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Mirrorless Roundup 2011

Richard Butler | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Dec 20, 2011

Mirrorless cameras may not have taken-off in all global markets yet, but they're making progress, both in terms of technology and sales. The marketing efforts have reached almost hysterical levels, helping to raise awareness that mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is here. We've had a chance to use all of these cameras extensively (and have reviewed most of them), so now seems like the ideal time to look at all the cameras and help you decide whether a Mirrorless camera is for you and, if so, which models you should consider.

Getting to grips with sensor sizes

It's difficult to engage with customers about the merits of sensor sizes so, to a great extent, the manufacturers sell these cameras on the strength of them offering interchangeable lenses. The association of interchangeable lenses with 'DSLR quality,' combined with the promise of flexibility that changeable lenses bring help to differentiate Mirrorless cameras from compacts. But it's primarily the increased sensor size that brings the image quality improvement, both in terms of low-light performance and control over depth-of-field.

The other key thing to consider is lens availability. The Micro Four Thirds lens mount, used by Panasonic and Olympus has by far the widest range of lenses, followed by Samsung's NX range, Sony's E-mount, Pentax Q and Nikon's 1 system. However, when considering the lens availability, it's worth being honest with yourself about how many lenses you're planning to buy - if you're only going to buy one additional lens, then it doesn't really matter how extensive a 'system' is, so long as it includes the lenses you might want.

What's out there?

Being a fairly new market, it's taken a little while for a consensus to develop amongst manufacturers about who might want a Mirrorless camera and what they might want it for. The result is a diverse ecosystem yet to be exposed to the evolutionary pressures that tend to result in homogeneity. In general, we feel it's possible to break down most of the Mirrorless class into three main groups, much as can be done with DSLRs: beginners, intermediate users and enthusiasts. But, beyond this classifications, there are some interesting niche cameras and alternative takes on the concept.

As you'd expect, the more sophisticated the audience, the more external control you get, the more features you can expect a camera to have and the more you can expect it to cost. In some cases this means more external control, or the option to add an external viewfinder, but it also tends to mean higher-resolution sensors and higher-resolution rear screens. The classes aren't precise - you could argue, for instance, that the Panasonic G3 offers more features and functionality than the GX1. But here we're trying to consider the overall intent - a balance of features and price, to split the cameras by the shooting style we believe they're intended for.

In this overview we're restricting our coverage to relatively recently-released cameras that we consider to be 'current generation'. Of course some older models are also still for sale new, often at a bargain prices. You can find more information about these cameras in our database or previous reviews.


Beginners' cameras

This is the area in which all the manufacturers think Mirrorless systems offer the most advantages: as small cameras that are as simple to use as point-and-shoot compacts, but with substantially better image quality. Between these and entry-level DSLRs there's been plenty of price competition, and even though we're only really on the second or third generation of these cameras, you can get a pretty mature product for a bargain price.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-C3 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
16.2MP 720p30
MPEG4
9Mbps
3"
920k
No No
Olympus PEN E-PM1 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
No Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes No

Intermediate cameras

The intermediate class is directly comparable to the popular 'Rebel' level of DSLRs. These are aimed at people who have perhaps already owned a enthusiast compact or an older DSLR and want a newer, more capable camera, or who are upgrading from a point-and-shoot compact but want to develop as photographers and take more control over their cameras.

The result is more external buttons, improved features and, in many cases, more accessory options.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-5N APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
16.1MP 1080p60
AVCHD
28Mbps
3"
920k
Yes Optional 2.4m EVF OLED
Olympus PEN E-PL3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
No Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
15.8MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes 1.4m equiv. EVF
Samsung NX200 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
20.3MP 1080p30
MPEG4
u/n
3"
610k
No No

Enthusiast cameras

These are the cameras aimed at people with extensive shooting experience. Perhaps intended as a second camera, or as a replacement for a similarly high-end camera. These tend to be the models that offer the highest levels of external controls, the strongest specifications and product design that says 'I'm serious about my photography.'

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Sony NEX-7 APS-C
(23.4 x 15.6 mm)
24.3MP 1080p60
AVCHD
28Mbps
3"
920k
No 2.4m EVF OLED
Olympus PEN E-P3 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
12.3MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
610k
OLED
Yes Optional 1.4m or 920k EVF
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13 mm)
15.8MP 1080i60
AVCHD
17Mbps
3"
460k
Yes Optional 1.4m equiv. EVF

Specialist cameras

A couple of niches have sprung up in the Mirrorless camera sector, from the video-focused Panasonic GH2, through to the fun, rather irreverent Pentax Q. We've currently put the point-and-shoot targeted Nikon 1 cameras in this group too, given their conceptual differences from all the other 'Beginner' level cameras (smaller sensors, more flexible autofocus), but you may wish to consider these too.

 Sensor SizePixel CountMovie capabilityScreen SizeTouch Screen?Viewfinder?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Four Thirds
(˜19 x 13.5 mm)
16.1MP 1080p30
AVCHD
24Mbps
3"
460k
Yes 1.5m equiv. EVF
Ricoh GXR Mount A12 APS-C
(23.6 x 15.7 mm)
12.1MP 720p24
Motion JPEG
3"
920k
No Optional 1.4m EVF
Nikon 1 J1 CX format
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
10.1MP 1080i60
MPEG4
3"
460k
No No
Nikon 1 V1 CX format
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
10.1MP 1080i60
MPEG4
3"
920k
No 1.4m EVF
Pentax Q

1/2.3" Type
(mm)

12.4MP 1080p24
MPEG4
3"
460k
No No

Click here for page 2 - Beginners' cameras

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

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

Enthusiast cameras

The enthusiast/semi-pro mirrorless sector has taken a little longer than most to develop - with most manufacturers convinced that it was only DSLR-resistant compact camera users that would be interested in Mirrorless cameras. Olympus has been the only Mirrorless camera maker to consistently target the committed photographer - the type who's been shooting with high-end kit for years and may be using Mirrorless alongside their DSLR setup.

But, having discovered the market was there (mainly as a result of enthusiasts buying their simpler models and demanding more control), both Sony and Panasonic have recently weighed-in with cameras that offer DSLR-like levels of direct control in a much more portable package.

At this level the lens lineups become an important consideration: the enthusiast photographer is by far the most likely to spend money on specialist lenses. At present the unavoidable fact is that the Micro Four Thirds system is by far the most extensive system, with some interesting and comparatively affordable prime lenses available alongside the broad range of zooms.

Sony has made all the right noises about it lens ambitions - publishing the beginnings of a roadmap and an announcement that specifications of the E-mount will be made available to third-party lens makers (which has already prompted Sigma to show a mock-up).

Cameras Compared:

Sony Alpha NEX-7

81% + Gold Award

The NEX-7 is an impressive camera, combining solid magnesium-alloy build quality with the latest sensor and highest-resolution electronic viewfinder we've ever seen. It's also impressively customizable. Sony might be a little late to the enthusiast end of the market but they've done a good job in working out how to give plenty of control and a tool photographers will enjoy.

It's not without its flaws - you're occasionally aware that its three-dial 'Tri-Navi' control system has been stuck on top of the already glued-together NEX interface without much integration. But this is only an occasional sensation; in most situations it's fast and pleasurable to shoot, aided by a high level of customizability. The NEX also begins to struggle to focus as light drops rather earlier than its Micro Four Thirds peers, but overall offers incredible image quality in a previously unimaginable format.

The lack of lenses is also currently a concern - other than the rather large and rather pricey Carl Zeiss-branded 24mm F1.8, the lenses that keen photographers are likely to want are simply not yet available. And, unless you've got a collection of A-mount lenses, we don't consider the idea of adding the LA-EA2 adapter (essentially the autofocus system from an SLT camera) to the NEX-7 to be a sensible work-around.

The final concern is price. Quite understandably, you have to pay a premium to get cutting-edge technology, such as the sensor and viewfinder used in the NEX-7, and this means that for the price of a NEX-7 you can get either a GX1 or E-P3 with their respective kit lenses, plus either the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 or Olympus 45mm F1.8 and still have money to spare (or, for another $150/100, buy both lenses). And, while the Sony is a better camera than either of the Micro Four Thirds models, many users may find those extra lenses allow them to get more out of the Panasonic or Olympus than they could get from a NEX-7 with only its kit lens.

Sony NEX-7 Samples Gallery

Click here to read our full Sony NEX-7 Review

Also worth considering:


Olympus PEN E-P3
74% + Silver Award

It may look like the original digital PEN (and Olympus should be congratulated on this, since the E-P1 was a handsome little camera), but the E-P3 is essentially an all-new camera. The sensor is about the only thing carried-over from the original camera and represents the PEN's greatest weakness - it lags behind its competitors in terms of both resolution and high ISO image quality. This is a shame, since the focus on the P3 is incredibly fast, the OLED touch-screen is implemented well, and it offers wireless control of external flashguns with the internal flash. It also comes into a well-established system, which means a choice of electronic viewfinders , as well as a pretty broad range of lenses.

The PEN's endearingly mad level of customizability is forgivable at this level - indeed it's worth the commitment required to work out how to set the E-P3 up to behave exactly as you want it to. It's an enjoyable camera to shoot with and to be seen with, which may be a consideration - particularly for the 'second camera' crowd. It's also alone, amongst this company, in including in-body image stabilization, a feature that comes into its own as soon as you start accumulating lenses.

Olympus PEN E-P3 Sample Gallery

Click here to read our full Olympus PEN E-P3 Review


Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1
77% + Silver Award

The GX1 is effectively Panasonic's second enthusiast camera after the GF1 (and possibly its first model intentionally aimed at this audience). It combines the company's latest 16MP sensor, which is much closer to APS-C quality than the older 12MP chip, with a small, well-built body that offers a good degree of external control. Better still, it offers an updated, customizable touch-screen interface that combines well with the physical controls to make the GX1 a pleasant and flexible camera to shoot with.

Our early impressions are that it can't match up to the NEX-7 in terms of absolute image quality, but has size, price and lens choice on its side to ensure it remains competitive. It's also available in a kit with Panasonic's tiny X 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 powerzoom, making it the only camera of the three here which you can slip into a jacket or coat pocket with zoom attached. It's certainly a very attractive camera, but potential buyers will have to carefully weigh-up how much this, the fractionally faster AF and improved image processing add to the package, given that the G3 offers the same sensor, an articulated LCD and an EVF for less money.

Click here to read our Panasonic DMC-GX1 Review


Click here for page 5 - Specialist cameras

The others

While most Mirrorless models on the market fit into very similar categories to the ones that have developed for DSLRs, the class is young enough that there are manufacturers exploring niches and experimenting with what they think people will want from a Mirrorless camera.

The Nikon 1 system is the most obvious example of this. In many respects, the Nikon 1 cameras seem to fit firmly in the 'Beginners'' category (and we very nearly included them in there). However, there are a couple of key differences - the 1 system incorporates DSLR-style phase-detection autofocus, in an attempt to offer a camera that can continuously refocus in a way that Mirrorless cameras tend not to be very good at. In fact, the company is confidently comparing the AF speed on the 1 system to its flagship, multi-thousand dollar D3S pro-grade sports DSLR.

The system is also built around a sensor much smaller than any of the other Mirrorless models we've covered up until this point, which potentially means smaller cameras and smaller, faster lenses, but at the cost of control over depth-of-field and, in principle, lower image quality in low-light settings.

Pentax has also gone down the smaller sensor route with its 'Q' camera. And by 'smaller' we mean the tiny sensors used in mainstream compact cameras. It's a good sensor by compact camera standards, however, and Pentax has made clear, in its inclusion of in-camera filters and the provision of a range of 'Toy' lenses, that the Q is meant to be about fun and creativity, rather than absolute image quality.

Ricoh, meanwhile, has created the GXR system - a series of interchangeable lens+sensor modules. These wouldn't quite fit in this roundup, which covers Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, but the appearance of the Mount A12 module, that allows M-mount lenses to be used with the system, gets it in on a technicality.

The final niche covered here is the one occupied by the Panasonic DMC-GH2 - that of the stills/video hybrid. Panasonic was very quick to realize that Mirrorless cameras were particularly well-suited to video shooting, with the result that the GH2 has been designed with video in mind as much as stills.


Nikon 1 V1/J1
J1 67%, V1 69%

Having spent many months shooting with the J1 and V1, we've written an in-depth review that tries to get to the heart of what Nikon has got right and wrong with its 1 system cameras. It's worth reading our full review to understand the bigger picture but, overall we have concerns about how well suited they are to their intended audience.

The autofocus system is very impressive in good light and the system may well prove to be the ideal Mirrorless camera for people wanting to shoot their kids playing sports (a big market very poorly served with existing products). At present, the 1 System cameras are the only ones able to perform continuous AF in a way that's competitive with DSLRs, and that makes them uniquely well-suited to moving subjects (among Mirrorless cameras). However, this performance isn't maintained when the light starts to fall and the 1 System cameras can struggle in indoor settings.

The camera is designed to offer a strictly 'point and shoot' experience with its 'Smart Photo Selector' mode, which shoots up to 20 frames in a 1 second burst, then saves up to 5 of the best. The results are pretty good but you do lose control over exactly when the photos are taken. Take it out of 'SPS' and the camera, even it its 'Auto Scene Selection' or Program modes requires much more manual intervention than we'd expect for a camera aimed at beginners. It regularly chooses shutter speeds so slow that they guarantee motion-blur in your photos.

The image quality is also impressive, with the V1 able to compete on equal terms with the 12MP Micro Four Thirds cameras, despite their sensors being around twice the size. However, neither the bodies nor lenses are significantly smaller than the Micro Four Thirds cameras and the price is significantly higher. If you want to or are willing to take any significant control over what the camera does, we think there may be better cheaper options (both Mirrorless and DSLR) for many types of shooting.

Nikon 1 V1 Samples Gallery

Click here to read our Nikon 1 V1/J1 Review


Pentax Q
Unreviewed

Pentax has gone down a very different route with the Q - creating a Mirrorless camera based around a 1/2.33" backlit CMOS sensor that appears in a handful of higher-end compact cameras. The company has tried to emphasize the lo-fi and creative aspects of the camera coming, as standard, with a 49mm equivalent prime lens, offering a couple of fun 'Toy' lenses and bringing the camera's wide range of configurable image processing effects to the fore.

However, although the sensor is very good by compact camera standards, it is hopelessly outclassed in this company. The Q is a beautifully built camera with a feature-set to rival one of the company's DSLRs, it's also the only one here to really count as pocketable, but even that advantage slips away if you fit the zoom lens to the front. The Q's cost looks very high, since you can buy a Mirrorless camera with much higher image quality for the same money, or a more compact camera with similar image quality (such as Nikon's P300) for the cost of the Q's zoom lens. At which point you're left with the question: 'what price, fun?'

Pentax Q Samples Gallery

Click here to read our Pentax Q Preview


Ricoh GXR Mount A12
Unreviewed

Ricoh's GXR system is a little hard to categories - in that it offers a selection of combined sensor-and-lens modules that slot into a common body. These modules are based around three difference sensor sizes and a collection of zooms and primes. In addition, the company offers the 'A12 Mount' module, which places a Leica M-mount in front of the elderly but still rather likeable 12MP APS-C Sony CMOS sensor. To a degree its the module that makes most sense of the GXR system in that it opens it up to a vast range of lenses (albeit with a narrower field-of-view than most of them were designed for, since most M lenses are designed for 35mm film).

The cost of buying both body and module starts to make it a little uncompetitive, but if you have a collection of M-mount lenses or the money to amass one, then it's one of the better ways to make use of them. The build quality is very high and the user interface among the very best for the photographer really wanting to engage with the camera. One of the more eccentric options in this roundup, perhaps, but not without charm.

Ricoh GXR A12 Mount Samples Gallery

Click here to read our Ricoh GXR A12 Mount Preview


Panasonic DMC-GH2
79% + Silver Award

 

For a long time the Panasonic DMC-GH2 has been one of the most capable video shooting cameras on the market. It hasn't received quite the acclaim of Canon's EOS 5D Mark II DSLR but it's substantially cheaper and considerably smaller. This, combined with the ability to mount almost any lens ever made, via adapters, has made it a popular camera for semi-pro video shooting. Its video specifications (1080i60, 30p or 24p at bitrates of around 24Mbps), are no longer quite as cutting-edge as they were at its launch in September 2010, but it's still a very capable camera with a lot of movie-specific options to help optimize both the visuals and audio footage that it captures.

That said, the GH2 isn't a dedicated movie camera - it's also a very capable stills camera in its own right (using the most sophisticated Four Thirds sensor so far). If you're as interested in shooting movie footage as you are in stills and you fancy the shallower depth-of-field that a large sensor offers, the GH2 is well worth considering.

Panasonic DMC-GH2 Samples Gallery

Click here to read our full Panasonic DMC-GH2 review

In conclusion

The Mirrorless sector may be relatively young but it's already starting to offer some pretty mature products. There are still manufacturers such as Canon and Fujifilm that have yet to show their hands but, even as it stands, there are plenty of impressive products that we've really enjoyed shooting with. The Nikon 1 cameras are the only ones to make a convincing stab at continuous autofocus but that's about the only significant weakness of Mirrorless as a concept - most of the rough edges of the first generation models have now been smoothed off. And, of course, Mirrorless cameras can offer features such as touch-screen focus positioning and face detection that DSLRs simply can't match - and all without the need for focus fine-tuning.

We're not about to proclaim the DSLR to be dead, but it faces more and more interesting competition by the day. And, if you don't feel one of these models suits your needs, you may still benefit from the DSLR makers having to react to the rise of the Mirrorless camera.