Canon EOS M
Spec: 18MP, 1080p video, 3-inch touchscreen, EF lens adaptors
Canon finally entered the CSC fray with the long awaited EOS M, which uses the exact same 18MP APS-C format sensor and other innards as the Canon EOS 650D. One notable difference from the 650D, however, is the use of the new Canon EF-M lens mount, which has a shallower flange depth.
Canon wanted to produce a high quality camera that is easy to use and bridges the gap between compact and DSLR cameras. On the face of it, it seems to have achieved this and more, with adaptors for your EF and EF-lenses even available. However, although the image quality is superb, the M is let down by its slow autofocus system.
Read our Canon EOS M review
Spec: 12.4MP, 1080p video, 3-inch touchscreen
The Pentax Q10, like its predecessor, is quite an interesting camera. With it being no bigger than many other advanced compact cameras, yet able to accept interchangeable lenses, it fills the gap between traditional advanced compact digital cameras and larger mirrorless camera systems well.
Those looking for a quirky alternative to the current crop of compact system cameras, with portability being their main concern, may be well served by the Pentax Q10, so long as you're well aware that image quality falls short of cameras equipped with a larger sensor.
Read our Pentax Q10 review
Spec: 16MP, 1080p Video, ISO 100-25600, Compatible with all Pentax K-mount lenses
Pentax is never one to follow the flock, especially if the design of its compact system cameras is anything to go by. Rather than develop a new lens mount with a shorter back focus distance, the K-01 uses the existing Pentax K-mount as a basis for a new system.
This design should appeal to those with existing Pentax K-mount lenses, as every lens right back to those made in the 1970s is compatible. On the negative side, the K-01 is more bulky than other compact system cameras to allow for the extra distance between the lens and the sensor.
Industrial designer, Marc Newson, was drafted in to add a touch of style to the design of the camera body, which sports a 16 million pixel APS-C CMOS format sensor capable of taking images at ISO 25600. Eighty-one AF points are selectable by the user and a sensor-shift image stabilisation system, as found in Pentax DSLRS, should help to tame camera shake. Full HD video can be recorded and output to a television or BluRay recorder via the built in HDMI interface.
The K-01 is Pentax's second CSC. The first was the Q (see below), which is much more compact because it uses a considerably smaller sensor.
Read our Pentax K-01 review
Spec: 12.4MP, 1080p video, 3-inch LCD screen, smallest CSC currently available
Unlike most other manufacturers, that opted for larger sensors in their compact system cameras, Pentax has chosen to use a sensor no bigger than can be found in many mid-to-high-end compact cameras for the Q. This has enabled Pentax to create the smallest camera with interchangeable lenses currently available.
The 1/2.3'-inch sized sensor produces 12.4MP images, and 1080p HD video can be recorded. Despite the small sensor size, sensitivities up to ISO 6400 are available.
The range of lenses available is currently very limited, bolstered by the addition of a couple of low-cost 'toy' lenses, so it'll be interesting to see whether Pentax releases more optics in the near future. A built-in flash is provided, and a hotshoe will accept an external flashgun.
Read our Pentax Q review
Spec: Various sensors available, lens and sensor come as one complete unit
Ricoh's GXR is truly unique. Instead of just changing the lens, each lens comes with its own sensor tailored to the job. Although this novel idea makes sense as far as future-proofing the camera is concerned, it means each lens costs almost as much as a camera itself. It also means each lens unit can be a different resolution, to suit your different needs.
Ricoh continues to release new lens units and accessories for the system, the most exciting being a Leica M-series unit, which can accept a wide range of M-series-compatible lenses. Within this unit is a 12MP APS-C sensor, with a crop factor of 1.5x. This certainly isn't a mainstream system, but if it ticks certain boxes for you, it may be worth a closer look.
Read our Ricoh GXR review
Price: £4,950/AU$8,000/US$7,000 (body only)
Spec: Various sensors available, lens and sensor come as one complete unit
The Leica M system has existed longer before digital cameras and CSCs were conceived, but the M-series cameras are mirrorless rangefinders. Hence, the M9 deserves a place in this buying guide.
Leica has a reputation for quality that precedes each camera it releases, and these cameras come at a price. Those with a taste for the exotic may consider the Leica M9, the only camera in this list to use a sensor which is equal in size to 35mm film.
The M9's die cast brass construction is incredibly rugged and controls are kept simple. The body also houses an 18MP Kodak CCD sensor specifically designed for the M9. A micro-lens arrangement on the sensor surface is designed to reduce darkening towards the corners, especially with wide-angle lenses. The highest ISO sensitivity available is ISO 2500.
Unlike other mirrorless cameras, there's no video mode or autofocus - focusing is manual, using the rangefinder in the optical viewfinder for reference. Although not for everyone, the Leica M9 is still a compelling choice for photography enthusiasts, collectors and those who require a good digital rangefinder camera.
Read our Leica M9 review
Leica M Monochrom
Spec: 18MP, 1080p video, 2.5-inch LCD screen, EVF, APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor
Although it is based on the Leica M9, the Leica M Monochrom has no colour filter array, so it can only record black and white images. This means that every one of its 18 million pixels is used to record brightness values, and there is no demosaicing of the red, green and blue signals to create a full colour image.
It's about getting the best black and white photo possible, and this means gathering the maximum amount of luminance data in-camera. It comes withAdobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, recognising that in the modern age some adjustment is often necessary to get the desired look.
Read our hands on: Leica M Monochrom review
Price: £1,150/(around AU$1,810))/US$1,400
Spec: 16MP, 1080p video, 2.8-inch LCD screen, EVF, APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor
Combining the fantastic technology of the Fuji X-Pro1 with a more consumer-friendly price and a smaller, more streamlined body will surely make the Fuji X-E1 appeal to a wide range of people.
Adding a new 18-55mm kit lens to the lineup of the Fuji X range of CSCs is also a smart move, which will again appeal to a new crowd. The fact that the lens has a metal build and a wide f/2.8 aperture should also mean that it wins favour with existing X series users, and should allay fears of a drop in performance that is usually associated with kit optics.
Read our Fuji X-E1 review
Spec: 16.3MP, 1080p video, 3-inch RGBW LCD screen, hybrid viewfinder
Fujifilm has created quite a stir with its announcement of the X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It uses the same hybrid viewfinder technology as the Fuji FinePix X100 compact camera. The viewfinder can be switched between an optical or a digital view instantly, with vital exposure information overlaid when using the optical viewfinder.
Fuji has developed a new lens mount for the system, which has a wide opening, enabling lenses to be mounted closer to the image sensor. This should help with lens quality, especially with wide-angles, because the short distance to the sensor can result in simpler optical design. The CSC's Leica M mount adaptor will open up a range of high-quality optics from Leica and Voigtlander.
A newly developed 16.3MP APS-C sized X-Trans CMOS sensor lies at the heart of the Fuji X-Pro1. This sensor is unique, since the individual RGB photosites are arranged more randomly than conventional Bayer pattern sensors. This is claimed to reduce Moiré patterning, so the sensor doesn't require an anti-aliasing filter, which should greatly improve sharpness of images.
Although the images from the X-Pro 1 can't quite match those from full-frame sensors for detail, they are very impressive and the dynamic range is excellent. This is definitely a camera to consider if you like traditional exposure controls.
Read our Fujifilm FinePix X-Pro1 review