Compact System Cameras are, in many ways, the best of both worlds; they and small and yet also very versatile. But by the same token, Compact System Cameras may be viewed as being awkwardly cramped and poorly suited to some kinds of photographyu2026

Many walks of life acknowledge the mantra: “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”. But over the years we have seen a huge range of different camera designs including, most recently, the advent of Compact System Cameras. Typically costing around £500-£700, these interchangeable-lens bodies appeal to a part of the market that likes the idea dSLRs’ power and flexibility but not their size, weight and complexity.

A friend suggested recently that Compact System Cameras are the dSLR alternative for female photographers, and there may well be something in that theory, but the vast majority of Compact System Cameras differ from dSLRs crucially in their lack of a viewfinder. This is not simply a cosmetic change: it is a fundamental difference that forces a totally different way of doing photography on at least three fronts.

Firstly, using a dSLR held to the eye provides a very stable support: the user’s right hand grips the camera, the left hand supports under the lens and both arms are tucked in against the body to reduce the likelihood of camera shake. Compact System Cameras that lack an electronic viewfinder need to be held away from the eye and that means there is one fewer point of contact with which to create a stable platform.

Manufacturers might counter that their camera bodies or lenses feature image stabilisation so there is less onus on the photographer to provide a firm support. This may be true but even with image stabilisation activated it is still sensible to hold the camera as steadily as possible.

Secondly, viewfinder-equipped cameras often feature dioptre corrections to accommodate different types of eyesight whereas screen-based cameras force the user to don a pair of spectacles if any eyesight correction is required. This is, perhaps, a fairly trivial consideration for the majority of photographers but a few will doubtless lament the inability to use the camera without wearing glasses.

Thirdly, and most crucially, holding a camera to your eye establishes a direct connection between the equipment and the photographer. There is also a sense in which a viewfinder allows you to look right through the camera and lens to the scene beyond, whereas when using a screen-based camera you have to focus on the screen itself. In the first case the photographer is looking at the world first-hand but in the second case the world is reduced to a flat image.

In some situations these differences aren’t very important but I was really struck about the relative awkwardness of Compact System Cameras when I recently tested Samsung’s lovely 85mm f/1.4 lens (for publication in the April 2012 edition of What Digital Camera). Not only was the lens diameter bigger than the height of the NX200 camera body used for the test but also the majority of the mass was contained within the lens, tipping the balance forward. Composing on the camera screen wasn’t very comfortable at all (nor very clear, under bright conditions) but most important of all was the lack of connection I felt with the lens and the various subjects I photographed.

When I picked-up the camera and lens I instinctively wanted to hold it to my eye because, ergonomically, that is where it felt most comfortable. I know some people will say that is my instinct only because I was brought-up with eye-held cameras but I strongly suggest that against the eye is where cameras SHOULD be held for the three reasons cited above.

So whilst it’s nice to think that camera manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their designs I sincerely hope we aren’t about to turn our back on a massively successful and long-proven configuration. On which note, I will close by welcoming the arrival of the Olympus OM-D system, which unashamedly echoes the style of film-based OM cameras from the 1970s onwards. Bearing in mind that an Olympus lens has just become the first optic to achieve 0.5 cycles-per-pixel, I can hardly wait to test the new body and see if it really does combine the best of traditional handling with the highest resolving lenses reviewed so far. If so then this could be a formidable combination!

  • Souljah

    people who know their way around a DSLR will find very litlte here of use and the book is definitely written for the middle ground. It does a reasonably solid job, in good conversational english, of taking the reader through the various parts of digital photography covering what affects a photograph, the hardware and add-ons (such as lenses) and what you can do in photoshop. If you want a good place to start your new digital hobby then I would recommend you at least taking a look. But for me it falls for a few reasons. First off, it is a big book that really could be covered in half the time; it’s a bit too padded out without getting to the core stuff that budding photographers are really after. Once read through you’ll find yourself having to go back and search a bit to find the useful stuff. Secondly whilst you have tips like this photo would have benefitted from a larger aperture’ it is all too generic. Thanks David, but what I really need is more useful detail like what aperture should I use with what shutter speed and white noise and exposure adjustments etc. With a mass of things to think about in a modern DSLR I would have liked something a bit more concrete. So if I want to do landscapes or potraits or close ups or night shots or whatever how about giving me the settings I need and then suggestions of how to tweak this for various different results so that I can see what effect this will have and pick up some good tips along the way. Unfortunately there is litlte to none of this so it ends up being a good read but in terms of understanding, well, there is litlte in this book which is not in the manual, albeit more words and pretty colour pictures, though, of course, the camera’s own manual doesn’t have sections on Adobe Photshop. Here’s an example. With a slow shutter speed and two kids walking quickly into the picture, pausing then walking quickly out I managed to get a photograph of two ghostly images which was quite fun and the kids loved trying this out. That was off the top of my head but this is the sort of thing you brought a digital SLR for its versatility and really, ideas like this should have been suggested by the author to kick start your photography career. The book lacks these suggestions. In short, this book doesn’t take the enthusiastic amateur and get them started with real examples that they can shoot themselves with tasks they can follow and improve upon. At the other extreme those who do know a bit about camera settings and the effects these have on pictures will find litlte to excite them in this book. An average book with promise that just falls short.Help other customers find the most helpful reviewsa0Was this review helpful to you?a0 | a0 CategoriesRecent PostsArchives theme by Theme4Press Powered by

  • Jon Tarrant

    Grant… I guess if I had been using a viewfinder camera I wouldn’t have written this article at all! It has come as a real shock to me, when testing lenses with viewfinderless bodies, to discover how hard they are to use. And yet they are being touted as the next great thing in camera design!

  • grant bush

    Good article Jon but kinda just goes over the same point again & again. What would you have wrote about if you had tried a compact system camera with a viewfinder?

  • M Elangovan

    John Tarrant is absolutely correct in saying that, to me, the fatal drawback of the mirrorless camera is the lack of the optical viewfinder found in DSLRs. I found this out after I bought the Canon DSLR and looked through the optical viewfinder. The difference was like night and day. The electronic screen is no match and as pointed out its so much more natural to hold the camera to the eye. If translucent mirror cameras can provide an optical viewfinder, this would be ideal. The drawback of the DSLR is the mechanically operated mirror which puts a limit on how fast the camera operates once you press the shutter button.