Mirror-less interchangeable lens digital cameras are the new force in digital photography providing novel designs, more silent and compact camera kits designed for live view and HD video while providing dSLR level still image quality.
The clear leader in this genre is the 2x crop sensor Micro Four Thirds system pioneered by Panasonic and Olympus which offers the widest range of legacy lens compatibility of any camera system, while still having a range of optimised AF lenses designed for that sensor size including the wonderful Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake, the compact, high quality 7-14mm ultra-wide lens, and the unique Panasonic 14-140mm HD video optimised lens. The differentiating benefits of Micro Four Thirds include:
- ability to use almost any legacy lens ever made including Leica M, and with many, even convert them into tilt-shift lenses via an adapter for use in either still images or HD video, and when used on Olympus cameras, they will also be image stabilised and you have the option of very nice fun art filters – just incredibly awesome creative fun – this is what photography should be all about for most of us!
- perfect compromise on sensor size for image quality and lens size and weight
- range of dedicated AF lenses from consumer grade (Olympus 17mm f/2.8 pancake) to mid-grade (Panasonic 14-140mm HD lens) to professional grade (eg. Panasonic 7-14mm, 20mm f/1.7, 45mm f/2.8 OIS macro)
- ability to use the wonderful Four Thirds lenses such as Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 and Olympus 50mm f/2.0 macro although AF may be slow or not possible depending on the camera and the lens
- currently has the ONLY camera of this type which can do continuous AF during HD video – the GH-1 with 14-140mm OIS HD “kit” lens
- image stabilised bodies – the Olympus ones
- flip out and swivel LCD screens – the Panasonic G1 and GH-1
- the best electronic viewfinders available – the Panasonic GH-1, and the Olympus E-P2/E-PL1
Ricoh offers an interesting design alternative with its GXR system in which each lens has its own sensor permanently attached to it and designed to match the expected usage of that lens. This may suit many people but its main downside is that as sensor technology becomes out of date, you not only have to change the sensor but the lens system as well, which is likely to mean a more expensive longer term cost. Examples of sensor-lens kits in 35mm film focal length terms are:
- 263g 50mm f/2.5 macro with 12mp APS-C 3fps sensor
- 160g 24-72mm f/2.5-4.4 with 1.6fps 10mp point and shoot size 4.7x crop sensor with VGA movies
- 28 mm F2.5 with APS-C sensor
- 28-300 mm F3.5-5.6 IS with back-illuminated 120fps CMOS sensor
Then there is the expected range of APS-C sized sensor camera systems which I feel defeats the purpose behind this genre – that of enabling smaller lenses with versatility of using any legacy lens even with tilt-shift adapters such as is possible on the Micro Four Thirds system.
- Samsung NX
- Sony NEX
- Sigma Foveon
- Hoya have announced in 2010 they will at some stage produce a mirror-less camera badged as a Pentax – presumably this will be APS-C to allow use of the excellent Pentax pancake lenses.
Finally, it is rumoured that Nikon will go the small sensor route with a 2.5x crop sensor which makes good sense for those wanting even smaller systems, but the 2.5x crop factor will further impact usability of legacy lenses, and image quality – both in terms of sensor sensitivity, and in terms of ability to blur the background.