Choose the Best Mirrorless Camera for Travel Photography
Are you looking for the top rated mirrorless cameras for travel photography?
Written by Mathieu Gasquet (Official photographer of the Turin Cinema Museum) and Heather Broster
Please note that you can find an updated version of this article on our website MirrorLessons - The Best Mirrorless Camera Reviews.
Lugging behind your DSLR camera and the many lenses that go with it can be hard not only on the body but also on your wallet. How many times have you had to pay $40 to check in your luggage at the airport because you had your camera backpack with you? I thought so!However, as technology evolves, manufacturers are continuously able to build smaller products without compromising image quality. Mirrorless camera are a very good example: disposing of the mirror-based optical viewfinder that you find in every reflex camera, producers are able to reduce both the size of the body and the lenses as well. Plus, with CMOS sensors becoming more and more advanced, we are beginning to see smaller cameras capable of handling light, dynamic range and ISO speed like a DSLR.The leading producers in digital photography - Canon, FujiFilm, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony and Olympus - have each developed a new and innovative mirrorless camera for your travelling convenience. The good news is that each company has attempted to make their model different from the rest. Some aim for a bigger sensor and high image quality, while others aim for better performance or design. The choices are vast but not so hard to make. Below, you will find a description of each model, their pros and cons, and additional reviews by professionals so that you can choose the best mirrorless camera for your travels.Take that, heavy backpack and $40 check-in fees!
Nikon 1 Mirrorless Camera Review - A fast and compact mirrorless camera with DSLR quality
The Nikon 1 system is an entirely new system created by Nikon to follow the success of micro four-thirds cameras such as the Olympus Pen and the Panasonic GH2. The Japanese manufacturer practically reinvented the concept by giving it unique features that distinguish the product from its competition. The 1 cameras are the fastest mirrorless cameras available on the market, with a continuous shooting speed of up to 60 fps, a speed that you generally see only in high-end professional DSLRs. There are also other advanced features such as motion snapshot, smart photo selector and the ability to record video and photo simultaneously that make the 1 system perfect for advanced amateurs and professional photographers who want a powerful tool to photograph their family and kids without carrying around a heavy DSLR. There are six models, the J3 and S1 (coming soon in February 2013), the J2 and the V2 and the J1 and V1.
- small enough to fit in your coat pocket (depending of the lens you have mounted on it)
- very fast auto focus system thanks to the EXPEED 3 processor
- full HD video
- Up to 60 FPS continuous shooting
- start-up time is 1 second
- the Smart Photo Selector takes 20 photos in succession and suggests the best four
- the Motion Snapshot Mode allows you to take a short video and combine it with a photo of the most touching moment during the video
- some of the advanced functions DSLR users like, such as aperture priority, are hidden in a sub-menu
- the original 1 mount is only compatible with 1 lenses. You will need an adaptor to use standard Nikon Lenses
- the Nikon CX sensor is the smallest in its category: the crop factor will be 2.7 if you use DSLR lenses (wide angle lenses will be significantly less wide)
- electronic viewfinder on the V1 and V2
The difference between the various models:There are currently six models in the : the J1, J2, V1, V2, J3, and S1. The V2, the latest entry, has been redesigned for users who want a product closer to a DSLR both in design and functionality. It is the most powerful of the four in terms of both speed and quality. The "V" models don't have a flash incorporated, a characteristic retained only by the "J" models. The J3 is the newer version of the J2 and J1, adding more quality and speed than its predecessors.Some accessories are also available, like an external speed light for the V models, a GPS unit, stereo microphone, wireless image transfer and more. Nikon 1 system
Canon EOS M 18.0 MP Compact Systems Camera
The Canon system is the latest entry in the market. It features the same APS-C sensor you can find in Canon low and middle entry DSLRs, which is good news because it carries the same technology and the same quality, such as excellent ISO speed range (good sensitivity for indoor and night shots), high resolution and a fast processor. A number of websites call it the little sister of the 650D. The name EOS used by Canon is a clear reference to its reflex lineup. This M version is meant to combine DSLR quality with the simplicity of a compact system (lightweight, touchscreen). It is available in four colors. There isn't a variety of lenses available yet (actually only two: a standard zoom lens and a fixed lens). However, the price is reasonable starting at 799$ with the 22mm f/2 "pancake" lens.
- very easy to use
- 18 million pixel APS-C format sensor
- excellent image quality
- uncompressed raw format at 14-bit
- large touchscreen compensates for lack of controls on camera body
- Video mode in full HD 1920x1080
- hybrid AF system for both still and video
- ISO of 100-25,600
- compatible with all the existing Canon EOS DSLR Lenses (adaptor required)
- no optical or electronic viewfinder, the only feature that could make you miss your DSLR
- Only two EF-M lenses (designed especially for the M system) are available at this time . You will need a mount adaptor to use the standard EOS DLSR lenses.
- no built-in flash (an external speed light especially made for the M system is available)
- continuous shooting speed at only 4.3fps
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mirrorless Camera Review - The most DSLR of the mirrorless camera collection!
Over the past few years, marketers have used nostalgia about old film cameras as a way of closing the gap between the fascination for old photography equipment and the usability and quality of modern photographic technology. Companies started to make retro designed compact cameras to attract costumers, and with a more than positive response, the next big step was obvious: to build small cameras, with interchangeable lenses, DSLR features and a retro design.The mirrorless system was the perfect solution for that, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the most advanced example of this new trend. With a water/dust sealed body, as you would find in the most expensive DSLRs, the E-M5 follows the design and usability of its historical film lineup. Users who once owned a film camera will experience a pleasant sense of familiarity. Inside, there is the most advanced Olympus technology: one of the fastest autofocuses ever built and stunning image quality that makes this camera one of the best in its class. The price could make you think twice, as it is one of the most expensive mirrorless cameras on the market, but the Olympus line is also the most versatile when it comes to lenses, offering the widest micro four thirds range on the market today.
- has an attractive retro appearance
- water and weather resistant
- 16.1 megapixel m4/3 sensor for clear and high quality images
- very good in low-light situations (check out our high ISO test at the National Cinema Museum in Turin)
- fast autofocus
- very good JPG files (of course, it shoots also in RAW format)
- wide selection of Olympus Zuiko lenses
- cramped button layout
- menu can be a little confusing for those not used to Olympus cameras
- as pricey as a DSLR camera
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Mirrorless Camera Review - The best hybrid mirrorless camera for photography and HD video
Panasonic was, along with Olympus, the first to embrace the mirrorless concept with micro four thirds sensor. Its most well-known product has always been the GH series, which has had much success in the video community as well. With DSLRs becoming more and more popular for professional filmmakers, the GH1 and the GH2 have become fair competitors in this particular and growing market. Panasonic pushed the concept further with the GH3, which is the most clear example of a hybrid photo/video camera, with no compromise in quality in either photo or video, and with features that suit professional needs in both sectors. The Panasonic GH3was released in November 2012.
- very good image quality with 16 mp of resolution
- Full HD recording in all-intra avchd codec, with 50p and 60p in 1920x1080
- clean HDMI out, mic input
- wireless capabilities for photo transfer, multiple flashlight use
- improved image processor that reduces image noise on high ISOs
- wide choice of lenses from Panasonic and Leica- splash/dust proof design
- as expensive as a DSLR camera
- the viewfinder isn't very good
Sony Nex-7 Mirrorless Camera Review - One of the most popular mirrorless cameras on the market
Another series that has seen a wide success in both the realm of photo and video is the NEX lineup by Sony which has some very interesting features. First of all, the NEX 7 is the mirrorless camera with the highest resolution available on the market with a 24 APS-C megapixels sensor. Its size puts the Nex 7 in direct comparison with the new Canon EOS M. On the video side, the NEX 7 offers a robust codec for recording (avchd) in FullHD up to 50p. The camera is also fast, offering 10fps continuous shooting. I have often seen news videographers with a Nex 5 or Nex 7 in hand.
- high resolution electronic viewfinder
- 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor for great image quality even at high ISO
- full HD video up to 50p with avchd codec
- shoots at up to ten frames per second
- compact and robust body
- built-in flash
- nice features such as HDR and Panorama mode
- vast range of lenses available
- autofocus can hesitate sometimes
- a little pricey
- uses Sony proprietary memory cards
- menu system can be confusing
Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Mirrorless Camera Review - The best mirrorless camera model for professionals
The Fuji X Pro series is probably the most desired among professional photographers. Like the Olympus EM5, it combines a retro design inspired by the old film reflex with some of the most interesting tech features on the market today. The most interesting is the hybrid viewfinder: you get a true optical (not electronic) viewfinder and an electronic high resolution screen. This one characteristic alone makes the Fuji X Pro 1 comparable to the DSLR usability we know and love.But that's not all: this camera has an APS-C sensor, as big as the ones found in the Canon Eos M and the Sony Nex 7. The difference here is the different type of CMOS sensor especially developed by Fuji to deliver great image quality even at high ISO (up to 25600, which makes it the most sensitive on the market along with the Eos M).The X Pro series also offers very high quality and fast prime lens. The only real con is that it is the most expensive system of all reviewed in this article. But there is an answer to that too! Fuji just released a cheaper version, the X-E1. This new model shares the same sensor as the X Pro 1, which means that you will get the same quality and performance. The main difference is that the X-E1 is smaller and doesn't have the hybrid viewfinder. Instead, it has an electric viewfinder which is very sharp and detailed thanks to amoled technology (the same technology used Samsung smart phones like the galaxy S3). And as opposed to the X Pro, the E1 has a built-in flash - a nice plus. So, if you are on a budget, the X-E1 is a great alternative.
- hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder makes a difference for the user
- Impressive image quality and sharpness even at high ISO
- Film Simulation mode brings the look of old Fuji films
- great build quality and design
- high quality and fast lenses made especially for the X Pro
- the most expensive mirrorless camera on the market (but the X-E1 is cheaper)
- Internal software can be slow
- no built-in flash (but present in the cheaper X-E1)
- the autofocus isn't the fastest in the market (it has been improved in the X-E-1 model)
Mirrorless cameras in a nutshell
Still undecided? Despite the technical specifications of each camera, every model has a specific purpose. They can all take very good pictures, so the focus is more on how you plan to use it during your vacation. If you're looking for speed and performance so you never miss an important family moment, the Nikon 1 is what you need. If resolution and image quality are what matter the most, the Sony Nex 7 or the new Canon Eos M are two of the best choices. If you have a weakness for old fashion film cameras, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fuji X Pro 1 not only offer exactly what you're looking for but they are also two of the best all-around mirrorless models available today. Finally, if video matters as much as to you as photography or even more, you'll want to have a look at the Panasonic Lumix brand, with particular attention to the GH3. Finally, if it is money you're worried about, keep in mind that almost every model quoted above has a less expensive version in its lineup. Good luck to all of you!
Are you interested all things mirrorless? Then be sure to check out Mirrorless Curation, a new website featuring curated mirrorless content from around the web.