Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Mirrorless Systems For You
How to build a mirrorless system as your primary outfit for nature photography
Five years ago, if you wanted to travel light, you had to choose between a DSLR and a compact digital camera. The former offered great image quality and versatility, but were much larger and more costly. The compacts were easy to carry, but suffered in terms of versatility and image quality. Then, along came a new breed: the mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. By doing away with the DSLR's bulky and complex moving SLR mirror, mirror box and pentaprism or pentamirror viewfinder, manufacturers were able to produce much smaller cameras, yet retain DSLR-size image sensors and, thus, DSLR image quality.
The first mirrorless models were Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras from Panasonic and Olympus featuring the same 17.3x13.0mm-sensor format used in Four Thirds system DSLRs. These were soon followed by models from Sony (NEX series) and Samsung (NX series), then Fujifilm (X-Pro1 and X-E1), Pentax (K-01) and Canon (EOS M) featuring even larger 25.6x15.6mm (roughly) APS-C sensors. Nikon joined the fray with its Nikon 1 series (J1, J2, V1 and V2) with smaller CX (13.2x8.8mm) sensors and extremely quick shooting; Pentax offers the smallest mirrorless interchangeable-lens models of all, the Q and Q10, designed around 6.2x4.6mm sensors.
As the number of models increased, the mirrorless cameras rapidly gained popularity with consumers as higher-quality alternatives to all-in-one digital compacts, and with more serious shooters as second take-everywhere cameras. But today's mirrorless models actually can serve as primary cameras for outdoor photographers, delivering DSLR image quality, DSLR control and versatility, quick frame rates (albeit sometimes with focus locked at the first frame) and even complete systems.
Mirrorless cameras come in two basic form factors: "mini-DSLR" and "flat." The former—exemplified by Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GH3 and G5, Olympus' OM-D E-M5 and Samsung's NX20—look like tiny DSLRs, and can be held the same way, viewing via a built-in eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF). The latter look and operate like consumer all-in-one digital cameras, but take interchangeable lenses and in some cases have built-in eye-level EVFs; these are more "pocketable" than the "mini-DSLRs." Both styles can produce excellent image quality; which one you choose will depend on your preferred method of shooting (camera to your eye or held at arm's length).
While the first mirrorless models offered minimal lens lines, today those have expanded considerably. Mirrorless pioneers Olympus and Panasonic offer 10 and 17 lenses, respectively, and since their mirrorless cameras are all MFT models, they can use all of those lenses. This provides users with "native" focal lengths equivalent to 14mm to 600mm on a 35mm camera. Olympus also offers an adapter to use Four Thirds-mount lenses on MFT cameras, and Panasonic has adapters to use Leica M and R lenses on MFT cameras.
Sony offers 11 E-mount lenses for its NEX cameras, from a 10-18mm fisheye zoom and a 16mm superwide-angle to a 55-210mm supertele, for a 35mm-equivalent focal-length range of 15mm to 315mm. There are also two adapters that allow use of Sony A-mount (and legacy Konica Minolta) DSLR lenses; Sony's LA-EA2 adapter incorporates a quick phase-detection AF system like the one in Sony's SLT-A65 translucent-mirror DSLR and, thus, provides quick phase-detection AF with those lenses on the NEX cameras. Nikon offers six lenses for its Nikon 1 J1/2 and V1/2 mirrorless cameras, as well as the FT1 Mount Adapter, which allows use of F-mount Nikon DSLR and SLR lenses. The six Nikon 1 lenses range from a 10mm to 30-110mm zoom, equivalent to 27mm through 297mm with a 35mm camera.
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