Stop Complaining (Mirrorless Users)

Let's face it, we live in an age of exceptional cameras and lenses.

As with High Fidelity, we've somehow managed to argue our way into little nooks and crannies trying to suss out very small—and to most people unnoticeable—differences. Meanwhile, every camera maker has at least one product that 15 years ago we would have regarded as "stellar," and which today and for the foreseeable future can produce exceptional images.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and define what those cameras are. This article is actually split into two: this site covers the mirrorless cameras and dslrbodies covers the DSLR cameras (duh).

Let's start small and work our way up.

In the m4/3 world, both Olympus and Panasonic have produced gems of cameras that are feature and performance rich. Amazingly, they've managed to differentiate them.

bythom olympus em1ii

Olympus throws their entire engineering expertise at the E-M1 Mark II, and it shows. This is a wonderful camera with only one real fault (other than perhaps sensor size, which is a limiting factor in low light): getting to know it. Oh my lord does dealing with the complexity of this camera give you headaches at first. The feature set and customization capabilities is on steroids, and not particularly well documented, organized, or even labeled by Olympus. Someone hire a UX expert at Olympus, stat.

That said, the sensor does quite well for its size and is very usable out to ISO 1600. The frame rate, focus performance, EVF, and particularly the sensor-based IS (now supplemented by lens IS) are superb once you master the camera and get it tamed and set to your needs. Yes, it's pricey, but no, it doesn't disappoint once you come to grips with it.

bythom panasonic gh5

Panasonic, meanwhile, took the GH5 into videographer dreamland (which you can take even further with something like the Shape matte box and cage, see above). The body size is more DSLR-like than mirrorless compactness, but I don't think videographers are going to complain about that: it's still a remarkably small and capable 4K video camera that just so happens to be a very useful and capable still camera, too. Unlike the EM-1 II, the GH5 is much more understandable and approachable from the get go. On the still side, though, the Olympus has tricks up its sleeve that the Panasonic can't duplicate, though. You just have to bury yourself in technophilia to find and understand them.

So: still enthusiasts pick the E-M1 II and video enthusiasts pick the GH5 and you'll be well rewarded.

Fujifilm and Sony live at the next size sensor level (APS-C), with again two very different approaches. Fujifilm looks like they've discovered a crypt of film-camera engineers and have resurrected them, Sony wants to go all PlayStation on you.

bythom fujifilm xt2

The Fujifilm X-T2 is a masterpiece. Solid camera. Easy to use. Great sensor (if you can live with X-Trans). Excellent performance across the board. Some of you thought my review of the X-T2 was lukewarm. It wasn't. It's a great camera, and an excellent choice for prime lens users due to Fujifilm's reasonably wide selection of such lenses. My biggest issue with the X-T2 is that it's a tweener. Tweener in sensor size, tweener in size/weight. I personally use DSLRs when I want to go one direction, and smaller, lighter mirrorless choices when I want to go the other.

bythom sony a6500

The Sony A6500 is a different beast, entirely. You'll either love or hate it, as the design decisions made by Sony are more to an extreme. I'll give Sony credit for this: there isn't a better performing camera that's smaller. But "small" is one of the A6500's traits that some like and some don't. Controls are small, for instance. But the sensor is excellent, focus performance very good, the EVF is good, and it's even got on-sensor IS packed into that little weather-sealed body. Unlike the Fujifilm, lens selection for the Sony is one area that some might have issues with, as Sony seems to have abandoned APS-C E lenses other than the ones they created for the now forgotten NEX models. If the A6500 has a fault, it is the lack of lens choices that make sense for its small body design and that perform as well as the sensor does. Still, don't rule this camera out, especially if you want to use the 10-18mm f/4, the 24mm f/1.8, or 50mm f/1.8.

bythom sony a7rii

At full frame, Sony has a handful of choices, but the all-around exceptional camera to me is the A7r Mark II. This camera slots up very nicely against the Canon 5D Mark IV and Nikon D810 in terms of all-around goodness. Coupled with the f/4 zooms or the primes Sony and Zeiss have produced, it typically makes for a smaller-than-DSLR kit with (mostly) DSLR level performance. If the A7r II has a fault, it's going to be in the autofocus system somewhere. Direct control is not so great, and there are other small issues that come into play when you start trying to make it track erratic action or shoot in low light. But, oh my, the rest of the camera gives you a set of solid features and specs that we would have died for a decade ago.

In the mirrorless lens world, m4/3 owners are in fat city. I've almost completed my reviews of all the Olympus Pro optics, and there's not a dud among them. Even the 12-100mm f/4, which on paper seems like a reach to put the pro label on, manages to produce impressive results. Olympus just continually hits it out of the park with their top optics, which makes the m4/3 cameras way more viable than they would be had they just done the mediocre lens set that Sony did with the APS-C mirrorless cameras.

The Panasonic optics aren't far behind optically. I tend to find them having a compromise or two compared to similar Olympus lenses, but one thing Panasonic has fairly consistently done is produce smaller lenses, which may be something that attracted you to m4/3 in the first place and something you shouldn't discount. The better-specified of the Panasonic optics are quite good, and can't be put in the mediocre category, at all.

Fujifilm has built out a very nice basic set of lenses for their X cameras. If you're a 20 to 100mm prime user, or want a basic set of very wide angle to moderate telephoto fast zooms, then you're covered: Fujifilm has excellent products for all those needs. In fact, Fujfilm has done such a great job creating solid, enthusiast-capable lens set, it shows just how crappy and consumerish the Canon EF-S, Nikon DX, and Sony E lens sets really are. So much so that I'd say that if you've chosen APS-C as your optimal sensor size, you need to consider Fujifilm X as your system. The one exception to that is if you're deep into telephoto needs, where a Nikon D7200/D7500/D500 coupled with the proper Nikkors just can't be beat (no, not even by Canon). A D7200 with the 300mm f/4E PF makes 450mm equivalent in most mirrorless systems look big and heavy ;~), let alone slow to focus and often small in buffer.

Which brings us to Sony. With FE (full frame), Sony is now up to a reasonably complete prime and zoom lens set. They're missing a few things still (especially given the recent A9), but I can tell you without revealing any secrets that Sony will be addressing many of the remaining gaps soon. Couple the Sony offerings with the Zeiss offerings, and other than some long telephoto lenses, Sony FE is covered with one heck of a set of lenses. Indeed, some of those lenses are better than they need be for the sensors used, which is saying a lot.

So just as I concluded in my DSLR version of this article, what is it that a mirrorless user should be complaining about? Arguably, nothing. We've got multiple, great, flexible, high performance camera bodies, many great lenses to choose from, all of which are getting even better lately.

Simply put, if you aren't generating great photos from your mirrorless camera system and lenses, something is wrong. Very wrong. We've got exceptional products to use now, so make sure you know how to use them to best advantage.

text and images 2017Thom Hogan
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