Mirrorless vs DSLR: Are Innovations in Mirrorless Cameras Leaving DSLRs in the Dust?

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The video above is a brutally honest review of the new Canon T5i by theCameraStore’s Chris Niccolls, and he does an excellent job pointing out that there’s really nothing new to see here.  I mean really, what has Canon done here other than to slap “T5i” where “T4i” once resided on what is basically the same camera body.  While this is an extreme example and is in now way indicative of DSLRs as a whole, Chris’ review does illustrate a point…

The Innovations in Mirrorless Cameras have surpassed those of DSLRs by leaps and bounds

Case in point:  About the same time that Canon launched the T4i last year, Panasonic also launched the Lumix G5, and it can easily be asserted that each of these cameras targets the same group of photographers – enthusiast shooters looking for a high quality camera at a mid-range price level.  While the T4i did offer some modest upgrades over the previous model (the T3i), the G5 represented a complete overhaul from it’s predecessor (the Lumix G3), complete with a new sensor and body, and Panasonic did a wonderful job addressing many of the shortcomings of the G3 – which is why the Lumix G5 is one of our favorite cameras of the last year (and was picked as our sleeper camera of 2012).

Fast forward to today.  Canon Launches the T5i, which is basically the T4i with a new name tag and higher price tag.

Meanwhile, Panasonic have just announced the new Lumix G6 and although it’s predecessor, the Lumix G5 is a great camera, the new model represents a significant improvement over it’s predecessor in several areas.  The Lumix G6 stays true to the G5’s pedigree as a top notch still photos camera, but brings quicker autofocus speeds, even in low light due to an all new Venus Processing Engine.  It improves on the G5’s burst mode – increasing from 6fps to 7fps (or 5fps in AF tracking mode), has maximum ISO 25,600 (extended), 19 creative filters and adds focus peaking (It’s the first Panasonic Camera to be so equipped)!  The G6 also adds Wi-Fi for instant sharing of images to the web or smart devices, as well as remote control with your smart device via the Free Panasonic Lumix Link App, and it has NFC (or Near Field Communication), which allows you to instantly pair your camera by touching it to another device that also has NFC capability. Finally, there’s a new Clear Retouch in-camera editing feature that allows users to remove unwanted items in an image by tracing a finger over the item in question and remove it without affecting the overall photo.

In video mode, the G6 represents an even bigger improvement over the previous model.  Both can record up to 1080/60p video in AVCHD or MP4, but the G6 also incorporates new video modes including a 24p video mode that will allow you to create a film-like effect when shooting full HD videos.  The G6 also records stereo audio and is equipped with a 3.5mm external microphone input that was lacking on it’s predecessor.  The G6’s Live and Touch autofocus functions allow “professional-like rack focusing” (moving focus from one item within your frame to another on the fly), and there’s also Timelapse and Stop Motion modes.  This is quite a laundry list of significant improvements as well as innovations.

Are DSLR Companies playing it safe?

While it’s true that there have been some significant advancements in DSLR tech over the last decade (most notably, the Sony a99 – which MC Contributor Will Crockett calls “The DSLR perfected”), it’s also true that there have been many more advancements in mirrorless technology since the birth of the category in 2008.  Since that time, mirrorless systems have come much further much faster, progressing from being purely hobbyist camera systems and evolving to include some first rate pro level systems like the Panasonic Lumix GH3, the Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-E1, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the top tier Sony NEX Systems.  The image quality gap that once existed between mirrorless systems and their DSLR cousins has largely been erased, and mirrorless systems now surpass DSLRs in several key aspects, such as autofocus speed, video performance and new and advanced features, for example – the Olympus OM-D’s 5 Point IBIS, and wireless connectivity, where mirrorless systems are leading the charge.

Despite the fact that mirrorless camera systems are becoming more mature, it appears that the big DSLR makers have not yet taken the category seriously as both Canon and Nikon have released less than inspiring mirrorless offerings.  Yet instead of drawing from the deck of innovation, the big two seems to be content with the cards they already have in hand.

DSLRs…  Mirrorless…  Today, all have excellent camera systems to offer, but the mirrorless systems are now poised to pass the old pros.  The next 12 to 24 months should prove very interesting indeed.


Dean Capinegor says:

I have started doing weddings and events and purchased a D7000 a few days ago and was jsut amazed what useless outdated system these cameras offer compared to my OMD. I can change everything 50 times faster on the OMD, WB- and oh of course, actually change ISO without having to grab the side of the camera- and best of all I can see everything in the EVF. I bought it for moving subjexcs as mirrorless still sucks at this and may take a Fuji sensor technology to overcome or a hybrid mirror system (hopefully Oly has this up its’ sleeves for the next model) but this Nikon stuff is so ass backwards that I am returning it for a 60D. At least with that camera I can quickly access things on the fly- which is all I need for moving subjects. I think Panny and Oly will surpass these cameras to some degree in the next two bodies and the younger generation of shooters will opt for them. Once C-AF tracking has been perfected there will be no need for a big fat poorly laid out camera anymore.

Hi Dean…

Thanks for the comment. Glad you’re enjoying the OM-D as it’s an amazing little camera, and it deserves all the accolades that it gets for the superb image quality that it produces.

I’m with you on the EVF. A lot photogs will go on and on about how much they love an optical viewfinder, but personally I like to see what my images will look like before I shoot them, and EVFs are getting better and better. I don’t personally have a lot of experience shooting with the OM-D, but have you tried face detection AF – that might help with your moving subjects and I find that it works pretty well on my Pannys (although nothing is foolproof – yet).

Please let us know how you make out with your cameras… We love to hear from our readers! — SG

jon mccorkle says:

I currently have 2 mirrorless systems. I own the Olympus OM-D and the Sony RX-1. To start with, the images from the OMD are consistently the best I have ever had. There is no hesitation with any job that I am asked to do. I frequent a really awesome camera store in Raleigh NC and it annoys the sales guys to death that I don’t use a full size dslr. I have owned a Nikon D600 and Canon 5D II and don’t miss them at all. The Zuiko and Panasonic glass is very good, especially the primes. I am a shooter and I do this for a living. If these cameras were inferior and not up to the job I would not be commenting here. As far as full size 35mm sensors go, the Sony RX1 has laid to rest any concerns I had about that. If SIZE does matter to most of these sales guys, then they should stay with their big dslrs. I guess the thrill of having someone seeing you carrying around 50lbs of gear has faded for me. Oh, I have a Fuji x100s on order as well. These cameras I have are all fun and best of all they make me want to just keep on shooting.

Hi Jon,

WOW – You’ve got some great mirrorless camera systems in the OM-D and the RX1. Mirrorless systems have definitely come a long way in 5 short years, and the image quality that you’re getting from those cameras will surely serve as a testament to that.

I agree with you about the M43 Primes – the M.Zuiko and Lumix Glass are superb – and if you get the chance to get your hands on the Panny pro zooms (12-35 and 35-100 2.8), you’ll find that they’re excellent as well. Do me a favor… when you get your X100s, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it compares to the RX1. Right now, I think those are 2 of the best compacts that money can buy, and even though the X100s is not “full frame” (don’t get me started on that ~_^), I think you’ll find those Fuji X-Trans sensors are something special.

Thanks again for the great comment and have a spectacular day! — SG

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