The Mirror-less Estate

For reasons that will become apparent in subsequent posts, I decided to have another look at the current situation regarding the mirror-less digital cameras available today (or in the near future); these are also know as Compact System Cameras and were once referred to as EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras too.

I naturally started with Canon’s offering (the EOS M) as there were some overlaps with some parts of the EOS full size camera system, I could continue to use some of the accessories with varying degrees of support. The problem is that even though a number of its “issues” have been either overcome or reduced somewhat a single body with only 3 native lenses isn’t a system and Canon shows no real commitment to sort this out. They even released a slightly souped up EOS M2 that had only a few changes and this was only released in Japan.

Canon EOS M

So I also had a quick look at their number one competitor’s range too and whilst Nikon is producing lenses and has a few bodies I see the very small size of their sensor a dead end. Don’t get me wrong the focusing on this camera is astoninglishly fast and there are also a few nice lenses in the range too. However, I feel that Nikon’s system is being controlled purely by the marketing team who want to charge too much for the newer Nikon 1 components and then remove features arbitrarily from upgrades/replacements to prior models. I also am not sure about its continued existence, the stuff only really sells when heavily discounted, and this shows the disparity between what Nikon wants to sell the gear for to what people are prepared to pay. Some of this is down to perception and the rest I believe is because Nikon charges too much.

Nikon V2 Black

The Sony Alpha range encompasses two different ranges of mirror-less cameras. There is the older (read more established) APS-C sensor sized models (formally called the NEX range) and the newer 35mm “full-frame” sensor sized models (the A7 and A7R).

Their higher-end APS-C sensor sized models (NEX6 and NEX7) are getting quite old now and are starting to show signs of imminent replacement. When models that are lower in the range sport features that the higher end models lack then a replacement is called for. Depending in which rumour you believe, the NEX7 replacement will be released in the next month or two, there is also talk of merging the NEX6 and NEX7 into a single model – maybe they will do two sensor versions like the A7/A7R? So at the moment this system (which I now consider a system) is not viable today, note the emphasis on the word “today”. For some reason Sony seem to have problems in releasing new models; look how long it took for the A7/A7R and the first batch of lenses to be available. Back when the NEX7 was first released I remember that that I pre-ordered one in December but ii wasn’t delivered until February 29th of the following year. They also have a problem in that all of the decent glass in their range is ZEISS and that blue-badge seems to add a few hundred pounds. The first ZEISS lens the 24mm f1.8 (still costs £800) isn’t actually that good.

NEX-7+Zeiss Lens

When announced, I liked the idea of the Alpha 7 and 7R and even considered getting them, they are after all very good value for money for a 35mm full frame digital camera. However there is a major problem of a mono-coloured Elephantidae nature in the room that seems to have been skirted around by Sony and some of the fans of the new “system” (System is stretching the name a bit, 2 camera models and 3 available lenses does not a system make). Although the camera itself is quite small (even smaller than the micro-four-thirds OMD-EM1) the size of the lenses are primarily dictated by the size of the sensor and the fastest aperture of the lens; I also assume the flange distance which has been reduced by the lack of the mirror has a minor effect too. So while the camera is smaller and much lighter than a full frame 35mm DSLR, the lenses cannot be that much smaller. There are some comparison shots available on the Internet that shows this too. This I believe will be the Achilles heel of the system.

Sony Alpha A7 with 28-70mm lens

I also do not need full-frame images at 24MP or 36MP – I don’t worry about the size too much but you need really good glass if you are to get the best out of these models, especially the A7R’s 36MP sensor.

Finally on Sony, whilst the APS-C sized lenses are not the cheapest in the world their full frame FE lenses are more expensive too. I priced up the A7 with the 35mm f2.8mm ZEISS and 50mm f1.8 ZEISS and the price came to almost £3k – ouch! You will note that neither of these is that fast. The next two lenses to be released are the 24-70mm ZEISS and the 70-200mm G lenses, they are only f4; and this is to keep their weight and size down, imagine how big and heavy f2.8 versions would have to be?

So with the big three contenders’ offerings out of the window I looked at the biggest and most comprehensive mirror-less system around: the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system. This system has two manufacturers creating camera bodies, lenses and accessories and also has a relatively good third party lens support too. Both Olympus and Panasonic have different ideas on what should be in their bodies so this gives a lot of choice when it comes down to choosing a model.

This wouldn’t be my first venture in to the MFT system, I have now owned most of the Panasonic models that have been released since the G1 (which I also owned), and my most recent experience was with the Lumix GH3 (twice now). The first time I owned this model I was quite happy but was seduced by the Fuji X-Pro1 system (more on that later), so by the second time round the GH3 didn’t really connect with me and I was concerned that to get better quality for nature photography I would need to invest in a proper DSLR (there will be a separate blog post about the SLR later). I was also concerned about the cost of the lenses that would be required to fill in the gaps and complete my range; the cost of some of the better lenses is astronomic. The new Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f1.2 is £1,399; almost £1.4K for a MFT lens are they kidding me!

Lumix GH3-Front

So with a disenchanting view of the GH3 behind me, I look at the only remaining viable option; well for me anyway – I don’t consider the GX7 viable – this model has been limited in too many ways, I suspect that the Panasonic marketing teams at work I’m sure. I also think that the handling of the GX7 pales in comparison to the Sony A7/A7R and the Olympus OM-D EM-1.

My first experience with the OM-D EM-1 camera was at the November LCE Lincoln Photo and Optics show and it was a good one. I was considering getting one and had to walk away to stop myself; they had an excellent deal: get the free grip, a lens adapter (if you were a registered Four-thirds user), £100 cash-back if you spent £200 on Olympus accessories and an free invitation to one of the Olympus Training Workshops. Without a doubt the OM-D EM-1 is a fantastic camera and one that is quite desirable but still costs £1,949 after being available on the market for many months. The Sony’s which have been around for about the same time have already dropped in price but Olympus have not budged, in fact in real terms the camera could cost more if you want the battery grip. After being free with the camera, the only offer still left is the £100 accessory cash-back voucher if the accessory is purchased at the same time as the camera. The Olympus accessory also has to be £200 or more; the battery grip currently costs £189.

OMD-EM1

So both Panasonic and Olympus seem to have lofty ideas of who their ranges are aimed at and a phrase comes to mind when I think of them. Both Panasonic and Olympus are “pricing themselves into oblivion”, I would like to credit the original author of this phrase but I’m not sure where I read it.

Pentax doesn’t really have a viable mirror-less system at the moment.

I do think that you should keep an eye on Samsung though, their latest camera the SMART NX30 looks like a contender with some nice features and great ergonomics. Their sensor is APS-C sized and is I believe the sweet spot between full frame and MFT. Finally, their lens range has some really nice glass too. But what I don’t understand is why the system has NO third-party support, nada, nothing? The other thing is that Samsung make some great mobile phones too, the Galaxy range gives my iPhone 5s a run for its money (some would argue that it is better – I refuse to join in with these arguments). They have tried shoehorning the android OS into the camera and this doesn’t work. They need to look at how people want to use the camera and what they want with the photos after they have been taken.

Samsung NX30

I could say the same ting about Sony too – they also have mobile phones. If Sony and/or Samsung ever “get it” then Canon and Nikon should start to worry. However, as long as both Sony and Samsung carry on without actually finding out what is wanted by their users they can rest easy.

My worry with Samsung is that although their range is expanding I am worried about the total lack of support by anyone other than Samsung and the lack of any real information on the range and the users of the range.

I didn’t even consider Leica, they are too expensive for what is really a very manual camera and the cost of the glass is prohibitive to me. Two thousand pounds on average for a good manual focus prime lens is too much, I know that a lot of the better Canon, Nikon and Sony glass can cost this much but they are more specialised lenses with greater capabilities.

So this leaves Fuji and their X-System – for which I have decided to write a separate post for. This will be released in a few days time as tomorrow I will write a post about the Fuji X-T1 that will be announced that morning.