A variety of compact system camera (CSC) models target the different market sectors. Don't forget that the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor from Panasonic and Olympus models may not quite match their competitors for low light image quality performance, but the smaller MFT sensor means smaller lenses – and that's important if you intend to keep your kit as miniature as possible.
Of the current models available, there are three main sectors that divide: DSLR replacement, style and mini options.
Medium-sized models are often design or style-focused, such as the Olympus PEN E-P3. This doesn't have a viewfinder but the inclusion of a hotshoe means an optional one can always be added at a later date. This is also the case for other similar models.
Mini models do away with viewfinders altogether and, in some cases, no hotshoe means these cameras are more akin to step-up compacts with changeable lenses. The Panasonic GF3, Olympus PEN E-PM1, Sony NEX-C3 and Samsung NX200 are great examples that tend to come bundled with prime pancake lenses to keep the overall size down (add a big lens and you may defeat the object of buying into a small system). Provided you are happy with a smaller sensor the Nikon V1, Nikon J1, and Pentax Qare also making there way into the shops.
Despite the wide range of choice, there's no Canon model in the compact system camera market. Rumours are rife that a model is forthcoming – but with another lens mounts, that'll only spread things out yet further.
For the time being, manufacturers are trying hard to get the public on board to buy into their systems. Once that happens, and when lens ranges expand, there will be natural growth and more pro-spec models are likely to become a reality. Ultimately, the CSC market could see a huge chunk of the DSLR sector eaten up in the not too distant future... Watch this space.
Top compact system cameras
Now for our mini guide to our favourite compact system cameras (CSCs) and the CSC models available at the moment, to help you choose the right one for you.
Most pocketable: Panasonic GF3
This teeny tiny compact-like model is just about as small as they come - without using a very small sensor, and has a built-in flash
'Mini DSLR': Panasonic Lumix G3
Super-fast autofocus and touchscreen controls in a small and capable package
It's a toss-up between these two APS-C models, because both compact system cameras produce cracking images
For the fashionistas: Olympus PEN E-P3
The Sony NEX-7 is set to be available in November 2011, it's a beautifully crafted camera with Sony's game-changing EVF built-in
Buy this in white and wear it like a handbag; its touchscreen enhances use too
Current compact system camera models
Panasonic Lumix: the range with the Micro Four Thirds standard
Panasonic Lumix G3: super-fast autofocus in a small, DSLR-like body with touchscreen controls
Panasonic Lumix GF2: the GF3's older brother
Panasonic Lumix GF3: as small as they come with built in flash, also has touchscreen controls
Panasonic Lumix GH2: top-spec model with 1080p HD video
Olympus PEN: the series using the Micro Four Thirds standard
Olympus PEN E-P3: one for the style-conscious, a unique looking Micro Four Thirds model with touchscreen
Read our Olympus PEN EP-3 review
Olympus PEN E-PL3: similar spec to E-P3 in a slimmed-down plastic body
Read our Olympus PEN EP-L3 review
Olympus PEN E-PM1: the 'mini' version
Read our Olympus PEN E-PM1 review
Samsung: APS-C sensor, using an NX lens system
Samsung NX11: the most DSLR-like model produces (arguably) the best image quality of any CSC
Read our Samsung NX11 review
Samsung NX200: super-high 20.3MP sensor in this mini model
Read our Samsung NX200 review
Sony: APS-C sensor, using an E-mount lens system
Sony NEX-7: 10fps and a 24.3MP sensor
Read our Sony NEX-7 review
Sony NEX-5N: 10fps and a 16.1MP sensor
Sony NEX-C3: boasting a 16.2MP sensor for great image quality
Read our Sony NEX-C3 review
Pentax Q: APS-C sensor, using a Q-mount lens system
Pentax Q: the first model in Pentax's range
Liked this? Then check out Best compact system camera 2011: 10 reviewed and rated
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