A survey of some handy accessories you can consider for your Compact System Camera.


Manfrotto’s Befree tripod, shown in use here, is stable enough to support larger CSCs with telephoto lenses attached. It provides a wide range of adjustments but is small enough to be easily carried. (Source: Manfrotto.)

The past 12 months have seen Compact System Cameras (CSCs) make serious inroads into the DSLR market, largely because many photographers have discovered the advantages of having smaller, lighter equipment that is easier to carry than a relatively bulky DSLR. Like DSLRs, CSCs can accept plenty of accessories.

In this feature we will look at the obvious ““ and not so obvious ““ accessories that can improve your enjoyment of a CSC. There isn’t space to cover lenses here but, suffice it to say that if you’re looking for the widest range of lenses, the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) system developed by Olympus and Panasonic is by far the best supported with compact, high-quality lenses. When we went to press there were 65 lenses listed, including one 3D lens, two fisheye lenses, three dedicated macro lenses, 19 prime (single focal length) and 28 zoom lenses.

So, assuming you’ve sorted out your lens requirements, which other accessories should you consider? The first priority should be a camera bag to keep your equipment in.

Camera Bags

There are plenty of options to choose from, with styles that include shoulder, sling and pouch-type bags as well as compact backpacks. The widest choice comes from third-party specialists like Lowepro, Crumpler, Domke, Kata, Manfrotto, Tamrac, Tenba, Think Tank and Vivitar.

Choose a bag that fits your system. Fujifilm and Sony bodies and lenses are larger than those made by Olympus and Panasonic which, in turn are larger than Nikon1 kit. Allow for all the equipment you want to carry, including items like laptops, mobile phones and spare memory cards.

Look for bags made from durable materials like high-density nylon and polyester, which are padded to protect contents from impact shock. Bags that don’t look like camera bags don’t advertise that they contain expensive gear.

Removable camera and/or lens inserts make bags more adaptable to your equipment and lifestyle. There should be space for personal gear like a phone, wallet, keys, pens and maybe a lightweight rain jacket. Straps should be both comfortable and secure and additional straps that let you hold the bag in place are handy if you engage in physical activity (like climbing). They also improve security.

The primary considerations when making your choice are:

1. Will the bag hold all the equipment you want to carry?

2. How well are the contents of the bag protected from impact, weather and theft?

3. Are key pieces of equipment readily accessible?

4. Is the bag comfortable enough to carry all day?

Once you’ve answered these questions you can deal with the appearance and price of the bag. In the quest for the ‘Goldilocks’ bag that’s ‘just right’, answering these questions should bring you close to an acceptable solution.

Camera AttachmentsPlenty of camera attachments are available to improve imaging performance and handling comfort and make photography more enjoyable. Among the former are specially designed straps that provide extra support while shooting or make it easier to carry your camera so it’s quickly accessible but doesn’t get in the way.

Battery grips have long been popular with SLR users and they are also available for higher-end CSCs. Photographers who take a lot of shots in a short period will appreciate their convenience because most CSCs batteries are depleted within less than 500 shots.


Buyers of Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) system cameras have the widest range of compatible lenses to choose from. (Source: Olympus.)

A battery grip can hold at least one extra battery, which doubles the shooting capacity, without requiring a battery change. Some units come with additional grips to improve shooting comfort.

Microphones are a valuable add-on for photographers who shoot video because most cameras’ built-in microphones are fairly basic and can pick up the sound the camera makes during autofocusing and zooming. They are also susceptible to wind noise and may pick up signals from mobile phones.

While many CSCs have built-in flashes that are adequate for most situations, some come equipped to use add-on flashguns, which are usually more powerful than built-in flashes. They can be attached quickly when you need more light and left in the camera bag when the flash isn’t needed.

Camera cases are popular with photographers who don’t want to carry a camera bag but require some protection for their camera. The most popular type is the traditional two-piece unit (usually made from leather) which has a base that screws onto the camera’s tripod socket plus a swivelling lens cover that is attached to the base with a stud.

Lens Attachments

A lens hood is one of the most useful accessories you can have. Its primary role is to prevent the direct sunlight (or other light source) from shining on the front element of the lens and producing flare.

But a good hood will act as a buffer between the lens and the environment. It will protect the front element from being scratched by branches or chipped by impact with hard objects, for example, if the lens is dropped. Longer hoods can also provide some protection against rain, spray and dust (although lenses that aren’t weather-resistant shouldn’t be exposed to the former).

All lens hoods must be designed to cover the field of view of the lens. Their shapes can vary from a simple cylinder or conical section (like a traditional lamp shade) to a complex ‘petal-shaped’ hood. Some hoods for wide-angle lenses have cylindrical attachments but end in rectangular (or square) shapes, as shown in the illustration right.

Many photographers like to fit filters to the front of their lenses and filters can have some applications in digital photography. The most valuable filters include neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density filters for controlling exposure in very bright conditions.

An ND reduces the intensity of light by a factor of one or several f-stops. It can be used to enable slow enough shutter speeds to blur moving water or wide enough apertures to produce a shallow depth of field. Graduated ND filters are used to darken skies and allow clouds to be recorded without affecting exposures in the foreground of the scene.


Messenger style bags, like Manfrotto’s Allegra 30 (shown here), are ideal for larger systems as they have space for larger cameras plus a couple of lenses and a small laptop and compact tripod. (Source: Manfrotto.)


Smaller CSCs with fewer accessories will fit comfortably into a pouch style bag, such as the Acme Made Montgomery Street Kit Bag shown here. These types of bags don’t look like camera bags and are ideal for backpackers. (Source: Daymen Canada Acquisition ULC.)


Joby makes some neat sling straps that attach to the camera via the tripod socket and allow it to be carried in ways that make it quickly accessible. (Source: Daymen Canada Acquisition ULC.)


This illustration shows a NEX camera with attached microphone plus an additional wind sock that suppresses wind noise. (Source: Sony.)


Battery grips can usually be attached to higher-featured CSCs to increase shooting capacity. (Source: Olympus.)


Some cameras, like the Canon EOS M, are supplied with a separate flashgun (the Speedlite 90EX), which has a Guide number of 9 (metres/ISO 100). (Source: Canon.)


Rectangular lens hoods are often produced for wide-angle prime lenses like the M-Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, shown here on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

Linear and circular polarisers can also be used to reduce glare and improve colour saturation, while UV filters provide some haze penetration. The need for most colour balancing filters has been replaced with in-camera white balance adjustments, while effects filters may be built into many cameras and are also easily applied when images are edited.


Image stabilisation in cameras and lenses can go a long way towards helping you obtain sharp pictures, but when you need to use very slow shutter speeds to record night scenes or create blurred water patterns a tripod is essential. One good feature of CSCs is that, being smaller and lighter, they don’t require the large and hefty tripods you need for a DSLR ““ provided they meet the following requirements:

1. The legs must be stiff enough to provide adequate support. Many CSCs have mechanical shutters that produce vibrations when the shutter is triggered. Even slight vibrations can produce buzzing in the legs of a flimsy tripod that passes through to the camera.

2. Fewer leg joints improve tripod stability ““ unless the joints are damped.

3. The entire support system must form a stable, continuous mass. This means the head must sit firmly on the central column and the column must be able to be gripped solidly within the legs. The leg extensions must also be tight and not prone to vibrations.

4. The tripod must position the camera so there’s more mass below than above. If extra stability is required, you should be able to hang a weight from the bottom of the central column to increase mass.

5. The closer to the ground the camera is, the more stable it will be. Avoid pushing the camera to the tripod’s maximum height.

Finding the ideal tripod requires you to define your needs. Do you want a tripod that can be used at waist height ““ or could you work with something lower? Do you want to attach the tripod to a camera bag?

Photographers looking for the ultimate in small and light tripods can consider a ‘table tripod’ with no extensions; just one set of short legs. It can be rested on any stable horizontal surface and is easy to fit in a pocket or camera bag.

Alternatively, a flexible ‘Gorillapod’ can be clamped onto vertical supports like posts, while also being usable on a flat surface. These tripods are small and light and can be twisted into many different positions.



Joby’s Gorillapod tripods include models with magnetic feet that will ‘stick’ to car body panels and other metal surfaces. (Source: Joby.)

Other Accessories

There are plenty of other accessories available, ranging from little luxuries like screen protectors, cleaning kits and camera and lens wraps and pouches, most of which aren’t supplied with the camera when you buy it. Inca produces a range of accessory kits containing most of these items, some customised for specific camera brands.

Soft ‘cases’ and carry bags are also available for cameras and lenses and some lenses have them supplied. Olympus has two interesting ‘protectors’ in the form of its CS-43 Quilted Soft Camera Case and CS-35 Wrapping Cloth, each of which sells for less than $40.

The CS-43 can hold a CSC camera with lens attached plus an additional lens or two lenses separately, with a sewn-in divider to separate them. Because it is completely soft, it can be used as a bag-in-a-bag or rolled up for use when needed.


The leather cases for Fujifilm’s X-series cameras include handy features like a lift-up cover to make it easy to change the camera’s battery or memory card. (Source: Fujifilm.)

The CS-35 has a water-repellent outer surface and a soft inner surface that can function as a cleaning cloth. It can protect the camera when you’re changing lenses outdoors and adds an extra barrier to moisture when the camera is being carried in a bag.

Waterproof housings are popular with photographers who enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling and some manufacturers offer purpose-designed models for various cameras in their line-ups. There are also plenty of third-party manufacturers with housings for popular camera models.

When choosing an underwater housing, pay attention to the following features:

1. Its depth rating. Make sure the housing is rated for a greater depth than you intend to go. It’s better to be conservative than to risk damaging your camera if the housing leaks.

2. The accessibility of key controls. Large external button controls that can be used with gloved fingers are a must.

3. The size of the viewing screen should fully accommodate the camera’s monitor to enable you to compose shots accurately.

4. The accessories you can attach. If you are diving below 10 metres you will probably require lights, which are easiest to use when attached to the housing. Lanyards to attaching the housing to the diver are also recommended. A dome or wide-angle port may be advisable if you plan to shoot with a wide-angle or fisheye lens, while a flat port is required for close-up shooting.

5. The quality of the o-rings and ease of cleaning. Underwater housings need a lot of maintenance, which includes cleaning and greasing o-rings after each use. Make sure the o-rings are solid enough to withstand this and easy to remove and replace. Spare rings should also be readily available at an affordable price.


The Olympus CS-43 Quilted Soft Camera Case, shown containing a camera and lens. (Source: Olympus.)


This underwater housing for the Olympus E-M5 is waterproof to 45 metres and has interchangeable bayonet mount lens ports. (Source: Olympus.)


This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 59.

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Compact System Camera Guide  by Margaret Brown.
Straightforward advice on how to create superb images with your Compact System Camera.