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Step 2Mirrorless Systems Guide 2018

Overview

Mirrorless cameras each fit in a system which determines its sensor-size and which lenses are available for it. For general information on mirrorless cameras, start with Step 1 of this mirrorless guide. In Step 2 - this page - all mirrorless systems are compared and described in detail.

MostWith the exception of Panasonic and Olympus which share one. camera manufacturers introduced their own mirrorless systems, or even two for some, and bootstrapped them by providing preferential compatibility with their existing system. This lets a mirrorless camera use lenses compatible with DSLRs from the same manufacturer with few limitations via a mount-adapterExcept for Pentax K and Sony SLT systems which use a DSLR mount and Fuji whose discontinued DSLRs use a Nikon F-mount..

Micro Four-Thirds

Micro Four-Thirds is the original mirrorless system. It was launched in 2008 jointly by Olympus and Panasonic. This head start, plus the fact that it is actively developed by two major digital camera manufacturers, make it the most developed among mirrorless systems.

Micro Four-Thirds is based on the Four-Thirds standard for DSLRs. The Micro part of the name refers to the flange distanceThe distance between the sensor and lens mount. and not the sensor-size. Both standards use 4:3 aspect-ratio sensors with a 2X focal-length multiplier. Physics puts them at a 2-stop disadvantage compared to full-frame and just over ½-stop compared to APS-C. The latest cameras from Olympus actually perform within this expectation.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Cameras

Panasonic and Olympus regularly introduce Micro Four-Thirds cameras and each of these two has multiple series of cameras, ranging from entry-level to professional weather-sealed models.

Most Micro Four-Thirds cameras employ a Contrast-Detect autofocus system. These were very slow when originally introduced. However, recent sensors with 240 Hz read-out are truly fast, extremely accurate and ultra-sensitive, down to -4 EV. Unlike Phase-Detect autofocus, Contrast-Detect systems cannot have front or back-focus issues and AF micro-adjustments are unnecessary.

The most significant distinction between Olympus and Panasonic is their approach to stabilization. Only a handful of Panasonic mirrorless offers built-in image-stabilization. Their smaller mirrorless cameras relay on stabilized lenses. Olympus cameras all feature built-in stabilization which is compatible with any lens, current or not. The efficacity of the system depends on the camera and higher-end models have better stabilization systems, with up to 6.5 stops of efficiency when combined with optical image stabilization. This system, called Dual IS though only reaches such high performance when the camera and lens support collaboration.

Lenses

Micro Four-Thirds has an extensive set of lenses. Olympus and Panasonic produce most of these. Rectilinear lenses cover a 7 to 400mm focal-range. Lenses are small and light, making Micro Four-Thirds the second most compact mirrorless system.

There are light zooms, constant aperture zooms, small primes, very high-quality optics and macro lenses in the lineup. Panasonic and Olympus lenses may be used interchangeably on cameras of either brand.

Panasonic makes the only 3D lens, making Micro Four-Thirds the only 3D-capable mirrorless system. This lens projects two views of the scene which must be reconstructed into a 3D image using supplied software.

Panasonic 3D Lens

More third-party lenses are produced for Micro Four-Thirds cameras than any other system. Sigma, Tamron and Samyang all make such lenses, although the latter's are manual-focus only.

Micro Four-Thirds cameras are compatible with Four-Thirds lenses, including weather-sealed ones using the only weather-sealed mount-adapter in existence. All Four-Thirds lenses are fully functional when used on a Micro Four-Thirds camera with the right adapter.

Sony E-Mount

Sony introduced the NEX system in 2010, making it the second mirrorless system. As expected, it is the second most developed, behind Micro Four-Thirds. Still, two digital camera years make for a lot to catch up. Sony later renamed the lineup Alpha, using the same labelling as their A-mount system.

Sony NEX cameras were launched with an APS-C sensor having a 1.5X crop-factor, just like the majority of their discontinued DSLRs. The majority of models now sport Full-Frame sensors. While the mount is physically the same, such cameras require FE lenses which have full-frame coverage. FE lenses are compatible with Sony APS-C mirrorless, although would be unnecessarily bulky.

The Sony E-mount design is based on the A-mount inherited from Konica-Minolta. Sony provides a number of adapters to connect A-mount lenses to E-mount cameras, two of which divert one third of light towards a built-in Phase-Detect AF sensor. This allows A-mount lenses to be driven by the AF system they were intended for.

Sony Alpha NEX-5R

Cameras

Sony offers many E-mount cameras, split along five lines with very similar feature sets but interfaces targeted at different levels of photographers. The flagship Sony Alpha A9
Sony Alpha A9
is aimed at action photographers while there are 3 parallel series below it, the standard A7-series, high-resolution A7R-series and high-sensitivity A7S-series, all of which are full-frame mirrorless cameras. The Axxxx models remain APS-C.

Most Sony mirrorless feature crisp high-resolution EVFs with 2.4 megapixels at least and provide a real-time Exposure-Priority display. Dual and triple control-dials are present on these series as well. Al their mirrorless launched in the last 3 years offer an EVF.

While all Alpha mirrorless use Contrast-Detect autofocus, several models add on-sensor Phase-Detect assist-points to speed up autofocus. Sony designed their mirrorless cameras to be rather slim in the center while leaving a good grip. While they cannot claim to have the slimmest models, these cameras are still rather compact.

Lenses

The E-mount lens lineup features lenses covering rectilinear focal-lengths from 10 to 400mm. The lineup includes an 18-200mm ultra-zoom for APS-C models and a 24-240mm ultra-zoom for full-frame ones. Sony's offerings are quite varied with bright primes, constant aperture-zooms and even a macro lens among them. Although newer, there is an impressive number of full-frame FE lenses.

Sony NEX Lenses

Built-in stabilization made its way into nearly every E-mount camera. Since A-mount lenses are never stabilized, there is no way to stabilize either Sony or Konica-Minolta lenses on an E-mount camera on a camera without built-in stabilization.

A number of E-mount lenses are available from third-party vendors. Sigma, Zeiss and Tamron all produce autofocus ones, while Samyang produces MF-only ones.

Fuji X

Fuji launched its first two mirrorless cameras in 2012, the X-Pro1
Fujifilm X-Pro1
in the first-half and the much-improved X-E1
Fujifilm X-E1
in the second. Having no DSLR legacy to protect, Fuji aimed its entire system at advanced users willing to pay for exclusive quality and handling.

The X-Pro1 introduced a unique sensor with a pseudo-randomized 6x6 grid of color-filters which is not prone to moire artifacts and hence needs no anti-alias filter. This X-Trans CMOS sensor, shared between the X-Pro1 and X-E1, has a 1.5X crop-factor and 16 megapixels. Fuji claims sharpness and noise which rivals traditional full-frame sensors.

This was eventually followed by an X-Trans CMOS II sensor which incorporates built-in Phase-Detect AF and is featured in the advanced X-E3 reviewed here
Fujifilm X-E3
and professional X-T2
Fujifilm X-T2
mirrorless. Meanwhile, Fuji added intermediate X-A & X-M series models using a traditional 16 megapixels Bayer-Pattern CMOS sensor.

Cameras

Fuji mirrorless cameras are designed for efficient control. The upper-range models have direct dials for shutter-speed and exposure-compensation, while the others still offer dual control-dials and a traditional mode-dial. Aperture control is usually provided by a traditional aperture-ring around the lens barrel. Some lighter-weight lenses though, lack such ring and fall back to using one of their control-dials.

Each model in the X-E and X-T series offers a superb extra-large built-in EVF with Eye-Start sensor. The X-Pro2 offers a unique hybrid viewfinder which switches between a 100% coverage EVF and bright-frame OVF, giving a completely different experience. The flagship Fujifilm X-T2 is fully weather-sealed and freezeproof to -10C with a high-speed electronic-shutter mode reaching 1/32000s to freeze ultra-fast motion.

Fuji X-Pro1 Launch Lineup

Lenses

As a high-end system, Fuji launched with only three bright prime lenses and no zooms. Since then, they rapidly expanded their lens lineup with plenty of lenses covering the 10 to 400mm range with rectilinear lenses. This includes a variety of lenses with bright zooms, lightweight variable-apertures ones, ultra-bright primes and a 1X macro lens.

Several zooms feature built-in image-stabilization which the camera bodies do not offer. A few of the zooms are also weatherproof. None of the prime lenses are stabilized or weather-sealed though.

Given its high-end offerings and lack of legacy lens-mount, Fuji provides a unique adapter to support Leica M-mount lenses. These obviously remain Manual-Focus only but the adapter can at least provide lens information to the camera. Not all M-mount lenses are supported, see Fuji for details.

Carl Zeiss produces autofocus prime lenses for in XF-mount. Samyang makes a number of XF-mount lenses too, including an 8mm fisheye, all MF-only though.

Pentax Q

Pentax introduced the Q system shortly after being acquired by Ricoh. This mirrorless system is based around a new fully-electronic Q-mount. The first generation used a 1/2.3" sensor which has been upgraded to a slightly larger 1/1.7" one. These are the smallest sensor-sizes among mirrorless systems, similar to most ultra-compact or compact digital cameras.

Having the smallest sensor allows Pentax to make very small cameras and lenses. However, expectations on image quality are justifiably low. Knowing that too, Pentax designed the lens lineup accordingly with low-quality lenses aimed at people who are fond of that look. Needless to say, this is not really for everybody.

Cameras

Pentax Q7Pentax Q-S1

There is a single series of Q-mount cameras, consisting of the Q7
Pentax Q7
and the Q-S1
Pentax Q-S1
. Both of these offer built-in image-stabilization and a decent number of external controls to encourage experimentation. These cameras are positively tiny and not much bigger than a compact, even with an attached lens.

Lenses

There are a handful of Q-mount lenses, all made by Pentax. Given the niche market of the Q system, no third-party maker produces any compatible lenses. Pentax however does make a K-mount adapter. However, with a 5.6X crop-factor, K-mount lenses become mostly telephoto ones.

Rather than being specified with a difficult-to-understand focal-length, Q lenses are simply given numbered names such as 05 Toy Lens Telephoto
Pentax Q 05 Toy Lens Telephoto
. Lenses are mostly plastic and some labelled Toy to set expectations.

Canon M

The Canon M system uses a new EF-M mount which is a version of the EF-S mount used by Canon cropped-sensor DSLRs but with a much shorter flange distance. In theory this makes it sufficiently large to offer a full-frame sensor.

Cameras

Canon made an entry into the mirrorless market with the incredibly compact EOS M based around an 18 megapixels APS-C sensor with 1.6X crop-factor, just like its latest Rebel. This one introduced a new system with Contrast-Detect autofocus assisted by on-sensor Phase-Detect sensors. Despite its APS-C sensor, the EOS M is one of the smallest and lightest mirrorless cameras. It takes on bulk in proportion to the attached lens.

Canon EOS M

The EOS M family evolved slowly from there. Although most models are entry-level ones with no viewfinder, some have provision for an optional EVF and the Canon EOS M5
Canon EOS M5
has one built-in. The latest M-series mirrorless are all built around the same 24 MP Dual-Pixel CMOS sensor which can perform Phase-Detect AF at every pixel.

Lenses

Canon unveiled exactly two lenses along with the EOS M. One has the same range and slow aperture as the ubiquitous kit-lens and the other is a 22mm F/2 lens. Both are very well constructed with a nice metal barrel and feature an STM motor which is better suited for Contrast-Detect autofocus and video recording than Canon USM motors. They latter added an ultra-wide 11-22mm and a 55-200mm telephoto lens, both stabilized and with variable maximum-apertures.

The EF-M mount is electronically compatible with EF and EF-S lenses. An adapter allows any Canon DSLR lens to be attached to an EF-M mount camera. Samyang and Tamron have joined as third-party makers of EF-M lenses. The former only offers Manual-Focus lenses, as usual.

Next

Read about or Proceed to Step 3, Mirrorless Camera Buying, for advice and considerations before buying a mirrorless.

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