Which mirrorless camera should I get?

A reader of this blog sent me an email the other day. She asked “Currently, I am looking at the Sony Nex 5n, Olympus Pen P3, Fujifilm X10 or the x100?. Low light shooting is important as well as being able to work well in most settings. Your suggestions or feedback would be greatly appreciated.” I know a proper discussion can turn into a long dissertation and requirements like “able to work well in most settings” is a really open-ended question that requires more probing. However, I came up with a short answer, one that I thought would interest my readers. So here was my email response.

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OK here are my opinions. I haven’t shot with the X100 much so I can’t comment personally, though a good friend of mine uses one.

If you want the highest quality, flexible and easy to use system with the kit zoom lens get a Sony NEX 5n.

If you want the smallest camera with a zoom lens get a Fujifilm X10.

If you are willing to buy and use prime lenses and want the flexibility of changing lenses get a Olympus Pen E-P3

If you like the 35mm focal length with probably the highest image quality in the group, especially good with white balance with flash, the get the X100.

Is that specific enough for you? It all depends on how you want to use the camera.

My personal favorite is the Olympus E-P3 because I love the colors, exposure and there are a lot of great prime lenses (12mm f2, 14mm f2.5 20mm f1.7, 25mm f1.4, 45mm f1.8). However if I’m going to use just the kit zoom, I wouldn’t pick the Olympus. If you need/want video along with still photography, then the Sony NEX 5n will do a better job than the other 3 cameras.

If you are thinking about the Fujifilm X100, than I would also consider the Olympus OM-D E-M5. This Olympus is brand new but looks really good. I’ve only played with it for a few minutes but from what I read from reviews, it might be my top pick.

Hope this information helps.

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So what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? There are certainly other mirrorless cameras out there to consider but the reader is considering a nice selection. It is certainly an exciting time for photographic equipment.

15 thoughts on “Which mirrorless camera should I get?

  1. I’m just going to send my friend to this page, he asked the same exact question and I don’t know anything about mirrorless cameras… I’m buried in my SLR world 🙂

  2. The assessment is pretty much spot on. But as you know with any camera, there are trade offs. The “ability to work in most settings” is open ended and bothersome as that can mean anything from shooting your kid’s basketball games in a gym to being a food blogger.

    Also, the choice list is a little bit apples and oranges here. The x100 is a fixed prime. What if the person is just not willing to move and frame? The inclusion of the x100 on the choice list doesn’t even make sense to me here.

    1. Yes, there can be long discussions about all the merits, I certainly agree. I wasn’t going to critique the person’s choices, just responding the the question as concisely as I can.

  3. I love the feature set on the Sony, but I hate the way the pictures look. I have learned, painfully, that tech specs are one thing, how the photos look can be surprisingly different. To me, the Sonys all produce flat colors and and overall dullness. Why? No idea. Mass production notwithstanding, no two cameras are alike, even when they are from the same manufacturer, much less different ones. I’m very happy with my Olympus P3, but I was very happy with the PL1 also. Still have it, in fact … It’s slower than the P3 (everything is slower than the P3), but otherwise is just as good. Instead of changing lenses, I keep the long lens on the PL1 and the 14-42 II on the P3.

    Who makes the 12 mm prime? Is that an Oly lens? I still live in hope of finding a WA lens to love at a price I can afford (there’s the rub!)

    Thanks for everything!!

    1. Yup, I like the Olympus color over the Sony too but I figure that is a personal preference. And yes Olympus does make a 12mm f2.0, though it is pricy.

  4. All the listed choices are fine cameras. I would suggest that is more important to think about what you want to do with the camera and pick the one that fits the intended purpose as closely as possible, keeping in mind that there are always trade offs and there is no such thing as a perfect camera. As Libby said, the models listed are very different from each other and it sounds like the person asking the initial question needs to back off of camera choices for a moment and answer some personal preference questions first. What do you like to shoot (landscape, action/sports, portraits, general walkaround?) What focal length(s) do you prefer (wide angle, normal, telephoto?) What will you do with the photos (post to web, print large?) What size camera are you willing to lug around? Make the camera fit your style and not the other way around.

    Low light shooting shooting was mentioned and out of the choices presented I would lean more towards a micro 4/3 camera or, if you are comfortable with a single focal length, the X100. Both have the ability to create quality images in low light, conditionally in the case of the micro 4/3 cameras. Andy gets wonderful low light pictures at low noise levels with his E-P3 because he is using fast lenses that allow him to keep the ISO low. With a kit lens on something like the E-P3, you would have to crank the ISO up to possibly objectionable noise levels depending on your tastes and how you use the images. The smaller the camera sensor, in general, the more noise you get as you work your ISO up. Fast primes are a great counteractive measure for that. I shoot with a X100 and due to the larger sensor I can crank my ISO level pretty high and get much lower noise than the micro 4/3 sensor cameras at the same ISO levels but I have only one lens and no option to change that. All about tradeoffs. I absolutely love my X100 (coming from an Olympus E-PL1 system) but I’ll be the first to say that it is not for everybody.

  5. nice write up Andy – don’t use one of these (yet) but whenever I start to get serious about it, you and Mike C. are gonna have to meet me for lunch! 🙂 – in the meantime, my DSLR is keeping me rather busy (and I must say my arm strength has improved toting it around LOL)

    1. Jim, think of these mirrorless cameras as something in between your DSLR and iPhone. You get equal or nearly equal image quality as your DSLR but in a package that is much more manageable. I actually like to shoot my Olympus Pens like a iPhone, off the back LCD without a viewfinder. The same, flowing casual style as iPhone photography but with higher image quality. Of course I can’t upload images to Instagram directly from my mirrorless cameras though 😉

  6. Sony Nex5 all the way…’cause it provides me everything I want from a Camera in this size and Range.People may disagree but Hey! everyone got different opinion.

  7. I like your analysis of the listed cameras. I recently purchased the Olympus OMD after looking very closely at a couple of the others (X10 and P3) and I couldn’t be happier. Every time I take it out for a spin, I learn something new that causes me to fall in love with it again. There is a learning curve, however, as the customization possibilities are many. I’ve used it for everything from portraits to street to landscapes and find myself walking away very pleased with the results. I recently did a three day landscape trip in rural Vermont with the OMD and my dslr, using each about half the time. In terms of ease of use, ease of carrying and general fun, it was no contest. The OMD was the clear choice. I’ll be selling my dslr as soon as my budget allows me to purchase a macro lens.

    1. Rene, thank you. The OM-D looks to be a fantastic camera, congratulations. You have some wonderful photographs on you site. I’m sure you will put your new Olympus to good use.

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