Compact system cameras are a fantastic compromise between picture quality and size. For those looking for high quality images, but want the convenience of a smaller camera, a compact system model is often the answer.
Currently, the CSC (Compact System Camera) market is booming, with models from major manufacturers including Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, Pentax and Samsung.
Panasonic was first to join the CSC revolution, launching the Micro Four Thirds sensor camera, the Lumix G1 in Japan back in October 2008.
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But it's really since Olympus entered the market in late 2009 with the PEN, that we've seen the boom in products. Since launching the vintage styled PEN in autumn 2009, and following it with other spin-off models including the E-PL2, the company has recently launched the third iteration of the camera, the PEN E-P3, along with two other models to sit in its range.
While the G1 was DSLR styled, the PEN was the first camera to attempt to be pocketable, featuring a flat design and a collapsible kit lens. Since both Panasonic and Olympus use the Micro Four Thirds system, lenses can be swapped between the systems.
Winning the prize for oddest camera invention of the past few years, Ricoh debuted the GXR system at the end of 2009. Instead of the conventional interchangeable lenses, the GXR uses interchangeable camera units, meaning that not only does the lens come off, but also the sensor and image processing chip.
Next to join the market was Samsung, with the NX10 in January 2010. The NX10 was the first compact system camera to break away from the micro four thirds system, using its own mount and featuring a larger APS-C sized sensor.
Sony followed with the NEX-5 and NEX-3 later in 2010, also using an APS-C sensor and introducing the new E-Mount. Sony Alpha DSLR users could also use their A-Mount optics with an adapter.
The Pentax Q system is the most recent addition to the market, announced in June. The camera uses the 'Q' mount and is fitted with a smaller 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor.
As it stands, the following compact system cameras are either announced or currently available on the market:
Panasonic Lumix G3Panasonic Lumix GF3 review
Panasonic Lumix GH2 review
Sony NEX-5 review
Olympus PEN E-P3 review
Olympus PEN E-PL3 (Lite) review (hands on)
Olympus PEN E-PM1 (Mini)
Samsung NX11 review
Ricoh GXR reviewNikon V1Nikon J1
What's next: compact system camera rumours
You'll notice that the two heavyweights of the camera industry are missing from the list, Canon and Nikon. Fuji, which has seen recent success with its ultra-premium compact, the X100, has also yet to feature
But as with most things camera tech related, the rumour mill regularly grinds out speculation that new developments are coming from all areas of the market. Here's a round-up of the latest compact system camera gossip:
Canon compact system camera rumours
The number one camera company in the world, Canon is slow off the mark to join the CSC market, perhaps suggesting that it wasn't intending to enter it at all. But in a recent interview with Reuters, Masaya Maeda, head of Canon's camera division suggested that plans are afoot for a CSC model sometime next year.
Compatibility with Canon's existing line up of EOS lenses would see the company streak ahead of Olympus, Panasonic and Sony in terms of lens choice, although users looking to keep size down would likely be looking for a compact lens line-up too.
Nikon compact system camera rumours
On 21 September 2011 after months of speculation, Nikon announced two mirrorless cameras: the Nikon V1 and the Nikon J1. The cameras feature high-speed continuous shooting at 60 frames per second with a 10 megapixel resolution. Both Nikon 1 cameras also give you Full HD movie capability where you can shoot at 60 or 30fps.
Read our Nikon V1 hands on review.
Fuji compact system camera rumours
Fuji has big ambitions for its upcoming products. Also speaking to Reuters, the company is aiming to become the no.3 camera manufacturer by 2014, perhaps by launching a new mirrorless camera based on its own in-house development.
Dropping out of the interchangeable lens market in 2008, Fuji's Takeshi Higuchi hinted in the interview that the company is planning a comeback, but didn't specify whether it would be a conventional DSLR or mirrorless product.
Sony compact system camera rumours
One of the oft-cited drawbacks of compact system cameras is the lack of an optical viewfinder. While some systems allow you to add an electronic one, they're usually an expensive optional extra and stop the camera being quite so compact. SonyAlphaRumors suggests that the upcoming NEX-7 will use the same OLED viewfinder that is believed to be used in the upcoming a77.
Olympus compact system camera rumours
PEN cameras come without the viewfinder, instead allowing for an optional upgrade. According to Mark Thackara, the company's Consumer Products Marketing Manager, a new 'super EVF' is on the way boasting an improved refresh rate and resolution.
Panasonic compact system camera rumours
Earlier in the year, Panasonic confirmed that it will split its GF line into two, releasing a high-end version aimed at experienced users. Expected by the end of 2011, or possibly early 2012, Panasonic is also working with Epson on an improved electronic viewfinder.
We've been speculating about what the first advanced GF cameras might be called, the GF4 is unlikely as 4 is unlucky in Japan and GF5 gives the GF3 nowhere to go, so perhaps it could be the GF6, GF7 or maybe the GF8. Time will tell.