For years there was a shady area, a no-man’s land, when it came to the camera industry. On one side stood the casual photographer with their cute little compacts and their fast and dirty point and shoot cameras. On the other side stood the dSLR enthusiasts with their photographer’s bag laden with enough equipment to make Anne Geddes blush. In between was a niche that would eventually be filled by mirrorless cameras, built for those that have a passion for photography but a longing for simplicity.
These shooters have borne many names. “Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras” and “Electronic Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lens Cameras,” are just two of them. The major concern with them is that they are the broadest camera group since they are kinda-sorta compacts and kinda-sorta dSLR’s without truly being either. The key to choosing a mirrorless is as much about preference as it is about specs. If you need the deep colors, sharp contrasts, and multitude of options that normally comes with a dSLR, then you’ll want something more complex. Those that need quality to-go will want to aim for the simpler models. Whatever your needs, here are the 5 best mirrorless cameras to choose from.
Beginner’s Buddy: The E-PL5 is geared much more toward the compact enthusiast looking to take their game to the next level. The auto-focus works wonders and can be customized to shoot off-center through simple taps on the touchscreen. The resolution is a clean 16 megapixels with a 4/3 17.3 x 13 mm CMOS sensor that is smaller than many of the more intensive mirrorless options for portability and simpler use.
The E-PL5 won’t overwhelm you with features or esoteric knobs that you will never have time to figure out. It is a clean design with a price tag to match. The single dial on the top lets you cycle through camera modes rather than making minute adjustments. There is a single, solitary programmable function button if you need to program changes on the fly. Newbies in the mirrorless world will find this camera a kind an gentle introduction, like training wheels for budding photographers. [Purchase: $520]
Sony Alpha a6000
A World of Options: Sony’s NEX line of mirrorless cameras was a breath of fresh air for the photographic industry, and the a6000 is clearly looking to continue that tradition. Amateurs with little or no background in photography might be overwhelmed, but the a6000 has a kind and gentle learning curve allowing even inexperienced shooters to learn by trial and error how to get the most out of this mirrorless. Even pros will quickly find themselves tweaking the camera for hours on end.
The a6000 has tried to take the entire dSLR experience into the digital realm. The a6000 is packed to the gills with options including a full RGB filter system that can make alterations to the color palette that range from subtle to intense. It’s built with a 24 megapixel resolution attached to a 23.5 x 15.6 mm APS-C CMOS filter that gives beautiful shots under any circumstances. The whole intent of this model is for the true digital denizen who thinks knobs and dials on their camera are ridiculous. [Purchase: $598]
Panasonic Lumix GX7
Creative and Compact: If you are a candid or street photographer that likes snapping shots of the sunset over Vienna or perhaps stalking escaped celebrities who foolishly think their lives should be private, the GX7 will give you the power, flexibility, and image quality you need stuffed into a relatively compact package. It boasts 16 megapixels of resolution with a 4/3 17.3 x 13 mm sensor with both auto an manual ISO selection that goes as high as 25600.
This will never be mistaken for a powerful compact, nor is it quite as good as a true dSLR, but it manages to be the exact midpoint between the two. You will always get good image quality in most standard conditions. Professional photographers that don’t expect to find themselves behind enemy lines, trying to catch pics of the gorillas in the mist, or in other extreme circumstances will be very pleased with the image quality, the size, and the functions inherent in the GX7. [Purchase: $900]
Olympus OM-D EM-1
Drop the dSLR: If you are moving away from a dSLR rather than trying to upgrade from a compact, then the EM-1 will make you feel right at home. It is the spiritual successor to the E-M5, a dSLR camera that has been hugely popular for the past 4 years. The 4/3 17.3 x 13 mm sensor will feel familiar to fans of the E-M5 as will many of the other features, such as the 5-axis stability and the obscene number of features.
What won’t feel the same is the fast focus ability of the EM-1 which is so clean that you often won’t need the manual controls. The real-time viewing coupled with a brand-new EVF system will make sure that what you see is truly what you get every single time. It includes a 2x zoom and the best ISO gradient we’ve ever seen. You can increase or decrease your light exposure by small increments to account for the most subtle changes in light or mixed light conditions. DSLR fans, prepare to be converted. [Purchase: $1,223]
Wear and Tear: If you use the X-T1 in a studio with climate control and not in some blasted, dystopian hellscape, then you are wasting its talents. For shame. Fujifilm knew that part of the appeal of the mirrorless market was the ability to take these cameras places where a dSLR feared to tread and they made a camera with that in mind. The X-T1 has 75 points of weather sealing surrounding a 16 megapixel camera with a 23.6 x 15.6 mm APS-C sensor. It can survive rain, snow, and heat, as well as temperatures as low as -14 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the camera that Bear Grylls more macho cousin would use.
The drawback to the extreme weatherproofing is that it is a bit on the bulky side and you will need special weatherproof lenses to get the most out of it. There are tons of options, but the X-T1 aims to correct this by giving you 6 programmable function buttons so that you can preset the camera for conditions and then swap on the fly without sorting through menus as your hands shake with cold or pure adrenaline. It bears quite a few old-school top knobs for the purist who needs to make adjustments without tapping and dragging on the screen. [Purchase: $1,700]
Panasonic Lumix GH4
Honorable Mention: The GH4 isn’t really intended for snapshots. Rather, it is for videographers that need a few more options than they can get out of their action cameras but also want the ability to take stills. This camera not only transcends the difference between dSLR and compact cameras, it hops the gap between video and still cameras much better than anything else currently on the market.
The GH4 has a 4/3 17.3 x 13 mm sensor with a 16 megapixel resolution that also handles 12 frames per second burst shooting and 4K recording. It also has a quad core CPU, making it more powerful than some home PC’s. The price is nearly outrageous, but if you are serious about having a whole studio in the palm of your hand, this can do it. [Purchase: $1,950]
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