You're looking to buy a compact system camera (CSC) but don't know what to go for? Perhaps the term alone confounds: we've seen plenty of naming conventions being thrown around of late, from simple "mirrorless" through to terms such as "digital single lens mirrorless (DSLM)".
Whatever you choose to call them, we're not going to get hung up about it. You're probably interested in such cameras because they offer image quality above that from a compact camera and the ability to change between lenses to obtain different views on to the world. It's that creative control in a small package that's of interest.
Compact system cameras are, as that name suggests, a whole camera system that are comparable to their DSLR camera equivalents in many respects. The key difference is that there's no mirror box in the build and, therefore, they're typically smaller. Some have electronic viewfinders, others just a rear screen for preview so you can use them like an enlarged digital compact.
In this best-of feature, we round up the best mirrorless system cameras of 2017 to suit all tastes and abilities. Whether that's based on budget for a first-time buy, or a larger chunk of cash for a second model, we've got the goods for beginners or aspiring pros. Whether that's a point-and-shoot solution, or an all-in-one solution with viewfinder, there's an option for everyone.
Whatever your level, we'll guide you through the hottest products available - and only models that we've seen to assure their quality - to save you time when it comes to working out what the best options are for your needs. We'll be regularly updating this feature to keep it up to date with the latest and greatest models.
A quick lesson in lenses
First thing's first: cameras don't work in a one-size-fits-all way. Brands like to keep their own heritage and, as such, manufacturers tend to have individual lens mounts.
The exception is Micro Four Thirds which is supported by Panasonic Lumix G, both Olympus Pen and Olympus OM-D models and now the Kodak PixPro S-1. Elsewhere there are a whole host of considerations, each tied to their respective manufacturers: it's E-mount for Sony Alpha (formerly NEX), XF-mount for Fujifilm, NX-mount for Samsung NX (and specifically the smaller NX-M mount for the NX Mini; although Samsung has withdrawn from the UK market now), 1-mount for the Nikon 1-series, EF-M for Canon EOS M, and Q-mount for Pentax Q.
Each of those companies also makes or has made DSLR cameras, so don't fall into the trap of buying a lens just because the manufacturer name matches up. It's the mount that's key.
Focal length equivalent
Each lens will have a "mm" marking on it, such as 12-24mm, to convey the angle of view it will deliver. The lower the number the wider the angle of view, so more will "fit in" to a scene.
It's a bit more complex than that as different camera systems have different sensor sizes that give different focal length equivalents, but stick to that rough rule above and you'll have an approximate bearing on what you're getting. If you want to know more, bring it up in the comments below and people can help you grasp what means what.
Best budget buy
You know you're interested in a system camera. You want something small, but something that you can grow with. You want to pick a system that you'll stick with; one that's established and reliable.
You could option the Nikon 1 series as it's super small and super fast, but has among the smallest of sensor sizes and compromises image quality in low-light.
For us, the best size to quality balance - and the camp with the largest number of available lenses - goes to Micro Four Thirds models made by Panasonic and Olympus.
Olympus Pen E-PL7
"The style camera". That's Olympus' pitch with the E-PL7, which combines an attractive build with capable results. It even has a flip-downward screen so you can take those all-important selfies... if you're into that.
Although it's not our favourite model in the Pen range, the entry-level price point and happy mix of point-and-shoot readiness with manual control make it accessible to all. And if you want to upgrade the body at a later date there are Olympus OM-D and even Panasonic G-series cameras that will accept the very same Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Our previous pick in this category was the Panasonic Lumix GF7. We'd still recommend that too - if you can find one anywhere.
Read our full review: Olympus Pen E-PL7 review
Best affordable built-in viewfinder solution
It's got the rear screen for compact-like use, but there's also a built-in viewfinder in tow too. Usually that means spending mega bucks, but there are some more affordable alternatives out there.
Fujifilm X-T10 / X-T20
Retro done right, that was our sentiment about the X-T10, the cut-price little brother to the X-T1 (which did feature in our list until recently, but, in some respects, the X-Pro2 has pushed it overboard).
Its combination of retro design, quality construction, top notch image quality and decent general performance make it a great all-rounder.
To find shortcomings with the X-T10 only really shows face in the autofocus and so-so battery life departments. Its autofocus system can't claim top prize in its field, lagging behind the likes of the Panasonic Lumix GX8, and without touchscreen or more complex focus options. But for the right photography that's not going to be a nail-in-coffin deal-breaker.
Just around the corner is the updated X-T20 which adds touch controls and a higher-resolution sensor to the mix.
Read our full review: Fujifilm XT-10 review
Best CSC all-rounder
Panasonic Lumix G80
Panasonic has boat loads of great G-series camera. The one that offers the most bang for your buck is the G80. It's like a mini DSLR in many senses, combining a built-in viewfinder with a vari-angle touchscreen LCD to the rear.
With a lot of the technology taken from the top-end G-series line, the G80 walks the line between pro and budget. There's 4K video capture, decent image quality and all the control that you could possibly want. One of our favourite features is pinpoint autofocus.
If you're looking for a one-stop-shop then few can offer as much as the G80 for the price. If you do have a bit of extra cash and prefer a compact-style camera then the Sony A6500 is also one credible camera.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix G80 review
Best mirrorless camera for moving subjects
If there's been one inherent weakness for mirrorless cameras it's their ability to cope with moving subjects. Fuji has tackled this head-on with the X-T2 which is, hands down, the best CSC for capturing moving subjects - although you'll likely want the optional battery grip, as this enhances the camera's ability.
Beyond just being good at shooting fast action, the X-T2 is an exceptional all-round camera too. It's well built, looks great, the image quality is that high Fuji standard and there's all the control and decent lens back-up that you could want.
In some respects the Fujifilm X-T2 is so good that it nudges the grander-named X-Pro2 (below) off the company roster's top spot. It's a camera that takes the earlier X-T1's mantra and magnifies it considerably. It's the benchmark for the mirrorless market.
Read our full review: Fuji X-T2 review
Best mirrorless camera for low-light / image quality
A hotly contested category, and one that's likely to shift as new cameras continue to launch with new innovations. Typically larger sensors produce better quality images, assuming they're paired with decent optics and the megapixel count isn't too high.
Sensor size order drifts upwards from 1/2.3-inch Pentax Q, to 1-inch Nikon 1, the 2x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds, the 1.6x APS-C format of Canon's EOS M, then the slightly larger 1.5x APS-C formats of Fujifilm and Sony. At the very top there's the full-frame models from Sony - and we wouldn't be surprised if other manufacturers follow suit in the future too.
If you're after a CSC that's all about image quality then look little further than Fuji. Unlike most conventional sensors, Fuji has done away with the low-pass filter which leads to sharper results and the Japanese company has also implemented a unique colour filter array that you won't find outside of this brand. It's all very complex, but all very clever. All you really need to know is that results are top notch.
If you're an action photographer then don't kid yourself, this camera won't be suitable (Fuji has the X-T2 for that). But if you're after a camera that successfully marries the old school of thought with the new in a visually striking package then there's a lot to love in the Fujifilm X-E2S.
Another much-talked-about option is the Sony A6500, but that's pricier than this Fuji.
Read our full review: Fujifilm X-E2 review
Best enthusiast mirrorless camera
We're going out on a limb here, because while the Pen-F might not be the class-leading camera in every single department, just take a look at this stylish-like-the-60s camera. It's a beaut. Deciding between Panasonic GX8 just had a spanner thrown in the works.
At £949 body-only the Pen-F certainly is not cheap, but with features such as 5-axis image stabilisation that few competitors offer, plus a built-in electronic viewfinder that easily matches them, Olympus sure is firmly on the compact system camera map this release.
There's even a quick-access dial on the very front of the camera for quick adjustment of four creative functions: Mono, Art Filters, Colour Profile and Color Creator. Talk about doing something different, that's what Olympus is going for here.
Read our full preview: Olympus Pen-F preview
Best viewfinder in a mirrorless camera
The X-Pro2's tweaks and tinkers forge a far more accomplished camera than the original X-Pro1 for the modern professional. It's faster, better to use and those small details make all the difference.
Sure, it's a quirky camera, but that's kind of what we loved about the X-Pro back in 2011. The X-Pro2 stands out from the crowd with its complex "advanced hybrid multi viewfinder" (that's what Fujifilm likes to call it), making for a camera experience that's positively retro, but positively professional. Think rangefinder-like use thanks to a corner-positioned digital rangefinder overlay screen (as found in the X100T) which can show a 2.5x or 6.0x magnification of the active focus point for precision manual focus, ensuring correct focus for close-up shooting.
We'd still like to see a vari-angle touchscreen rather than fixed panel only, but given that the X-Pro2 seems to be looking inwards to its existing pro user base rather than outwards to newcomers, we suspect the target audience will see the appeal.
Read our full review: Fujifilm X-Pro2 review
Best mirrorless camera for video
Video or movie capture has been going from strength to strength in mirrorless cameras, with many now very capable. Our current favourite is the Panasonic, but diehard videographers may call out the Sony A7S II as the top ranking model in this category (we haven't reviewed it as yet - only the "standard" A7 II).
Panasonic Lumix GH4 / GH5
The Panasonic GH4 isn't just a camera for video capture by any means, as this could easily fit into the "enthusiast" category above. But its ability to capture 4K at usable frame-rates and 1080p at beyond broadcast standard compression makes it a standout product. Come mid-2017 the GH5 will be here, which ought to step things up yet another notch - especially on the video front.
We've used the GH4 somewhat differently to a DSLR, but haven't found it to limit our abilities at any turn. The sensor size has meant an easy-to-carry device with sufficient zoom from the 16-140mm lens, and the 2,360k-dot OLED electronic viewfinder does a decent job too, even if it's not as impressive as the Fujifilm X-T2 in this regard.
It's no longer so much "compact system vs DSLR", it's about which camera is best, and the GH4 ticks so many boxes it was one of the best cameras to arrive in 2014 - a legacy that continued in 2015 with advanced firmware updates and, even now, it's still hugely desirable.
Of course we can't not mention that the Lumix GH5 is just around the corner, which ought to represent a new benchmark for 4K movie capture.
Read our full review: Panasonic Lumix GH4 review
Best full-frame mirrorless camera
Sony Alpha A7 II
The Sony Alpha A7 II, the second in the full-frame series, offers a larger sensor than its competitors. That big point of interest doesn't make it a huge camera though: it's small in scale and, at under £1,000 for the body only, it's the most affordable pathway into full-frame (the only other option, for now, is the massive Leica SL). There's even on-board 5-axis image stabilisation.
However, we would like to see improved battery life. But grab a couple of spares (or the optional battery grip if you don't mind the additional scale) and a prime lens and the A7 II is quite stunning.
It's a camera out there all on its own: not comparable to a full-frame DSLR for all things, but in some cases that's a positive. It's a different system, with a different ethos and, combined with the right gear, it'll bring you one thing that's the same as any other system worth its salt: glorious full-frame pictures.
There are also A7 S and R alternatives, for video and high-resolution points of interest, respectively, but they cost a chunk more than the standard model.
Read our full review: Sony A7 II review
Best full-frame mirrorless camera
Fujifilm GFX 50S
Available from $6449.99 on Amazon.com
If you're ultra serious about image quality then the huge-scale sensor of medium format could be for you. If you've got a spare £8,000-odd anyway.
That sounds like absurd money, but given this format used to demand tens of thousands of thousands of pounds, Fuji has really opened up the market.
Read our full preview: Fuji GFX 50S