Here at 2 Guys Photo, we like our cameras small. Having moved on from (despite the occasional reunion) larger DSLR cameras, we enjoy the freedom, flexibility and chiropractic benefits that accrue from toting much smaller kits. And because we’re not war zone (requiring heavy duty build and sealing) or sports or wildlife (necessitating high speed focus tracking) photographers, we’re quite comfortable with the capabilities of the smaller cameras. Image quality tradeoffs be darned — these smaller rigs deliver the goods.
I’m still maintaining that it’s only a matter of time before this trend toward small takes hold in the U.S., the way the numbers suggest it has in Asia and much of Europe. Here in the States, apparently, we like our cameras large. The way we once liked our cars big too. And while some here still do, there are plenty of compacts on our roads these days. So too eventually mirrorless cameras. As a side note, I was in the large theme parks recently in Florida and was interested to note that DSLRs and cellphones rule. Mirrorless cameras and advanced point and shoot cameras are practically nowhere to be found. Still though, I think that DSLR owners will migrate to mirrolesss.
By way of a relative ‘state of the state’, I’d like to share five thoughts and observations about where we now stand in the world of mirrorless (also known as interchangeable lens compacts) cameras.
Read on for more…
1. The big guys are still not convinced. Just as Blockbuster didn’t want to jeopardize brick and mortar retail movie rental revenues by investing in a streaming service (a la Netflix), it seems that both Canon and Nikon don’t want to cannibalize their exiting DSLR sales. Understandable… in a way. But, like Blockbuster, what’s the likely end game here? Will they have to jump on board? And if so, will it be too late?
Note that both of their offerings (Canon’s EOS M line and Nikon’s “1” series) are crippled and underwhelming DSLR system companions only. Most mirrorless shoppers want to move on from DSLRs, not complement them.
2. Mirrorless is where the innovations are happening. Canon may have figured out how to deliver reasonable live view focusing performance on the 70D and Pentax may have come up with a nifty mechanism to offer an anti-alias free sensor with optional software-based aliasing, but those are hardly the kinds of things that will make someone drop what they’re shooting and switch systems. Look to Panasonic (state of the art video), Olympus (fantastic smaller lenses and nifty contrast based autofocus performance), Fujifilm (awesome x-trans sensor technology and innovative design) and Sony (full-frame mirrorless!) for the true innovations. The DSLR is far from dead… but the new stuff coming off the DSLR drawing boards doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence these days.
3. Micro4/3 – where good enough is pretty good. I’m not one to harp on sensor size as THE be all end all determinant to image quality. Sure, bigger means better (and by better, I mean strictly in terms of ridiculously high ISO performance and better dynamic range across the board), but the smaller censored m4/3 manufacturers, Olympus and Panasonic, keep tweaking their sensors and making them better all the time.
Having used both cameras, I can confidently declare that 85% of all photographers who would consider buying their new state-of-the-art cameras, namely the Olympus EM1 and Panasonic GX7, are NOT going to be held back by these cameras. They are that good.
But are they as good as the best APS-C and full frame cameras in terms of file quality? In my experience? No. Sorry m4/3 lovers and defenders, they are simply not.
But, you do get a lot for your investment, namely very, very nice cameras that will deliver very good, and even exceptional, quality. Both make lenses that make the most of the sensors and allow you to have a lightweight kit with you more often. The greatest potential shot will never be made when your bigger and better camera is in the bag at home. And there’s something to be said for that.
4. Sony is getting there… but they have a ways to go. You have to hand it to Sony. They are truly innovating, pushing the technology envelope. The NEX line (a brand name Sony has dropped for fear of enhancing the product line brand more so than their own name… the way Acura once feared building more brand loyalty to cars like the Legend and Integra — hence the renaming to TL and RL, etc.), delivered very good APS-C sensors into tiny bodies. Though the lenses took a while to come, they eventually came, leaving us with a very decent system. And with the A7/A7R twins, Sony has done what many internet forum dwellers said was impossible: they gave us a body no larger than the EM1 but with a full frame sensor!
Ed loves his NEX 6 and I recently shot with the A7. Some quick thoughts about that camera:
- Well designed layout: buttons are where they ought to be with the exception of the shutter release which should be cocked forward and swapped with the front control dial. And thank heavens they have gone with the Alpha line of menus rather than the overly clicky and sometimes illogical NEX format.
- Very, very nice image quality, especially in RAW.
- AF needs to improve. I’m spoiled by the EM1 and even GX7 and the Sony just isn’t surefooted enough to impress. It’s not terrible, but it’s far, far from class leading.
- Need more lenses. The kit 28-70 is ok… very kit lens like. The 35 and 55 primes are rather expensive for what you get and the Zeiss 24-70 that’s coming has already received a few meh reviews. Perhaps it will be fine, but more native lenses are clearly needed.
- The adapters are fine, but they add expense and bulk, largely defeating the whole point of smaller and lighter bodies. No Frankencameras for me, thank you.
5. Fujifilm is hitting on all cylinders. Not long ago, Fujfilm was primarily a film manufacturer. Sure, they made Hassy lenses and medium format bodies that were acclaimed, but did anybody think they had much of a chance in the digital age? Their DSLRs were clunky and used Nikon lenses and their compacts were pretty hum drum, other than the fact that they manufactured some pretty sweet low light performing sensors.
Enter the X line, starting with the remarkable X100 and then X100s. Along the way, they delivered on their lens roadmap, brought a full line of cameras across the price spectrum, and, most importantly, consistently demonstrated that they listen to customers and make improvements along the way via firmware updates. These guys are responsive. Big time.
Their APS-C cameras offer very, very nice image quality and a wonderful shooting experience. And the new XT series continues the trend — I’ll have more to say about this one soon.
If you have any questions about any of these cameras/systems, let me know and I’ll be happy to let you know my thoughts. If you’re interested in shopping for these cameras, please consider using our B&H links: