Five years ago, the mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact digital camera didn’t exist. Now, there are hundreds of them, ranging from simple point-and-shoot affairs to cameras that pro shooters are flocking to. Find out if one’s in your future!
Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact (MILC) cameras are the fastest-growing digital camera category, with well over 600 models (that includes different colors and kit configurations) currently available at Adorama. This category didn’t even exist just a few short years ago! MILCs rival compact cameras in size but in many cases have sensors the size of DSLRs and image quality to match. Others have smaller sensors, allowing them to go places, technically, no camera has ever gone before. And within the past few months full-frame 35mm sensor MILCs have made this category one for serious photographers—even professionals—to pay attention to.
The idea behind MILCs is that if you remove the mirror housing from a DSLR, you can reduce the flangeback (the distance between the back of the lens and the sensor) and make the resulting interchangeable-lens cameras much smaller and lighter, without changing the sensor size. And camera enthusiasts love it! Some even argue that they’ve made DSLRs and high-end compact cameras irrelevant. Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, clearly this category is a game-changer in the world of photography.
MILCs, all of which can be purchased in the Adorama Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact Camera department, can be divided into two categories: Those that have the same sensors found in DSLRs (35mm or APS), those that have much smaller sensors but take advantage of miniaturization to engineer smaller lenses and other features that larger-sensor cameras can't handle. If you want to dice and slice the categories even further, there are MILCs with built-in electronic viewfinders, those that don’t, and those that have data ports so you can add a separate, optional EVF.
Prices range from within reach for point-and-shooters looking to kick their image quality up a notch but are intimidated by technology, to enthusiast/pro-level pricing for high-performing cameras that are designed for experienced photographers who like to take total control over their images.
I have been closely following and covering the evolution of MILCs exclusively for Adorama since their inception just a few short years ago. Here's what I think are the best cameras each MILC maker has put forward this year. Many important new models have been introduced recently, and this category remains the fastest-growing and most interesting category of digital cameras. It's very possible that one of the cameras described and reviewed below will be your next. (Prices and availability are accurate as of November 6, 2013; please click on links for the most up-to-date pricing and availability information).
Adorama price: $999 (body only)
Overview: Featuring a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, an outstanding sensor that delivers some of the best images we’ve seen from an APS camera of any kind in our field tests, and practical “old-school” marked shutter speed and EV knobs, that make it easy for experienced photographers to control exposure manually, the Fujifilm X-E2 now has faster phase-detection focusing, focus peaking to help manual focusing, face detection, and digital split manual focus. The X-E1 is a substantial camera for experienced photographers.
The Juicy Details: 16MP X-Trans APS sensor with randomized pixels, 3-inch 1.04 million dot resolution LCD, 2.36 million dot EVF, ISO range 100-25,600, in-camera RAW converter, film simulation modes, artistic filters, AE, ISO, Dynamic Range and Film simulation bracketing, full HD movies.
The System: Fujifilm currently has three cameras and 12 X-mount lenses on the market, and it’s growing fast. There are also adapters that will let you mount other manufactuers’ lenses on X-series cameras.
High-end/Low-end alternatives: The flagship Fujifilm X-Pro 1 ($1,199), the first Fujfilm MILC, has been embraced by photojournalists and street photographers, and has nearly everything the X-E2 has—but importantly also features a dual optical/electronic viewfinder. Fujifilm continues to support the X-Pro 1 with firmware updates to boost function and performance. On the other end of the spectrum is the tiny Fujifilm X-A1, which at $599 (including a kit lens) has the same 16MP sensor but lacks an eye-level viewfinder and a control set designed to attract snapshooters.
Nikon 1 V2
Current Adorama price: $896.95 with 10-30mm lens
Overview: The Nikon 1 V2, the flagship of Nikon's growing lineup of interchangeable-lens compacts, is one of the fastest-focusing cameras I've seen and represents a major change in thinking. Thanks to a unique hybrid focal plane 23-point phase detect and 135 contrast detect areas, this is the most responsive-focusing camera I've ever held in my hands. The camera is a speed demon, with blazingly fast rapid-sequence burst rates and the ability to simultaneously capture full HD video and full resolution still images. A small but growing portfolio of super-compact interchangeable lenses are available as well as flash and EVF modules. Yeah, I know: it has a small sensor, to the disappointment of Nikon enthusiasts who were hoping for something compatible with existing Nikon lenses and cameras. That said, image quality at lower speeds was excellent but that's besides the point. The Nikon 1 series is about speed and compactness, and in both of those areas, it exceeds expectations.
The Juicy Details: New 14MP 13.2x8.8mm CMOS CX sensor has 2.7x 35mm equivalent factor; Electronic viewfinder with 1.44m dot resolution; 3-inch LCD monitor with 921k dot resolution. Mechanical shutter up to 1/4,000 sec, electronic shutter up to 1/16,000 sec. Flash synch 1/60 (electronic) or 1/250 (mechanical). Frame rate 5, 15, 30 or 60 fps at full resolution; Matrix metering, PASM, scene auto selector exposure modes; ISO range 100-3200, hi setting to 6400. HD video in MOV format up to 1080/60i, also 1080/30p, 720/60p.
The System: New 1 Nikkor mount lenses: 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6, 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 10mm f/2.8, 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6, 18.5mm f/1.8. GPS GP-N100 for V1; ME-1 Stereo Mic for V1, more.
Test Results (Courtesy DxOMark): While the Nikon V1, the V2's discontinued predecessor, surprised many by exceeding expectations, the Nikon V2 represents a step sideways. Despite its higher pixel density (which usually translates to worse image quality), the V2 showed an improvement in low-light performance (although it did a marginally worse when it came to dynamic range and color depth). The biggest surprise, though, is that it holds its own against cameras with larger Micro Four Thirds sensors.
A glug-glug variation: Yeah, the Nikon 1 V2 is cool, but can it swim? No, it can’t…but the Nikon 1 AW1 ($796.95 with kit lens) can! It is world’s first waterproof MILC. It’s also drop-proof (just to prove that, a friend of ours from Nikon dropped one on the floor at the Adorama office, and the camera was fine.) It’s freezeproof to 14 degrees F, shockproof to 6.6 feet, and waterproof down to 49 feet, without the need for a waterproof housing. The camera is sold with a water-sealed lens; don’t use the standard optics on this camera if you’re planning to dive.
Olympus OM-D EM-1
Adorama price: $1,399
Overview: The Olympus OM-D EM-1 is the most advanced micro four thirds sensor camera currently available. When Olympus announced it this past summer, it filled a void left when they quietly shifted its pro- and enthusiast-camera focus from DSLRs to MILCs. Designed with high-end enthusiasts and professionals in mind, the ruggedly built Olympus OM-D E-M1 shares Olympus's classic compact OM SLR design elements, adding a more robust feature set including features (some borrowed from the pro-level E-5) and build than the OM-D EM-5, which took the photo world by storm last year. Its new dials, built-in grip and direct buttons are laid out in a retro style with a full modern digital camera inside.
The Juicy Details: New 16MP Live MOS Four Thirds sensor, no low-pass filter, dual phase/contrast AF, 5-axis image stabilization, microphone jack, X-sync socket, shutter speeds 60-1/8000 sec plus bulb, burst rate to 10fps, dust, splash and freeze-proof magnesium alloy body, 2.36 million dot resolution EVF, touchscreen 3-inch LCD, built-in Wi-Fi with geotagging, QR connect, new HDR features, many in-camera art filters, in-camera RAW and JPEG editing, 1080p HD video with time-lapse option.
The System: Fast-growing ecosystem includes a growing line of lenses, flash units and separate EVF viewfinders. Can cross-pollinate with Panasonic since the two systems share the same lensmount.
Test Results: (Courtesy DxOMark) Simply put, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has the best Four Thirds sensor to date, and you can confidently shoot at ISO 800 and get high-quality, virtually noise-free results. Dynamic range of 12.7 stops and 23-bit color depth are also excellent results.
Panasonic Lumix GX7
Adorama price: $798
Overview: Sporting a new sleek retro design, the LUMIX GX7 features a 16-megapixel, micro four-thirds sensor and in-body image stabilization capabilities for exceptional image quality. But the big news here is that Panasonic listened to photographers and added a 90-degree tiltable live viewfinder that’s one of the highest-resolution eye-level viewfinders available. The sensor is also improved over previous compact Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras; it’s an unobtrusive little camera that appears to be well suited for candid and travel photography.
The Juicy Details: 16MP Micro Four Thirds Sensor, built-in Live Viewfinder with 2,746k dot resolution, 1080p/60fps video capture, 22 filter effects, PASM modes available in still and video shooting modes, in-camera optical image stabilization, focus peaking and magnification windows, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, tiltable 3-inch 1040k touchscreen monitor, magnesium-alloy body, contrast AF focus.
The System: 14 lenses for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds. DMW-FL220, FL360 and FL500 flash; DMW-MA1 adapter for Four Thirds lenses; DMW-MA2M adaptor for Leica M-mount lenses. The camera can also take Olympus and independent-brand lenses as well as a myriad other lenses via a variety of adapters. Just keep in mind there’s a 2x magnification factor if using lenses designed for larger-sensor cameras.
Test Results: (Courtesy DxOMark): With an overall score of 70, the GX7 delivered image quality that rivals many APS-sensor cameras. Expect clean images up to ISO 800, with a very good dynamic range of 12.2 stops and 22.6-bit color depth. Overall, it’s an impressive performance.
Low cost alternative: If the compact Panasonic GX-7 is too big for you, consider the Panasonic GM-1 ($749, body only), currently the smallest MILC available. The Panasonic GM-1 has a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor that measures 17.3x13mm, a touchscreen interface, and a full set of features typically found on much larger cameras. It’s a solidly-built camera and while it lacks an eye-level viewfinder it has a 3-inch, 1.036k dot touchscreen and is 20 percent smaller than the GX7.
Adorama Price: $476.95
Overview: The Pentax Q7 is the third generation version of Pentax's surprising Q series, one of the smallest interchangeable-lens cameras you can find. The 1/1.7-inch, 12.4MP CMOS sensor is a bit larger than its predecessors' 1/2.3-inch sensors, and delivers very good-quality 8x10 and 11x14 prints from ISO 100-400 images, but you need to turn on the noise reduction to get acceptable shots at higher speeds. Don't worry: If you've already bought lenses for the Q10 or Q, they'll still work on the Q7 despite the slightly bigger sensor.
Nevertheless, Pentax has placed manual controls at your fingertips and laid the camera out in such a way that experienced shooter may barely need to consult the manual to figure out how to access its full range of auto and manual controls. It is solidly built and is born complete with five lenses, an optical shoe-mounted finder, lenses and filters, as well as neat little built-in flash that lifts far enough away from the lens to reduce red-eye in people-pictures, thanks to an increased angle of incidence.
The Juicy Details: 1-1.7-inch back lit 12.4MP CMOS sensor with integrated shake dust reduction sensor shift; accepts Pentax Q-mount bayonet lenses. TTL contrast detection, 3-inch LCD monitor with 460k dot resolution, RAW _ JPEG shooting, retractable popup flash with 23ft guide number at ISO 200, covers 28mm equivalent. Hot shoe P-TTL synch speed 1/250 sec, ISO range 125-6400, shutter speeds 30-1/2000 sec, bulb. Up to 3fps burst rate, flash x-sync up to 1/2000 sec. Improved AF claimed. The camera is available in standard silver, but is also available in 119 other color combinations from Adorama as a special-order item.
The System: 27.5-83mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 standard zoom lens; 35mm equivalent f/7.1 Toy lens; 17mm equivalent Fisheye lens, Pentax 01 8.5mm f/1.9 Standard Lens, Pentax 08 3.8-5.9mm wide zoom lens 100mm equivalent Toy Telephoto lens; Pentax Fisheye Lens, External Viewfinder O-VF1; 100 PL polarizer Filter. See all lenses for Pentax Q series.
Adorama price: $1,698 (body only)
Overview: Leave it to Sony to reinvent the MILC. The Sony A7 and its big sibling Sony A7R are the world’s first 35mm-sensor EVF MILCs. In the few weeks since the announcement the buzz about these cameras is quite loud and many pros seeing the camera for the first time at a trade show in New York in October were impressed. The Sony Alpha A7 is claimed to be the world's lightest interchangeable-lens full-frame camera of any kind, featuring a 24.3MP resolution 35mm sensor, and claimed DSLR-like speed. The Sony Alpha A7R ($2,298) features a 36.3MP resolution 35mm sensor and, as we're seeing in so many new high-end cameras today, no high-pass filter. At less than half the price of the least expensive Leica rangefinder camera and significantly higher resolution, this could be a game changer for photojournalists and street shooters. All new Sony cameras are Wi-Fi equipped. While the A7R is likely destined to find a home in pro photo studios, the A7 is a full-frame camera for the people.
The Juicy Details: 24.3MP 35mm CMOS sensor, 14-bit RAW image capture, hybrid AF with phase detection, intelligent AF optimized for full-frame sensor, 117 phase detection AF points, ISO range 100-25,600, new line of full-frame lenses, compatible with Sony E-Mount lenses via adaptor, 2.4 million dot OLED EVF, tiltable 3-inch 1.229k dot LCD monitor, NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity, full 1080HD movie capture at up to 60i, in-camera RAW editing.
The System: Since it was just launched, there are only a four new lenses designed for this camera: the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, 55mm f/1.8ZA, 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar, and Carl Zeiss 24mm f/1.8. However, an adapter will let you use any Sony Alpha or Minolta A-mount lens, and other adapters will even let you attach and use Leica or other full-frame camera lenses. Happy days!
Test Results: (Courtesy DxOMark): Not tested yet.
Low cost alternative: Last year’s Sony NEX-7 ($948 body only) is still an amazing camera that, at about half the cost of the A7, delivers some of the best image quality that you can get out of an APS-sensor camera. It has been embraced by street photographers and photojournalists, and its price has been lowered.
Samsung Galaxy NX
Adorama price: $1,699.95 with kit lens
Overview: The Samsung Galaxy NX, the world's first Android-based MILC, features a 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor and a hybrid focusing system with Phase and Contrast Detection, as well as built-in 3G/4G and Wi-Fi, the camera is powered by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, so you can customize it with as many apps as you desire. In addition, Samsung 10mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, which they say is the smallest on the market for the NX mount. Introduced over the summer, this was the first opportunity for the public to see the lens.
The Juicy Details: Powered by Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor, 1080p video at 30fps, ISO range 100-25,600, NX lensmount, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 3G/4G LTE mobile connectivity. 4.8-inch touchscreen LCD, Story album lets you create albums in camera to share, hybrid AF system combines phase detect and contrast AF, Smart Mode (auto everything), shutter speeds 30-1/6000 sec, RAW and JPEG.
The System: Accepts Samsung’s proprietary NX mount; currently there are 17 NX mount lenses available.
Test Results: (Courtesy DxOMark) Not tested yet.
Upcoming Low-cost alternative: If you don't need Android, consider the just-announced Samsung NX30, which features reconfigured controls, a flip-out 3-inch LCD monitor and flip-up super high res (2,359k dot) EVF, as well as Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity and the ability to upload images directly to Dropbox. The Samsung NX30 is expected in mid-February for $999 with the kit lens, and can be pre-ordered from Adorama now.