Best compact system camera: 5 premium CSCs tested and rated

Olympus OM-D E-M1 review

Want a small camera that’s big on performance? We compare five of the best compact system cameras on the market.


Nobody really enjoys being burdened by the weight of a heavy backpack stuffed with a big camera body and even bigger lenses, especially when venturing off the beaten track or travelling.

Compact System Cameras, or CSCs, have therefore become increasingly popular.

They offer the crucial advantage of interchangeable lenses that were previously the preserve of full-blown SLRs, while often being only a little larger than compact cameras.

As such, they boast DSLR-like versatility in a more streamlined package.

There’s an increasing number of high-end CSCs that are designed to give enthusiast and pro photographers the type of control they are used to, but in a smaller camera. Which one makes the best alternative to a heavy SLR?

SEE MORE: What camera should I buy? Pros and cons of each camera type

Best compact system camera: 01 Fujifilm X-E2

Best compact system camera: 5 premium CSCs tested and rated

Price: $899/£759

Not just an update to the X-E1, this new Fuji camera boasts some desirable enhancements compared with the older X-Pro1.

The newer generation 16.3Mp X-Trans image sensor, for example, includes phase-detection autofocus as a supplement to regular contrast-detection AF.

The X-E2 also has a faster burst rate of 7fps compared with the X-Pro1’s 6fps, and a higher-resolution, 2,360k-pixel electronic viewfinder.

There’s also a pop-up flash, as well as a hot-shoe and Wi-Fi connectivity.

SEE MORE: 10 camera techniques to master in 2014

There’s no PASM dial as the camera uses ‘automatic’ positions on the well-implemented shutter speed and aperture selectors instead, along with a neatly positioned Exposure Compensation dial offering up to +/-3EV.

There are no scene modes either, which is a clear indication of the ‘enthusiast’ aspirations of the camera.

Given the comparative newness of the X-E2, the lack of a touchscreen LCD is a little frustrating, but the Quick menu system makes for easy adjustments to most shooting settings.

Autofocus isn’t blindingly fast, but it’s pretty respectable.

One of the benefits of Fuji’s X-Trans sensors is that they don’t need an anti-aliasing filter (which reduces the risk moiré patterning, but at the expense of slight softening of images), and this brings the potential for sharper, more detailed images.

The X-E2’s images look very natural, especially in the standard, Provia colour mode, with rather more vibrancy being delivered in Velvia mode.

Retention of fine detail is impressive, at least at low ISO settings.

When using higher ISOs, image noise is kept well under control, but fine detail and texture are slightly smoothed out.

Score: 4/5

Photoguard – specialist insurance provider
When will you think about insuring your camera and equipment? After you’ve read this? Or after you’ve dropped your beloved camera potentially smashing or damaging it? Photoguard – here for photographers before things go wrong.  Receive an online insurance quote in seconds.

Best compact system camera: 01 Fujifilm X-E2
Best compact system camera: 02 Olympus OM-D E-M1
Best compact system camera: 03 Panasonic Lumix GH3
Best compact system camera: 04 Panasonic Lumix GX7
Best compact system camera: 05 Sony Alpha 7R
Best compact system camera: Our verdict


49 awesome photography tips and time savers
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything
Canon EOS cameras: 100 things you never knew they could do
100 Nikon DSLR tips you need to know right now