What Can We Do Better Now?

(commentary)

Here's a question you probably don't ask yourself: what mirrorless equipment appeared in 2013 that allows us to now do something we weren't able to do the year before? It's one of the those questions that, when answered, tells you a lot about the gear that was introduced during the year. 

This past year, it's an impressive list:

  • Shoot full frame. Technically, we could do that with a Leica in the past, but most of us can't afford a Leica, nor are they particularly mainstream. The Sony A7 and A7r, however, are affordable, and will be much more mainstream. For this Nikon DSLR user, it's like getting a D610 and a D800E in  smaller, lighter packages. Downside: slower focus, shorter battery life, few lens choices that show off the sensors, and slower fps than the DSLRs. 
  • Focus faster. Olympus keeps pushing up their focus performance, and while they keep repeating their claim of fastest focusing camera with every new release, the OM-D E-M1 still falls short of DSLRs in continuous focus on moving objects, especially ones with erratic paths. Still, you can focus faster in m4/3 this year than you could last year. Both Fujifilm and Sony upped their game in terms of focus performance, too. Downside: mostly happening on the most expensive cameras, and still has a ways to go to match DSLRs, or even the Nikon 1 for that matter.
  • Submerge. Nikon's AW1 is a J3 that's been wrapped really, really well. Freeze it, submerge it, leave it out in the rain, it doesn't mind. Having a built-to-purpose camera like this is far more convenient than using underwater housings in and around water. Downside: it's a J3 that costs much more, and you have to watch your lens changing carefully. Also: don't dive too deep. 
  • Equivalence, sort of. The appearance of the Metabones Speed Booster adapters changes a number of things, especially for m4/3 users where focus isolation can be an issue. Who wouldn't want sharper, faster, and focal length corrected when they mount a lens in an adapter? Definitely something that those using lenses in adapters need to pay attention to, and it does broaden the options for virtually all the mirrorless cameras (no Nikon 1 Speed Booster, though). Downside: not all automation is passed through the adapter; we're usually in manual focus and exposure world here.
  • Put it in our pocket. Technically, the Pentax Q series was already there, but those cameras don't use large sensors. So let's modify the list item to read: put a large sensor in our pocket. The Panasonic GM1 does that, as long as you have a reasonably lenient pocket. To a large degree it's the bundled lens that really pulls off the trick, as we get a 12-32mm (24-64mm equivalent) collapsing wonder out front of the very small camera. Downside: the shutter has some idiosyncrasies, like a very slow flash sync speed, and of course we don't get sensor-based IS in such a small space. 
  • Maybe you got the lens you wanted. Each mount is a little different here, but this was a year in which every mirrorless maker put some love into their lens lineup and let us do things with the mirrorless bodies we already had that we couldn't do before. Canon was the skimpiest, with just one wide angle zoom only regionally available. But everyone else gave us multiple releases that filled in gaps in our shooting ability. Downside: pretty much every mount still has something missing that a significant number of users want.

I'm sure others would point out some additional things that "bettered" our shooting year-over-year, but the above is actually already a pretty impressive list. Mirrorless had a fairly broad range of offerings entering the year, but it got broader during the year, and not just a little broader, but a lot.

We go through periods in photography gear where things get clearly advanced in many and big ways, we go through periods where we get some more modest advances. 2013 for mirrorless things were clearly moved forward by large strides. (For the Nikon DSLR version of this article, see dslrbodies.com.)

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