2014 Entry-Level to Mid-Range Mirrorless Camera Comparison Guide

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Gizmag looks at some of the best entry-level and mid-range mirrorless cameras available in 2014

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Mirrorless cameras are now able to offer comparable image quality and performance to their DSLR rivals, but they have the benefits of being smaller, lighter, and arguably more stylish. However, choosing the right one for you can be difficult. Luckily we're here to help, with Gizmag's Entry-Level to Mid-Range Mirrorless Camera Comparison Guide 2014.

Walking into any camera store you'll see just how many mirrorless cameras there are to choose from, especially at the entry-level to mid-range end of the market. Obviously we couldn't compare all of these, so we've picked six of our favorites, to look at in more detail.

The cameras we'll be looking at are:

Our selection was made to cover the spectrum of entry-level to mid-range cameras, and as such we've had to leave out a number of popular devices. But that's not to say these omitted cameras are not still worth your consideration, indeed they could well be the right choice for you.

For example, the Sony A5100, with its hybrid AF system, is faster than the included A5000, but it's also more expensive. Meanwhile, the design of the Olympus PEN E-PL7 will make it more appealing than the E-M10 to some people, while others might prefer the miniature dimensions of the Samsung NX Mini over the NX3000.

Size

All of these cameras are considerably smaller than their mirror-toting DSLR equivalents we recently compared. Of the bunch it's the Nikon 1 J4 which is the smallest, and it has similar dimensions to many compact cameras, though of course that changes once you add a lens.

Even the biggest camera in our selection, the Olympus OM-D E-M10, is still smaller than all but the smallest DSLRs. This has got to be a good thing if you're going to be carrying your camera around with you.

Weight

The weights of these cameras again shows an advantage mirrorless cameras can have over traditional DSLRs. The Panasonic Lumix GM5 is the lightest, and somehow manages to come in at just 211 g – less than half the weight of a comparable DSLR. The heaviest camera here is the Olympus OM-D E-M10, which features a sturdy magnesium alloy body.

Most of the weights are given including a battery and memory card, but no lens. However, the 230 g of the Samsung NX3000 does not include a battery. It's also worth noting that because some of these cameras use smaller sensors, as we'll see next, their lenses will also be smaller and lighter.

Sensor size

The sensors used in our selection of mirrorless cameras range in size from 1-inch-type to APS-C. If you want a bit more information about why this is important, you can check out our guide to camera sensor size.

The Nikon 1 J4 has the smallest sensor. Its 1-inch-type offering is also the same size as those used in the new breed of advanced compact cameras. At the other end of the scale are the APS-C sensors in the Sony A5000, Samsung NX3000 and the Fujifilm X-M1. These are the same size as those deployed in equivalent DSLRs. The Micro Four Thirds sensors of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Panasonic Lumix GM5 offer a balance between the two.

Megapixel count

With all of the cameras falling in the 16 to 20-megapixel range, there's not much to call between them. Any of these cameras are going to produce images which are detailed enough for the majority of uses.

Processor

It's interesting that even the entry-level Sony A5000 features the same BIONZ X image processor as the flagship Sony A7 II camera. Indeed, most of the sensors used here are also deployed higher up in their manufacturers' line-up.

Given that it's hard to compare processors between manufacturers, it doesn't really matter that Samsung hasn't revealed what processor is used in the NX3000.

Lens mount

The Sony A5000, Nikon 1 J4, Samsung NX3000 and Fujifilm X-M1 all feature the lens mount you'd expect from their respective manufacturers. Meanwhile, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Panasonic Lumix GM5 use the standard Micro Four Thirds mount.

It's worth remembering that because the newer mirrorless mounts are not as established as those used by most DSLRs, there are going to be fewer lenses available to choose from.

Kit lens

The kit lenses bundled with these cameras offer great value. Each covers a wide focal range from wide angle to moderate telephoto, and all have the same variable maximum aperture of F3.5-F5.6. Because the cameras in our line-up have different sensor sizes, we've included the 35-mm format equivalent measurement.

Though most of these lenses include image stabilization, you might notice that the 14-42-mm which comes with the Olympus E-M10 doesn't. As we'll see later, that's because the Olympus uses in-body shake reduction.

While kit lenses can be a good place to start, there's no point buying an interchangeable-lens camera if you're not going to buy additional lenses. If you're not sure which lens to buy next, check out our guide to buying your next camera lens.

Autofocus

The majority of these cameras use contrast-based autofocus, rather than the faster hybrid systems which feature in some higher-end mirrorless models. That said, these contrast systems have improved greatly in recent years, and will be more than adequate for most shooting situations.

While the Samsung NX3000 has 35 AF points, these are only all available for close-up focusing. In standard shooting, it uses 21 focus points. The Nikon 1 J4 is the only camera here to boast the aforementioned hybrid autofocus, which in this case combines 171 contrast-detection areas with 105 phase detection points for faster focusing.

Burst rate

If you want to photograph fast-moving action, you'll need a camera which is able to fire off a burst of images quickly. Frame-rates here range from 4 fps all the way up to a speedy 60 fps, although not all burst rates are created equal and manufacturers give figures based on different settings, so it's worth checking the fine print.

For example, the 60 fps of the Nikon 1 J4 applies only when shooting with fixed focus. With continuous AF, it is limited to an admittedly still fast 20 fps. Meanwhile, the stated 5.8 fps maximum speed of the Panasonic is with AFS, but if you want to use AFC, this drops to 5 fps – however, if using the camera's electronic shutter, it can shoot at 40 fps.

ISO

Wide ISO ranges mean these cameras should all be able to perform well in a variety of lighting conditions. That said, when shooting into the higher ISO ranges, images are always going suffer from a level of noise and reduced dynamic range.

While the X-M1 might initially look to be out-classed in terms of high ISO shooting, this is because Fujifilm chooses to give a native ISO range. The camera can actually be extended to ISO 25600 equivalent, bringing it in line with the best of the other cameras.

Video recording

All of the cameras here are capable of Full HD 1080p video recording, but at different frame rates. Only the Nikon 1 J4 and the Panasonic GM5 are capable of shooting Full HD video at 60 fps. The Nikon also has the benefit of being able to record HD 720p footage at 120 fps, which can be used for producing slow-motion footage.

Image stabilization

Most of these cameras rely on suitably-equipped lenses to offer image stabilization and help cut the number of images which suffer from blur. However, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 boasts in-camera sensor shift image stabilization, meaning users can benefit from this, whichever lenses they are using.

Viewfinder

As is typical of smaller cameras, most of the devices in our round-up omit a viewfinder, leaving users to compose shots on the rear monitor. However, both the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Panasonic Lumix GM5 feature high-resolution electronic viewfinders.

Monitor

While we've got three-inch monitors across the board, there are a number of differences worth noting. For example, the screens on the Sony A5000 and Samsung NX300 are of a fairly low resolution, and only the monitors on the Nikon 1 J4, Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Panasonic GM5 are touchscreens.

The monitors which can be angled also move in different ways, and to different degrees. The screens on the Fujifilm X-M1 and Olympus OM-D E-M10 can be tilted up or down, to make it easier to shoot in awkward positions, while those on the Sony A5000 and Samsung NX3000 can also be positioned in the same direction as the lens for selfie-shooting.

Flash

The Sony A5000 and Nikon 1 J4 feature a built-in flash but no hot-shoe for mounting an external one. While the Samsung NX3000 and Panasonic GM5 both lack a built-in flash, they have a hot-shoe for an external one, and the Panasonic comes bundled with one. The Fujifilm X-M1 and Olympus OM-D E-M10 feature both a built-in flash and a hot-shoe.

File types

As you would expect, all of the cameras in our selection are capable with shooting both JPEG and the more post-processing-friendly RAW files.

Storage media

While SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards are the norm for mirrorless cameras, there are a few exceptions within our selection: the Sony A5000 can also use Memory Stick Pro Duo cards in its dual compatibility slot, while the Samsung NX3000 and Nikon 1 J4 use smaller microSD memory cards.

Wireless capabilities

There's Wi-Fi functionality across the board, which can be used for things like sharing images easily and remote shooting with smart devices. The Sony A5000 and Samsung NX300 make pairing compatible devices even easier, with the addition of NFC.

Battery life

While the small size of these mirrorless cameras is undoubtedly a huge selling point, it also means they are not big enough to hold the long-lasting batteries which feature in DSLRs. As such, users are going to be able to take far fewer shots on each battery charge.

In the case of our selection, this ranges from 210 shots with the Panasonic GM5 to 420 shots with the Sony A5000.

Price

You can see how the prices of these cameras (given with their respective kit lenses) changes as you move from the entry-level to mid-range offerings. The Sony A5000 is the cheapest camera here at US$400, with the Nikon 1 J4 and Samsung NX3000 not far behind. Meanwhile, the Panasonic GM5 is the most expensive camera of the bunch, at $900.

Summary

If you are looking for your first mirrorless camera, you can't go wrong with any of these devices, and all are capable of delivering better image quality and performance than you'd get out of a typical compact camera or smartphone. But certain features are probably going to sway you in favor of some cameras over others.

For example, if you've decided that size is the most important factor for you, then the Nikon 1 J4 could be a good bet. Not only does it have a smaller body than the other cameras in our line-up, but because of that one-inch-type sensor, its lenses should be smaller too.

The other two entry-level cameras are the Sony A5000 and Samsung NX300, which manage to deliver an impressive selection of features for their price-tags, including larger sensors. Then there's the Fujifilm X-M1, which also uses an APS-C sensor, this time combined with a stylish design and the physical controls which have made Fujifilm so popular in recent years.

However, if you want the ability to compose your shots using a viewfinder rather than a rear monitor, it will be a choice between the mid-range Olympus OM-D E-M10 and Panasonic GM5. Between them you might find that you prefer the variable-angle screen, autofocus, and more DSLR-like handling of the Olympus, or the smaller size and better video options of the Panasonic.

If you don't think any of these cameras will quite cut it for you, you might want to hold on for our upcoming high-end mirrorless camera comparison, or even take a look at our comparisons of entry-level and mid-range, or full frame DSLRs.

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