The current crop of mirrorless system cameras provides a DSLR-like shooting experience along with some distinct operational advantages. Some of the latest models offer pro-caliber performance in smaller, lighter form factors. This portability appeals to a wider variety of consumers, including professionals, enthusiasts, casual shooters and travelers.
Many have predicted that mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras will eventually supplant DSLRs—which are inherently larger, heavier and more complex—for all but high-end pros. The technological reasons behind this trend have been significant advances in two key mirrorless components: the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and the autofocus (AF) system. While current EVFs may not equal the “real feel” view provided by the best optical DSLR viewfinders, they have come sufficiently far that any differences may not be significant to most users.
Today’s best mirrorless compact models incorporate high-resolution EVFs or OLED EVFs with incredibly rapid refresh rates. They also provide a brilliant high-magnification viewing image that rivals optical viewfinders (OVFs). And they have the advantage of allowing users to preview captured images (complete with exposure corrections and custom settings) in real time.
Hybrid AF systems that combine the advantages of fast, decisive on-sensor phase-detection AF and the precision of contrast-detection AF have taken the autofocus performance of mirrorless cameras to a level surpassing that of all but pro DSLRs. The PDAF/CAF systems in mirrorless cameras not only provide faster, more decisive AF but also continuous AF and focus tracking before and during the exposure—something not possible with DSLRs. This can be a crucial factor when shooting still images at high burst rates, or capturing HD video without visible or audible “hunting.”
At their best, mirrorless cameras combine the advantages of both DSLRs and point-and-shoots cameras. They offer a compelling combination of lens interchangeability, ultra-high image quality and the high-end features of middle and upper-tier DSLRs in smaller, lighter, handier bodies. They have fewer moving parts, less shutter-release noise and vibration thanks to the elimination of the moving mirror.
They also have a shorter flange back distance that makes it easier to design high-performance wide-angle lenses. The shorter lens-to-sensor distance also enables users to mount their existing DSLR lenses and third-party optics, including legacy rangefinder lenses. Not surprisingly, as the popularity of mirrorless has dramatically increased over the past two years or so, camera makers and independent lens manufacturers have expanded their lens offerings, vastly increasing the creative optical options available—and providing additional marketing opportunities for dealers.
A testament to the upside potential of the mirrorless market is the extremely rapid pace of technological advances. Many of the high-end models offer high-res sensors; enhanced image processing for greater responsiveness; faster burst rates; 4K video capture; Wi-Fi connectivity; multi-axis in-body image stabilization; and high-res tilt/swing and touch screen LCDs, as well as OLED EVFs.
Entry-level and midrange models have also benefited, and the result is an array of enticing models with features that have migrated down from higher end models, often with simplified user interfaces—and at very competitive prices.
A Selection of Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Cameras
Here’s a brief rundown of mirrorless cameras currently offered by the world’s leading manufacturers.
Leica SL. A professional camera of the highest caliber, this L-mount Leica delivers cutting-edge features and specs in the classic Leica rounded-edge, ergonomic form factor. Its 24 megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor is coupled to Leica’s Maestro II image processor to deliver outstanding image quality at a sensitivity range of ISO 50–50,000. To maximize resolution and detail, the sensor forgoes a low-pass filter. And to meet the needs of demanding pro videographers, it provides DCI 4K (4,096×2,160) video recording at 24 fps in Super35 mode along with L-Log gamma to maximize dynamic range. It can also capture UHD 4K (3,840×2,160) video at 30 and 25 fps. It delivers a full-res burst rate of 11 frames per sec and has a 2GB internal buffer to enable bursts of 33 DNG files or unlimited JPEGs.
Other key features include: a 4.4MP, 0.66-inch, 0.8x-magnification EVF; a 2.95-inch, 1.04M-dot rear LED touch screen with a 170º field of view; a superfast, ultraprecise, multi-option contrast AF system with touch AF; dual SD card slots; and built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. Made in Germany, the SL’s weather-resistant body is crafted from two blocks of solid aluminum. $7,450.* us.leica-camera.com
Canon EOS M10. Canon’s classically styled, broad-spectrum mirrorless entry features an 18MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced Digic 6 image processor to provide ISO settings of 100–12,800, expandable to ISO 25,600. It offers a continuous, full-res burst rate of 4.6 fps, Full HD 1,920×1,080 video capture at 30 and 24 fps, and a Hybrid CMOS AF II system that’s impressively fast and precise.
Other features include: A 3.0-inch, 1.04M-dot, 180º tilting touch-screen LCD to facilitate selfies; built in Wi-Fi with NFC; creative assist mode; and a self-portrait mode for selfies that adjusts effects to enhance skin tones and brightness. The bundled STM lens includes a nearly silent stepping motor optimized for video, a built-in optical stabilizer that minimizes the effects of camera shake and three aspheric elements for enhanced imaging performance over its entire range. With Canon EF-M 15–45mm f/3.5–5.6 IS STM lens, $449.99. usa.canon.com
Sony Alpha a7 II. The latest addition to the Alpha 7 line of high-performance, full-frame mirrorless cameras is the first to feature sensor-shifting 5-axis SteadyShot Inside image stabilization. It provides a claimed 4.5 stops of anti-shake compensation for pitch, yaw, horizontal and vertical shift, and roll. This is a big plus when shooting Full HD 1080p video at 60p, 30p and 24p using the high-bit-rate XAVC S format, or handheld stills in low light.
The camera features a 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor paired with an advanced Bionz X processor. An enhanced “Fast Hybrid” AF system with 117 phase-detection and 25 contrast-detection points on the sensor provides superior focus tracking. Other key features include: a 3-inch, 1,228K-dot, tilting LCD monitor; a 0.5-inch, 2.36M-dot XGA OLED EVF; 5-fps, full-res bursts; customizable color and gamma controls, including the same S-Log2 Gamma curve found on high-end Sony cinema cameras; built-in Wi-Fi with NFC; an ergonomic grip, shutter release and controls; and a magnesium alloy body. $1,699.99. sony.com
Pentax Q-S1. The elegantly rounded contours and leather textured covering of this aluminum-bodied, ultracompact mirrorless model recall the classic rangefinder cameras of the past. But inside it’s thoroughly modern with a 12.4MP, 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor in the Pentax Q format (with a 4.6x crop factor) coupled to a Q engine processor. The combination delivers 5-fps, full-res bursts, continuous RAW shooting, Full HD 1080p video recording at 30 and 24 fps, and a high 12,800 maximum ISO setting.
On the back is a 3-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor with a 170º viewing angle and antireflection coating. The camera offers built-in shake reduction plus an array of in-camera effects, such as bokeh control, which can be previewed in real time. Other features include: a quick dial for selecting shooting modes; smart effects; AF/MF switching; ND filter on/off; auto picture mode selection; interval mode selection; scene modes; built-in HDR; and multi-exposure mode. The Q-S1 is compatible with optional Eyefi Wi-Fi SD cards for remote transfer. With 5–15mm f/2.8–4.5 Pentax 02 lens, $299.99. ricohimaging.com
Nikon 1 J5. The fourth generation of Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras, the contemporary styled Nikon 1 J5 is based on the 31.2×8.8mm CX format and is clearly aimed at serious shooters. Its high-end features include a 20.8MP BSI CMOS sensor and perhaps even more important, it has an upgraded Expeed 5A image processor. The latter helps to deliver improved overall speed and responsiveness, better high ISO performance, ISO settings up to 12,800, movie e-VR stabilization for smooth video capture, UHD 4K video clip recording at 15 fps, Full HD 1080p recording at 60 fps (slo-mo 120 fps in 720p!), and a full-res, 20-fps burst rate with full-time AF.
It also features a 3-inch, 1,037K-dot, tilting, touch-screen LCD; creative modes; SnapBridge Wi-Fi connectivity with NFC; and a hybrid AF system employing 105 phase-detection and 171 contrast-detection AF points for enhanced speed and accuracy. With 1 Nikkor 10–30mm f/3.5–5.6 PD zoom lens, $499.95. nikonusa.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8. This brilliantly upgraded Micro Four Thirds camera ups the ante with a higher res sensor and enhanced 4K video options. It delivers the full DSLR shooting experience in a slim, elegant body that incorporates a 20.3MP Digital Live MOS sensor coupled to an advanced Venus processor. It can record 4K UHD video at 30 and 24 fps and capture full-res stills at 10 fps with autofocus (AF-S) or 8MP stills at 30 fps. Its unique dual image stabilization system combines in-lens and in-body IS to minimize the effects of camera shake.
Other features include: a 2.36M-dot live view OLED EVF; a swiveling, 3-inch, 1.04M-dot OLED touch-screen monitor; a high-speed, 49-point AF system; sensitivity settings to ISO 25,600; and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. For accelerated AF performance, Depth-from-Defocus technology is used to calculate the distance to subjects in as little as 0.07 sec, enabling 6-fps burst shooting with continuous AF (AF-C). The GX8’s sleek, weatherproof body is constructed from magnesium alloy with die-cast front and rear frames. $1,199.99. panasonic.com
Samsung Smart NX1. Samsung’s sleek top-of-the-line NX-mount model offers a combination of fashionably understated DSLR styling plus an impressive enthusiast-aimed feature set to delight pros and serious shooters. Its 28.2MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor pairs with an advanced DRIMe V image processor. For viewing and framing, there’s both a 3-inch, 1,036K-dot Super AMOLED tilt/touch-screen monitor and an ultra-high-res 2,360K-dot XGA OLED EVF.
Most important for video enthusiasts, it can capture 4K video at 24 fps, UHD video at 30 fps and Full HD 1080p video at 60/30/25 and 24 fps. It also has a maximum full-res burst rate of 15 fps with autofocus and ISO settings of 100–51,200. A hybrid AF system combines phase-detection and contrast-detection AF using 205 phase-detection AF points. Connectivity options include dual-channel Wi-Fi and NFC as well as fast USB 3.0 to connect with smartphones, etc. $1,499.99. samsung.com
Fujifilm X-A2. This sleek, stylish Fujifilm X-mount mirrorless camera delivers a full complement of advanced features and capabilities at an attractive price point. These include a 16.3MP APS-C-format CMOS sensor coupled to an advanced EXR II processor to provide a maximum full-res burst rate of 5.6 fps, sensitivity settings of ISO 100–25,600 and Full HD 1080p video recording at 30 fps. It boasts impressive responsiveness, with a 0.5-sec start-up time, a 0.05-sec shutter lag time and a 0.4-sec shooting interval time.
Other features are: a 175º tilting, 3-inch, 920K-dot LCD; a Q-menu shortcut button for quick access to camera and exposure settings; built-in Wi-Fi; film simulation modes; eye, auto macro and multi-target AF modes; in-lens optical image stabilization for sharp handheld shots in low light; and a wide range of advanced special effects filters and scene position settings. With Fujinon XC 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OIS II lens, $549. fujifilmusa.com
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. Recently announced, this upgraded, broad-spectrum OM-D provides many key features of the top-tier Micro Four Thirds OM-Ds in a sleek, elegantly compact, high-value package. A 16MP Live MOS sensor is married to a state-of-the-art TruePic VII image processor to deliver a full-res burst capability of 8.5 fps. It also records Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps. Its ISO sensitivity settings top out at ISO 25,600 for enhanced low-light capability, and it uses a responsive 81-point “FAST” AF system.
A 2.36M-dot OLED EVF provides a 100% field of view and 120-fps refresh rate. An AF targeting pad permits users to keep an eye on the EVF while tracing a thumb on the rear touch screen to adjust focus point. For shooters accustomed to optical viewfinders, a simulated optical viewfinder provides higher dynamic range more in line with what’s visible to the eye. Other key features include: a 3-inch 1.04M-dot tilting, touch-screen LCD; in-body 5-axis IS; and built-in Wi-Fi. $649.99. olympusamerica.com
* All MSRPs are body only unless otherwise stated.