Mirrorless Cameras: Early 2014 State of the State

rey spadoni

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.

EOSM V2

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.

EM1 GX7

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!

NEX 6 A7

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.

XE2 XT1

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:

Olympus EM1

Panasonic GX7

Sony A7/A7r

Sony NEX 6

Fujifilm XE2

Fujifilm X100s

Thank you!

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27 Responses to Mirrorless Cameras: Early 2014 State of the State

  1. Ben says:

    Great round-up of the current state of the camera market! I agree that mirrorless cameras will continue to improve and become more commonplace in the market, especially with Sony’s full frame A7. As the technology becomes more mature it will reduce in price and these offerings will be even more attractive to consumers when compared with DSLRs. I’d love to get an A7, but they’re a bit too pricey at the moment!

    • Rey says:

      Ben – I’m with you. Prices will fall and their lens line-up (presumably) will fill out. And then it gets really interesting.

      Rey

  2. Rey,

    As usual, informative, cogent and on-the-money. Yes, Sony has a potential winner (IF they deliver some lenses designed for the A7), but Fuji is, as you say, “hitting on all cylinders”. I’m still very interested in the X100S, but Fuji is poised to announce a new X-Trans SLR at the next CP…could be a show-stopper.
    As I mentioned to you in an email, I’m sticking with Nikon/Canon for the time being and investing in better lenses (virtually anything with Nano-coating or Canon’s L series). I agree that the DSLR will eventually go the way of the “Delta 88” (remember those? 8 cylinder, gas-guzzling 747 sized vehicle…I once owned one), but IQ has to improve significantly before I seriously replace my DSLR with an MILC. Things that I will be looking for: low-light capability, speedy AF and FPS, and of course, IQ, IQ, IQ! Once Fuji (or Panasonic or Olympus or Sony) hit those checkpoints, with a comparably full-framed sensor…watch out! They WILL take the camera world by storm.

    Great post (as always)…

    Frank V.

    • Rey says:

      Thanks, Frank. But here’s what happens: we innovate past the Delta 88 and find that we can get something better, cheaper, more efficient, etc. Over time, nostalgia and a sense that some of the old things worked well, maybe even better, kicks in and so we go out and either buy an old Delta 88 or pay extra for something newfangled but which gives us a nostalgic kick (Nikon DF, Fujifilm XT1, etc.).

      Rey

  3. Prentis says:

    I second Frank’s comments about DSLRs. It will be a long while before my DSLR and stable of lenses and flashes can be replaced by small hardware for studio work and special shooting situations. But I agree with you, Rey, when you are out and about, cameras in the bag at home take lousy pictures. So what is the real benefit of “smallness?” The ubiquitous cell phone cameras are better than no camera at all as you observed, and they slip into a pocket or purse. The high IQ X100 never leaves my side everywhere I go, neatly tucked into my “man bag.” For me it is the largest camera that I would consider carrying all the time. The cameras you pictured above are still too bulky (the APS-C sensor ones anyway) . So once you commit to slinging a camera bag over your shoulder, DSLR or mirrorless, it’s only a matter of how big a bag. Is that bag always with you and ready when that perfect lighting situation presents itself?

  4. Andre says:

    And what of Samsung?? NX30 probably the most impressive Compact System released (apart from A7). as well at the 2 new lenses 16-50MM F/2-2.8 and 50-150mm F/2.8 both dust and splash proof as well as OIS USM

    • Rey says:

      The NX30 does look impressive but see my comment about Samsung below. I’m open to suggestion and will give one a spin for evaluation. Thanks for your comment.

  5. tecnoworld says:

    Wow’ you totally ignored samsung nx.

    • Andre says:

      Tell me about it, Samsung need to start sliding some $$$ under peoples doors

      • Rey says:

        AKA distribution counts. I’m impressed by the fact that Best Buys now have dedicated Samsung booths in their stores. Time will tell whether that amount of floor space is worth it… but the marketing team at Samsung is doing something right.

  6. Zach Wagner says:

    Have to agree it would have been nice to see a mention of Samsung. I tried out their NX300 and ended up sending it back, but it was at least as interesting as an NEX (which I also tried but didn’t hold onto).
    At this point, we’re not giving up anything in terms of ‘IQ, IQ, IQ’, especially when it comes to the A7/7r. And having used plenty of full frame dslrs in my time, AND an A7, I will tell you all that the Fuji 16mp X-Trans aps-c sensor cams match FF dslrs in terms of dealing with noise, easily. In fact, while the Fuji may not have the mp of my A7, it actually does just a hair better when it comes to noise, in my very, very humble opinion. And at DR 400, the highlight range of the X-Trans smokes anything else out there, period. If you don’t believe me, check out dpreview’s review of the x-pro1.

    So I would agree, especially after seeing the X-T1 release, that Fuji is kicking butt and taking names. My former m43 cams simply can’t match it for IQ (though they are no slouches at this point), and the AF is now in the same league, and their predictive tracking is getting good initial reviews.

    Yes, the A7/7r are fabulous, but the lack of lenses is driving me nuts. Love the 35, but uh… hurry up!

  7. Rey says:

    Regarding Samsung, I just have not been personally wowed by anything they’ve offered yet. First, I need a proper EVF and won’t shoot a camera without one. Call me old school. Now that Samsung offers one with a VF, my sense is that they’re asking a lot ($$$) for what you’re getting and I’m not loving the Android interface of the NX. That’s probably for the same reason that I shied away from the NEX menu/interface initially. With that said, Samsung is starting to innovate and their lens line-up is getting more compelling. Worth watching what they’re doing but to crack the mirrorless market, they’re going to have to offer something really unique and which differentiates them and I’m not seeing enough there. Yet.

    • Andre says:

      This is why i hated when Samsung brought out the Galaxy NX, especially at that price!$!$! people don’t seem to be able to see all of the other CSC cameras Samsung offer. Galaxy NX It is the ONLY NX that runs android, the actual Samsung UI is one of if not ‘the’ easiest to operate. also Samsung have had 4-5 CSCs before that offering a VF and haven’t charged an arm or a leg for, the NX20, NX11, NX100, NX10 and now the NX30 which should have people take notice.

      If you want a unique WOW factor look into the i-Fn button Samsung offer on nearly all of there lenses something no other company has and is only going to get better.

      • Rey says:

        OK, my curiosity is piqued. I’ll check it out. Thanks, Andre!

        • Andre says:

          hahah Enjoy Let me know what you think. It honestly is the thing that is keeping me hanging on to the NX line up i don’t know why they don’t market it more.

          I’m going to get either a Fuji XE-1 or X100 as well as the Sammy NX3O (Complete contrast i know haha). I’m convinced by the lightweight- Performance of the Fujis but the NX is the most comfortable to shoot with imo, especially when shooting FAST.

          • Rey says:

            Andre – I’ll be curious to hear about your experience with the NX. In fact, if you’d care to share some thoughts plus a few images, we’d be happy to post them here for all of our readers. Thanks.

            Rey

      • “Galaxy NX It is the ONLY NX that runs android”. What does that have to do with taking a photograph? I really dislike fanatics that name drop on Google’s closed source operating system like it the solution to world hunger.

        • Andre says:

          You obviously didn’t read my whole comment, or the conversation me and Rey were having. I said i disliked how Samsung released the Galaxy NX and at the price because it took away from the rest of their range.

          And i said the Galaxy was the only ‘NX’ (not only CSC) that runs android because it sounded like Rey thought all of the NX line run Android which isn’t the case. I really dislike trolls who comment on the end of two other peoples conversation especially when they don’t seem to read what was being discussed

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  9. Jan says:

    I am not impressed by Sony. They leave it up to Zeiss (or Sigma) to come up with lenses, and by the time you have a choice that makes up a decent camera-SYSTEM, they have moved on. And so have their customers.

    They are doing it again with the alpha7. No lenses at all, whereas Fuji came out with great lenses from the word go. A camera is more than a good sensor.

    My $0.02

  10. I ignored the mirror-less market until Fuji introduced the X-E1. I rented and used the Fuji X-E1 last summer and decided that it didn’t quite meet my needs. But I realized I could no longer ignore this camera segment. I then rented and use the Olympus OM-D M-E5. Loved the camera but don’t want to spend $1000 on a wide-angle lenses for my landscape photographer. Prices needs to come down there. I’m excited to test out the Sony α7.

    The cameras keep getting better and better and soon the DLSR will become as niche as the medium format. But lens prices need to come down. A good wide angle, and two primes for any of these cameras will cost over $2500!

  11. M says:

    While it might not be important to everyone. AF of the top mirrorless are still not close to the full sized DSLRS. I really want a mirrorless to take over my wedding gigs but DOF and AF are still hurting too bad compared to my 5d3

  12. Pingback: Fujifilm X-T1 vs. Olympus OM-D E-M1 vs. Sony A7 | 2 Guys Photo

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