Best budget compact system camera: 6 tested

Six of the best budget CSCs tested

Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, 14-42mm II - £400

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Nikon J1, the super-slim Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 has a flat frontal area with no handgrip protrusion, giving it a streamlined appearance. Around the back, it's even more simple than the Nikon, with the minimum of controls. The trade-off is that nearly all the shooting controls are menu-based, although the menus themselves are intuitive and straightforward. Most of the space is taken up by the LCD, which has a fairly typical 460k resolution. It proved quite reflective in our tests, making it hard to use in bright light.

Like the Nikon, the kit zoom lens collapses down to a short length for carrying around, so it's extra compact when not in use. Extended for active duty, with an effective 28-84mm zoom range once you take the 2x crop factor into account, it's slightly smaller than Panasonic's 14-42mm lens. This is partly due to there being no optical stabilisation. The Olympus features in-camera, sensor-shift stabilisation instead, which proved slightly less effective in our tests.

Unlike the Nikon J1, there's no pop-up flash, but you do get a hotshoe as well as a tiny clip-on flash that connects via the accessory port. You can also plug in an optional EVF, but it's typically expensive, at around £165.


In good light, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 boasts very speedy autofocus that's capable of tracking fairly fast-moving targets, although it slows noticeably in low-light conditions. The camera's shiny plastic coating makes it feel a bit slippery in the hand, but at least there's a small, rubberised corner at the back that falls under your thumb.

Image quality is crisp and lifelike, with reasonably low noise at low and medium ISOs. The simple controls are best suited to beginners, but there are some useful advanced menu-based options if you scratch the surface.

Outdoor image test

Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

Exposure is good overall but, as is often the case, the Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 bumps up red hues, as shown in the autumn leaves.

Resolution test

Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

ISO 200

Resolution is very good at the base sensitivity and up to ISO 800, but nosedives at the top end of the extended sensitivity range.


Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

ISO 200

Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

ISO 1600

Graininess is quite well contained up to ISO 1600 but plummets beyond this, with the ISO 12800 expanded setting being all but unusable.

Colour error

Best budget compact system cameras 6 tested

Saturation is a bit on the heavy side and there's a noticeable tendency towards a warm colour shift, with strident reds.

Image test verdict

Colour rendition is rich but red hues are often accentuated. This is not helped by inconsistencies in auto white balance during our tests.

Read the full Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 review