Mirrorless Roundup 2011

Beginners' cameras

Several factors have combined to make the Beginners' class the most competitive of the Mirrorless camera market. The main one is the camera makers' belief that there is an un-tapped market of buyers who would like to get better pictures than their compact camera can offer but who are put off by the size, cost and perceived complexity of DSLRs.

This has led to manufacturers trying to produce cameras that are as easy to point-and-shoot as a compact, with few potentially intimidating external controls at prices that slightly undercut even the cheapest DSLR. The fact that Mirrorless cameras are compact cameras with larger sensors and interchangeable lenses, just as much as they're DSLRs without a mirror and viewfinder, means they offer a familiar shooting experience for the upgrader audience.

The result is that the Beginners' category has been the one in which it's hardest to select a stand-out product. The three cameras we discuss here are all very good, offering DSLR image quality and compact camera ease-of-use at a competitive price. Panasonic, Olympus and Sony all offer their most compact models for around the $500 mark. And, given they're all based around sensors that also appear in much more expensive Mirrorless and DSLR cameras, they offer similar image quality to the high-end models.

The models we won't cover here are Nikon's J1 and V1, which are covered last in this roundup. Nikon is adamant that its cameras target a market neglected by its rivals (though it's by no means clear precisely how it's distinct from the one these beginners cameras are aimed at), but more importantly, they're different in that they do not use DSLR-sized sensors. As such they offer a different balance of features and weaknesses, so are discussed elsewhere.

Cameras compared

Olympus PEN E-PM1

71% + Silver Award

Although the difference couldn't be described as 'stand-out,' the PEN Mini is, by a whisker, our choice of the current Beginners' camera bunch. In the end, the PEN's small body size, coupled with the clever, collapsible kit lens and excellent out-of-camera JPEG image quality give it a tiny bit of an edge.

Like all the cameras here, the E-PM1 offers plenty of control if you want to take it (at its heart, very little separates this from the much more expensive E-P3). Getting the most out of the camera involves un-hiding a potentially overwhelming menu, but with the promise of greater customization than its peers.

As a point-and-shoot, however, the PEN offers a nice balance of size, price and capability - it can't compete with the Sony's sensor in terms of absolute image quality but its reliable exposure, excellent color and creative 'Art Filters' mean you can easily get the most out of the camera.

Olympus PEN E-PM1 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Olympus PEN E-PM1

Also worth considering:


Sony NEX-C3
74% + Silver Award

The C3 is Sony's least expensive NEX camera but still built around one of the best sensors on the market at the moment. The NEX's user interface has been greatly improved, with a simplified operational mode that allows you to adjust settings based on the result you want, rather than getting bogged-down in jargon.

The excellent sensor means that the C3 is capable of the best image quality in this group but the limitations of the beginner-friendly i-Auto mode (and specifically it not allowing you to exceed ISO 1600) mean that the novice user won't always be able to access its full potential. It's only this and the relatively bulky kit lens that prevents it being our recommendation.

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Sony NEX-C3


Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
71%

The Panasonic GF3 is the simplest and most compact-camera-like Micro Four Thirds camera yet. Like the other two cameras here, it offers the bare minimum of external controls but, unlike its rivals, it also offers a touch-screen interface. This makes it probably the easiest of the three cameras to take control of, should you decide you want to regularly influence what the camera is doing. Its beginner-friendly Intelligent Auto mode also offers a simple, results-orientated interface for changing shooting settings.

The GF3 is also unique in this company in that it features a built-in pop-up flash, meaning you don't have to remember to carry around a little accessory flash unit as you do with the Sony and Olympus models. As with the Olympus, the GF3 can be used with any of the increasingly wide range of lenses available for the Micro Four Thirds system. Sadly the GF3's standard kit zoom isn't collapsible like the PEN Mini's (It is available with the retractable Lumix X power zoom but this pushes the cost beyond those of these peers).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3


Click here for page 3 - Intermediate cameras

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Comments

Total comments: 429
123
Roger Knight
By Roger Knight (Dec 20, 2011)

The huge problem with all but 3 of these cameras is the lack of a viewfinder.
It's just not a serious camera if the viewfinder is not at least as useable as those on the Fuji X series, and that's a minimum for me and anyone else who wears bifocals and is a sexigenarian or older.

I realise that one can tack a viewfinder on some of these babies but then they end up being as big overall as a propper camera such as an SLR or Fuji X or Leica M series.

I have always thought viewfinderless cameras are like a motorbike without handlebars and I find the two I have get left home and I take the SLR every time.
For me mirrorless and/or viewfinder-less compact cameras just does not work.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
Digicam Newbie
By Digicam Newbie (Dec 20, 2011)

Agree with you. Looked at Sony 5N, but add-on viewfinder looked like an after thought. Went with my second choice - the Panasonic G3,

1 upvote
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

I'm aware that some people that need/prefer a viewfinder and a smaller group that insist on an optical finder. There are mirrorless models with viewfinders but, if you insist on an optical viewfinder, then Mirrorless (at least with interchangeable lenses) isn't for you.

I was an SLR/DSLR shooter but I've found myself rather enjoying shooting with Mirrorless - I'd consider them just as 'proper' a camera as a DSLR.

2 upvotes
RPJG
By RPJG (Dec 20, 2011)

Fancy that - someone who thinks a camera isn't "serious" if it doesn't meet his/her specific requirements.

3 upvotes
wetsleet
By wetsleet (Dec 20, 2011)

I also find it strange that the viewfinder is the most forgotten part of the camera. I still use a Nikon D70, and the thing which drags the most for me is not the ancient sensor or lowly 6Mpixel but the tunnel-like viewfinder. But when I look through a D300 or D7000 I find the problem is scarcely improved. So whilst everything else has improved by at least a factor of 2 or 3, the viewfinder has played cinderella to the designers attentions.

And yet, like you say, this is what steers the entire thing. And they still make cameras with scarcely a thought to the viewfinder, many cameras with no viewfinder at all - people just accept that a picture preview screen is adequate to the task.

3 upvotes
Mark Thornton
By Mark Thornton (Dec 20, 2011)

I also thought I needed a viewfinder. The truth is that I needed to change the way I carried my reading glasses and make sure they are always with me.
While the viewfinder on my dslr is fine, I still need the glasses to properly review what I have taken, especially to check the histogram or clipping.

0 upvotes
ELLIOT P STERN
By ELLIOT P STERN (Dec 20, 2011)

isn't the Ricoh GXR with modules a mirrorless camera. I cannot believe how often you just omit this product from your selections.

3 upvotes
sedentary_male
By sedentary_male (Dec 20, 2011)

Real shame . I asked the same question to Richard Butler why, in the Buyers' Guide: Enthusiast Raw-shooting compact cameras, the Ricoh GRDIV wasn't selected. Now, I am more surprised by the omission of the GXR. When you see user reviews of the GXR Mount A12 performing better than the Sony 5N this system can not be dismissed so easily.

2 upvotes
Naveed Akhtar
By Naveed Akhtar (Dec 20, 2011)

R Butler said ... this is about mirrorless "interchangeable lens" cameras.

1 upvote
carpediem007
By carpediem007 (Dec 20, 2011)

What would the GXR with Mount A12 be in your eyes???

It doesn't get much more interchangeable than that...

1 upvote
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

Sadly Richard Butler didn't write the Raw-shooting compact camera buyers guide, so can't tell you why the GRDIV wasn't in there.

My guess would be that it's a fixed focal-length camera, which is limiting if you try to directly compare it against zoom compacts. Equally, if you include the GRDIV, you have to include the Sigmas and the X100, at which point, it never gets written and you can no longer directly compare them.

4 upvotes
sedentary_male
By sedentary_male (Dec 20, 2011)

Thanks for replying. Back to the GXR and Mount A12 though. This system can mount many interchangeable lenses and with an adapter the choice becomes limitless.
All I am saying is that it's a real contender and should have been included.

0 upvotes
brendon1000
By brendon1000 (Dec 20, 2011)

^^ How many AF lenses can the GXR with A12 mount take ? That alone makes it a niche camera for a discerning few. Paying $1000 for a camera without any lens and one that doesn't even have a built in EVF or a magnesium alloy body like the NEX7 is never going to be a mainstream camera.

0 upvotes
increments
By increments (Dec 20, 2011)

@ Richard Butler,

Does that mean you don't discuss what's going to go into these together? Is anything designated an article purely an opinion piece?

0 upvotes
sedentary_male
By sedentary_male (Dec 21, 2011)

brendon1000. The GXR + Mount A12 can be bought for as little as US$649.00. The body is magnesium alloy and has an excellent user interface. The mount is designed to take manual lenses, specifically M mount, and believe it or not some actually prefer to focus manually - strange eh. On checking your facts I suggest you also read comparisons between the Ricoh GXR + A12 Mount, Sony Nex5n & 7. Steve Huffs site should be a good starting point.

0 upvotes
brendon1000
By brendon1000 (Dec 21, 2011)

^^ I never once disagreed with you that people don't use manual focus. A large majority of m43 users and NEX users use manual focus lenses as well. :)

However the problem is that those system have the option of using AF lenses. Over here the option is to either buy a module with a prime macro lens or buy a module with a P&S sensor with a superzoom. Thats why I feel the GXR is in a really niche segment with a clear target audience and not really considered mainstream just yet.

0 upvotes
bunfoolio
By bunfoolio (Dec 20, 2011)

What a great resource for people trying to learn more about mirrorless cameras. I really could have used it a year ago. There should be a description of what M4/3 is becasue there is no Olympus or Panasonic mirrorless forum.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Grevture
By Grevture (Dec 20, 2011)

No Olympus or Panasonic mirrorless forum?

You mean except for this quite active forum? :-)
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/forum.asp?forum=1041

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

I think his point is that there isn't a forum explicitly called 'Olympus PEN' or 'Panasonic G.' I thought I'd covered Micro Four Thirds in the third paragraph of the first page.

0 upvotes
Badger1952
By Badger1952 (Dec 20, 2011)

One can't help but wonder whether these have been created for a niche that doesn't exist. When there are so many excellent compacts out there and entry level DSLRs that will outperform mirrorless on price and performance, why spend $1000 plus on one of these?
Steve Jobs created the market for smart phones and tablets - perhaps the marketing hype for these will bear fruit in time!!

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

Having shot with almost all these cameras and most of the current entry-level DSLRs and several high-end compacts, I don't recognise that characterisation at all. There are certainly some people who would prefer and be better served by a DSLR or a compact but the same could be said for most current Mirrorless models.

7 upvotes
Tom Hoots
By Tom Hoots (Dec 20, 2011)

These comments show the diverse opinions about these cameras. For me, it is ALL ABOUT ditching the DSLR viewfinder, and all of its bulk and weight. I think Sony absolutely NAILED it right from the beginning -- include essentially the finest LCD screen that can be built, and pry that camera off of your face.

My vision just doesn't work well with viewfinders, and a huge part of my creativity is using the camera at various different posistions that I couldn't achieve with a camera glued to my face. Give me a smaller, lighter camera with no viewfinder, but rather with an excellent, articulating LCD, and I'm happy.

3 upvotes
Naveed Akhtar
By Naveed Akhtar (Dec 20, 2011)

I loved DSLRs and used many of them, but after using mirrorless for roughly 3 years now, DSLRs doesnt work right in my hands. D90 was perfect for my handeling, and now even D7000 looks odd. GH1/ GH2 gets onto my hands like a glove. Then those tilted, swival LCDs giving precise and exact information, grids, guides, live view (no preview etc), fast and accurate focusing (these days new generation is ultra fast), small, cheap and sharp m4/3 lenses have spoiled me, addicted me of digital photography and you are asking why mirrorless exists?

3 upvotes
Marcelobtp
By Marcelobtp (Dec 20, 2011)

When i was 20 and just a very amateur(no money gained for photos)
I though: "why they keep using a viewfinder, when the lcd is just the same?" And now i just think that a great very well calibrated LCD is just a bonus for situations where i can't use the viewfinder.
Viewfinder is a waaaay better for working for so many reasons that i would have to write down a history.
But when the LCDs get a much higher resolution much more color accuracy and resolve the problems with very bright sunlight on in.
Maybe i will try to re-ask my self why use the viewfinder.
Ps: Eletronic viewfinders (except the new sony 2.4M) are completely ignored for me. I was talking about the SLR viewfinders.

2 upvotes
tourtrophy
By tourtrophy (Dec 20, 2011)

I am surprised Fuji X100 and X10 were not mentioned.

1 upvote
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

I've corrected it to make it clearer that this is about mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

9 upvotes
bmlsayshi
By bmlsayshi (Dec 20, 2011)

I understand the concern, but I still would have put the x100 in here, maybe under the others section. I know its not interchangeable, but I 100% guarantee its marketed at and being bought by the exact same audience as these cameras.

2 upvotes
AmaturFotografer
By AmaturFotografer (Dec 20, 2011)

IMO, x100 is more like in G12 segment - advanced compact digital camera.

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Dec 20, 2011)

Given Fujifilm has said it is working on a Mirrorless system, it makes more sense to wait to see that. The X100 is a rather different product, appealing to a slightly different crowd - one which specifically wants a camera with a fixed 35mm lens - rather than one that wants a system that will grow.

I've had to overlook some borderline cases, such as Leica's M system and Ricoh's GXR because the article would have taken much, much longer. With Leica the cost and manual focus lenses make it much more niche (like the X100, there are unlikely to be people deciding between multiple products - you're either going to buy an M9 or you're not).

Is GXR a Mirrorless camera or a series of large sensor compact? Either way, trying to explain it and compare a range of modules with varying sensor sizes and fixed focal lengths would have taken several pages on its own.

4 upvotes
Stanny1
By Stanny1 (Dec 20, 2011)

I think that cost/value is an important factor.As a real estate broker, I do extensive interior work. Small sensors just add to the cost of wide-angle. I just picked up a NEX-3 on closeout for $499, added the Sony .75 adapter for $90 for 18mm. Added the optional hi-powered flash, case and memory card for less than $800 total.Now the NEX-5 is being closed out at the same price.Sony is where the value is, especially for Wide-Angle.

0 upvotes
katy C.
By katy C. (Dec 20, 2011)

GX1 sensor according to Panasonic is 16,680 pixels and 16,000 effective pixels.

Also video has MP4 FHD 25 fs and 20 mbs.

0 upvotes
arno bothof
By arno bothof (Dec 20, 2011)

Missing Oly ZX-1 with a Gold Award of 74%.
Why......?

0 upvotes
Paul Amyes
By Paul Amyes (Dec 20, 2011)

"Is GXR a Mirrorless camera or a series of large sensor compact? Either way, trying to explain it and compare a range of modules with varying sensor sizes and fixed focal lengths would have taken several pages on its own."

So it's not a mirror less round up because DPR could be a#rsed to include anything that didn't fit neatly in the box.

1 upvote
SouthElginDad
By SouthElginDad (Dec 20, 2011)

What a thankless task it must be to be an editor for DPR.

Step 1: Spend countless hours researching cameras
Step 2: Write comprehensive, informative, FREE article
Step 3: Brace self for onslaught of criticism

Although on the whole it seems like a pretty great job (play with all the new toys and write about them), this oft-repeated pattern must get tiring.

1 upvote
zzzorki
By zzzorki (Dec 20, 2011)

I photograph weddings with Nikon V1.
It is the phenomenal camera.
Prints A3 + - it is easy!

1 upvote
Fullframer
By Fullframer (Dec 21, 2011)

I do real estate pictures as well and 18mm on NEX system wouldn't always work for me. I usually use the 14-24mm F2.8 on either D700 or D3 full frame.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 429
123