2015 high-end mirrorless camera comparison guide
If you're looking for the latest in camera technology, mirrorless cameras are increasingly where it's at. High-end mirrorless shooters can now hold their own with top-notch image quality, features and build quality, often leaving their DSLR brethren looking bulky and out of date. Here Gizmag compares the key specs and features of some on the best mirrorless cameras on the market in 2015.
There are plenty of mirrorless cameras out there vying for a place in the kit bags of enthusiasts ad professional photographers. As such we've had to pick out favorites, this doesn't mean any excluded cameras might not be the right option for you.
The cameras we'll be comparing are:
- Fujifilm X-T10
- Panasonic GX8
- Olympus E-M5 II
- Olympus E-M1
- Fujifilm X-T1
- Panasonic GH4
- Sony A7 II
- Sony A7R II
- Leica SL
You might have spotted a couple of notable omissions to this line up, such as the Samsung NX1, Sony A7S II and Leica M. Our reason for not including the impressive Samsung NX1 is the dubious future of the system (Samsung has stopped selling cameras in a number of countries), while the low-light and video-focused Sony A7S II is arguably a more specialist tool than its other A7 brothers, and photographers eyeing up a Leica M rangefinder are probably not considering other mirrorless systems.
When mirrorless cameras first started cropping up, it was with the promise of increased portability, and they generally deliver on this front. Indeed, compared to equivalent DSLRs these cameras are a lot easier to slip into your kit bag. Cameras like the Fujifilm X-T10 and Panasonic GX8 are particularly diminutive and could even be mistaken for a compact camera.
However, now that some mirrorless cameras have full frame sensors, the lenses they need are often almost as big as those used on DSLRs, which should be taken into consideration. Also, the Leica SL seems to have missed the memo about mirrorless cameras being smaller, and is a veritable beast compared to the other cameras here.
Once more we can see the weight saving of mirrorless cameras compared to DSLR alternatives, which you are certainly going to notice if carrying the camera for any period of time. The weights given here are the camera with a battery and memory card, but without a lens attached.
Cameras like the Fujifilm X-T10 and Olympus E-M5 II are the lightest of our selection, though are still heavier than the entry-level mirrorless cameras we looked at recently. This is because the high-end cameras are generally of a better build-quality and use magnesium-alloy in their construction. The Leica SL is the heavyweight of the group and tips the scales at a mighty 847 g (30 oz), which is similar to full frame DSLRs like the Nikon D750.
While sensor size is important, and one of the main factors when it comes to image quality, any of these cameras will be able to deliver impressive photos and work in a variety of lighting conditions. That's because for this category of camera we chose not to include models with sensors smaller than 4/3-type (23.6 x 15.6 mm). Some other mirrorless cameras use 1/1.7-inch and 1-inch-type sensors, which are arguably better suited to beginner and mid-range devices.
As such, the sensor range of our selection goes up from 4/3-type to full frame (36 x 24 mm) with the APS-C (23.6 x 15.6 mm) size being that found on the majority of mid-range DSLRs. When selecting lenses for your new camera, you'll also need to consider the crop factor and focal length equivalent (check our guide to lenses for more info) that different sensor sizes give.
The majority of the cameras in our line-up feature 16-megapixel sensors, which is going to be just fine for most users. That said, the Olympus E-M5 II has a nifty resolution-based trick up its sleeve which uses sensor-shift technology to produce 40-megapixel shots of still subjects.
The Sony A7 II and Leica SL jump to 24-megapixel images which will provide that bit more resolution and allow more cropping in post-production. Meanwhile, the Sony A7R II has a massive 42-megapixel resolution, which while offering the ability to capture shots with amazing detail, will also require more computing horsepower when it comes to editing.
Because camera manufacturers all use their own image processors, it can be hard to compare their relative merits. Instead it's probably just worth noting that all of these cameras use their respective manufacture's flagship image processor.
There are no surprises here, with each camera using the mount you would expect from its manufacturer. And with most of these lens mounts having being established for a few years, there are plenty of lens options available. Many of the cameras can also be used with different lenses when using adapters, though this will limit what features are available.
The odd one out is the Leica L/SL mount, which was only recently introduced with the SL camera and, as such, there are currently only three dedicated full frame lenses available. However, the camera can use Leica TL lenses (which will give APS-C crop images). Leica S and M lenses can also be used with an adapter.
The autofocus systems of mirrorless cameras keep getting better and better, to the point that they can now compete with all but the fastest of professional DSLRs. As such, any of these cameras – which use either contrast or hybrid (contrast and phase detection) systems – will keep up with most subjects.
While the Fuji cameras are listed as having 49 single-point autofocus system, when shooting with zone and wide/tracking modes, they can make use of 77 autofocus points for better focus of moving subjects.
The burst shooting speeds of these cameras mean that when shooting fast action, you'll have a good chance of capturing all but the briefest of moments. The standout cameras when it comes to burst speed are the Panasonic GH4 and the Leica SL. By comparison the Sony duo might seem a bit slow, but in the case of the A7R II it's still quite a feat considering those 42-megapixel files.
As shown by their wide ISO ranges, any of these cameras will be able to deliver the goods in a variety of lighting conditions. However, just because these settings are available, it doesn't mean you should use them all the time. When going above ISO 6400 with any current camera you are going to notice image noise, and with smaller sensors this will kick in sooner.
It's worth noting that while Fujifilm gives the maximum standard output sensitivity as ISO 6400 for its X-T10 and X-T1, both cameras can be extended to ISO 51200.
4K video recording
If you want the option of shooting 4K video on an interchangeable lens camera, you're going to be looking at a mirrorless (when we recently looked at the best high-end DSLRs, none were able to do it). Of our selection four cameras can record 4K video, all with the same maximum frame-rate of 30 fps.
HD video recording
When dropping the resolution demands to a more modest Full HD 1080p, the only camera not able to shoot at a buttery-smooth 60 fps is the Olympus E-M1, which maxes out at 30 fps, which was the norm when it was released in 2013.
While most DSLRs rely on image stabilization built into their lenses, a number of mirrorless cameras offer sensor shift stabilization which moves the imaging sensor to counter camera movement. This is particularly handy when shooting at slower shutter speeds or long telephoto focal lengths.
Indeed cameras like the Panasonic GX8 and the Sony A7 II can combine optical and sensor stabilization to deliver even better performance.
While the electronic viewfinders on mirrorless cameras were not too long ago a negative against the cameras, that's no longer the case. High resolution and responsive viewfinders can offer advantages over optical viewfinders such as being able to see the effect changing settings will have on your images.
For our selection, 2360k dot viewfinders are very much the norm with only the Leica SL offering anything different. And, oh boy, is that ridiculously high-res 4400k dot viewfinder – the best we've ever seen on a mirrorless camera – different! It's also worth noting that the viewfinder on the Panasonic GX8 can be angled for shooting at different angles.
All of the cameras in our line-up feature three-inch monitors of comparable resolutions. The differences come in whether the monitors are touchscreens or capable of being angled for shooting in otherwise awkward positions.
Only the Fujifilm X-T10 and Panasonic GH4 have a built-in flash, though the Olympus E-M5 II and E-M1, along with the Fujifilm X-T1 all come bundled with an external one. All of the cameras have a hot-shoe for attaching an external flash.
As you would expect for a bunch of high-end cameras, all of these devices are capable of shooting JPEG and the RAW files which enthusiast and professionals demand.
SD memory cards are very much the standard when it comes to mirrorless camera with all of these cameras using them. The only differences are that the slots of the Sony cameras can also accept MS Duo cards, and that the Leica SL has dual SD card slots.
Unlike high-end DSLRS, the majority of comparable mirrorless cameras feature built-in wireless capabilities, and indeed all of our selection do, making it easy to share content or control the camera remotely.
These cameras will be able to deliver between 310 and 530 shots on a fully-charged battery. While not up there with the battery life of DSLRs, a spare battery is still going to be less bulky than a big camera.
With body-only prices between US$700 and $1,300, the crop sensor mirrorless cameras in our line-up are not cheap, but all offer an impressive array of specifications and features for their price-point.
Things start to get even more serious when you make that jump to the full frame cameras, with the Sony A7 II coming in at $1,700. The more specialist high-res A7R II jumps to $3,200, while the Leica SL comes in at a typically-Leica price of $7,450.
Mirrorless cameras keep getting better, and are almost certainly the future of interchangeable lens photography. The selection we've looked at here has demonstrated they're now more than capable of delivering for both enthusiasts and professionals.
Of our selection we are particularly smitten with three. At the more affordable end of the scale the Olympus E-M5 II boasts features normally associated with higher-end devices and is extremely portable. Meanwhile, the Panasonic GH4 is a great camera whether you want to shoot stills or 4K video, so if you have split loyalties between photography and video, this could be the one for you. If video is more your thing, you might also want to consider the tweaked GH4R.
If money is no object, the Sony A7R II is a hard camera to ignore. Its full frame 42-megapixel sensor is capable of delivering some of the best images of any portable camera, and features like 4K video and 5-axis image stabilization make it a formidable alternative to high-end DSLRs.