The Mirrorless Camera Shootout
Call them what you will - mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses () or Compact System Cameras - because of their small size, flexibility and image quality, they have established a niche in the digital camera world.
And the 2012 models are beginning to fulfill the promise of delivering the sort of performance only previously available from bigger, bulkier DSLRs. Therefore, whether you are looking to move up from a point and shoot camera or slim down from a , mirrorless cameras should be on your radar.
Out of the eight top models featured in this shootout, one stylish camera rises above the rest. Here's our 2CameraGuys rankings in order of preference. (You can see a side-by-side comparison of the specs and features of the top five cameras here.)
BEST MIRRORLESS CAMERA
16.1 MP - (More Specs)
$599 (Body Only), $699 with 18-55mm
The sleek and sexy Sony NEX-5N is the best camera in this mirrorless selection. Even though it didn't rank at the top of every category on my checklist, on the whole, the NEX-5N proved to be the clear choice.
Not only did it produce excellent picture quality, even in low light situations, but the Sony NEX-5N also was just plain fun to shoot with.
The camera is easy to use - at least as straightforward as mirrorless cameras can be - and it feels good in your hand and looks good hanging around your neck.
Sony has packed a lot of performance in the NEX-5N's small body and they are beginning to fill out its lineup of high quality lenses.
As a deal closer, this 2 Camera Guys Best Camera recipient is one of the lowest priced models in the shootout, unless you desire a camera with a . The NEX-5N does not have one built in and the attachable electronic viewfinder costs an extra $350.
More about the Sony NEX-5N.
16.3 MP -C - (More Specs)
$689 with DA 40mm lens
Take one look at the boxy K-01 and you realize that Pentax broke the mold when it created this camera. Indeed, the K-01 is mirrorless, but it definitely is not as compact as most of the other contestants in this shootout.
But after one admiring glimpse of the lush, colorful images that the K-01 consistently produces, any misgivings that you may foster about the unconventional design should quickly dissipate.
For those SLR veterans, the added depth of the K-01 should be reassuringly comfortable. More importantly, the design allows you to attach all the legacy Pentax K-mount lenses to this new mirrorless model without an .
If you already possess K-mount lenses, then the K-01 is the no-brainer selection in the mirrorless camera category.
Even if you are starting from scratch, consider the Pentax K-01, which offers an off-the-beaten-path alternative to the Sony NEX-5N, but one that will reward you with satisfyingly rich photographs.
More about the Pentax K-01.
3rd Place Tie
20.3 MP APS-C Sensor - (More Specs)
$899 with 18-55mm zoom lens
The Samsung NX200's APS-C sensor with 20.3 megapixels is the biggest in this shootout and the resulting image quality compares well to the Sony NEX-5N.
In fact, this Samsung is similar to the Sony in many ways including a body without an integrated viewfinder, a screw-on flash attachment, and a happily habit-forming panorama feature.
The three-inch OLED screen is lovely, but it does not tilt like the Sony's, which makes viewing it in bright sunlight nearly impossible. It is also not touch sensitive.
The on-screen descriptions make navigating through the myriad of functions easier, but like every other camera in this shootout, becoming proficient will require some time and study.
Deciding where to rank the Samsung NX200 is not easy. If it weren't for its big sensor and good image quality, it would drop down the list because it is one of the most expensive cameras in the shootout.
Also if you demand an integrated viewfinder on your camera, look elsewhere. Samsung does not make one, electronic or optical.
More about the Samsung NX200.
3rd Place Tie
16 MP Four Thirds Sensor - (More Specs)
$599 (Body Only), $645 with 14-42mm zoom lens
Panasonic G3 Top View
In their effort to make mirrorless cameras ideal travel companions, manufacturers run the risk of reducing their size too much, especially for bigger hands.
For those of you that require oversized mittens, the Panasonic G3, with its substantial handgrip, should feel quite comfortable. And the layout of its controls are very similar to a DSLR's.
In fact, with its built-in electronic viewfinder, it's easy to believe that the G3 is a DSLR.
Image quality is quite good in normal lighting situations. The G3 begins to display more when you have to push its ISO above 800 to compensate for shooting in low light.
Being part of the Micro Four Thirds family, the G3 offers a wide range of quality lenses. Of course, some of them are more expensive than the G3 body, which isn't difficult since this Panasonic is the least costly camera in this shootout.
Considering that it comes with an integrated viewfinder, its price is even more attractive. The Panasonic is definitely the best value in this group. But all things considered, the Sony NEX-5N is still the best in this mirrorless class.
More about the Panasonic G3.
3rd Place Tie
16 MP Four Thirds Sensor - (More Specs)
$503 (Body Only), $529 with 14-42mm zoom lens
Best Mirrorless Cameras 2012 Panasonic GX1
The GX is the newest series in Panasonic's Lumix Compact System camera lineup. And the GX1 is a more recent model than the G3, though they share the same 16MP Live MOS Sensor.
Their differences can be found in their design. The G3 with its integrated viewfinder and larger body looks like a DSLR. The smaller GX1 with its lack of a viewfinder seems more like a more fully featured point and shoot camera.
You can mount the full range of Micro Four Thirds lenses on both cameras. Of course, as soon as you attach a zoom lens on the GX1, its pocketability advantage over the G3 vanishes.
Panasonic has tweaked the Venus processing engine to increase the GX1's ISO range over the G3's. That said, the image quality from the cameras is similar, both being very good.
I prefer the handling and integrated viewfinder of the G3. If you are looking for a more compact Panasonic, then the newer GX1 may be your cup of tea.
More about the Panasonic GX1.
12.3 MP Four Thirds Sensor - (More Specs)
$849 with 14-42mm zoom lens
Don't be fooled by the retro look of the Olympus E-P3. Yes, it does have the dedicated buttons and mode wheel with the PASM (Program, , Shutter and Manual) options that will give comfort to traditionalists.
But if your first camera was a smartphone, the E-P3 furnishes a touchscreen LCD where all of the camera's functions are at your fingertips.
The image quality is silky and the range of compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses is extensive.
Like the Sony NEX-5N, this Olympus does not include an integrated viewfinder, which is compounded by the fact that the E-P3, (topped only by the Samsung NX200), is one of the most expensive cameras in the shootout.
More about the Olympus E-P3.
10.1 MP CX Sensor - (More Specs)
$849 with 10-30mm zoom lens
The Nikon V1, with its tiny sensor, (when compared with the three cameras above), surprisingly does not suffer when comparing its image quality to it more well endowed competitors.
And for those of you who become frustrated when you miss capturing a precious moment because your camera is still trying to focus, the V1 provides the fastest and most accurate auto focusing in the shootout.
The V1's industrial design is appealing, as is the inclusion of a built-in viewfinder. It's odd that Nikon opted not to include a pop-up flash.
Also, since this is Nikon's first foray into the mirrorless category, the selection of lenses made specifically for it is limited.
Considering its hefty price tag, unless you are a diehard Nikon fanatic, I would suggest that you wait for a second generation model.
More about the Nikon V1.
12.4 MP 1/2.3" Sensor - (More Specs)
$649 with 8.5mm
The Pentax Q is a toy. Its sensor is toy-sized. Pentax even labels two of its lenses as "toy."
With that said, the Q can produce quite acceptable images. And the camera, with its pancake , is definitely the most pocketable of the group.
It was annoyingly presumptuous when Pentax introduced this camera at $850.
Even now, with it price reduced $200 or more, the Q is too expensive, especially when you consider the Panasonic G3 sells for about as much and includes a viewfinder.
More about the Pentax Q.
Yes, Sensor Size Does Matter
On the 2 Camera Guys site, we try very hard not to be too technical, but if you are shopping for a mirrorless camera, you will no doubt see the term "" being bandied about.
The image sensor is the heart of a digital camera. It captures the image - in the form of light - coming through the lens, like film does in analog cameras. As a general rule, the bigger the sensor, the better.
The Sony NEX-5N, the Pentax K-01 and the Samsung NX200 have the biggest size sensors of the seven, which often translates into slightly better image quality and better performance when shooting in low light situations.
You can judge for yourself with our PhotoScope image comparison tool. For example, here is the link to a side by side, magnified comparison of the Sony NEX-5N and the Panasonic G3.
Bergdorf Goodman Window shot with a Sony NEX-5N
Now if you are just posting low pictures to Facebook, you may never see the difference among the cameras in image quality. But if that is your primary picture venue, you probably don't need a mirrorless camera.
As for video quality, all of these cameras can shoot in HD (1920 x 1080). Once again, if you are posting videos on YouTube, that high of resolution is overkill.
From this list, for video, the Sony NEX-5N once again reigns as top dog. But if you are really serious about shooting video with a mirrorless camera, take a hard look at the Panasonic GH2, which was released in 2010 and is still available.
You can read more detailed individual reviews of these cameras on the following pages.
With the addition of the Pentax K-01, this Mirrorless Camera shootout has its second update. It will continue to refresh as new cameras come on the market and supplant these.