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What is a compact system camera?

A CSC, aka a compact system camera (or sometimes a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera), is essentially a hybrid between a DSLR and a compact. As a general rule, they tend to boast the shape, size and weight of a compact, and don’t have a bulky internal mirror mechanism, but they have the advanced functionality of a DSLR, including the ability to change lenses.

Compact-System-Camera What is a compact system camera?

CSCs are an innovative hybrid between a DSLR and a compact

Essentially, they’re designed to be the best of both worlds, and are aimed at photographers who want full control over their camera’s key settings without having to carry around hefty bodies and lenses. However, in recent years those lines have blurred somewhat, and many advanced CSCs are very similar in shape and size to entry-level DSLRs. Similarly, at the lower end of the market, some very basic CSCs are now exceptionally similar to a compact, with many having abandoned a viewfinder altogether.

The first ever CSC, Panasonic’s G1, was released in 2008, so the category is only around 7 years old, although there were a couple of CSC-like cameras in the years preceding this. But in a relatively short time it’s become a very well-established camera type, with well over 100 models released by nine different manufacturers. Today some CSCs – including Sony’s 7R with its full-frame 36MP sensor – are so advanced that they are used as a primary camera by many pro photographers.

Leading technology

The bulk of the latest camera technology from the pastfew years has appeared on CSCs before it’s made its way onto a DSLR. This includes 4K video, Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS and touch & tilt screens. So generally they tend to be slightly more advanced in terms of added features. To the right, we take a closer look at the key advantages and disadvantages of owning a CSC over a DSLR.

Pros of a CSC

  • Without a mirror mechanism, CSCs and their lenses are usually significantly smaller and lighter than DSLRs.
  • CSCs often have the very latest features, such as 4K video and NFC. They tend to take longer to appear on DSLRs.
  • Usually boasting a faster burst mode, you can take more shots per second than a DSLR.
  • CSCs tend to be slightly more stylish, with more varied modern and retro designs.

Cons of a CSC

  • Battery life is usually only a fraction of that on a DSLR. Sony’s _7R, for example, can only manage 340 shots from one charge, whereas a similarly-priced DSLR, such as Canon’s 6D, can take 1090 shots.
  • The lens range on CSCs is usually much more limited than for DSLRs. In particular, there are very few long telephotos available.
  • CSCs often have smaller sensors, which can impact on depth-offield, dynamic range and ISO performance.

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