Compact system camera accessories

Aside from lenses, there are plenty of other accessories to build up your CSC kit. The options available for different cameras vary widely with different manufacturers.

Viewfinders

While electronic viewfinders (EVFs) are usually built into high-end CSCs, users of entry- and mid-level models have to rely on the monitor for both shot composition and adjusting shooting parameters. But even if you prefer framing shots on the camera’s LCD, in bright outdoor lighting monitor screens aren’t bright enough for you to discern any details in a scene. A viewfinder eliminates this problem.

It’s generally better to have the viewfinder built into the camera body. Add-on ‘finders increase the camera’s body size, compromise its sleek design and can make it tricky to get the camera into and out of a bag or pouch.

The Olympus OM-D system, one of the most highly developed camera and accessory suites in the CSC category. (Source: Olympus.)

Global Camera Accessories Market Research Report 2018

Add-on optical viewfinders (OVFs) consume no power. Their resolution is the same as your eyes’ and they don’t suffer from lag times (caused when the screen refreshes). But they have two serious downsides:

1. Being off-set from the camera’s lens, they don’t show you exactly the same view as the sensor ‘sees’. Although negligible when photographing distant scenes, this parallax error is very pronounced when photographing subjects that are close to the camera. EVFs don’t suffer from this problem because they take the signal from the camera’s sensor.

A built-in EVF provides the same view as the image sensor plus the shooting information displayed by the monitor screen. It allows the camera to be held close to the photographer’s eye and excludes extraneous light. (Source: Olympus.)

2. OVFs generally match a specific lens focal length, which means they can only be used with one lens. Framing guides may be provided to match other commonly-used lenses but they can be tricky to use. Alternatively separate interchangeable viewfinders may be required to match each lens.

The top picture shows the image as seen through an EVF and recorded by the image sensor. The bottom image shows the effect of parallax error when the photographer composes the shot with an OVF to cover the same scene as shown in the top image.

EVF vs OVF vs Hybrid Viewfinders

EVFs are like tiny TV sets that display the image from the camera’s sensor. They cover the same field of view as the sensor sees and can also display the same icons and data as the camera’s monitor. This eliminates the need to refer to the monitor to check camera settings. Most EVFs have an eye-detect system that switches automatically when the camera is raised to the eye and when it’s lowered. (This can usually be overridden.) All EVFs can be adjusted to brighten up a poorly-lit scene and many include one or more focus-assist options, such as magnifying the centre of the image or outlining the edges of in-focus objects (‘focus peaking’).

The latest EVFs have very high resolution and fast refresh rates, making them almost as easy to use as an optical viewfinder. A slight lag remains in the refresh rates of many EVFs, so users have to learn to anticipate peak action, rather than reacting to it as you would with an OVF.

Hybrid viewfinders combine the best features of both types, but they are expensive to manufacture and, so far, only Fujifilm has introduced them – and only in a few models. Photographers can swap between the optical and LCD views by flicking a lever. The optical viewfinder is handy when time lag is an issue, while the EVF enables users to check focus, exposure, white balance and depth of field while composing shots.

Focus peaking outlines areas that are in focus in a selected colour (in this case, black). Note how different areas in the subject are outlined as focus changes. (Source: Olympus.)

Lighting Accessories

Most built-in flashes have relatively low light outputs and can only illuminate subjects up to about three or four metres from the camera. When more light is required, an accessory flashgun will supply it and most manufacturers have at least one accessory flash in their line-ups.

Although some CSCs will accept the external flashguns designed for DSLR cameras, they are often too large and heavy to be practical. It’s better to use accessory lights designed specifically for the camera you own.

LED lights can replace many flashguns as some are similar in size and attach via the camera’s hot shoe. They produce little or no heat and provide a continuous output that allows them to be used for shooting movie clips. Most LED lights that are usable with CSCs are battery-powered.

LED lights are kind to subjects’ eyes and more comfortable for portrait subjects. Some lights are supplied with colour and/or ND (neutral density) filters and diffusers may be included to soften the light output. While cheap LEDs can emit excessive green light, the latest, high-quality LEDs deliver light that is similar to natural daylight and don’t require white balance adjustment.

Olympus produces a handy Macro Arm Light, which mounts LED lights at the ends of two adjustable arms. The low-power lights draw power from the camera’s battery via the accessory port. The flexible arms enable users to position the lights to provide considerable control over light distribution.

The fast recycling FL-600R flash for Olympus CSCs is a sophisticated unit capable of controlling up to four channels and groups at long range in wireless Commander Mode. It is shown on the OM-D E-M5 camera. (Source: Olympus.)

Macro Ring lights that use LEDs can provide even lighting for close-up work. The lightest ones attach to the filter thread on the front of a lens and come with adapter rings in 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm and 72mm sizes.

Olympus’s MAL-1 Macro Arm Light attaches to the camera’s accessory port and draws power from the camera’s battery. The LED lights at the ends of the adjustable arms are easy to position and ideal for use with the 60mm macro lens.

Using Guide Numbers

Guide Numbers (GN) let you determine how powerful any light source is, based upon the fact that the intensity of light falls off with the square of the distance from its source. In specification lists, most Guide Numbers are shown as aperture (m @ ISO). A light source with a GN of 7 (m/ISO 200) would provide optimal illumination at a distance of one metre with an aperture of f/7 at ISO 200.

If you have a GN, it’s easy to calculate any combination of aperture, distance and ISO to provide the correct exposure. Doubling the distance in the above example gives you an aperture of f/3.5 at ISO 200.

Light intensity declines with the square of the distance, therefore doubling the ISO sensitivity doubles distance range. This requires you to multiply the GN by the square root of the new ISO speed divided by the original ISO speed. To shoot at ISO 800 with a GN 7 (m/ISO 200) light will give you a four f-stop advantage at one metre requiring an aperture of f/29. Alternatively, you could use an aperture of f/7.1 at a distance of four metres.

Microphones

If you like to record movies with your camera, an external microphone is recommended as it isolates the soundtrack recording from the camera, so you won’t record the noises made by normal camera operations (focusing and zooming). Only a handful of CSCs provide input jacks for attaching external microphones, which generally clip onto the hot shoe or accessory port.

Batteries and Battery Grips

Since most CSCs have smaller batteries with lower capacities than DSLRs, spare batteries are a ‘must’ when you travel. Many photographers will exceed the typical capacity of between 300 and 420 shots/charge in a day’s shooting.

Only high-end cameras can be fitted with battery grips, which can roughly double the normal shooting capacity. Vertical grips enable the use of two batteries and can also make the camera more comfortable to use in portrait (vertical) orientation. More sophisticated battery grips duplicate key camera controls, notably the shutter button and at least one command dial.

Waterproof Housings

Electronics and water don’t mix, so protection is better than regret. While some CSCs are marketed as ‘weatherproof’, if there’s a risk of the camera being immersed, a waterproof housing is advisable.

Plenty of options are available, both through the camera manufacturers and from third-party specialists. Leading third-party manufacturers include Ewa-Marine, Ikelite, Nauticam and Sea&Sea.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera shown with the optional battery grip and hand strap. (Source: Olympus.)

Waterproof housings are available for some CSCs. This one is designed for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and is submersible up to 45 metres. The lens port is removable and adapters are available to suit different lenses. (Source: Olympus.)

Waterproof housings differ in construction according to their depth rating. Expect to pay more for housings rated for depths of 30 metres or more. Check the o-rings after each immersion to remove any debris that might allow water to get in on the next dive.

Bags, Cases, Wraps and Straps

If you want a bag to accommodate your CSC kit, there’s a variety of sizes and styles, including compact backpacks and shoulder, sling and pouch-type bags. The illustrations below show some practical examples.

Lowepro’s Urban Reporter bag can hold a complete M4/3 camera kit comprising two bodies and five or six lenses and still provide space for personal items. (Source: Daymen Canada Acquisition ULC.)

The Olympus CS-43 Quilted Soft Camera Case provides a useful way to separate and protect cameras and lenses without taking up a lot of space in a bag.

Camera cases are purpose-designed for particular camera bodies, and therefore only available from the manufacturer of the camera. Consisting of a firm leather (or leather-like) jacket that is attached via the camera’s tripod socket and an attached hood that covers the lens, they provide good protection for a camera and lens when you don’t want to use a camera bag. Most cases rely on the neck strap attached to the camera. Replacement neck straps are offered by some camera manufacturers and ‘designer’ straps can be had in fancy colours, patterns and materials in both normal and wider styles.

Olympus offers two additional accessories: the CS-43 Quilted Soft Camera Case for PEN and OM-D cameras which will protect a camera and two lenses (one attached) or two lenses and the CS-35 Wrapping Cloth, which has a water-repellent outer surface that provides good protection while changing lenses. The inner surface is water-absorbing and usable as a cleaning cloth.

Specialised camera straps are available for photographers who prefer having their camera immediately available when they’re out and about. The best ones attach to the camera’s tripod socket and include a swivelling bearing that lets the camera rotate freely. The camera hangs pointing downwards at the wearer’s hip, where it’s instantly accessible but also safe and comfortable to carry. Wrist straps with a similar fitting ensure comfortable shooting without interfering with the camera’s controls.

Hand straps provide additional comfort and security without preventing access to key camera controls. (Source: Joby.)

Joby’s convertible neck straps give you a choice between neck and wrist straps in a single product. (Source: Joby.)

Tripods

When extra stability is required, a tripod is the best answer and there are plenty of options in lots of different styles and sizes. One of the most versatile is the Joby GorillaPod Hybrid, which can carry a weight of up to one kilogram. Its flexible legs can be wrapped around branches or adjusted to cope with uneven surfaces, and the integrated ball head and 360-degree pan, 90-degree tilt knob enables the camera to be positioned at many angles. Rubberised feet grip firmly to even smooth surfaces.

Many CSCs are small enough to be used on tabletop tripods. This can be convenient when you want to lighten your load but still keep the stability options a tripod offers.

Gorillapod tripods provide a more versatile support system than regular tripods and are ideally suited to CSCs. (Source: Joby.)

Tiny table-top tripods like this Micro 800 tripod from Joby take up minimal space in your camera bag and are convenient to have at hand. (Source: Joby.)

 

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