We recently looked at a selection of the best entry-level and mid-range mirrorless cameras available. But some people want even more from their next camera, and will find themselves drawn to top-of-the-range models in search of improved image quality, faster performance and sturdier devices. Gizmag's 2014 high-end mirrorless camera comparison guide looks at how the best mirrorless cameras stack up against each other.
In this guide we'll take a look at some of the key specifications and features of our pick of the best mirrorless cameras, in the hope that it will help identify which features are important to you. The cameras we are focusing on are ones which have impressed us, and are typically purchased by photo-enthusiasts and professionals.
The cameras we'll be looking at are:
Compared with most other mirrorless offerings, these cameras might look quite large. This is because many of them include features like dedicated viewfinders and ergonomic grips which add to their size. That said, many users actually find them easier, and more comfortable to hold than smaller mirrorless cameras, especially for longer shooting sessions.
If you're coming to a high-end mirrorless camera from a DSLR rather than a smaller shooter, you're likely to be surprised at just how small they are. Comparing a camera like the Fujifilm X-T1 to a Canon 7D II, or the Sony A7 II to a Nikon D750 really illustrates the size advantage of mirrorless cameras.
As anyone who has spent a day walking with a big and heavy DSLR strapped around on their neck knows, cameras can be back-achingly heavy. The good news is that with mirrorless cameras, they're finally getting lighter.
Weighing in at just 384 g, the Leica T is comparable with some compact cameras and the Fujifilm X-T1 and Olympus OM-D EM1 are not far behind. Where we can, we've given weights including a battery and memory card, but the 550 g of the Samsung NX1 is body only.
The relatively light weights of some of these cameras is especially impressive when you consider their build quality and, in some cases, weather sealing. Most of the cameras feature a magnesium alloy construction, though the Leica is instead made from a single block of aluminum.
The size of the sensors deployed in these cameras ranges from the Micro Four Thirds of the Olympus EM1 and Panasonic GH4 up to the full frame offering of the Sony A7 II. The three other cameras each use APS-C size sensors.
Larger sensors typically mean (all other things being equal) that cameras using them will be able to produce higher quality images, especially in lower light conditions, and that users can shoot with a narrower depth of field. However, in less good news, they also require larger and heavier lenses. For more information, check out our guide to camera sensor size.
With resolutions ranging from 16 megapixels, any of these cameras will be able to produce images which should be detailed enough for the majority of users, most of the time. That said, the jump to 24.3-megapixel with the Sony A7 II, and 28.2-megapixel with the Samsung NX1, will give noticeably more detailed images.
Being high-end cameras, it comes as no surprise these devices typically feature their respective manufacturers' top-of-the-range image processor to keep things moving quickly and produce high-quality images.
While Leica has not detailed the processor used in the Leica T, it has stated that it was newly-developed for the job.
The Olympus EM1 and Panasonic GH4 both use the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, while the other cameras feature the lens mount you'd expect from their manufacturers.
It's worth remembering that because some of these lens systems are still in their relative infancy compared to established DSLR mounts, there are fewer lens options available for these cameras. But that is slowly changing and there are a growing number of quality mirrorless lenses being released each year, so the situation is only going to get better.
Autofocus has traditionally been one of the areas in which mirrorless cameras have struggled to match DSLRs. And while that is still the case to a certain extent, the situation is improving, and these cameras have better autofocus than previous generations of mirrorless cameras.
Only the Leica T and the Panasonic GH4 rely on contrast-based autofocus, and even there the GH4 uses Depth From Defocus technology for increased speed. All of the other cameras here use hybrid autofocus systems which combine contrast and phase-detection autofocus for faster subject locking and better tracking.
Where figures have been provided, we've stated the number of focus areas or points, along with the number of phase detection points.
Burst rate shooting at between 5 fps and 15 fps means that these cameras can keep up with high-speed action. However, it's worth noting that some of these figures given are when shooting with specific settings.
For example, the GH4 drops from 12 fps to 7.5 when using AF-C. Meanwhile others can only keep up their maximum speed for a short period of time (47 frames in the case of the Fujifilm X-T1). As such, it's always worth checking the burst shooting small print.
Wide ISO ranges mean these cameras should be capable of producing high-quality noise-free images in a variety of lighting conditions. While the Fujifilm X-T1 looks like it's struggling to keep up, that's because Fujifilm prefers to give a native ISO range. It can actually be extended to an ISO 51,200 equivalent, bringing it in line with the other cameras.
Two of the cameras in our selection are able to shoot 4K video footage: the Panasonic GH4 and the Samsung NX1. When shooting at 4096 x 2160, both cameras are limited to 24 fps. In 3840 x 2160 the NX1 can only shoot at 30 fps, while the GH4 can do 30/25/24 fps.
At Full HD 1080p the Panasonic GH4 and the Samsung NX1 are capable of 60 fps recording, as are the Fujifilm X-T1 and the Sony A7 II. The other cameras are limited to 30 fps recording.
Most of our cameras rely on lens-based optical image stabilization to reduce the number of images which are lost to blur because of camera shake. However, the Olympus EM1 and the Sony A7 II both feature 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization. This works by detecting camera shake and moving the sensor to correct it, meaning users are not dependent on stabilized lenses.
While we've labeled the Leica T as relying on optical image stabilization, this is because it doesn't use sensor based stabilization. However, none of the current lenses in the Leica T system feature stabilization.
The majority of cameras in our selection feature an electronic viewfinder, meaning users are not limited to composing shots on a rear monitor. Electronic viewfinders have also come on quite a bit in recent years. They are now big, bright, and no longer suffer the sort of lag which previously left them a distant second to the optical viewfinders of DSLRs.
The Leica T is the only camera in our line-up not to feature a built-in electronic viewfinder. However, it is compatible with an optional viewfinder (the Visoflex Typ 020) which features a 3.7-megapixel display with tilt and swivel capability, along with integrated GPS functionality.
While 3-inch monitors are the norm among our group, it's the 3.7-inch fixed touchscreen offering on the Leica T which stands out. Here it's used as the main interface to adjust settings on the camera and features a stylish new menu system. The Olympus EM1, Panasonic GH4, and Samsung NX1 also all boast touch-screens
While all of the 3-inch monitors are variable screens which can be angled to make shooting easier in otherwise awkward shooting positions, they do this in different ways and to varying degrees. For example, some simply tilt up and down, while the one on the Panasonic GH4 is fully articulated.
The touchscreens on the Panasonic GH4 and Samsung NX1 use OLED and AMOLED technology to minimize lag and provide bright displays. Meanwhile, the screen on the Sony A7 II uses White Magic technology (white sub-pixels) to shine brighter than rival LCD displays.
The Fujifilm X-T1, Olympus E-M1 and the Sony A7 II all lack the built-in flashes of the other cameras, but the Fujiflm and Olympus each come bundled with an external one to make up for it. All of the cameras feature hot-shoes for connecting external flashes or accessories.
All of these cameras are capable of shooting both JPEG and the more post-processing friendly RAW image files.
SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards are used in all of our line-up. The Sony is also able to utilize Memory Stick Duo Pro cards in its dual compatibility slot. However, the Leica T stands out by also featuring 16 GB of internal storage.
Unlike high-end DSLRs, and presumably because of size limitations, all of the cameras in our selection only have one memory card slot. This means users can't benefit from shooting different types of files to different cards, or instantly backing-up files.
Mirorrless cameras have always been ahead of their DSLR counterparts when it comes to including features like wireless connectivity. As such, it's no surprise that all of these cameras include build-in Wi-Fi for things like instantly sharing content or remote shooting via a smart device. The Panasonic GH4, Samsung NX1 and Sony A7 II also all feature NFC for easy pairing of compatible devices.
The cameras in our line-up are all said to last for between 330 and 500 shots on their respective full charges. Because this is considerably less than you might be used to with a DSLR, you might want to think about taking a spare battery with you if you anticipate a heavy day of shooting.
The high-end specifications we've seen on these cameras don't come cheap, and body-only prices range from US$1,200 for the Fujifilm X-T1 to $1,850 for the Leica T (though some of that is undoubtedly for the famous red dot).
As we hope this comparison has shown, there are some truly great mirrorless cameras on the market at the moment. These cameras are finally beginning to live up to the mirrorless promise and are catching up with the DSLR competition, if not surpassing it.
Of our selection, it's interestingly the most expensive, the Leica T, which is perhaps the weakest camera in terms of specification. If it wasn't for the $1,850 price tag it might even be better compared with mid-range mirrorless offerings. However, for some users it more than makes up for any lack of performance with the iconic modern-Leica styling which impressed during our review.
The Fujifilm X-T1 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 each pack in an amazing array of features and high-end performance into small packages. However, while smaller than most DSLRs, these cameras still feature ergonomic designs and physical access to manual controls, things that make DSLRs great. For most of those people looking at high-end mirrorless cameras, this pair are arguably the best cameras for the job.
Our next cameras are more specialist tools. There's the 4K-recording multi-media workhorse which is the Panasonic GH4 and the Samsung NX1 speed-freak. While the NX1 is seemingly designed to show Samsung is taking its mirrorless cameras seriously with its super-fast focus and shooting, the GH4 is at the forefront of video shooting modes and has plenty of quality glass at its disposal.
Finally, we've got the Sony A7 II, the follow-up to the ground-breaking A7. In addition to somehow packing a full frame sensor into a compact mirrorless body, the A7 II also adds 5-axis sensor shift image stabilization and tweaks the design to improve handling to make it one of the most appealing cameras available.
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