Over the last few years, mirrorless cameras seem to have thrown the photography world for a bit of a loop. There’s certainly been a large push on the part of camera manufacturers to expand their mirrorless departments, and this makes sense enough: Mirrorless cameras were conceived as cameras that could fill a (rather large) gap between DSLR and compact cameras. People wanted the high image quality and freedom of interchangeable lenses that DSLRs offered with the compact size of point-and-shoot systems. Seems simple enough, right?
But for many photographers, especially longtime DSLR users, the question remains: “Why should I go mirrorless?”
Why You Should Consider Mirrorless
The short answer is that mirrorless cameras are smaller, lighter, and faster (in terms of burst-mode frame rates) than most DSLRs (specifically, on that last point, DSLRs in the same price range).
In terms of smaller and lighter, this is pretty self-explanatory: smaller bodies plus smaller lenses means less weight. For an SLR system, to compose an image, the photographer looks through an optical viewfinder at an image that is actually reflected through a mirror system, which itself adds a decent amount of weight. For a mirrorless system, the photographer is looking at a live electronic version of the image they’re going to capture, eliminating the mirror system (duh) and thus reducing a good deal of the weight and body bulk.
The lenses are also much lighter than normal DSLR lenses. We had one customer who was traveling with three Olympus OMD EM-5 bodies and 6 lenses in one bag. It ended up weighing only 10 lbs. Meanwhile, this customer’s usual DSLR haul weighs around 65 lbs. and most certainly does not fit in one bag.
Many new mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony NEX-5 and the Nikon 1 J2, offer burst-mode frame rates that are faster or comparable to DSLRs that are much more expensive. The J2 can reach frame rates of 60 fps (something even James Cameron can get behind). Meanwhile, the Nikon D7000, for instance, which is $600 more than the J2, only reaches a max frame rate of 6 fps. To get the same frame rate in DSLRs as you do in the J2, you end up spending around $3,000 or more.
When all is said and done, however, what really matters is image quality, which means what really matters (even more than megapixels) is sensor size.
Mirrorless sensors vary — they will be 1″ (Nikon CX), Micro Four Thirds, or APS-C. Below you can see how the sensor sizes compare:
Though it may seem like there’s a large disparity between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C, in terms of actual image quality there really isn’t. Compare the following images:
One shot was taken with a Nikon D7000, which houses an APS-C sensor. The other was taken with an Olympus PEN E-PL3, which houses a Micro Four Thirds sensor. It would take a pretty discerning eye to really tell the difference.
(The answer appears at the bottom of this post, btw.*)
Other mirrorless cameras, like the Canon EOS M or the Fuji X-PRO1, have APS-C sensors, which are the same sensors in most DSLRs. The only mirrorless cameras that have sensors smaller than Four Thirds are the Nikon 1 series cameras, which have a 1″ (or Nikon 1 CX) sensor. Even still, the image quality doesn’t really suffer that much (as you can see here in these sample images taken with a J2). Overall, the sensors in mirrorless cameras are comparable to DSLR sensors, and above and beyond better than most compact sensors (besides the Sony RX1, but that’s a different story and will cost you a very pretty penny).
In terms of mirrorless lenses, many serious lens companies, such as Zeiss, Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina, are all coming out with cutting-edge Four Thirds lenses, not to mention the companies that have horses (er, cameras) in the Micro Four Thirds race, such as Panasonic and Olympus, are creating top-notch lenses.
Mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors can mount specific mirrorless lenses, but most APS-C mirrorless systems have adaptors available, meaning you could mount, for instance, any of your Canon EF or EF-S lenses on a Canon EOS M with the right tool. For some reason, walking around with a Canon EF 70-200mm lens on a Canon EOS M just feels awesome.
Nikon is also making Nikon-quality lenses (i.e. amazingly sharp lenses) for their 1 series cameras.
So Which Mirrorless Camera Should I Get?
You have a lot of options. T.J. and Jacob from our sales staff tried to narrow it down for you.
1. Olympus OM-D EM5:
The OM-D series has the world’s fastest autofocusing system, not only in still frames but in video as well. Plus, it’s got a 3.0-inch tilting touchscreen. Want to shift focus in a shot? Just press on the live-view touchscreen where you want to shift the focus to and the EM5 will focus there. It has a 16.1-megapixel Four Thirds Live MOS sensor that captures amazing quality images. It’s built-in Electronic Viewfinder comes with an incredible 120 frames-per-second refresh rate, meaning trails and streaks that you might notice in other EVFs are practically eliminated.
The OM-D is on the upper end of the mirrorless price-range (though it’s by no means the most expensive). However, Olympus was one of the first in the mirrorless game, so if you’re looking for a high-quality interchangeable lens mirrorless with a history of high-quality interchangeable lens mirrorless production backing it up, check out the Olympus PEN series, which have many of the same specs as the OM-D series but at a much lower price point.
2. Fuji X-E1:
The Fuji X-E1 is about form and function. It is smaller and lighter than Fuji’s other X-series model, the X-Pro1. Plus, it’s got that awesomely retro grip that feels really nice in the hands. In terms of image quality, the X-E1 features an APS-C sized 16.3-megapixel CMOS sensor with an X-Trans Filter, as opposed to a low-pass filter, which gives X-E1 images unprecedented resolution and better low-light capabilities, which is especially cool considering the X-E1 has an ISO range of 100-25600.
3. Fuji X-Pro1:
The Fuji X-Pro1 has many of the same features as its X-E1 offspring, with one major exception: the Hybrid Multi Viewfinder. With the Hybrid Viewfinder, the XF series lens is mounted, lens data are communicated to X-Pro1, and viewfinder magnification (2 types) and frame size (multiple steps) are automatically switched. Peering through the viewfinder with all your attention focused on the subject. This simple style of shooting is the both the first step back to the essential pleasure of photography. Every lens change reveals a new world of beauty to capture.
4. Nikon 1 V2:
The Nikon 1 series are some of the most accessible and most social interchangeable lens cameras on the market. The V2 sports an impressive 14.2-megapixel CMOS Nikon CX sensor. Do you like to share photos with your friends? Connect the optional WU-1b Wireless Adapter to the V2 and wirelessly transfer photos to your smartphone, tablet or any compatible Wi-Fi enabled device. In terms of lenses, not only does the Nikon 1 mount lenses have the quality of NIKKOR, but you can also get a lens adapter to use Nikon lenses you already own.
(Check out our previous write-up of the Nikon 1 J2 for more insight into the Nikon 1 series.)
5. Sony NEX6:
The Sony NEX-6 uses an awesome Hyrbid AF to capture the sharpest images possible. It’s high-quality Sony LCD screen and crisp EVF (optional) give you the best possible view. It’s big grip on the right side make it very easy to hold and it performs exceedingly well in low-light situations. The NEX-6 is an all-around winner.
6. Canon EOS M:
I’ve written about the Canon EOS M before, so I won’t spend too much time talking about how intuitive it is (for DSLR photographers especially) and how much I enjoyed shooting with it. Many mirrorless cameras, because they’re trying to pack so much stuff into so little space, make the interface more complicated than it needs to be. The EOS M uses its practical, intuitive touchscreen to navigate its settings, and this makes it one of the easiest mirrorless to pick up and shoot with. Plus, if you’re already a Canon shooter, the Canon EF-EOS M Mount Adapter lets you use any EF or EF-S lens on the EOS M.
We’ve only really just scratched the surface of the mirrorless arena. Check out our specials on mirrorless cameras below, and please call the store at 866-940-3686 if you have questions. We’d love to hear from you!
(*The top photo was taken with the Olympus PEN E-PL3, and the bottom photo was taken with the Nikon D7000. Good eye if you guessed right!)