Like a DSLR, compact system cameras (CSC) have interchangeable lenses so you can be a lot more creative than with a fixed-lens compact digital camera. See

CSCs are noticeably smaller than DSLRs, primarily because they lack a mirror. This means they don't have an optical viewfinder and plenty of models stick with a single, large LCD screen that’s used for everything.

The other main benefit of a CSC is a much larger sensor than you’ll find in a compact digital camera, which means DSLR-rivalling image quality. In most cases, performance is also on a par with DSLRs so you’ll get fast start-up and shot-to-shot times.

CSCs are ideal for anyone who wants the flexibility and quality of a DSLR, but without the bulk and weight.

Best compact system camera: Lenses

Each manufacturer tends to use its own lens mounting system, so make sure you check the range of lenses before settling for a particular model. Here are the systems used by the main players:

  • Panasonic: Micro Four Thirds
  • Olympus: Micro Four Thirds
  • Nikon: Nikon 1
  • Canon: EF-M
  • Sony: E-mount
  • Samsung: NX-mount
  • Fuji: X Mount
  • Pentax: K-mount

Various adaptors are available for attaching lenses from other manufacturers, but these usually force you to control focus and exposure manually.

Best compact system camera: Prices

Although you can spend a lot on a CSC – more than on a DSLR – the good news is that there are plenty of top-quality models for less than £500, including a lens or maybe even two. Usually, you’ll get a single kit lens with a 3x optical zoom.
A great second lens for a CSC is a so-called ‘pancake' lens: a thin, non-zoom lens which is useful when you want the camera to be as small as possible.

For getting closer to the action when you can’t physically move, a zoom lens is the answer. Look for a maximum focal length of at least 150mm. A zoom lens that starts at a wide angle is handy as it will save you having to change lenses as it will work equally well for landscapes as well as taking photos of distant subjects.

Best compact system camera: Video

CSCs are just about photos, of course. Most can record HD video, but quality varies. If video is a priority, choose a model that can record 1080p video and also has a microphone input so you can connect a higher-quality mic. Better still, get one with a mic input and headphone output so you can monitor audio quality as you record.

The 7 best compact system cameras of 2014

Best CVC 7 7. Nikon 1 J3

  • RatingRated 7 out of 10
  • Reviewed on: 5 April 13
  • Price: £349 inc. VAT

One of the smallest, cheapest CSCs, the 1 J3 has a great screen (although not a touchscreen) and a brilliant Smart Photo Selector feature. It comes with a 10-30mm lens and is available in black, white or red. The 14Mp sensor is physically smaller than most CSCs’ and there’s no viewfinder, but as long as you’re not expecting the world at this price, the 1 J3 is pretty good value. It’s unique here in that it can shoot continuously at 60fps, and has a fun 1200fps slo-mo video mode.

Best CVC 6 6. Canon EOS M

  • RatingRated 7 out of 10
  • Price: £349 inc. VAT

The EOS M – Canon’s first CSC – was announced back in 2012 but didn’t go on sale until 2013. However, that doesn’t make it a bad choice, not least because you can pick it up on the high street for just £349 (or less). It has the same 18Mp sensor and processor as the 650D, yet is much more compact. There’s no built-in flash, but it does have a touchscreen and you won’t be disappointed with the EOS M’s photos. We recommend spending an extra £50 for the kit which includes an adaptor so you can use Canon’s huge range of EF lenses.

Best CVC 5 5. Fuji X-M1

  • RatingRated 7 out of 10
  • Price: £469 inc. VAT

If looks are important, the Fuji is an obvious choice. It’s a great camera, too, with a large APS-C sensor (like a DSLR) that leads to excellent photo quality with loads of detail. It has a useful tilting screen (not a touchscreen, unfortunately) which somewhat makes up for the lack of an optional viewfinder. The only thing counting against the X-M1 is Fuji’s currently limited range of lenses and accessories.

Best CVC 4 4. Sony NEX-6

  • RatingRated 8 out of 10
  • Price: £499 inc. VAT

Ok, so the NEX-6 is a little hard to find under £500, but it is possible. Compared to the NEX-5R, the 6 has an OLED viewfinder built in as well as a 3in LCD screen. There’s also a pop-up flash as well as a hot shoe. Image quality from the 16-50mm lens and 16Mp sensor is excellent. There’s built-in Wi-Fi and you can customise the controls to your liking. It’s so close to beating other CSCs here, but the lack of a touchscreen is disappointing.

Best CVC 3 3. Samsung NX300

  • RatingRated 9 out of 10
  • Price: £479 inc. VAT

It’s hard to keep track of all the products Samsung launches: some are gems while others are to be avoided. The NX300 is one of the gems, with excellent build quality and equally excellent image quality. It’s easy to use and you get a copy of Adobe’s brilliant Lightroom software as well. This isn’t the smallest CSC out there but that’s forgivable given the 20.3Mp sensor, built-in Wi-Fi and the fact that even novices can take amazing photos with it

Best CVC 2 2. Olympus PEN Lite E-PL5

  • RatingRated 9 out of 10
  • Price: £499 inc. VAT

One of the original CSC pioneers, Olympus has taken the sensor from the fantastic OM-D and the TruePic VI image processor to make the budget E-PL5. It means this camera is capable of stunning photos, and has the performance to match, shooting continuously at 8fps. You also benefit from the big range of Micro Four Thirds lenses. We also like the E-PL5’s tilting touchscreen. Overall, you’re getting the best bits from the OM-D for half the price. What’s not to like?

Best CSC 1 1. Panasonic DMC-G6

  • RatingRated 10 out of 10
  • Price: £349 inc. VAT

Unlike Panasonic’s GF or GM ranges, the ‘plain’ G series is aimed at enthusiasts rather than those that want the smallest possible camera. It looks like a DSLR. You get an electronic viewfinder as well as a fully articulating capacitive touchscreen, plus a pop-up flash and hot-shoe. The toys continue with Wi-Fi and NFC. We like the Creative Control modes which can be used when shooting RAW as well as JPEG. The G6’s sensor is the ‘old’ 16Mp unit from the G5, but there’s a more powerful processor. Image quality is top notch, capturing lots of sharp detail.