The Best Compact System Cameras 2012: our top 5 CSCs
- Mon, 17 Sep 2012
The Best Compact System Cameras of 2012
The compact system camera - or CSC - has been around since Panasonic kick-started the genre with its launch of the G1 in 2008. Since then the CSC market has grown to become the fastest growing of all the digital camera markets. But before we reveal our pick of the best compact system cameras of 2012, let's take a closer look at exactly what sets CSCs apart from their compact and DSLR cousins.
Boiled down to the simplest terms, CSCs are a bit like DSLRs but with the mirror box stripped out. The primary benefit of this approach is that it enables manufactures to make high-performance cameras that are much smaller than regular DSLRs.
In addition, the sensors used inside CSCs are generally much bigger than those found in regular compacts, which in turn improves overall image quality. In addition, CSC's also benefit from an interchangeable lens system, which means you can select from a variety of different lens options.
In the past CSCs have been known under many names, including ‘hybrid' or even ‘mirrorless interchangeable' cameras. These days there are lots of CSCs on the market, so picking the best model requires some proper research in advance. Thankfully, we're on hand to help you having reviewed all of the major releases from the inaugural Lumix G1 right through to the all-new Samsung NX20.
As there have been so many CSC releases throughout 2012 there are lots of great models to choose from, and often for very different reasons. With that in mind here's our rundown of the Five Best Compact System Cameras of 2012, listed in ascending price...
£400 with 18-55mm kit zoom
OK, so strictly speaking the Sony NEX5n is a 2011 camera, but while we await the verdict on the recently announced NEX6 and NEX-F3 (keep your eyes peeled on whatdigitalcamera.com for full reviews of both models in the near future) the diminutive little NEX5n remains top dog in the Sony NEX range for now. And what a camera too - easily one of the best compact system cameras of the past 12 months. Built around a 16.1MP APS-C Exmor R CMOS sensor the NEX-5n benefits from Sony's BIONZ image processor and a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600 - providing all the low-light flexibility you're likely to need while producing some of the cleanest, sharpest images of any CSC.
Other highlights of the diminutive little NEX-5n include a tilt-angle 3in/921k-dot TruBlack LCD screen that offers touch-screen control over the camera, 1080p Full HD video recording with the option to record movies in the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format and Sony's excellent Sweep Panorama ultra-wideangle technology. Better still, being slightly older model the street price has now fallen from £600 at launch to around £400, making it excellent value.
£580 with 14-42mm kit zoom
One of the biggest benefits of compact system cameras over traditional DSLRs is that they are smaller and more portable. The GX1 plays to this strength by discarding the electronic viewfinder found on many CSCs to produce one of the best compact system cameras of 2012. And it's not just the ‘take anywhere' convenience of the Lumix GX1 that make it such a great camera; it's 16MP micro four thirds sensor, Venus FHD image processor and standard sensitivity range of ISO 160-12,800 is capable of producing fantastic results - even at higher settings.
In addition, the GX1's 23-area ‘light-speed' autofocus system is also one of the fastest on the market, capable of ascertaining focus in just 0.09 seconds. Stir in 1080p Full HD video recording in the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format, touch-screen control via the 3in/460k-dot screen and a generous selection of built-in creative controls and digital filter effects and the GX1 is undoubtedly a serious contender.
Click to read our full Panasonic Lumix GX1 review...
£800 with 18-55mm kit zoom
Alongside Panasonic and Olympus, Samsung was one of the first major manufacturers to embrace the CSC standard and the NX20 is essentially a improved version of the NX10 and NX11 models that preceded it. At its heart it packs a 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor and offers a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800. On the back you'll find a fixed 3in /460k-dot vari-angle screen that uses AMOLED technology for deeper blacks and increased vibrancy, although should you want to hold the NX20 at eye level the 1.44m-dot EVF above is unlikely to disappoint
While the NX20's 8fps headline continuous shooting speed and Full HD video capture are both big selling points, the NX20's real trump card is its built-in Wi-Fi compatibility. This allows you to upload your images to the web or to email them directly from the camera - something that we expect to catch on in a big way through the rest of 2012 and into 2013. Overall then, the NX20 is a seriously smart camera that fully justifies making our list of the top five best compact system cameras of 2012.
Click to read our full Samsung NX20 review...
£115.00 with 12-50mm lens
Staying true to the Olympus OM 35mm film SLR models of yesteryear, the OM-D combines a small, easily portable DSLR-like body with high-performance to create one of the best compact system cameras of 2012. Designed with enthusiasts in mind, the OM-D is based around a 16.1MP micro four thirds sensor that's capable of achieving fantastic image quality. Sensitivity ranges from between ISO 200-25,600 with noise control at the higher setttings particularly impressive.
In addition the OM-D also gets a fold-out 3in, OLED monitor that doubles up with touch-screen functionality for intuitive control over the camera alongside a 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder that allows the camera to be easily used at eye-level. Autofocus speed is just about the fastest in its class, while Raw shooting, full manual control and built-in art filters complete a very impressive overall package.
Click to read our full Olympus OM-D review...
£1150.00 body only
Another hugely impressive model from Fuji's premium X-series range, the 16MP X-Pro1 rangefinder employs Fuji's proprietary X-Trans CMOS sensor technology. The unique colour array of the X-Trans sensor allows for the removal of the anti-aliasing filter, which in turn results in noticeably sharper pictures. Elsewhere the retro rangefinder design not only gives the X-Pro1 a distinct look but also makes it a really fun and intuitive camera to operate. We especially like the ‘hybrid' viewfinder that allows it to be used as either an optical viewfinder (complete with an overlaid edge-of-frame guide) or as an electronic viewfinder.
One thing to bear in mind about the X-Pro1 is that its uses Fuji's own unique X-mount. To date there are only a handful of lenses designed specifically for this mount, including: a 14mm f/2.8, an 18mm f/2, a 35mm f/1.4, a 60mm f/2.4 macro and a new 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom. Like the X-Pro1 itself the lenses don't come particularly cheap, however they are all premium grade optics capable of delivering fantastic results, on top of which it's also possible to buy a Leica M-mount adaptor.
Click to read our full Olympus OM-D review...