Mirrorless Roundup 2011

Intermediate cameras

The intermediate camera audience are, in a sense, the luckiest and most interesting sector of the market. As a result of being the part of the market with the largest sales potential, they benefit from fierce competition between manufacturers, so that they arguably get the most camera for their money.

These are the users who are buying a camera because they're interested in getting more involved in photography. Much more than at the Beginner or Enthusiast level, these buyers are also likely to be choosing between a Mirrorless and DSLR camera. And, because their purchase will help some of them get hooked on photography, it's also the one that gets them hooked on a system.

This potential for large sales volumes, combined with a willingness to buy additional lenses and accessories also makes it interesting for third-party manufacturers. Essentially it's the part of the market most likely to define which systems are successes and which end up as historical footnotes. The result for the customer is that manufacturers pack their cameras with as many of their best features as possible while still building to an attractive price. And it results in some extremely competent cameras that you can get some great results out of.

There are four cameras that sit fairly clearly in this class: the distinctly DSLR-like Panasonic G3 and the more compact-like Samsung NX200, Sony NEX-5N and Olympus E-PL3. They have varying specifications, with sensor resolutions from the Olympus' 12MP up to the Samsung's 20MP, and rear screens that range from fixed on the NX200 through to fully-articulating on the G3. But each offers a reasonable amount of direct control and almost universally excellent image quality.

Cameras compared:

Sony Alpha NEX-5N

79% + Gold Award

The NEX-5N is our pick as the standout camera in this class, mainly as a result of its excellent image sensor and small size. The 16MP sensor is sensational and, for those users not yet ready to try their hands at Raw processing, there are a range of automated modes (HDR, Sweep Panorama and the multi-shot Hand-held Twilight mode), and processing options (the excellent DRO, and filter effects) to get the image you're after.

It's nothing if not feature-packed, with 1080p video at up to 60fps, continuous shooting at up to 10fps, a customizable interface and tilting, touch-sensitive screen all wrapped up in a stylish, solidly-built magnesium alloy body. Experienced photographers will find they can easily access all their most-used settings while newcomers willing to step away from the automated modes will find there's a lot to enjoy about this camera. It's only really users intending to just point-and-shoot who won't get the most out of the 5N (for the same reasons we highlighted about the 3C).

The lack of lenses available for the system is something of a concern but, in addition to Sony's own list of planned lenses, Sigma has shown a prototype and Tamron has released a lens, so there should be a system to grow into. The 5N is reasonably fast to focus (at least to the standard of the DSLRs its competing with at this level, when using kit lenses) but, like almost all its peers, struggles with continuous AF when it tries to track focus on a moving subject.

It's key to distinguish between the latest NEX-5N and the visually near-identical NEX-5 it replaces - the 5N is a significantly improved camera and well worth the premium over any bargain-priced remainder NEX-5s you might encounter.

Sony Alpha NEX-5N Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Sony Alpha NEX-5N

Also worth considering:


Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
75% + Silver Award

The Panasonic G3 is also a camera well-worth considering. It stands alone in this company by including a 1.4M dot equivalent electronic viewfinder, fully-articulated rear screen, and DSLR-like styling. Its image quality is very good, thanks to the latest-generation 16MP Four Thirds sensor - a considerable step forward from the older 12MP unit when the light falls. Buyers also considering a DSLR could, quite reasonably, decide that any slight disadvantage in low-light because of the camera's smaller-than-APS-C sensor is made up for by its significantly smaller size.

The G3 is built around the second generation of Panasonic's touch-screen interface, which includes the ability to customize the settings assigned to the on-screen Q.Menu. Better still, it's implemented in such a way that you can use it or choose not to, depending on your preference, meaning it adds to, rather than detracts from, the shooting experience.

If eye-level shooting is your thing (and it does tend to be more stable), the G3 is one of the cheapest ways to combine a Mirrorless camera with a viewfinder, and it doesn't add too much bulk when doing so.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3


Samsung NX200
77% + Silver Award

The Samsung is, in many respects, the most photography-focused camera here: there are very few special modes to play with and no 'simplified' interface that you have to learn, but the NX200 offers some useful custumization options (including Samsung's unique iFn-button on most NX system lenses) and is a nicely worked-out camera with the buttons you'd expect in the places you'd expect them. The interface is both conventional and attractive (both things we appreciate), meaning you can just get on with taking pictures.

The 20MP sensor produces extremely high resolution images at low ISOs and, while noise reduction is fairly aggressive at higher sensitivities it's not too efficient. That said much better results can be achieved by processing high ISO imaged in a raw converter and apply custom noise reduction.

Although there's no commitment from third-party lens makers yet, Samsung has already done a good job of preparing a decent range of lenses for the NX system, including compact 'pancake' primes, a video-optimized 18-200mm superzoom, and excellent 60mm Macro F2.8 and 85mm F1.4 prime lenses, making the NX200 an interesting proposition.

Samsung NX200 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Samsung NX200


Olympus PEN E-PL3
71% + Silver Award

The E-PL3's biggest problem isn't really any flaw of its own - it is just rather outshone by its siblings. The E-PL3 is good looking, well-priced and includes in-body image stabilization and a tilting LCD. However, it isn't as inexpensive as the E-PM1 and isn't a classy and pleasant to use as the E-P3, leaving it in something of a no-man's land. And, of itself, it's a nice little camera and all the nice things we said about the E-PM1's JPEGs and retractable kit lens are true here.

Many users will welcome the mode dial, tilting screen and additional buttons compared to the E-PM1. Against this competition, though, it's merely good, rather than compelling. However, the broad range of interesting and comparatively affordable lenses (under $400/£350) make it well-worth considering, especially if size is one of your primary considerations.

Olympus PEN E-PL3 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full review of the Olympus PEN E-PL3


Click here for page 4 - Enthusiast 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