11 Mirrorless Marvels

January 12, 2016

By Greg Scoblete

Ricoh Pentax QS-1

No other camera category has seen as much innovation and novelty as the mirrorless market over the past several years, and the latest crop of models are a testament to that. They’re driving forward not only new features but more compact designs targeted at filmmakers just as much as photographers. Here are some of our recent favorites.

The QS-1 earns the distinction of being the least expensive mirrorless of the bunch. It sports a 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a 3.2-inch LCD and 1080 HD video recording at 30 fps. The movie mode on the QS-1 has been upgraded from previous models with the addition of Continuous AF mode, which lets you track a moving subject during motion recording. This feature won’t work with every Q-series lens, however, such as the 06 Telephoto. For the fashion conscious, the camera is offered in 40 (count ‘em) color combinations for grip and body. The exterior has a synthetic leather front panel as well, a first for the Q series.

PRICE: $220 (body)

The big update to Sony’s full-frame mirrorless camera starts with the sensor, which is now a 42.4-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS imager. According to Sony, it’s the world’s first full-frame sensor to offer backside illumination. As you’d expect, it’s capable of very high sensitivities, up to ISO 102,400 with a native range of 100-25,600. Sony also quickened the autofocus, improving the AF response by 40 percent over the original A7R by using 399 focal plane phase detection AF points and 25 contrast AF points. In tandem with new motion detection algorithms, the A7R II can reach 5 frames per second continuous shooting with AF tracking engaged. It uses the same five-axis image stabilization that was introduced in the A7 II with 4.5 stops of stabilization. On the video front, the A7R II can record 4K video (3840×2160) in Super 35mm format by using the full sensor readout. You also have the option to record 4K using the full width of the 35mm sensor. You’ll also enjoy clean HDMI out, time code and the ability to record in S-Log2 Gamma and S-Gamut for post-process color grading. The A7R II has Wi-Fi, NFC and a tilting 3.2-inch display, too. New firmware, released in mid-October, gives A7R II users the option of shooting an uncompressed, 14-bit RAW file.

PRICE: $3,200

The NX500 borrows many features from Samsung’s flagship, the NX1, including its 28-megapixel backside illuminated APS-C-sized image sensor and 4K video recording, but with a more approachable price and more compact design. Thanks to the use of the new and more efficient HEVC compression format, the NX500 can record 4K video (4096×2160) at 24fps or UltraHD video (3840×2160) at 30 fps directly to an SD card. The NX500 is capable of capturing up to 9 fps with autofocus engaged and has shutter speeds up to 1/6000 sec. You can tilt the 3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display 90 degrees or rotate it 180-degrees for framing hard-to-reach shots or for snapping the obligatory selfie. You’ll enjoy a native ISO range of 100-25,600, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for smartphone connectivity.

PRICE: $800 (with 16-50mm power zoom lens)

The X-T10 may sport a vintage look, but under the hood it’s all modern tech. For the X-T10, Fujifilm enhanced the AF system, adding new Zone and Wide/Tracking modes that leverage 77 AF points across a wider area to help keep moving subjects pin sharp. Similar enhancements are also now available for the flagship X-T1 via firmware upgrade. The new-and-improved AF system clocks in at .06 seconds and the camera starts up in just 0.5 seconds. You’ll also find a 16-megapixel APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS II sensor, a 3-inch tilting display and a 2.7-million dot OLED viewfinder for framing your scene. The X-T10 has a native ISO range of 200-6400 with an option to extend as high as ISO 25,600. Film lovers can avail themselves of Fujifilm’s 11 film simulation modes plus a body design that emphasizes manual controls and film-era nostalgia.

PRICE: $800 (body)

The Z-Camera E1 began its life as a successful Kickstarter campaign by camera engineer Jason Zhang, and is now on its way to backers and the general public alike. The E1 caught people’s eyes for its incredibly tiny form factor. Despite packing an active MFT lens mount and 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds (MFT)-sized sensor, the E1 is just about the size of a GoPro with a body that weighs just 0.37 pounds. It’s capable of recording 4K video at 4096x2160p24 or 3840x2160p30 using H.264 compression. It can snap 16-megapixel stills in both JPEG and RAW (DNG) formats and clocks in with a burst mode of up to 15fps for JPEGs. The camera features a native ISO range of 100-6400 with the ability to expand up to ISO 102,400 in a pinch. It supports continuous AF during stills and video recording in addition to full-time manual focus. The E1 offers both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless remote control and image composition, and there’s a 2.5-inch display on the back as well. Footage is saved to microSD cards and the E1 comes with a removable battery that’s rated for about 45 minutes of 4K recording with Wi-Fi engaged. Turn Wi-Fi off and you’ll reach 90 minutes of recording time. If you’re the tinkering type, the E1 has an I/0 port to enable third-party remote controls. You can also write your own app for the camera using Z-Camera’s SDK.

PRICE: $699

The Lumix GX8 is the first in Panasonic’s lineup to offer dual image stabilizers—one for the camera body, the other for the lens—that work in tandem to combat camera shake at all focal lengths. According to Panasonic, most of its image-stabilized lenses will be able to work with the new dual stabilizer system in the GX8. When filming videos, the camera will employ a 5-axis hybrid stabilization that combines sensor shifting and digital stabilization to keep your footage on an even keel. The GX8 features a new 20.3-megapixel image sensor and quad-core Venus Engine CPU to drive continuous shooting at 8 fps in AFS mode and 6 fps in AFC mode. Like most recent Panasonic cameras, the GX8 will record 4K video with a 4K Photo Mode that lets users shoot 4K video in any aspect ratio and isolate an 8-megapixel clip during playback. The dust and weatherproof camera sports a tilting OLED live viewfinder and a free-angle 3-inch OLED touchscreen display. It employs a 240 fps Contrast AF system with DFD (depth from defocus) technology for faster, more accurate autofocusing.

PRICE: $1,100 (body)

Blackmagic Design Micro Cinema Camera
The Micro Cinema Camera is a downsized variant of the Pocket Cinema Camera that Blackmagic is targeting for use in aerial photography and in places where an action camera like a GoPro might be used. The Micro has front-facing controls, an active MFT lens mount and a Super 16mm-sized image sensor capable of recording up to 13 stops of dynamic range. You’ll enjoy a global shutter for up to 1920x1080p30 capture but will switch to a rolling shutter when recording HD at 60 fps. The Micro Cinema records 12-bit log CinemaDNG files or ProRes 422 HQ files with a maximum bit rate of 27.5 MB/s. While the camera isn’t weather resistant, it’s built from a durable magnesium alloy. It features a 3.5mm stereo input, plus an HDMI output for video monitoring. Video is saved internally to SD cards. The side of the camera has an expansion port so third-party accessory makers can create camera remote controls via a standardized interface typically used for model airplane remote controls. A composite video output in the expansion port allows third-party accessories to access a live view from the camera, as well as information on current settings.

PRICE: $995


Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II
As the Mark II designation suggests, this is an update to 2012’s popular E-M5. The Mark II enjoys a few new features, including Wi-Fi, a high-resolution 2.36 million-dot EVF and a revamped five-axis image stabilization system that delivers a category-leading five stops of image compensation based on CIPA standards. It uses a 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor with a sensitivity range of ISO 100–25,600. Mechanical shutter speeds top off at 1/8000 sec., but when using the electronic shutter, the E-M5 Mark II can snap exposures as fast as 1/16,000 sec. In addition to a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, there’s a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen display for framing stills and video. Thanks to new firmware that arrived at the end of 2015, the E-M5 Mark II has a focus bracketing feature for macro shooting that snaps up to 999 images, focusing on a different area each time. Using third-party software, you can merge these exposures into a single, fully focused image. The E-M5 Mark II records 1920x1080p60 video using IPB compression. Drop frame rates to 30 fps and you’ll enjoy a fairly high maximum bit rate of 77Mbps shooting in ALL-I compression. You can record time code and output footage via HDMI for external monitoring. The movie functions have also been enhanced with the new firmware. There’s now a flat video profile plus the ability to create a 4K timelapse video in-camera using up to 999 still images.


PRICE: $1,000 (body)


If speed is your need, Nikon’s J5 delivers a whopping 20 fps continuous shooting with autofocus engaged. Burst modes can hit an eye-popping 60 fps if AF is fixed on the first frame of the series and you bump down the resolution. The 20-megapixel camera sports a 1-inch, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5A image processor. The J5’s AF system features 171 contrast-detect and 105 phase-detect points. The native ISO range is 160-12,800 and there’s a High ISO Noise Reduction mode that records and layers four images simultaneously to cut back on noise. The camera also features Wi-Fi and NFC for fast pairing with mobile devices and a 3-inch touch display that tilts at a 180-degree angle for that all-important selfie. Nikon has tossed in a few new creative modes, too: nostalgic sepia, pop, retro, high-contrast monochrome, fisheye, skin softening and cross-screen. On the movie front, the J5 is able to record 1920X1080 video at 60 fps and 720p video at up to 120 fps for slow motion playback.

PRICE: $500 (10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 included)


Boasting an 18-megapixel CMOS sensor and DIGIC 6 processor, the EOS M10 is Canon’s most budget-friendly mirrorless to date. It features a native ISO range of 125-12,800 which is expandable to 25,600. Its 3-inch, 1.4 million dot touch screen can be rotated and tilted and supports touch focusing and touch shutter release. The autofocus system, dubbed Hybrid CMOS AF, uses 49 AF points to keep subjects razor sharp. Continuous focusing is available for both stills and movies. Video is recorded at 1080p30 or 720p60. Joining the M10 is a new kit lens that features a retractable design that shortens and locks into place when not in use to keep the overall dimensions of the M10 compact. The EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens will be bundled with the M10 but also sold separately for $300.

PRICE: $500 with EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3

DJI Zenmuse X5/X5R
Originally introduced for use with DJI’s Inspire 1 drone, the X5 and X5R cameras have quickly come down to Earth thanks to the new Osmo stabilizer, which can mount either camera for handheld use. Whether you’re using them on the ground or in the air, both models will deliver high-quality stills and video. Both cameras feature an MFT lens mount and a 16-megapixel MFT sensor with a native ISO range of 100-25,600. The cameras offer shutter speeds from 1/8000 sec. to 8 sec. They can record 4K video at 4096×2160 to microSD cards at either 24 or 30 fps with up to 12.8 stops of dynamic range. The X5R camera goes one further and adds RAW video recording in the CinemaDNG codec, which is saved either to microSD cards or to removable SSD memory. RAW recording delivers significantly higher bitrates for 4K footage, up to 2.4Gbps for 3840×2160 video. The X5, by contrast, tops out at 60Mbps for footage with similar resolution. The X5R also supports a new D-Log video profile for a desaturated file more suitable for post-process color grading.

PRICE: $2,298 (X5); TBD (X5R)

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