian market prices.

The popularity of compact system cameras (CSCs) has exploded over the last couple of years because of the quality images and flexibility of use they deliver. There are models available from all of the key camera manufacturers including Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony.

Although choice is generally a good thing, the vast array of CSCs on the market today can make choosing the right one a daunting prospect.

The popularity of these cameras can be put down to a number of factors. Being able to change lenses increases creative possibilities, plus the large image sensor (when compared to compact cameras) in many helps to improve noise levels at high sensitivities and boost dynamic range.

Recent advances in sensor technology have also helped to close the gap in image quality between these cameras and bulkier DSLRs.

Best compact system camera

Above all else, the compact size means that compact system cameras are not left at home due to their bulk, which, for many, can bring the fun back into picture taking. Models range from those best suited to snap-shooters, right through to cameras with professional-level controls and features.

We've taken a good look through the CSC ranges each manufacturer has to offer and taken each model's strengths into account, to help you to find the camera best tailored to your particular requirements.

Prices listed are typical selling prices for standard packages with a basic zoom lens included, in the UK, Australia and the US. We've grouped the best compact system cameras by brand and ranges, to help you to find your way around the best CSCs on offer now.

Panasonic Micro Four Thirds range

Developed jointly by Olympus and Panasonic, the Micro Four Thirds system was the first true mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system available.

The imaging sensor has an aspect ratio of 4:3, unlike many other cameras that stick to the same 3:2 aspect ratio of 35mm film. There's also a crop factor of 2x, which means a 25mm lens is required to provide the same angle of view of a 50mm lens used on a 35mm camera.

Currently, Micro Four Thirds camera owners have the widest range of lenses to choose from, with lenses from both manufacturers being compatible with all Micro Four Thirds cameras. Due to the wide support this system enjoys, third-party lens and accessory manufacturers such as Sigma and Voigtlander also supply compatible products. Adaptors for a wide range of lenses are available to enable them to be mounted on Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Panasonic G5

Price: £630/AU$1,000/US$800
Spec: 16MP, 1080p video, 3-inch adjustable touchscreen, EVF

Panasonic G5 review

Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

Featuring a newly designed 16MP digital sensor and Venus Engine VII FHD processor, Panasonic promises that the G5 delivers images that are cleaner and freer of noise than seen before on a G series camera. Panasonic is keen to call the G5 a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) camera, since it's slightly bigger than most CSCs.

Innovative new features such as the TouchPad AF operation and Eye Sensor AF are appealing. It also has a good number of automatic controls, digital filters and scene guides to appeal to novices or those looking simply to point and shoot.

The Panasonic G5 is our Best mid-range CSC award-winner.

Read our Panasonic G5 review

Panasonic GF5

Price: £400/AU$700/US$520
Spec: 12.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch touchscreen

Panasonic Lumix GF5 review

Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

Panasonic has done a great job at building a compact system camera that will appeal very strongly to those looking to step up from compact or bridge models, while keeping enough manual controls to satisfy those looking for more.

The amount of detail the Panasonic Lumix GF5 captures is particularly impressive - especially considering the lens we used for the majority of our shots was the supplied kit lens (albeit the more expensive option). This is a great option for those looking to get started with a compact system camera.

The Panasonic Lumix GF5 wins our Best entry-level CSC award.

Read our Panasonic GF5 review

Panasonic GX1

Price: £440/AU$840/US$470
Spec: 16MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD touchscreen, extensive manual control

Best compact system camera 2012

Aimed at enthusiasts and experienced photographers, the Panasonic Lumix GX1 sports plenty of manual control options in a compact, rugged metal body. Adjustments can be made via the camera's physical controls or via the 3-inch touchscreen interface.

A resolution of 16MP enables large high-quality prints to be produced, and video can be recorded at 1080p in the popular AVCHD format. Support for SD, SDHC and SDXC cards is also included, providing plenty of storage options.

Although no optical viewfinder is included, an accessory port on the rear enables an electronic viewfinder to be attached with relative ease. Other stand-out features include a maximum continuous shooting speed of 5.5 frames per second (fps) and an electronic level, which will help to ensure your images don't suffer from wonky horizons and leaning buildings.

Read our Panasonic GX1 review

Panasonic G3

Price: £470/AU$745/US$650
Spec: 16MP, 1080p video, 3-inch swivel LCD touchscreen, built-in EVF

Best compact system camera 2012

The Panasonic Lumix G3 squeezes advanced controls, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a 3-inch swivel touchscreen interface into a svelte lightweight body with DSLR styling.

20fps continuous shooting is possible at a reduced resolution of 4MP, and a not too shabby rate of 4fps at full resolution, making this camera suitable for capturing fast-moving action.

Generally well received at its launch, the Panasonic Lumix G3 also produces high resolution 16MP images, suitable for reproduction at large sizes, and 1080p video recording in the popular AVCHD format.

Read our Panasonic G3 review

Panasonic GH3

Price: £1199/US$1298/AU$1230
Spec: 16.05MP 17.3x13mm Live MOS sensor, Full HD video, 3-inch 614,000-dot variangle touchscreen

Panasonic GH3

Panasonic has made the GH3 more appealing to serious photographers than the Panasonic GH2 by increasing the number of direct controls it has on its body and giving it a more robust magnesium alloy construction that is dust and weatherproof.

The GH3 is also quite a bit bigger than the GH2 that it replaces and it is a similar size to an entry-level SLR.

As on the GH2, the GH3's 3-inch screen is touch-sensitive, but it's a capacitive device and very responsive, so it makes selecting settings, making adjustments and scrolling through images very easy.

The GH3 produces high quality still images and movie footage, but as is often the case, we recommend keeping the sensitivity below ISO 6400 where possible.

All the modern conveniences that we want from a digital compact system camera are provided by the GH3; a decent EVF, an articulating capacitive touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity and a fast autofocus system. Not to mention excellent image quality.

Read our Panasonic GH3 review

Olympus PENs

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2

Price: £500/AU$600/US$600
Spec: 16.1MP, 1080p video, fixed 3-inch touchscreen, TruePic VI image processor

Hands on: Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Olympus announced the PEN Mini E-PM2 and the PEN Lite E-PL3 together, at Photokina 2012. Both feature touchscreen controls for quick and easy autofocusing, plus ports for external EVFs, the Mini has a smaller body than the Lite, and a fixed LCD screen rather than an articulating one.

It also has the same excellent 16.1MP Four Thirds type sensor and TruePic VI image processor as the Olympus OM-D, Olympus's premier compact system camera. Another feature borrowed from the OM-D is Live Bulb mode for long exposures, which shows you the image building up on the LCD screen so you can simply close the shutter when the exposure looks right.

Read our Hands on: Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 review

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5

Price: £600/AU$800/US$700
Spec: 16.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch tiltable touchscreen, 12 art filters

Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 review

As before, the new Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 is smaller than the Olympus PEN, but bigger than the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2. Like the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL3 that it replaces, the Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5 has a tilting 3-inch screen, and it's now touch-sensitive.

The touchscreen works with the Live Guide that helps novices make settings adjustments, with the 12 art filters, with Touch Shutter mode and for setting autofocus points. The compact system camera also accepts interchangeable grips that are fixed onto the body by a chunky screw.

Read our Olympus E-PL5 review

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Price: £1,150/AU$1,210/US$1,100
Spec: 16MP, 1080p Video, 3.0-inch OLED tilting screen, Dust and splash proof magnesium alloy body, Built in EVF

Best compact system camera olympus om-d e-m5

Harking back to the classic design of Olympus OM 35mm SLR cameras, the OM-D E-M5 mixes retro styling with modern sophistication. A 16 megapixel LiveMOS sensor, capable of recording images at sensitivities up to ISO 25600 and full HD video, is encased with a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body with a built-in electronic viewfinder and a tiltable three inch OLED screen.

Being aimed at serious photographers, the OM-D sports quick access to manual exposure functions. A newly developed five-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation system also promises to keep images sharp across the frame by compensations for body movement as well as vertical and horizontal camera movements. This new system also works during video recording.

Read our Olympus OM-D review

Olympus PEN E-P3

Price: £650/AU$880/US$730
Spec: 12.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch OLED touchscreen, dual control dials, built-in flash

Best compact system camera 2012

Don't be fooled by the chunky retro styling, the Olympus PEN E-P3 is the most advanced CSC from Olympus to date. Housed in the robust metal frame is a 3-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen to aid quick menu navigation. Capacitive touchscreens tend to be more responsive than the resistive type found on most digital cameras, resulting in a slicker user experience, although it isn't possible to use a non-conductive stylus for greater accuracy.

Aimed at experienced photographers and enthusiasts, two control dials give direct access to shutter and aperture functions when shooting in manual exposure mode. Interchangeable finger grips are available too, to customise handling.

This is the first flagship Olympus PEN model to include a built-in flash, which is handy for fill-in and for illuminating dark scenes. As with all Olympus PEN models, image stabilisation is built into the body rather than the lens, so all lenses benefit from this technology. The 12.3MP Live-MOS sensor provides ample resolution for prints up to A3 in size, and Full 1080p HD videos can be recorded with stereo sound.

Read our Olympus PEN E-P3 review

Sony NEX range

Although Sony NEX cameras aren't the most compact on offer here, they sport a large APS-C sensorwith a crop factor of 1.5x. This means a 30mm lens is required to provide the same angle of view as a standard 45mm lens on a 35mm camera.

Larger sensors have a greater surface area available for reacting with light, which should improve performance at high sensitivities and dynamic range in high contrast situations. Having more surface area available also enables higher pixel counts to be achieved.

A decent number of additional lenses are available for the NEX system, with third-party lens manufacturers such as Tamron beginning to support the E-mount. Owners of Sony Alpha cameras can purchase an adaptor to enable A-mount lenses to be used with the cameras too.

Sony NEX-3N

Price: £400/US$500 (around AU$580)
Spec: 16.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch tiltable LCD screen

Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

The Sony NEX-3N sits in the company's cheapest and most basic entry-level CSC range. It replaces the Sony NEX-F3 and has a redesigned chassis, which makes it the smallest and lightest CSC to feature an APS-C sized sensor.

Aiming pretty squarely at compact camera "step-up" users, the camera has a 16.1 million pixel sensor, the same device that can be found in the Sony NEX-5R. It also features a 180-degree tilting LCD screen, which is ideal for framing self-portraits, though it's not touchscreen.

Read our Hands on: Sony NEX-3N review

Sony NEX-F3

Price: £410/AU$700/US$600
Spec: 16.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch tiltable LCD screen, strong high ISO performance

Sony NEX-F3 review

The Sony NEX-C3 has been revised and replaced by the Sony NEX-F3, which has an APS-C sizedCMOS sensor, a resolution of 16.1MP and maximum sensitivity setting of IS0 16000.

A bulkier body and decent finger grip make controls easier to access. All the usual metering modes and manual functions are included too, along with two fully automatic picture-taking modes for those who wish to simply point and shoot.

Read our Sony NEX-F3 review

Sony NEX-5R

Price: £670/AU$800/US$650
Spec: 16.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch tilting touchscreen, Wi-Fi

Sony NEX-5R review

The NEX-5R is the first Sony CSC with Wi-Fi connectivity, and is a significant upgrade on the Sony NEX-5N. The inclusion of downloadable apps enables quick and easy customisation, and the new hybrid AF system works well.

The Sony NEX-R5 shows how compact system cameras are really coming into their own. The design doesn't have to rely on retro chic, but instead uses modern research and development to create a compact body shape that both fits the electronics and also feels comfortable to hold.

Read our Hands on: Sony NEX-5R review

Sony NEX-6

Price: £619/US$848/AU$998
Spec: 16.1MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, Full HD video, 3-inch 921,000-dot tilting LCD, 2,359,000-dot EVF

Sony NEX-6

Unlike the Sony 5R below it in Sony's CSC line-up, the Sony NEX-6 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) built-in. There's also a pop-up flash and a standard design hot-shoe to accept a flashgun. Oddly, however, the screen is not touch-sensitive like the 5R's and it can't tilt right up to help with self-portraits.

As usual the enthusiast's favourite exposure modes (aperture priority, shutter priority and manual) are available along with a collection of scene modes for less experienced users. The camera is also Wi-Fi enabled and is compatible with Sony's apps to add extra functionality.

We found the NEX-6 a very enjoyable camera to use and it produces some excellent results that can be shared directly on social networking sites like Facebook.

Read our Sony NEX-6 review

Sony NEX-7

Price: £950/AU$1,500/US$1,350
Spec: 24.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch tiltable LCD screen, EVF, direct manual control

Best compact system camera 2012

Best compact system camera 2013: the best models reviewed

A compact system camera with professional ambition. The Sony NEX-7 is the flagship model in the Sony CSC range, sporting a 24.3MP CMOS sensor, Full HD video recording and direct manual controls. The high pixel count should enable really large prints to be produced. A 3-inch tiltable LCD screen provides extra flexibility when shooting, and the lightweight magnesium body feels reassuringly rugged.

A high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder is included, enabling you to choose your preferred method for composing images. ISO sensitivities up to ISO 16000 are available, enabling images to be taken in very dark conditions.

The Sony NEX-7 wins our Best advanced CSC award.

Read our Sony NEX 7 review

Nikon 1 Series

Nikon was late to the compact system camera party with the 1 Series, and the announcement was quite a surprise for many, due to the small sensor size and other new technologies included as standard.

The CX format sensor, at 13.2 x 8.8mm, is much smaller than the APS-C sensor in the Sony NEX series and the Micro Four Thirds sensor in Olympus and Panasonic CSCs. This results in a crop factor of 2.7x, which means an 18.5mm lens would provide an angle of view equivalent to a 50mm lens used on a 35mm camera.

Having such a small sensor may cause issues for Nikon producing wide-angle lenses for the system, due to the short focal lengths required. Currently only a few lenses are available for the system, but an adaptor is available to enable Nikon F Mount lenses to be used.

Nikon is the only manufacturer currently to employ a hybrid focusing system, which combines the benefits of phase and contrast detection autofocus. To reduce shutter lag, the 1 series also begins taking images before the shutter is fully pressed.

Nikon 1 J2

Price: £500/AU$600/US$550
Spec: 10.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, creative mode

Best compact system camera

Unlike other systems, Nikon uses a smaller, 1-inch CX format sensor in the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 J2, which enables a smaller overall body size.

More of a tweak here and there than a full-blown upgrade, the Nikon 1 J2 nevertheless is a good camera that is more than fit for purpose. The extra resolution on the screen is a welcome addition, as is the ability to more quickly access creative modes.

Read our Nikon 1 J2 review

Nikon 1 J3

Price: £580/US$600 (around AU$875)
Spec: 14MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen

Best compact system camera

The J3 has the world's smallest body for a compact system camera, with a CX format (1-inch) sensor. The fact that it has a higher resolution, has some much needed tweaks - and has the addition of some extra modes (such as Slow View), makes this a decent upgrade from the J1.

The Nikon 1 J3 is a very likeable camera, and if you're new to the CSC market it's certainly a good option. The number of compatible optics are growing for the Nikon 1 range, with some, such as the 50mm f/1.8, being a good investment to help you get more from the camera. With a few niggles, though, it's far from being perfect.

Read our Nikon 1 J3 review

Nikon 1 V2

Price: £750/AU$1,100/US$850
Spec: 14.2MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, creative mode

Best compact system camera

Nikon has replaced the Nikon 1 V1 with the Nikon 1 V2, producing a more sophisticated CSC that is more likely to appeal to advanced photography enthusiasts, thanks to the addition of a mode dial and the improved ergonomics.

Whether it will tempt anyone away from the slew of larger sensored compact system cameras currently on the market seems questionable. Although it probably still won't overtake the J series in terms of popularity, the images from it are a step up for those looking to get a little more serious with their photography, making it a good introduction to the world of CSCs.

Read our Nikon 1 V2 review

Nikon 1 J1

Price: £350/AU$680/US$600
Spec: 10.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, 60fps continuous shooting

Best compact system camera 2012

Aimed at those ready for a step up from conventional compact digital cameras, the Nikon1 J1 is designed to be compact and, above all, easy to use. The modest 10.1MP resolution is among the lowest found on current CSCs, but since each pixel should have a larger area to react to light, this should help the camera's performance at high ISO sensitivities. A built-in flash is available for extra illumination.

The sleek, compact body is available in a range of five colours, enabling you to choose the one that suits you best. In addition to the HD video feature, which can record 1080p resolution footage, full resolution still images can be taken during recording, which is quite a handy feature. Fast action can be captured at a blazingly fast 60fps at full resolution too.

The Smart Photo Selector feature shoots images before and after the shutter button is pressed, saving the 'best' five to the memory card for whittling down later. This feature is unique to the Nikon 1 series, and should increase your chances of getting the shot you're after.

Read our Nikon 1 J1 review

Nikon 1 V1

Price: £500/AU$950/US$900
Spec: 10.1MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, EVF, 60fps continuous shooting

Best compact system camera 2012

The Nikon V1 is very similar to the J1, except that it has a higher resolution 3-inch LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder, but lacks a built-in flash. A hotshoe is provided for attaching the new Speedlight SB-N5, which is an optional extra.

The same Smart Photo Selector feature and still image taking during movie recording are present, as is the ability to take shots continuously at 60fps. Slow motion video at 400fps complements the HD video feature, which records 1080p video at 60fps.

Read our Nikon 1 V1 review

Samsung NX System

Samsung is often overlooked when considering cameras, but its NX Series of compact system cameras is well worth investigating.

Based around an APS-C sized sensor, similar to the Sony NEX series, this results in a crop factor of 1.5x. A reasonable selection of lenses is available to choose from, with most popular focal lengths covered.

The latest iFunction lenses enable common functions such as ISO, aperture and exposure compensation to be adjusted via the manual focus ring on the lens, providing an intuitive method for manual control.

Samsung NX1000

Price: £400/AU$650/US$550
Spec: 20.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, Wi-Fi

Hands on: Samsung NX1000 review

Samsung's new NX1000 is the most light and compact member of its CSC lineup, but it houses the same 20.3 million pixel sensor as the NX210 and NX20, an APS-C format sensor and Wi-Fi functionality.

Although the NX1000 lacks the quality feel of the other NX cameras, it provides a lot of functionality. And given that it has the same sensor and processor, it should produce comparable images at a more attractive price.

Read our Hands on: Samsung NX1000 review

Samsung NX200

Price: £400/AU$500/US$700
Spec: 20.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch AMOLED screen, 7fps continuous shooting

Best compact system camera 2012

Samsung's flagship compact system camera sports an APS-C sized sensor with a whopping 20.3MP squeezed onto it, enabling very high resolution images to be taken, which are suitable for producing large prints. If shooting fast action, these huge images can be captured at a rate of 7fps, so it may be worth investing in a very large memory card to accompany this camera.

Sensitivities from ISO 100 to ISO 12800 can be selected, making the Samsung NX200 suitable for shooting in a wide range of lighting conditions. Full HD video footage can also be recorded. The sleek metal body is rugged, reasonably lightweight and contains a bright 3-inch AMOLED screen. There's no built-in flash unit, but a hotshoe connection for an external flash is provided.

Read our Samsung NX200 review

Samsung NX11

Price: £430/AU$600/Not sold in the US
Spec: 14.6MP, 720p video, 3-inch AMOLED screen, EVF

Best compact system camera 2012

Samsung's NX11 has more conventional DSLR styling and is the only current NX series camera to sport a electronic viewfinder. The same 3-inch AMOLED screen found on other NX cameras is also fitted to the NX11.

A 14.6MP CMOS sensor should provide ample resolution for most users, and HD videos can be recorded at 720p resolution. A lens priority mode provides optimised exposure settings for the attached lens and scene. Pressing the iFunction button on the lens enables the correct parameters to be entered quickly and simply.

Read our Samsung NX11 review

Canon, Pentax, Ricoh, Leica and Fuji

Canon EOS M

Price: £770/AU$900/US$780
Spec: 18MP, 1080p video, 3-inch touchscreen, EF lens adaptors

Canon EOS M review

Canon finally entered the CSC fray with the long awaited EOS M, which uses the exact same 18MP APS-C format sensor and other innards as the Canon EOS 650D. One notable difference from the 650D, however, is the use of the new Canon EF-M lens mount, which has a shallower flange depth.

Canon wanted to produce a high quality camera that is easy to use and bridges the gap between compact and DSLR cameras. On the face of it, it seems to have achieved this and more, with adaptors for your EF and EF-lenses even available. However, although the image quality is superb, the M is let down by its slow autofocus system.

Read our Canon EOS M review

Pentax Q10

Price: £380/AU$600/US$600
Spec: 12.4MP, 1080p video, 3-inch touchscreen

Best compact system camera

The Pentax Q10, like its predecessor, is quite an interesting camera. With it being no bigger than many other advanced compact cameras, yet able to accept interchangeable lenses, it fills the gap between traditional advanced compact digital cameras and larger mirrorless camera systems well.

Those looking for a quirky alternative to the current crop of compact system cameras, with portability being their main concern, may be well served by the Pentax Q10, so long as you're well aware that image quality falls short of cameras equipped with a larger sensor.

Read our Pentax Q10 review

Pentax K-01

Price: £470/AU$600/US$630
Spec: 16MP, 1080p Video, ISO 100-25600, Compatible with all Pentax K-mount lenses

Best compact system camera pentax k-01

Pentax is never one to follow the flock, especially if the design of its compact system cameras is anything to go by. Rather than develop a new lens mount with a shorter back focus distance, the K-01 uses the existing Pentax K-mount as a basis for a new system.

This design should appeal to those with existing Pentax K-mount lenses, as every lens right back to those made in the 1970s is compatible. On the negative side, the K-01 is more bulky than other compact system cameras to allow for the extra distance between the lens and the sensor.

Industrial designer, Marc Newson, was drafted in to add a touch of style to the design of the camera body, which sports a 16 million pixel APS-C CMOS format sensor capable of taking images at ISO 25600. Eighty-one AF points are selectable by the user and a sensor-shift image stabilisation system, as found in Pentax DSLRS, should help to tame camera shake. Full HD video can be recorded and output to a television or BluRay recorder via the built in HDMI interface.

The K-01 is Pentax's second CSC. The first was the Q (see below), which is much more compact because it uses a considerably smaller sensor.

Read our Pentax K-01 review

Pentax Q

Price: £280/AU$450/US$400
Spec: 12.4MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, smallest CSC currently available

Best compact system camera 2012

Unlike most other manufacturers, that opted for larger sensors in their compact system cameras, Pentax has chosen to use a sensor no bigger than can be found in many mid-to-high-end compact cameras for the Q. This has enabled Pentax to create the smallest camera with interchangeable lenses currently available.

The 1/2.3'-inch sized sensor produces 12.4MP images, and 1080p HD video can be recorded. Despite the small sensor size, sensitivities up to ISO 6400 are available.

The range of lenses available is currently very limited, bolstered by the addition of a couple of low-cost 'toy' lenses, so it'll be interesting to see whether Pentax releases more optics in the near future. A built-in flash is provided, and a hotshoe will accept an external flashgun.

Read our Pentax Q review

Ricoh GXR

Price: £325/AU$750/US$580
Spec: Various sensors available, lens and sensor come as one complete unit

Best compact system camera 2012

Ricoh's GXR is truly unique. Instead of just changing the lens, each lens comes with its own sensor tailored to the job. Although this novel idea makes sense as far as future-proofing the camera is concerned, it means each lens costs almost as much as a camera itself. It also means each lens unit can be a different resolution, to suit your different needs.

Ricoh continues to release new lens units and accessories for the system, the most exciting being a Leica M-series unit, which can accept a wide range of M-series-compatible lenses. Within this unit is a 12MP APS-C sensor, with a crop factor of 1.5x. This certainly isn't a mainstream system, but if it ticks certain boxes for you, it may be worth a closer look.

Read our Ricoh GXR review

Leica M9

Price: £4,950/AU$8,000/US$7,000 (body only)
Spec: Various sensors available, lens and sensor come as one complete unit

Best compact system camera 2012

The Leica M system has existed longer before digital cameras and CSCs were conceived, but the M-series cameras are mirrorless rangefinders. Hence, the M9 deserves a place in this buying guide.

Leica has a reputation for quality that precedes each camera it releases, and these cameras come at a price. Those with a taste for the exotic may consider the Leica M9, the only camera in this list to use a sensor which is equal in size to 35mm film.

The M9's die cast brass construction is incredibly rugged and controls are kept simple. The body also houses an 18MP Kodak CCD sensor specifically designed for the M9. A micro-lens arrangement on the sensor surface is designed to reduce darkening towards the corners, especially with wide-angle lenses. The highest ISO sensitivity available is ISO 2500.

Unlike other mirrorless cameras, there's no video mode or autofocus - focusing is manual, using the rangefinder in the optical viewfinder for reference. Although not for everyone, the Leica M9 is still a compelling choice for photography enthusiasts, collectors and those who require a good digital rangefinder camera.

Read our Leica M9 review

Leica M Monochrom

Price: £6,100/AU$10,450/US$7,950
Spec: 18MP, 1080p video, 2.5-inch LCD screen, EVF, APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor

Best compact system camera

Although it is based on the Leica M9, the Leica M Monochrom has no colour filter array, so it can only record black and white images. This means that every one of its 18 million pixels is used to record brightness values, and there is no demosaicing of the red, green and blue signals to create a full colour image.

It's about getting the best black and white photo possible, and this means gathering the maximum amount of luminance data in-camera. It comes withAdobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, recognising that in the modern age some adjustment is often necessary to get the desired look.

Read our hands on: Leica M Monochrom review

Fuji X-E1

Price: £1,150/(around AU$1,810))/US$1,400
Spec: 16MP, 1080p video, 2.8-inch LCD screen, EVF, APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor

Fuji X-Pro1 review

Combining the fantastic technology of the Fuji X-Pro1 with a more consumer-friendly price and a smaller, more streamlined body will surely make the Fuji X-E1 appeal to a wide range of people.

Adding a new 18-55mm kit lens to the lineup of the Fuji X range of CSCs is also a smart move, which will again appeal to a new crowd. The fact that the lens has a metal build and a wide f/2.8 aperture should also mean that it wins favour with existing X series users, and should allay fears of a drop in performance that is usually associated with kit optics.

Read our Fuji X-E1 review

Fuji X-Pro1

Price: £1,540/AU$1,900/US$1,700
Spec: 16.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch RGBW LCD screen, hybrid viewfinder

Best compact system camera 2012

Fujifilm has created quite a stir with its announcement of the X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It uses the same hybrid viewfinder technology as the Fuji FinePix X100 compact camera. The viewfinder can be switched between an optical or a digital view instantly, with vital exposure information overlaid when using the optical viewfinder.

Fuji has developed a new lens mount for the system, which has a wide opening, enabling lenses to be mounted closer to the image sensor. This should help with lens quality, especially with wide-angles, because the short distance to the sensor can result in simpler optical design. The CSC's Leica M mount adaptor will open up a range of high-quality optics from Leica and Voigtlander.

A newly developed 16.3MP APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor lies at the heart of the Fuji X-Pro1. This sensor is unique, since the individual RGB photosites are arranged more randomly than conventional Bayer pattern sensors. This is claimed to reduce Moiré patterning, so the sensor doesn't require an anti-aliasing filter, which should greatly improve sharpness of images.

Although the images from the X-Pro 1 can't quite match those from full-frame sensors for detail, they are very impressive and the dynamic range is excellent. This is definitely a camera to consider if you like traditional exposure controls.

Read our Fujifilm FinePix X-Pro1 review

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