Hi-Tech Studio: Pro Backup Cameras

The old photo adage “The best camera is the one that’s with you” especially applies to pros who are in the business of content creation and realize that having a camera with them at all times is advantageous. For a long time, the choice was to lug your big pro DSLR everywhere, buy a lower-end DSLR that was still pretty bulky or get a compact digital camera whose image quality suffered due to its tiny image sensor—or go camera-less.

The mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera changed all that. Now, you can get a truly compact camera that can produce DSLR image quality due to its DSLR-size image sensor. By eliminating the DSLR’s bulky, complex and costly moving mirror, mirror box, focusing screen and pentaprism or pentamirror viewfinder and replacing them with full-time live viewing on the camera’s LCD monitor (and an eye-level electronic viewfinder, with some cameras), designers were able to greatly decrease camera bulk while retaining a large sensor. The lenses are also smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses, although not that much smaller with the larger-sensor (APS-C) cameras because the lenses have to be able to cover the sensor’s active area.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Size

The mirrorless camera’s main advantage is its tiny size. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are much smaller than DSLRs, many even pocketable with a flat “pancake” lens attached. The smallest is Pentax’s Q model, measuring just 3.9×2.3×1.3 inches and weighing a mere 6.3 ounces (and containing the genre’s smallest image sensor, a compact digicam-like 1/2.3-incher). Even the largest mirrorless models are quite compact: the Fujifilm X-Pro1 at 5.5×3.2×1.7 inches, 14.1 ounces; the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at 4.8×3.5×1.6 inches, 13.2 ounces; the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 at 4.9×3.5×3.0 inches, 13.8 ounces; the Pentax K-01 at 4.8×3.1×2.3 inches, 16.9 ounces; and the Samsung NX20 at 4.8×3.5×1.6 inches, 12.0 ounces. But by way of comparison, that “big” Pentax K-01 is just 61% of the volume and 72% of the weight of the company’s K-5 DSLR (which itself is one of the smaller DSLRs on the market)—yet it uses the same wide line of K-mount lenses and features a similar sensor. Sony’s NEX-7 measures just 4.7×2.6×1.7 inches and weighs 10.3 ounces, yet contains a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor.

Most mirrorless camera makers offer at least one flat “pancake” lens that’s a good match for the body when you want a really compact package. Note that zoom lenses, especially with the larger (APS-C) sensor mirrorless cameras, do increase package size, precluding pocketability. Even with 18-55mm kit zooms (14-42mm for the Micro Four Thirds format), however, the mirrorless models are still much smaller than DSLRs with kit zooms.

Pocketability aside, a mirrorless system, consisting of a body or even two, plus a few lenses, spare battery and memory cards, is much smaller than a comparable DSLR system, easy to carry in a small camera bag. When you want to travel light, but don’t want to give up image quality, mirrorless is the answer.

Lenses

For the most part, a smaller selection of lenses is available for mirrorless cameras than for DSLRs (in part because of their relative newness). But for an always-with-you, carry-anywhere camera, you’re not looking to cart around a bunch of glass. All mirrorless cameras provide 35mm-camera-equivalent focal lengths of at least 27mm on the wide end and 90mm on the long end (297mm on the long end if you exclude the Pentax Q and Fujifilm X-Pro1). The 27-90mm range includes the focal lengths most would want for a walkaround camera.

Pentax K-01

But you can “lens up” if you want to. For Micro Four Thirds cameras (Olympus and Panasonic), 35mm-camera-equivalent focal lengths from 14mm superwide-angle to 600mm supertelephoto are available. And adapters can widely expand the range for any mirrorless camera.

Due to their short flange-back distances (the distance between the lens mount and the image plane), mirrorless cameras can use pretty much any lens for which an adapter can be found. Adapters are available from a number of manufacturers, including Novoflex and Pro-Optic, to mount a wide range of lenses on most popular mirrorless models. Bear in mind that when you use lenses other than those designed for the mirrorless models, focusing will be manual only, and exposure will be manual or aperture-priority AE. Nikon, Olympus and Sony, however, offer adapters for their DSLR lenses that retain automation, and the Pentax K-01 accepts the full range of Pentax K-mount DSLR lenses, no adapter required. Sony’s LA-EA2 adapter not only lets you use Sony A-mount (and legacy Konica Minolta Maxxum) SLR lenses on NEX mirrorless cameras, but it includes a quick continuous phase-detection AF system like the one in Sony’s SLT-A65 DSLR.

AF

Most mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras use contrast-based AF, which reads focus right off the image sensor. This is very accurate, but historically has been slower than the phase-detection systems used in DSLRs and not well suited to action subjects. Newer mirrorless models have greatly sped up contrast AF to where it now rivals phase-detection AF in speed under many conditions. Some mirrorless cameras provide touch-screen focusing; just touch the point in the scene on the LCD monitor where you want the camera to focus.

Nikon’s 1 series—the Nikon 1 J1 and V1—features a unique hybrid AF system using both contrast-based AF and phase-detection AF via sensors on the image sensor, and this provides quick and accurate results with a wide range of subjects, including action ones. The Sony LA-EA2 adapter provides the same AF speed and accuracy as the SLT-A65 DSLR because it uses the same phase-detection AF system with the same lenses.

Nikon 1 V1

Viewing

DSLRs have eye-level optical viewfinders, which are “on” all the time; you can just bring the camera up to your eye to see what the view through the lens looks like, even if the camera is switched off. Mirrorless cameras provide live viewing via the external LCD monitor, and some also offer built-in or optional detachable eye-level electronic viewfinders, but you can’t use any of them unless the camera is switched on and “awake.” Additionally, the eye-level electronic viewfinders aren’t as clear as the SLR finders in pro DSLRs, especially for low-light and action shooting (but they’re rapidly getting better; the one in Sony’s NEX-7, for example, is excellent). And the external LCD monitor is a good framing device for the types of shooting for which a “carry-all-the-time” camera likely will be used (especially those with touch-screen AF).

Video

All of the mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras can do high-quality video, either HD (1280×720) or full HD (1920×1080). This makes it easy to capture motion and sound, as well as still images. Actually, since they’re in Live View mode all the time, the mirrorless cameras make doing video easier than with a conventional DSLR, as you’re already viewing via the LCD monitor or EVF and don’t have to transition from using the DSLR’s eye-level optical viewfinder to LCD monitor viewing. (As mentioned, Sony’s SLT translucent-mirror DSLRs are also in Live View all the time, and provide both eye-level viewing and continuous phase-detection AF for video as well as still shooting.)

Battery Lif
e

Because they’re always in Live View mode (and many use smaller batteries to keep camera size down), mirrorless cameras get fewer shots per battery charge than DSLRs. This isn’t a major problem as the typical 200-400+ shots per charge is adequate for most “have-it-with-you-always” camera uses, and carrying a spare battery or two is always a good idea regardless of camera type. Just be aware that you won’t get as many shots as you’re used to with your DSLR.

Accessories

Mirrorless systems aren’t as extensive as DSLR systems, but that’s in keeping with the genre’s very compact raison d’être. However, each system offers some useful accessories, which are generally also smaller than equivalent items in a DSLR system.

For the J1 and V1 cameras, Nikon offers a wireless remote control, a geo-tagging GPS unit, a stereo microphone and the SB-N5 flash unit (the V1 only; the J1 has a built-in flash).

Accessories for Olympus PEN mirrorless cameras include the MAL-1 Close-up Spotlight/Macro Arm Light, PENPAL Bluetooth Communication Unit PP1, Electronic Viewfinders VF-2 (1.0x magnification) and VF-3 (1.5x magnification, 100% field of view), External Microphone Adapter Set, and two electronic flash units—all of which connect via the accessory port atop the camera (and thus can be used only with models that have this port).

Panasonic Lumix mirrorless cameras can take any of three flash units, a remote shutter release, an AC adapter, filters, cases, bags, straps and SD cards. Video accessories include the DMW-MS1 Stereo Microphone and DMW-ZL1 Zoom Lever, plus wide, tele, macro and fisheye converters.

For its tiny Q model, Pentax offers the optional accessory Viewfinder O-VF1, which provides eye-level viewing (it’s a glass optical device, not electronic). For the K-01, there are three flash units (including a macro ring light), off-camera flash adapters, a remote control and a GPS unit.

Samsung offers a GPS unit and two flash units for its NX mirrorless cameras. The newer NX camera models have Wi-Fi capability built-in.

Sony accessories for the NEX mirrorless cameras include a compact stereo microphone, an optical eye-level viewfinder, a portable monitor (especially useful for video work), a remote controller, a tripod, an external flash unit and an OLED eye-level electronic viewfinder (for the NEX-5N and NEX-F3 only).

Editor’s Note: As we went to press, the Canon EOS-M had just been announced. The specs are included in the chart.

Mirrorless Cameras
Camera Body Sensor Format FL Factor Normal ISO Range* Max. fps° Top Video
Canon EOSM 18.0 MP APSC 1.6x 100-12,800 4.3 1080/30p
Fujifilm XPro1 16.3 MP APSC 1.5x 200-6400 6 1080/24p
Nikon 1 V1 10.1 MP CX 2.7x 100-3200 10 1080/60i
Nikon 1 J1 10.1 MP CX 2.7x 100-3200 10 1080/60i
Olympus OMD EM5 16.1 MP M4/3 2x 200-25,600 4.2 1080/60i
Olympus PEN EP3 12.3 MP M4/3 2x 200-12,800 3 1080/60i
Olympus PEN EPL3 12.3 MP M4/3 2x 200-12,800 5 1080/60i Olympus PEN EPM1 12.3 MP M4/3 2x 200-12,800 5 1080/60i Panasonic Lumix DMCGH2 16.0 MP M4/3 2x 160-12,800 3°° 1080/60i Panasonic Lumix DMCGX1 16.0 MP M4/3 2x 160-12,800 4.2 1080/60i Panasonic Lumix DMCG3 16.0 MP M4/3 2x 160-6400 3°° 1080/60i Panasonic Lumix DMCGF5 12.1 MP M4/3 2x 160-6400 2°° 1080/60i Pentax K01 16.3 MP APSC 1.5x 100-12,800 6 1080/30p Pentax Q 12.4 MP 1/2.3 in. 5.5x 125-6400 5 1080/30p Samsung NX10 14.6 MP APSC 1.5x 100-3200 3 720/30p Samsung NX20 20.3 MP APSC 1.5x 100-12,800 8 1080/30p Samsung NX100 14.6 MP APSC 1.5x 100-3200 3 720/30p Samsung NX210 20.3 MP APSC 1.5x 100-12,800 8 1080/30p Samsung NX1000 20.3 MP APSC 1.5x 100-12,800 8 1080/30p Sony NEX7 24.2 MP APSC 1.5x 100-16,000 3°° 1080/60p Sony NEX5N 16.1 MP APSC 1.5x 100-25,600 3°° 1080/60p Sony NEXF3 16.2 MP APSC 1.5x 200-16,000 N/A 1080/60i Sony NEXC3 16.2 MP APSC 1.5x 200-12,800 2.5°° 720/30p Standard ISO range; most cameras also provide expanded ISO settings above and sometimes below those listed here, with reduced image quality
** Approximate number of shots per full battery charge, per manufacturer
° Maximum frame rate at full resolution, with autofocusing for each shot
°° Faster frame rates available with focus fixed
N/A = Information not available at press time

Mirrorless Cameras
Camera Body Shots per
Charge**
View-
finder
LCD Dimensions Weight Street Price
Canon EOSM 230 None 3.0/1.04M 4.3×2.6×1.3 in. 10.5 oz. $799^^^^
Fujifilm XPro1 300 Hybrid 3.0/1230K RGBW 5.5×3.2×1.7 in. 14.1 oz. $1,699
Nikon 1 V1 350 EVF 3.0/921K 4.4×3.0x1.7 in. 10.4 oz. $899
Nikon 1 J1 230 None 3.0/460K 4.2×2.4×1.2 in. 8.3 oz. $649
Olympus OMD EM5 360 EVF 3.0/614K OLED 4.8×3.5×1.6 in. 13.2 oz. $999
Olympus PEN EP3 330 EVF opt. 3.0/614K OLED 4.8×2.7×1.4 in. 11.3 oz. $899^
Olympus PEN EPL3 300 EVF opt. 3.0/460K tilt 4.3×2.5×1.5 in. 9.3 oz. $699^ Olympus PEN EPM1 TBA EVF opt. 3.0/460K 4.3×2.5×1.3 in. 7.7 oz. $499^ Panasonic Lumix DMCGH2 330 EVF 3.0/460K tilt 4.9×3.5×3.0 in. 13.8 oz. $749 Panasonic Lumix DMCGX1 300 EVF opt. 3.0/460K 4.6×2.7×1.6 in. 9.6 oz. $549 Panasonic Lumix DMCG3 270 EVF 3.0/460K tilt 4.5×3.3×1.8 in. 11.8 oz. $499 Panasonic Lumix DMCGF5 320 None 3.0/460K 4.2×2.6×1.5 in. 7.9 oz. $599^ Pentax K01 500 None 3.0/921K 4.8×3.1×2.3 in. 16.9 oz. $749 Pentax Q 250 Optcl. opt. 3.0/460K 3.9×2.3×1.3 in. 6.3 oz. $499 Samsung NX10 N/A EVF 3.0/614K AMOLED 4.8×3.4×1.6 in. 12.3 oz. $699^^ Samsung NX20 N/A EVF 3.0/614K AMOLED 4.8×3.5×1.6 in. 12.0 oz. $1,099^^ Samsung NX100 420 EVF opt. 3.0/614K AMOLED 4.7×2.8×1.4 in. 9.9 oz. $549^^^ Samsung NX210 N/A None 3.0/614K AMOLED 4.6×2.5×1.4 in. 7.7 oz. $899^^ Samsung NX1000 N/A None 3.0/921K 4.5×2.5×1.4 in. 7.7 oz. $699^^^ Sony NEX7 400 EVF 3.0/921K tilt 4.7×2.6×1.7 in. 10.3 oz. $1,199 Sony NEX5N 430 EVF opt. 3.0/921K tilt 4.4×2.3×1.5 in. 7.4 oz. $599 Sony NEXF3 470 EVF o
pt.
3.0/921K tilt 4.6×2.6×1.6 in. 9.0 oz. $599^^ Sony NEXC3 400 Optcl. opt. 3.0/921K tilt 4.3×2.4×1.3 in. 7.9 oz. $649^^ Standard ISO range; most cameras also provide expanded ISO settings above and sometimes below those listed here, with reduced image quality
** Approximate number of shots per full battery charge, per manufacturer
° Maximum frame rate at full resolution, with autofocusing for each shot
°° Faster frame rates available with focus fixed
^ With 14-42mm kit lens
^^ With 18-55mm kit lens
^^^ With 20-50mm kit lens
^^^^ With EF-M 22mm ƒ/2 STM lens
N/A = Information not available at press time

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