I’ve been researching Compact Systems cameras and thought I would share my thoughts here.
Compact systems cameras (CSC) are cameras that have a smaller sensor than the traditional 35mm film size and have a lens that is specifically designed for this small sensor. The big advantage to these types of cameras is that lenses can be significantly smaller and lighter. Because the image area is smaller the amount of glass needed is correspondingly smaller. In theory this also means the lens is cheaper. The downside to these cameras is that because the sensor is so small they have lower megapixels, they are literally running into a physics problem of having the sensors being smaller than a wavelength of light.
Smaller sensors have the effect of zooming in on the center of an image when used with a 35mm equivalent lens. Those of us that grew up with film cameras are used to 28mm wide angles, and maybe 100mm or 150mm telephoto. Compact cameras have a lens conversion factor that you must remember, as they have not changed the measurements that are on the lenses.
Canon and Nikon make smaller sensor cameras, but they use the standard lenses for 35mm so they are not really Compact Systems Cameras. Nikon is making a series of CSC cameras, however, they don’t seem to be putting as much money into products in this line. I’ve kind of ignored them. Canon has an EOS-M mount, but they really haven’t made many cameras that use it, so I’ve ignored them too.
There are 5 manufacturers that are really focusing in on the CSC market. Samsung, Sony & Fuji all make APS-C sized sensors, each has their own dedicated lens system that is only compatible with their own bodies. The APS-C sensor is 23.5-23.7 x 15.6 mm (exact size varies by manufacturer.) APS-C lenses have a conversion factor of around 1.6x. Meaning that a 22mm lens is really a 35mm lens. So a 17.5mm lens is equal to a 28mm wide angle, and a 22mm is normal, and 93mm lens is equal to a 150mm telephoto. Panasonic and Olympus both make micro 4/3 cameras that have interchangeable lenses and bodies. M43 lenses have a 2x conversion factor. So wide angle is 14mm, normal is 17.5 and telephoto are 75mm. This means that in theory the M43 lenses can be the smallest.
Rangefinder vs. SLR style
4 of the manufacturers make at least 2 styles of CSCs. The SLR-style is typically focused on people that want a traditional feeling camera with a lot of adjustments. They feature things like dedicated ISO adjustment knobs, dedicated F-stop knobs, etc. Rangefinder style cameras have less dedicated controls, but depending on the model you may be able to adjust all the same settings, but it may be buried in a menu. Some might say that the rangefinder are more point and shoot like and the SLRs more for the photographer. Most of the rangefinder cameras don’t have viewfinders and rely on the screen on the back of the camera for viewing. Because of this I’m not considering most of the rangefinders, even though they are much smaller and lighter.
Samsung makes its own image sensors. Samsung’s SLR style camera (NX1) is the current king on DPReview.com. At $1500 it better be good (Lens extra!). 28MP makes it the highest pixel sensor and its got really good fast autofocus. It’s the most expensive camera that I’m considering. The NX500 rangefinder is a lot cheaper at $650 with a 16-50 zoom, no viewfinder on it and it’s noted for having a very small frame buffer when continuous shooting, and doesn’t work with very fast memory cards.
Sony’s a6000 is the current king of the rangefinder style cameras, and it has a viewfinder. Sony’s SLR style cameras use full-size lenses so I’m not considering them. At $550 it also a really good deal. It does good video and has really nice pictures. Its only downside is that the lenses available are good, but not great. I’d like to get a wide to mid zoom that has a very low constant F-stop. Most other makers have one that is at F2.8 and costs around $800-$1200. Sony’s is F4 and costs $600. If you don’t mind more standard glass, then the Sony is a good option.
Fuji relies on other manufacturers to make its sensors. As such it is having trouble keeping up in the MP race (16mp). From the reviews I’ve read Fuji is the best camera for people that want the technology to get out of the way when they take pictures. If you’re looking for features and performance than the other makes are what you should look at. But the XT-1 ($1200) and XT-10 ($800) produce really nice pictures. They have lots of manual controls.
Olympus and Panasonic have compatible lenses, you can use any M43 lens on any M43 body. However, Olympus has chosen to put its image stabilization technology in the body of the camera, and up until recently Panasonic has it in the lens. This means that if you want an image stabilization and own a Panasonic you’re going to use a Panasonic lens. I’m not sure what an image stabilized Panasonic lens does on an Olympus camera. Olympus lenses are typically smaller and lighter as they don’t have to deal with the image stabilization. Olympus does not make its own sensor and it too is currently stuck at 16mp. But the cameras are highly regarded and feature rich. The OM-D 1 and 5II are very similarly priced, and hard to choose between at around $1100 The 5II is slightly slower at continuous shooting with autofocus (5fps vs 9fps) and does not have an accessory port, but it has better video. The OM-D 10 is the entry level camera at about $500. The OM-D 10 is not weather sealed. I plan on using my camera on a motorcycle and so this is a concern for me. OM-D 5 & 1 have 5-axis image stabilization and the OM-D 10 only 3.
Panasonic also does not make sensors but has just announced a new GX8 camera with a 20mp sensor. At $1200 (body only) it’s not cheap but has some cool features. First it has image stabilization in the body, but when combined with an OIS lens will use both the lenses and cameras image stabilization. This will give the equivalent of 5-axis stabilization. The lenses only have 2-axis stabilization. The other cool feature of the GX8 is its 4k Photo mode. Basically, it takes continuous pictures at 30fps. This means you can look through to find that group photo when everyone has their eyes open and is smiling. Or that group shot where everyone is jumping and you want everyone off the ground. The biggest downside is that many people complain that Panasonic colors are not as good as other makes; especially yellows. The outgoing GX7 is a pretty good deal at $550, but doesn’t have the 4k photo/video and only has the single 2-axis OIS. The GM5 is a fine rangefinder model, but the sony is probably a better bet.
What to buy…
- If money is no object and size is not a concern the Samsung NX1.
- If you like tech and gadgets but want smaller and cheaper the Sony a6000, but make sure they have the lenses you want.
- If you like tech and gadgets but want SLR style the Panasonic GX8, it’s not as small as the other M43 bodies. Just make sure the colors are good.
- If you just want good pictures the Fuji XT10.
- Small and on a budget the Olympus OM-D 10 as the lenses are smaller than the APS-C lenses. The GX7 is another option if you want more tech than Olympus, but colors are a concern.
- Good mix of features and benefits the OM-D 1 or OM-D 5II.
I’m leaning towards M43 due to the small size.
For lenses I’m looking at really good lenses, and not really focusing on the cheaper ones. I’m thinking long term I want a wide zoom, tele zoom, and maybe a pancake wide zoom for times I want a smaller lens.
- Panasonics 12-35mm F2.8 OIS zoom is $1150 and the 35-100 F2.8 OIS zoom is $1000. Olympus has a 12-40mm F2.8 for $800 and a 40-150mm for $1300 (Olympus are on sale right now for $200 off each). Totals are about the same but you get from 12-150 (24-300 equiv.) on the Olympus vs. 12-100 on the Panasonic, But there is no image stabilization on the Olympus lenses so you need Image stabilization in the camera body. The GX8 has only 3.5 axis stabilization vs. the OM-D 1/5’s 5-axis. They both have compact wide angles that go from 14-42 F3.5-5.6, but Panasonic’s is $320 because it adds OIS, and Olympus’s is only $200.
- If you went with Samsung you’d be buying 50-150 (77-231) F2.8 for $1600 and a 16-50 (24-77) F2-2.8 for $1200. They have a pancake zoom for $300
- Fuji 16-55 F2.8 OIS for $1200, 50-140 F2.8 OIS $1600. No pancake available.
- Sony would probably go with a pancake for $320 and a Long tele zoom for $550.