Mirrorless Roundup 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

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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