Mirrorless – The Quest for the Best

It is no secret that the mirrorless camera market has been growing rapidly during the last several years. With all the major camera manufacturers in the game, the competition has been fierce, especially during the last year. Each player wants a reputable position in the market, so they are developing lots of near cameras, lenses and accessories to complement their unique systems. Personally, I have been patiently waiting for a good mirrorless system that I can invest in and stay with. Exactly one year after my first evaluation of mirrorless cameras, I decided to give another try and see if I can find something I really like, something that I can take with me anywhere I go. I am extremely happy with my high-end Nikon DSLR system, but I have been craving for something smaller and lighter that I can take with me everywhere I go. And while waiting for my right hand to recover from a recent carpal tunnel release surgery, I thought that this would be a great time to re-evaluate small cameras.

Here is what I will be playing with for the next few months:

Mirrorless Cameras and Lenses

  1. Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12-50mm kit lens
  2. Olympus 45mm f/1.8
  3. Olympus 12mm f/2
  4. Panasonic 25mm f/1.4
  5. Canon EOS M with 22mm f/2 + 90EX Speedlite
  6. Nikon 1 V2 with 10-30mm & 30-110mm
  7. Sony NEX-7 with 18-55mm
  8. Sony NEX-6 with 16-50mm
  9. Sony NEX-5R
  10. Sony NEX-F3
  11. Sony 50mm f/1.8
  12. Sony 24mm f/1.4

As you can see, it is primarily a Sony vs Olympus round. I threw in the Nikon J2 and the Canon EOS M as a bonus, but I will be leaving the real Nikon vs Canon round until next month, when the V2 becomes available. Here is what I am thinking about for the next round (that’s if I ever complete the first one):

  1. Nikon 1 V2
  2. New Nikon 1 Lenses I have not reviewed yet
  3. Panasonic GH-3
  4. Sigma DP2 Merrill
  5. Olympus E-PL5
  6. Fuji X-E1
  7. Fuji X100
  8. Samsung NX200

Ouch, looks like my life will be miserable during the next 2-3 months! Actually, the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 will also be reviewed somewhere in between…at least that’s what my hope is!

I think the list looks pretty complete, what do you say?


Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. Hi Nasim

    I’m also interested how the Fuji X100 will be rated compared to the other cams ;-) I know there’s a short review and you were not so satisfied with it. But I know…you could compare hundreds of cameras! ;-)

    Oliver

    • Oliver, good idea, I will include it in the second round. But how long to wait until the X200 comes out? Maybe it is right around the corner? :)

      • Oh, that would be great! Thanks! I’m looking forward to your testing results :-)

  2. 2
    ) MJohn

    Yes… the mirrorless market is booming. the main reasons may be, even normal consumers are carried away by its quality and lens changing philosophy. that means point&shoot customers as well as DSLR customers are looking forward for a light weighted tool. Seems like now the AF speed of DSLR is the only factor that keeps DSLRs what they are!!!
    Lets sit back and see.

    • Yup, AF speed is where DSLRs still have a major advantage. I am really interested in looking at hybrid AF mirrorless systems – those are very promising! I think within a year or two we will see a camera that will closely match entry-level DSLRs in AF speed.

      • 51
        ) Ronald

        When it comes to tracking c-AF I agreed, with none tracking AF some mirror-less are in the same league or sometimes even outclasses a dSLR. I’m a experienced concert photographer(Canon gear) and am surprised how the OMD with fast primes handles and focus.

        But there isn’t one single perfect camera that suits for every different situation.

  3. 5
    ) KSPGM

    Thanks Nasim. I look forward to your reviews. Do you have a list of categories under which you will be making your comparison? It would be good if you could publish that list in advance to see if there are any others out here that users consider important to them. I make no criticism of yourself, but it is clear from many websites that there is a definate, and often irrational, anti mirrorless fanboy group who cannot see relative advantage but only measure statistics, specification and pixel size. It is importatnt that the comparative review accepts that many of us are actually concerned with achieveing good photos every day and that to do this compromises are necessary. Ultimate picture quality is dependent not only on the camera system but on the method of viewing and publishing the results. Frankly, most of my photos are shown to friends via an iPad (retina display) or iPhone – and this has a big influence on my expectation of ‘quality’. I wonder how many other ‘realists’ feel the same in this. In short, for the stlye of photography I do (generally detail, close up, little wideangle) having 24 Mega Pixels is not very helpful – a good quality zoom lens and 12 Megapixels does the job quite nicely and my hard disc is kept to a reasonable size! What is importatnt to me is that I have the ‘quality’ camera with me at all times and that each time I take a photo it is in focius and useable, albeit twith some moderate amount of Lightroom and Photoshop ‘tweeking’.

    Thanks Nasim

    • I really have not decided on the testing methodology yet. Some lab stuff will be done, but I will be mostly concentrating on shooting outdoors in real life environments. AF speed is a biggie for me, although image quality and lens selection are equally important!

  4. I hope you will look at how the mirrorless works with the adapter for Nikon lenses and some of the more interesting lenses like a tele zoom lens to see if it would benefit when going on safaries and so on. What is the IQ of a mirrorless with a 70-200 shooting animals?

    • With good light it works well. Battery takes a hammering if VR is employed as if switched on it works full time without even touching the shutter release halfway.

      Richard

  5. 7
    ) Odes Shopen

    Please include the nex 5n. Too cheap to be ignored at 480$ with kit lens :).

  6. The Sony RX1 ? – though not avail right now and not in my price range for a compact option.
    Kind regards!
    Sören

  7. 11
    ) Zoki Zorule

    Nasim, come back mate…leave those toys to others.

    ;)

  8. 12
    ) Alex

    Hi Nasim,

    Sounds like you have quite a busy schedule coming up.

    I am curious though, what camera & settings did you use to take the picture of all the boxes, because it’s really noisy.

  9. 13
    ) O.F.

    Hi Nasim.

    First, what about the Panasonic Lumix GX1 and the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH Power OIS lens (thankfully the Sony Power Zoom 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens is in your list). Cannot understand why these two are out.

    And last, I think I get why you want to compare m4/3 with mirrorless APS-C in an Olympus vs Sony, but would it not be more interesting to start with a mirrorless APS-C vs mirrorless APS-C in a Sony vs Fuji round?

    I think most DSLR users wanting something light to take anywhere, will still want to have a large sensor (APS-C) and not a m4/3 sensor (I might be wrong though).

    • Avatar of Romanas Naryškin
      14
      ) Romanas Naryškin

      m4/3 system is the most complete of them all and extremely popular among amateurs. With the arrival of OM-D E-M5, it has just gotten even better and tempting for several professionals, me and Nasim included. It has a very capable sensor, we hear, and these reviews will obviously tell for sure.

      Of course, we will be reviewing more cameras and lenses with time. Look at that pile – we’ve got to get through that one first ;)

  10. 16
    ) MartinG

    I am wondering what your reference point will be. It may be an interesting category but how does the image quality stack up compared to an entry level DSLR? It is a relevant question because the entry level DSLR price is actually fairly similar.

  11. 17
    ) Nick

    Repeat after me “DX is not dead……. DX is not dead” ;)

    Looks like fun. Good Luck!

  12. 18
    ) Stephen McCullough

    I look forward to the reviews and comparisons.

    My first mirror less was a GF1; a very good little camera that really opened my mind to have a hard look at what these smaller systems can do. I shot furiously with it for over two years, alongside my FF Canon.

    For me it’s very important to consider my final output (I print large), my subject matter, and the overall usability of the gear. I looked very carefully at the Nex 7 and the OMD. Really nice cameras in many ways, and the M43 system has some very nice lenses. In the end though, I didn’t connect with either camera. I ended up with an X-Pro 1. For me, it’s the right balance of outstanding output, lenses which are perfect for me, and outstanding usability.

    It’s a great time to be looking at smaller systems. There are good choices out there, and I know your reviews will help people make decisions.

  13. 19
    ) Carter

    Owned 2 of 3 that you are testing. You really should add the X-E1 to your test. OM-D is great too.

  14. 20
    ) Thomas Eppinger

    I understand when you dismis the Sony RX-1 for its fixed prime lens, but “The Quest for the Best” seems to be incomplete without the only full frame mirrorless system Leica M. Even if it plays in a different price range – shouldn`t this be the reference?

    • Avatar of Romanas Naryškin
      27
      ) Romanas Naryškin

      It’s not just the price range, Thomas, it’s an entirely different niche. :) In any case we are hoping to get a Leica for reviewing purposes some day!

  15. 21
    ) TomH

    I would move the Fuji XE-1 up to first round – it is direct competitor with the other APSC sensors like NEX that you are reviewing in the first round, arguably the best IQ of any mirrorless and with the firmware updates and the new 18-55 lens, has improved quite a bit since you reviewed the X-Pro1 (X-Pro1 also got the same improvements). Move Nikon V2 down to round 2 with the other 1″ sensors that can’t compete with APSC and micro 4/3. Unless you’re waiting for the rumored Raw improvements from Adobe, but who knows when that will come.

    • 33
      ) Starred

      Fully agree on the XE1 comment!

  16. 22
    ) Marco

    Hi Nasim,
    I think mirrorless system has changed my way for taking pictures, I’m a better “amateur” today than a year ago: more freedom, the camera is always with me, more strange shooting points. After trying different cameras (Panasonic GF3, Panasonic G3, Fuji X-PRO1, Sony Nex-5) I finally found what for me is the perfect mirrorless camera: Olympus OM-D EM-5. Difficult to understand at first, but very capable after a brief “training”. Now the m43 kit is a perfect companion when I haven’t my Nikon D800 with me, and Olympus image quality is way better than my previous Nikon D300 (even if not comparable with the D800 of course). I’m surely following yours reviews! ;)

  17. 23
    ) Antoine

    Hi Nasim,

    I know that it’s quite unaffordable, but I got a lot of excellent sounds about the Leica M9. We can consider it as a mirrorless one, right?
    I wish you’ll review one someday, your review are actually the best over the net, in my opinion!

    Antoine

  18. 24
    ) David B

    Nasim, excellent idea. Couple of notes. First, you have a small error, your number 12 (sony zeiss) is not 1.4 it is 1.8. F/1.4 native for NEX system is wishful thinking, 1.8 is the brightest Sony makes (at least right now).

    Second note. I’ve owned Olympus OM-D, Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5n with many of the lenses you have there. In my opinion OM-D easily wins but it must be experienced personally to understand why. Here is the thing: OM-D with a grip (which is $299 extra) is a COMPLETELY different camera to hold from the original camera. Grip changes everything from the comfort to balance with lenses. Once you experience that Grip, you will never want to take it off, at least the first portion, it makes the camera feel 300% better. I don’t see the grip in your picture. And, since I owned both, please note that texture on the Silver OM-D is different from the Black. It looks like you got the Black one from the photo. Black’s texture (again, without the grip) is not as comfortable, as the Silver one, again has to be experienced to fully appreciated.

    Now, I am curious to see what your results would be. I personally felt that Sony NEX-7 has incredible detail in resulting photographs at low ISOs, the best easily of the bunch; portraits with NEX-7 and 50/1.8 Sony are remarkable (I also had a Sony flash). The problem with NEX-7 is 1) poor AF and 2) noisy low light unless you downsample. The problem with poor AF, even in moderately lower light, was pissing me off and I got a lot of blurry shots of my 4-month-old, as he kept moving.

    NEX-5n has better AF, after 5n’s firmware upgrade. NEX-5n has better low light noise than NEX-7. However, it is less comfortable to hold, has less buttons, etc. Unlike Olympus OM-D, there are no beefier grips offered with the 5n.

    Another problem with Sony NEX til the recent announcements was the lack of lenses. I had their best, 24/1.8 and 50/1.8 but there was no proper UWA, and nothing in terms of bright zooms. Panasonic 7-14 F/4 on the other hand is a wonderful, and highly rated UWA. 1/180 Flash Xsync rate vs 1/250 Xsync rate on my OM-D was also something I did not like as much. And OM-D AF in any light is remarkable, and lenses such as 12/F2, Panaleica 25/1.4, Oly 45/1.8 and 75/1.8 are amazing wide open. I see you did not get the 75/1.8, it is a great lens, you should try it as well, different built from 45/1.8 but the 45 is a remarkable in how small and light it is for a 90/1.8 equivalent lens.

    Ultimately I settled on the silver OM-D

    Ultim

  19. I have been using m43 now and I am very happy with it, of course I do not do professional work. I upgraded within the last week to the OM-D and I currently use the Lumix 25/1.4 and the Olympus 45/1.8 and I can tell you right now you will love the results from it. I am really looking forward to your reviews.

    WARNING, like I said I am no pro, but these were my first snaps with the OM-D/25mm combo: My daughter fooling around in the backyard

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafavarium/8177550062
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafavarium/8177550404

    I have not shot more due to some work and time constraints, but I will be back home with the family in Puerto Rico the first two weeks of December and it will be a great opportunity to test it out fully.

  20. 26
    ) Richard

    I bought the V1 just before the V2 came out and it is terrific. See the two images below. One taken with the Nikon D800 with a 300mm f4, the second with a V1 and the 30-110mm lens. Can you tell the difference?

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardd300/sets/72157632018369780/

    I have the FT-1 and with a 50mm f1.8 prime it’s one heck of a combination.

    Richard

  21. 28
    ) Goetz

    I would really love to see a comparison between the new Sony A-99 and the Nikon D800 / D600…

  22. 29
    ) David

    Thank you so much for your great efforts Nasim, all my frds read your reviews and I will buy only thro your website (if that will help you out).

    Please, when you have a chance, would you be able to review the new Sigma 35mm F1.4? I really wanna know how it compares to the 35mm f1.4G. Thank you in advance!

  23. 30
    ) Nivas

    First, get well soon.

    Hope V2 or newer siblings evolve positively. This will allow us occasional use FX lenses! Add one extra star if we they can perform with FX lenses seamlessly. :-)

    Probably, you can expand to include even smaller cameras – x10 /lx7 level. I take small cameras now and then to office.

    Mirrorless pricing is quite high – at least now to compete with SLRs given what I read! Positioning is also tricky – say with evolved x10/lx7 range. Until they stand on their own!

    We are waiting for more good photos! :-)

  24. 31
    ) Don B

    The Olympus OM-D is becoming a favorable camera for underwater photographers. This thread talks about customizing the buttons on the OM-D. Look for posts from coroander

    http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=48453

    The main reason I would consider mirrorless is the smaller size, and no mirror slap sound. But for me, most of the mirrorless cameras are all still too large. I think the iPhone is hard to beat for a small camera.

    I am looking forward to the review.

  25. 32
    ) Ben

    Canon M + 22/2 is the only small camera there. But awful autofocus, even worse than other cameras you picked.

    I don’t see why others exist in the first place. OMD or NEX7 are big, ugly monsters. May as well just carry a DSLR if mirrorless is gonna be THAT big.

    • 50
      ) Ronald

      Ben…, You sure you know what you talking about… OMD, NEX7, large… Come on, ever tried one? Yeas with certain lenses a NEX7 is still pretty large. I have an OMD now and that is a well built camera with delivers stunning quality with the right lenses.I started with the thought to have this as a second camera…., now my Canon’s became my second…

      I use to carry around big Canon dSLR’s on a daily bases and still do sometimes. Photography is my profession, so I know what I’m talking about.

      Greetings Ronald

  26. 34
    ) Starred

    The Fuji X-E1 needs to be added to the first shift :-)

  27. 36
    ) KSPGM

    Nasim,
    One feature that I cannot remember reading about on your site is the comparison between in camera an in lens stabilisation. The reason it figures into the mirrorless discussion is , of course, size of lenses.

    What are the pros and cons of the two systems?
    Why do Nikon (and Cannon) prefer in lens systems – especially on Nikon’s 1 system
    How do you feel as a professional photograpger when using the two systems?

    For me, as an amateur, and wedded to nikon and a great supporter of the V1 -especially with the FT-1 and long zooms, I value the in lens stabilisation for the real time effect through the viewfinder.

    Does mirrorless hold out the possibility of real time in camera stabilisation?

    Please add this to your long and growing list, Nasim, and I hope you recover quickly!

    KSPGM

  28. 37
    ) Luis

    To keep it all the time the best is a pocket camera: SONY RX100.
    Fuji X-E1 looks to be the best option.
    Get well soon!!!.

  29. 38
    ) Luis

    I´m a Nikon owner since 1988 but I never will buy Nikon 1 System. RX100 is pocket size.

  30. 39
    ) Chris Cullen

    Really looking forward to this.
    I wonder if the Canon G1X might suit too.
    I am very much in the market for that elusive ‘tiny body/huge sensor/highDXO score/great lenses’ camera
    can’t wait….

  31. 40
    ) David

    Hi Nasim, looking forward to that :)
    Anyway, do you plan to include the Pentax K-01 (maybe in the second batch)? For me as Pentaxian the lens selection for this body is huge plus!
    Thanks anyway, excited about the single posts :)

    • David, I will try to include that in the second batch. In fact, I wish I had a little more time to review the new Pentax bodies – they look really good in terms of specifications!

  32. 41
    ) Harsha Swaroop

    Hi Nasim,
    I have been reading your site for almost a month. Got a good insight into photography. I am a newbie. I was using point and shoot camera for a while and have taken thousands of photograph’s. Faced problems in low light conditions. But have captures good images mainly outdoor’s in sun. I started looking for a better camera and to learn much more detail about photography and to capture much better images. I capture every possible event when my camera is with me. Infact I keep the camera mostly on auto scene recognition mode and capture as I need to go into the menu to change to other settings. I don’t want to miss the moments by diving into the details of the camera. A good moment might give in a good photograh. But now, I thought it might be better to go for a better camera. So, started looking in for DSLR’s.

    I cannot afford a D7000. So I was thinking of buying d5100(new) with 18-55mm lens and 50mm 1.8f lens. I have seen negative review’s of D5100 due to its lacking in buttons. But was confused on buying D90 with same lens kit as above(Refurbished). Even this was going above budget. So thought the predecessor i.e D80(Refurbished) would fill the need. Now I am confused which one to go for if its a DSLR.

    Also in flash you recomended SB 900 but that is not available but I see there is SB910 is available which is 546$ on Amazon is there a cheaper alternative.

    But also there are mirrorless camera’s the first one i went through was Fuji x100. It looked good and looked very much portable. But now I am seeing Sony Nex N5 is also a good one.

    My question

    Which one should I go for whether to go for a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera.

    If DSLR Nikon d5100/Nikon d80 with 18- 55mm + 50 mm

    If Mirrorless Sony Nex 5N.

    Usage: I travel visiting temples, Scenic places, Self photography, some indoor program’s(Low light).
    This will be my first heavy investment on camera.

    • 42
      ) mayank

      Hay Harsha
      Main objective of your is fun photography to capture the moments if I am not wrong. try and go to some store and first of all look at the models and the ease you can operate them , if you are looking for auto function and click the snaps then better do not invest in DSLR and save your hard earned money.
      Only if you are serious about the photograpny then go of DSLR.

      as far as D5100 is concerned its a good camera ( now D5200 is also available which is better in my opinion) .

      for the lenses instead of buying 50 mm buy 35 mm DX lens, which give the perfect angle of view for low light and in door shoots for DX format.
      with a combination of 18-55 mm and 35 mm you can cover max of the possibilities.

      for flash I would suggest wait and use the gear first and then decide base don your necessity. may be you don’t feel like buying flash or a cheaper one will do.

      Also if you are doing self photography and travel , better get a tripod, this will help for the low light photography and slower shutter speed.

      Hope you got satisfied with the reply.

      Regards
      MM

      • 43
        ) Harsha Swaroop

        MM- Got a good answer for most of my question. Tripod is really a good suggestion as my hands shiver a lot even though I am young. But still one thing remains on mirrorless camera like sony nex N5. Will it be able to replace DSLR.

        • 44
          ) Harsha Swaroop

          And on DSLR. I saw in one of the posts 50 mm lens was recomended over 35 mm. 50 mm 1.8 g . What is the major difference. I see a reason given by you. Can you give some insight. My sister is coming from US. So she would be bringing it.

          • 45
            ) Richard

            <> Without a shadow of doubt, eventually. I can only assume that a Nikon 35mm G lens will show considerable distortion when compared to the 50mm G.

            Richard

          • 46
            ) mayank

            Dear Harsha

            with 50 mm if you are shooting indoor you will feel that its not covering enough area you would like to and you have to move back to cover more area and 35 mm dx lens will give you the same angle of view as human eye about 45 degree , which a 50 mm will give on FX body, please go through various post by Nasim about the angel of view for 50 m and 35 mm comparison. and equivalent focal length,

            http://photographylife.com/equivalent-focal-length-and-field-of-view
            http://photographylife.com/first-nikon-dslr-and-lens
            http://photographylife.com/must-have-dslr-accessories

            above link will help you , also go through them they are very help full for the beginners and will cover all your queries.

            as far as distortion is concerned you will not notice for DX body. for these prime lens. so don’t worry above that , telling the truth I have D5100 and after reading regular post of this site and continuous practice and i am much confident of many things and still learning every day.

            as far as mirror less cameras are concerned these are new market and Prof still have to rely on clarity and lot of factor which a normal user not bother about, so it up to you how you are taking up the photography.

            in lot of factor mirror less are good. please do read post by Nasim for the comparison of mirror less VS DSLR.

            for the purchase if you are getting from US to India normally nothing happen but do check about the international warranty policy of Nikon India if purchase from US is covered here as well.

            regards
            MM

            • 49
              ) Harsha Swaroop

              Thanks for your inputs. And I would like to know with D5100 is it safe to photograph in the himalayan region where the temperatures are sub zero and snowing all the year.

  33. 48
    ) Yang Zhou

    are you going to include the new FUJI X-E1 in your review ?
    It seems like such an improvement from both the X100 in a smaller package than the X- PRO 1.

  34. 52
    ) Harsha Swaroop

    Now I have streamed down for a DSLR and was thinking of Nikon d5100 but saw pentax k30 was also looking good and is rated above d5100. Is it worth to consider pentax k30 over this.

    • 53
      ) Rahul

      Pentax has no official presence in India – if that’s where you are and not settled abroad.
      The K30 has the same sensor as D5100, but different AF, metering unit etc , need to check the specs but it also have better shutter speed range and prismatic viewfinder. If not the lack of company support, I’d happily recommend that over the Nikon D5100, plus they’re cheaper, and I hear Pentax K-mount primes are very nice.

  35. 54
    ) Arun

    Hi Nasim, take care your health too i mean your hand surgery.

  36. 55
    ) Bailey Scott

    Any timescale on the reviews yet? I’ve got savings to buy a Sony Nex 6 or 7 but waiting to read your opinion
    which I value very much. Probably one of the best websites for clear ideas.
    Many Thanks
    BS

  37. Nasim, this is a little off topic, but to cope with your carpal tunnel syndrome you may want to look at alternative typing layouts. I’ve learned to type on Colemak, (www.colemak.com) and it is an extremely efficient keyboarding layout. For someone who blogs for a living, it may pay off to ditch QWERTY.

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