DSLR: Choosing the best CSC

A compact system camera (CSC) should be lightweight, portable and take great photos. With the ability to change lenses, they offer flexibility in the way you capture a picture and are a cheaper alternative to DSLR cameras. But how do you make sure you choose the best compact system camera?

To make sure you don’t end up with a disappointing CSC, read on for our 10 essential buying tips and a features checklist.

Take a look at our Best Buy compact system cameras for the top models from our expert test lab.

Choosing the best compact camera - 10 essential tips

Best CSC - buying checklist


1) Expect to pay £350 or more - although compact system cameras are available from £200, the cheapest Best Buy we've tested costs £350. This will afford you a CSC with a decent optical zoom lens and the latest features, such as a tiltable touchscreen and wi-fi compatibility.

2) Larger sensor = better photos - thanks to their larger sensor size, compact system cameras  perform better in low light than a standard digital camera. CSCs generally offer a Micro Four Thirds or APS-C sensor, although some more expensive models feature a huge full-frame sensor.

3) No mirror, no problem - whereas DSLR cameras capture images using a mirror, CSCs go without. According to our test lab, this difference in design won’t impact the quality of your photos and just means CSCs can live up to their ‘compact’ claims.

4) You’ll use an electronic viewfinder - due to their mirrorless design, CSCs feature electronic instead of optical viewfinders. So long as a camera meets with our Best Buy seal of approval, then you won’t notice the difference.

5) 4K video is a nice touch, but not essential - ultra-high-definition video recording is available across several high-end compact system cameras. Unless you own a 4K TV, you won’t be able to appreciate the footage that’s four times more detailed than standard HD.

6) Manual controls are variable - the bigger the CSC you buy the more manual controls you’ll have available to use. Smaller models are more portable but rely on touchscreen controls for you to tweak the way they take photos.

7) Lens quality can vary - with interchangeable lens cameras, the standard of your photos is somewhat reliant on your using a good lens. Cheaper CSCs tend to be bundled with average lenses, so be careful when you spot bargain model.

8) Better shutter speed for less - generally speaking, CSCs tend to have faster shutter speeds than a DSLR of an equivalent price. This is ideal for sports and wildlife photographers, who like to capture rapid-moving subjects.

9) Hit and miss focusing - without hybrid autofocusing CSCs can struggle in high contrast and low light situations. Our expert lab results are designed to show up those models that can’t perform under such testing conditions.

10) Wi-fi comes as standard - although it’s still common for DSLRs to be released without wi-fi compatibility, nearly every CSC now allows you to wirelessly transfer photos to your phone or tablet.

More on this...

Compact system camera reviews - our expert test lab results
Which camera should I buy? - the interactive product finder
How to buy the best DSLR - find out how we test the latest models