How do CSCs compare with advanced P&S?

June 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm  •  Posted in Q&A by

When I was shopping for memory cards, I saw two new cameras: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 and the Olympus E-PL2. They’re tiny compared to a digital SLR but they do take interchangeable lenses. Would this type of camera be better than one with built-in lens and optical viewfinder like the Powershot G12?
—Jacques N.

Both the GF2 and the NX100—as well as the Sony NEX and Samsung NX series—are compact system cameras (CSC), Jacques. They are small/lightweight because the reflex mirror and the pentaprism have been omitted. In spite of the downsizing, both employ the same size sensor you’d find in a DSLR of the same brand. The chip is at least 8 times larger than the one that’s used in a typical point-and-shoot camera. That provides superior image quality especially at ISO levels above ISO 400.

The smallest CSC (including the Sony NEX5 and Samsung NX100) are surprisingly compact and very slim. As this illustration indicates, the downsizing was achieved by eliminating the reflex mirror and pentaprism while retaining a large sensor. Photo Courtesy of Panasonic Canada

CSCs are particularly appealing to those trading up from a camera with built-in lens because they’re smaller/lighter than a DSLR. They’re as versatile as an entry-level DSLR and the ability to use various types of lenses and flash units adds to the versatility. Granted, the smallest cameras do not offer a viewfinder, but optional electronic viewfinders (EVF) are available (except for the Sony NEX series).  The larger CSC, like the Samsung NX10 and Lumix DMC-GH2, are equipped with a built-in EVF but that does add to the size/weight. Not everyone loves an EVF but it does provide through-the-lens viewing for an accurate view of the composition.

A digicam with a built-in lens is smaller/lighter than a CSC with a zoom lens attached. But the latter type of camera employs a much larger sensor that can accommodate oversized pixels and those provide images with less digital noise and better definition of intricate detail especially at ISO 400 and above. Photo Courtesy of Sony Canada

Granted, a DSLR does have some advantages, including a built-in optical viewfinder, a wider choice of lenses and accessories and even faster autofocus (although the GF2 and GH2 come very close in AF speed).  But whenever you do not want to carry a heavy camera bag, smaller equipment can be a blessing. Even if you already own a DSLR, you might want one of the CSCs when hiking, cycling or during long days of touring while on vacation. Regardless of your photographic style and experience level, one of these compact models is likely to satisfy your expectations.