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I am in market for new mid range camera for still images(not video). I am currently a Canon T2i user.

I originally posted the question as: Olympus EM-1 vs Nikon D7100. But that got me thinking, there is a broader question with no clear answer I could find.

Mirrorless cameras are the latest trend and I don't want to spend more than $2000 on camera alone. I have been trying to compare best mirrorless vs dslr cameras. But more research has led me confused, mirrorless cameras are still new in market (thus, lenses are limited, maybe expensive)and DSLRs are considered dinosaurs.

In Mirrorless cameras, Olympus EM-1 , Fuji XT-1 and Sony A7 stand out in the price range. But Fuji XT-1 lens are very limited and Sony A7 is too expensive. I really liked Fuji XT-1 dial setup but lenses are few.

Additionally, various review sites I have been to, rate Olympus EM-1 as top mirrorless camera in that range.

Nikon D7100 is a standout DSLR offering a wide dynamic range and is the best midrange DSLR when it comes to images. However, I am more concerned about the weight of the body itself(close to 1 kilo). But has an advantage of larger megapixel file.

There is very few information regarding any comparison between Nikon D7100 and Olympus EM-1. Snapsort gives EM-1 a rating which I find is too low. I think mirror lenses can be attached to mirrorless bodies, which can drive down cost.

Has anyone done any analysis as far as photos are concerned? Any useful head-to-head comparison/sites/experiences will be welcomed.

Points to consider

  1. Image quality (details)
  2. Camera Performance in low light
  3. Lenses Variety and Affordability
  4. Landscape and Architecture Photography(stupid point, still I added)
  5. Ease of use(Includes Weight), Durability
  6. Budget (Including Lenses should not exceed $3000)

Snapsort Comparison : here

Top Mirrorless comparison: link2

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2  
One thing I want to add is that while APS-C DSLR lenses are old/more and m4/3 are young/less, the whole basis of mirrorless and the 4/3 format is that the lenses are SMALLER. So, for example the 75mm f/1.8 will ALWAYS be smaller than a 150mm f/1.8 (FF) or 100mm f/1.8 (APS-C). –  BBking Apr 29 at 1:03
    
A note on the lenses, do not get confused between mirror lenses and lenses for SLRs. –  damned truths Sep 8 at 7:17
    
You're really asking two questions, what is the best (sensor) format: m43rds, APS-C or 35mm full frame, and what is the best form factor: DSLR or mirroless. It would be better to address them separately, specifically if you are thinking about the EM-1 it's worth understanding the tradeoffs of the m43 sensor, see: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3986/… –  Matt Grum Sep 8 at 8:52

4 Answers 4

I've got good news and bad news for you. And I'll start with the good: we are in the midst of a golden age of cameras, from every tier from entry-level to the enthusiast models you are looking at to the top of the line medium format options. There are hundreds of options which easily get an "excellent" rating in all the categories you describe. And you don't have to take my word for it; from a blog post Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer on the topic of mirrorless choice, here is a quote from photographer Ken Tanaka:

The simple fact is that one's choice of camera among this ever-widening belt of high-end "mirrorless" models from Fujifilm, Sony, and Olympus will have little impact of one's photographic results. We're in a hailstorm of outstanding products.

The choice of DSLR vs. mirrorless is similarly rosy: both options are great. DSLRs may be dinosaurs, but they're highly refined and close to the peak of their evolution — that meteor hasn't struck yet.

So, the good news is you really can't go wrong.

The bad news is that this doesn't help you make a choice, and unless you want to burn through a lot of cash and primarily be a gadget tester rather than a photographer, you do need to choose eventually. You're right that lens lineup is a reasonable way to narrow this down, as well as other aspects of the system as a whole. But, really, don't get too hung up there either — you're right to distrust Snapsort's valuation of factors like "number of lenses". To call out a particular example that you mentioned, there aren't a ton of Fujifilm X lenses, but the ones that exist are excellent, and Fujifilm has demonstrated a commitment to thoughtfully growing the lineup. My advice here is to consider the future, but don't get too hung up on it. Consider whether the system has the lenses to suit your basic wants now, and a few objects of desire in possible other directions, and don't agonize much more than that — buy into the system that is speaking to your heart. (And if it's truly a tie, flip a coin, or decide on price. Remember the good news — you can't go wrong.) The best camera is the one that gets you done worrying about what camera to buy and out shooting the fastest.

I also have some unsolicited advice... You mention a budget of $3000, and are looking at camera bodies that cost roughly half to two thirds of that. That's not a bad initial point, but if you are starting from scratch, you will probably be happier if you plan for a somewhat bigger outlay over the first year or so. It's not just the body and lenses — lighting is key to photography, and that means strobes and stands and modifiers. And almost everyone should at own at least a decent tripod. And you'll need memory cards and backpacks and all sorts of miscellany. Books. Possibly software. This all adds up. And that's not even considering that $1000 to $1500 probably isn't going to complete your basic working set of lenses. (If you think it will, you might want to consider whether this is really the camera body tier you want to be buying. You might get better results by spending less on the body and more on the rest. Or you might just spend less overall and still get results you are happy with.)

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Get your hands on the cameras in question. The choice between mirrorless and dSLR isn't one of image quality or return-on-cost. It's about handling.

I tend to make the analogy that a dSLR is like a big red toolbox and a P&S is like a swiss army knife. If I'm going to overextend that analogy, mirrorless is like using a tool belt. Which tool you want to use depends on the job you want to do and personal preference.

So, I'd say, put a little bit of budget aside and rent the cameras to see which one appeals to you more; whether the megapixel count actually matters to you and what you shoot, and to see what the weight and handling of both types of cameras are actually like.

All the cameras are good. You can't make a bad choice. You need to choose the best fit for you and your personal style (and budget). What do you want to shoot? How do you plan to shoot it? What can you spend? Those are the starting points for any decision about what camera to buy. Just because mirrorless is the latest trend doesn't necessarily mean it's the best fit, or that dSLRs aren't worth your time.

For example, for landscape photography, you might prefer a full-frame camera and not be worried about the weight of a dSLR because you'll be hauling a big tripod with you, anyway. OTOH, you might be the type of landscape photographer who's going to hike and climb mountains with a backpack for two days before you get to your photo-taking spot, in which case having something that weights 1 lb. vs. 5 lbs is going to make a huge difference.

But if you're shooting sports/wildlife, then the slower autofocus and shutter lag on some mirrorless cameras might drive you nuts. But if you're a street shooter who zone-focuses with adapted manual rangefinder lenses, then tracking autofocus speed doesn't matter, and small size cameras and lenses and the ability to waist-level shoot with screens do.

Which tool is going to be the best fit for you can be situational, and depends heavily on what you shoot the most.

I will also state that in my experience, the mirrorless camera handling can tier below dSLRs. I.e., the "pro" level cameras handle like prosumer dSLRs, and the mid-tier cameras can handle like entry-level dSLRs, and entry-level mirrorless can handle somewhere between an advanced P&S and an entry-level dSLR. This isn't straight across the board, given how much more variety there is in body types there are on the mirrorless side of the fence, but entry-level mirrorless cameras typically lack viewfinders and use the LCD on the back of the camera for composition, which is like P&S handling.

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+1 for being "about handling". –  BBking Apr 29 at 0:55

The truth is that any such decision is about compromise. You cannot have any one camera that is best for all 1 to 6 points you mentioned and do not think you can add weight as 7!

Look at your requirements one-by-one and see what is best for each of them. Then choose a camera which achieves a good balance among these:

  1. Image quality: Resolution is the leading factor, so a Pentax 645Z would be among the best but it's almost 4X times price limit you set in 6. A Nikon D800E or Sony A7R would be next for this.

  2. Camera Performance in low light. Larger pixels trump most other considerations here, and the Nikon Df is the current full-frame low-light champion. It happens to fit your budget but not if you include a very good lansdcape lens to satisfy 1.

  3. Lenses Variety and Cheapness are two separate things and there are only a few lenses which can be compared one-to-one between brands such as class 17-55, 70-200, 50, 85 and 100mm lenses. The good thing is that you do not need to buy all the lenses you want upfront. Buy some, rent others.

  4. Landscape and Architecture Photography (stupid point, still I added): It is actually an important point. The Nikkor AF-S 14-28mm costs half your budget, so you wont be able to satisfy 1 and 2 fully. However, the Panasonic 7-14mm is superb which you can have have along with an OM-D E-M5 for a good price. You can go with the E-M1 instead if you have legacy Four-Thirds lenses.

  5. Ease of use, Durability: Again, these are completely different. The toughest interchangeable lens camera is the Nikon 1 AW1 which has a 1" sensor so it is seriously behind the image-quality of other DSLRs and mirrorless models. Other than that, any of the Pentax K-5 or K-3 series are among the toughest DSLRs out there. Note that freezeproof mirrorless cameras are rare and the E-M1 has unfortunately a rotating LCD which makes it more vulnerable to damage.

  6. Budget (Including Lenses should not exceed $3000): You have balance the needs in order to meet your budget or move your budget a little. If you get an advanced mirrorless, you can have a very decent balance between the above points if you consider the Pentax K-5 IIs, Fuji X-T1, Olympus OMD-D or Nikon D600. Judge carefully as they all offer a different compromise.

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Why can't you add weight as 7? –  BBking Apr 29 at 5:10
    
It was just a casual mention that the asker forgot to list about the most important (IMHO) aspect of comparing mirrorless cameras to a DSLR. –  Itai Apr 29 at 11:31
    
Oh right, yes. Sorry, it was sarcasm. I totally agree! –  BBking Apr 30 at 8:29

I have been using a Sony NEX-5R for around an year, and I have played with a friend's Nikon D5300 for a few days. That makes me not the most qualified person to answer your question — that would be someone who has used both an SLR and a mirrorless camera for years. But almost everything I say below is verifiable, so you don't have to take my word for it.

OVF: One important factor in the choice between SLRs and mirrorless cameras is whether you care about an OVF. An OVF is generally preferred to an EVF or an LCD, but since you mentioned low-light photography, I find that an OVF doesn't help for low-light photography — the view is dark, and I can't see clearly what I'm shooting. Whereas, with the LCD or (I'm assuming) EVF, the image is digitally magnified, so you see what you're shooting. In my case, I care more about night photography than anything else, so the right decision is to avoid an OVF and therefore avoid an SLR. Depending on how important night photography is to you, you may find this applicable, or not, to you.

Controls: SLRs have a lot of them, but not low-end mirrorless cameras. So, if you care about having lots of manual controls, and you're buying a mirrorless cameras, you should probably buy one near the top of its respective lineup (A6000 for Sony E-mount, and E-M1 for Olympus m4/3). An SLR will probably have more controls than even the A6000.

Size and weight are a big difference. My NEX-5R is roughly twice as high as an SD card. It's one thing to read the specs, but, concretely, SLRs feel bulky and heavy. When I'm going to be out for hours, with other gears such as multiple lenses, a tripod and so on, that too in an environment that's likely to be too hot or too cold for me, or I'm likely to be hungry or thirsty or tired, I'd much rather carry a mirrorless camera. Again, only you can decide how much this factor matters to you.

Battery Life is worse with mirrorless cameras than with SLRs. I find this to be irritating, to constantly keep my camera charged because otherwise if I just grab it and go somewhere, I might run out of juice midway through my shoot. It adds to the hassle of owning and using a mirrorless camera, when you have to constantly keep worrying about charge, and not have the confidence that the camera will have enough juice for a full day of heavy shooting.

Autofocus: I use a Sony NEX-5R, and I played with a friend's Nikon D5300, and I find that autofocus performance on the Nikon under low-light is not reliable compared to the Sony. It would often fail to autofocus and not let me take the photo. Note: I'm not talking about the speed of autofocus, but the reliability — what fraction of shots correctly autofocus. Again, only you can decide how important this is to you.

Lens selection is good with Nikon and Canon SLRs (I don't know about Pentax and I don't want to talk about what I don't know, so I'm qualifying this statement by saying Canon and Nikon SLRs), and with micro four-thirds, but not so good with other mirrorless systems like Sony (or, even worse, Samsung or Fujifilm).

To take the E-mount as an example, you have all the types of lenses you'd need: F1.8 primes at a couple of focal lengths, a cheap ($200) but sharp and good F2.8 prime, an ultra-wide-angle zoom, a 3x zoom kit lens, a high-quality constant-aperture F4 18-105 zoom and a superzoom. Or, if you want to avoid the superzoom, you can buy two lenses covering the same range of focal lengths. There's also a pancake lens and, I think, a portrait and a macro lens. So, all the various kinds of lenses you'd want are there.

But the selection is limited compared to Canon or Nikon SLRs:

  • I wanted to buy an 18-135 lens, but it doesn't exist for the E-mount.
  • The E-mount stops at 210mm, while Nikon goes up to 300mm or so, at an affordable price.
  • If you want to buy a superzoom, with Sony, you have only 18-200 options, while Nikon gives you an 18-200 and an 18-300.
  • There's no constant-aperture F2.8 zoom.

So, if you're buying a mirrorless camera, and you're buying something other than m4/3, you'll have to make some compromises — you may not get exactly what you want.

Affordability of lenses: I know only about Sony E-mount, so let me describe that as an example. E-mount lenses are moderately priced. You have a F2.8 19mm for $200, a F1.8 35mm for $450, a high-quality 18-105 for $650, and so on. Again, these are indicative prices, to give you an idea.

Fujifilm, btw, is the outlier among mirrorless cameras — extremely expensive lenses ($600 - $1000), but supposedly high-quality. So, if affordability of lenses matters to you, avoid Fujifilm.

Image quality is generally considered to be comparable between mirrorless cameras and SLRs, certainly ones with the same sensor size. As for megapixels, since your question mentioned it, Sony has a 24MP camera, and the E-M1 is 16MP.

Micro four-thirds: If low light photography is important to you, keep in mind that you have a disadvantage with smaller micro-four thirds cameras. I shoot low-light more than anything else, as I said above, so for me the right choice was to go with an APS-C camera, whether mirrorless or SLR. This may not apply to you if you do night photography only once in a while. For example, Dxomark found that the Sony A6000 and the Nikon D7100 give good results up to around ISO 1300, while the top of the line m4/3 cameras, the E-M1 and the Panasonic GH4, top out at around ISO 800.

In summary, I agree with the other posters that you can't go wrong, but I hope this has given you a good idea of the pros and cons of mirrorless cameras vs SLRs.

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