Best Mirrorless Camera Options | Bluewater Photo & Video

Best Mirrorless Camera Options

 Best Choices for Mirrorless Cameras

Best mirrorless cameras for underwater photography 2016


Photo by Kelli Dickinson, taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, 8mm fisheye lens

Brief Intro to Mirrorless Cameras

If you are looking for a small underwater setup with great image quality, come no further - a mirrorless setup is right for you. These cameras focus faster than compact cameras, have better image quality, larger sensors, and better video. Thanks to their small size they compete against larger DLSR's by offering great results in a small package - perfect for traveling.

Different Types of Mirrorless Cameras

There are two recommended options for getting a mirrorless setup - either a "micro-four thirds camera", or a Sony setup. Sony utilizes a larger sensor on their mirrorless cameras, same as the Canon and Nikon Cropped Sensor DSLR's. Olympus and Panasonic both use the micro-four thirds sized sensor for thier mirrorless cameras, and also share a lens mount, doubleing the lens options available.

Sony A7 on the left and Olympus OM-D E-M1 on the right. The full frame Sony is the largest mirrorless.

The Sony cameras have the advantage of a larger sensor size and more dynamic range. People focused on wide-angle and/or video will often gravitate towards a Sony setup. The Sony A7 II and A7R II boast a full-frame sensor with unsurpassed image quality in this class of cameras.

The micro-four thirds cameras support a much larger number of lenses, including the excellent Olympus 60mm macro lens, and more housing options. Now that the Sony 90mm macro lens is out, Sony has a great, although expensive, macro option.

Mirrorless Housings & Cameras

The Olympus housing is larger than our best compact setups, but the Nauticam, Recsea, and Aquatica mirrorless housings, while more expensive, can be almost as small as a compact setup. In choosing the OM-D E-M10 II, A6000 or A5100 - we feel that you are getting most of the best features of the mirrorless class at the best price.  The Sony A6300, A7R II and Olympus OM-D E-M1 cost  more, but are incredible cameras for the more serious photographer.

Mirrorless Versus Compacts

If you want a smaller system, less expensive setup, or the ability to change to wide-angle underwater, check out our best compact underwater cameras for 2015.

Mirrorless Versus dSLR Cameras

A dSLR camera, although much larger underwater, does have advantages in the areas of dynamic range, focus speed when shooting action, the ability to use a zoom fisheye lens, and faster focusing macro lenses for small fish. Check out our best dSLR underwater cameras for 2015.

Still confused?

If you are still confused by all the options, call us at 310-633-5052 or email us at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com. My staff and myself have been shooting all of these models lately, and we can talk you through the subtle differences.

 

Sony A7 II / A7R II in a Nauticam or Aquatica Housing - Best Image Quality

4K Video, full frame sensor, great lenses

With Sony improving the autofocus in the A7 II and A7R II cameras, and the addition of a great macro and fisheye lens options, these full-frame mirrorless cameras have become great options for mirrorless shooters. Incredible image quality matching a full-frame dSLR, small size, great high ISO performance, good auto-focus speed and sharp lenses make this a great option for still shooters. 4K video, good auto-focus during video and excellent large aperture lenses also make this a great option for professional video.

Downsides include the price, which can be substantial once you include lenses, ports and adapters. Also, the lenses can be quite larger than micro-four thirds lenses. Auto-focus speed & processing speed for stills still does not match what you will find in a high-end dSLR.

The Nauticam A7 II housing has great ergonomics, excellent lens support, vacuum check system and an easy port change system, Aquatica offers rugged construction and a fiber optic flash trigger at no additional cost. The Sea & Sea A7 II housing definitely holds its own with respect to ergonomics, build quality and support for the most popular lenses, especially with its exclusive TTL converter that works well and produces great exposures.

Read our Full A7R II Review for Underwater Photography

A7 II / A7R II Housing Options:

Nauticam A7 II Underwater Housing - Our top pick for ergonomics and add on options

Aquatica A7R II Underwater Housing - Rugged and well built, includes free fiber optic flash trigger

Sea & Sea A7 II Underwater Housing - Best for shooting TTL, with fiber optic trigger (optional)

Ikelite A7R II Underwater Housing - Best for budget, TTL with Ikelite Strobes

Sony A7R II, Sony 28mm + fisheye conversion lens

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 in a Nauticam Housing - Best Overall

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the "top of the line" micro-four thirds camera. It is a competitor to the Panasonic GX7 and GH4, and it accepts the same lenses. The auto-focus on this camera is quite fast, and the Nauticam housing is exceptional. It's small and very ergonomic. 

The OM-D E-M1 offers more customization features over the E-M5 and E-M10, slightly faster focusing, higher sync speed of 1/320th. You can read our detailed OM-D E-M1 review for underwater photographers.

The newer E-M5 Mark II is also an excellent option!

  • The E-M1 and E-M5 Mk II are similar cameras, both take incredible images and you would be hard pressed to find a difference in the quality of the cameras. We give the edge to the E-M1 because of the more professional body and controls.
  • Both cameras offer 16MP resolution and high quality processor on the micro four thirds sensor, as well as in body 5-axis image stabilization.
  • The E-M1 has the edge with 1/320th speed flash sync, where as the E-M5 Mark II only offers up to 1/250th.
  • Both Nauticam and Olympus offer housings for the E-M5 Mark II.

One of the main reasons people go for a mirrorless setup is the smaller size. This is where the Nauticam OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 Mark II setups really deliver, regardless of the lens, and is one of the reasons this is our best overall choice. Personally, I feel that if your budget will allow it, I would recommend getting the Olympus E-M1 over the other Olympus options.

For a small high-performance mirrorless camera setup in a high-end aluminum housing, the Nauticam or Aquatica OM-D E-M1 is a clear choice.

E-M1 Features:

  • One of the smallest housing on the market for a mirrorless camera or dSLR
  • Cameras focuses ultra-fast
  • Custom-machined aluminum Nauticam housing allows precise control of all camera functionality
  • E-M1 Nauticam housing includes dSLR style molded handles
  • Custom high-quality ports give you the best possible optics for all lens choices
  • Offers a variety of customizations for personalizing camera settings
  • Setting custom white balance is quick and easy
  • Great selection of small micro-four thirds lenses by Panasonic and Olympus
  • Full flash control, auto, force flash, manual settings down to 1/64th power to save battery
  • Great choice for shooting whales, dolphins & sharks when coupled with the Panasonic or Olympus 7-14mm lens or Olympus 9-18mm lens, tiny size and with very little drag in the water
  • Incredible macro with the Olympus 60mm macro lens, incredible wide-angle with the Panasonic or Olympus 8mm fisheye
  • Nauticam housing is rated to 300ft; has a lens release button, leak detector, great port release mechanism, and supports Inon and Sea & Sea style fiber optic cables, the new Nauticam vacuum system is available for both the E-M1 and E-M5.

Garibaldi photo taken at Catalina Island with the Nauticam OM-D E-M5 housing, 8mm fisheye lens by Mel Moncrieff. Great color & dynamic range!

  • Ports, zoom and focus gears are available for 8mm, 7-14mm, 9-18mm, 20mm, 14-42mm, 12-50mm and 45mm or 60mm macro lenses.

Read our Olympus OM-D E-M1 Underwater Shooting Guide

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Bundle - Best Value

olympus e-pm1 underwater housingWhat can I say? Every Bluewater Photo customer who gets an Olympus OM-D micro-four thirds camera is really, really happy with it. They are usually looking for better auto-focus and image quality than their compact camera system, and they are not disappointed. For a very good price of $1,699, you can get a good housing, port and camera, and great fish, reef and macro photos. For another $1,074 you get a wide-angle lens and dome that gives you stunning 100 degree wide-angle shots.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the top of the line Olympus mirrorless camera on the market today. The auto focus is fast, and there are many lens choices from both Olympus and Panasonic. The housing is larger than a compact camera housing, but much smaller & lighter than a dSLR housing.

The OM-D E-M1 Bundle includes the camera, 14-42mm IIR Kit lens, Olympus housing, Standard Port and Zoom Gear.

  • Great housing and camera for the money
  • Port changes are much easier than with the Olympus E-PL5 or OM-D E-M5 Mark II housings
  • High-end sensor, pro-level body with great controls
  • Excellent built-in 5-axis image stabilization
  • Better image quality and faster focusing than compact cameras
  • Smaller size and better price point than a dSLR setup
  • Excellent macro and wide-angle options
  • Take ultra-wide, ultra-sharp wide-angle shots with the Zen dome port and 8mm fisheye lens
  • Great selection of small micro-four thirds lenses by Olympus and Panasonic

E-M1 and Other Great Bundle Options:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 housing bundle, Best Value at $1,699
  • Easier port changes than the PEN or E-M5 MK II housings make this a winner
Nauticam OM-D E-M10 housing bundle, 2nd Best Value at $2,499
  • High-quality aluminum housing and same sensor as the E-M1 at an exceptional price
 

 best mirrorless underwater camera 2012
Stunning color and sharpness taken with an Olympus E-M5 mirrorless camera & YS-110a strobe by Bluewater Photo's Kelli Dickinson

 

Sony A5100 or A6300 in Nauticam Housing - great for video, great image quality

** Read our Sony A6300 Review **

The advantage of the A6300 over the Olympus E-M1 is a larger sensor and greater dynamic range for wide-angle photos. For a little more money, we recommend the Sony A6300 over the A6000, and the A6000 over the A5100. However, we have to admit that at $450 less that the A6300, the A6000 can look fairly tempting.

With the A5100 and A6000 / A6300, Sony had made minor upgrades to the Sony NEX-5T/5R, and NEX-6. If you can get these cameras at an attractive price, they are still good options, with housing from Nauticam and Recsea available.

The Sony A6300 camera is an amazing, fast focusing mirrorless camera with incredible image quality. The housing + fisheye dome port fits in the palm of your hand. The sensor size is the same size as the D500 sensor.

If the OM-D sensor size isn't big enough for you, the Sony A5100 and A6300 offers you the same large sensor as a dSLR, but in a much smaller sized camera. With a 20MP - 24MP, and the ability to shoot 10 frames per second, you can get some great images with this small camera - and some incredible video. The only slight downside is that the lenses are a little bigger than the micro-four thirds lenses, and Sony is still catching up in terms of number of lenses.

  • Sony A5100, A6300 both have a dSLR size sensor for great image quality & high ISO performance
  • Sony A5100 vs A6300 - the A6300 costs more, but has an additional control dials, a nice OLED viewfinder. The A5100 can zoom the 16-50mm lens from the camera body.
  • Takes great hi-def video! The Sony NEX cameras offers full manual video exposure control, and can record at 1080 60p. It shoots in several full HD high-end frame rates such as 1080 60i + 60p, 30p and the cinematic looking 24p.
  • Best overall image quality of the mirrorless cameras
  • Cons - lens selection for Sony cameras are still catching up to the micro-four thirds options; lenses are larger than micro four-thirds lenses; the fisheye conversion lens is great, but the Sony 30mm macro lens focuses much too close for easy use underwater
  • The Sony 90mm macro lens is now out, which is an awesome macro options but is the port, port adapter and lens all together are pricey.

School of Fish taken by Shane Spring, Sony Nex-5n with Nauticam housing, 16mm lens and fisheye conversion lens.

  • Ports, zoom and focus gears are available for 10-18mm, 18-55mm, 16-50mm, 16mm, fisheye conversion lens, and 30mm macro lenses.

 

Mirrorless camera comparison

 

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Sony A5100

Sony A6300

Sony A7 II / A7R II

Weight in grams

396

469

497

269

344

599

Size

119x82x46

125x85x45

130x94x63

110x63x36

120x67x45

127 x 96 x 60

Megapixels

16.1

16.1

16.1

24.7

24

24 / 42

High ISO capability

Great

Great

Great

Great

Great

Excellent

Sync speed

1/200th

1/250th

1/320th

1/160th

1/160th

1/250th

Focus speed1

Fast

Fast

Very Fast

Fast

Fast

Fast

Battery Life

Good

Good

Good

Very Good

Good

Very Good

Image Quality

Great

Great

Great

Excellent

Excellent

 Excellent

Macro Capability

Great5

Great5

Great5

Good6

Good6

Great

Wide-angle capability

Great7

Great7

Great7

Great8

Great8

Great

Lenses available

48

48

48

20

20

Many

Control dials

2 dial

2 dials

2 dial

2 dials

3 dials

2 dials

Manual flash power settings

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

NA

Video2

1080p, 60i

1080p, 60i

1080p, 60i

Excellent  -1080p, 60p + more

Excellent - 4K 30p, 1080p, 120p + more

Excellent - 4K

Electronic Viewfinder

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

3D built-in

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Built-in image stabilization

3-axis

5-axis

5-axis

No

No

5-axis

Price with kit lens as of 2/16/2016

$550 (body only)

$899

(body only)

$999

(body only)

$598

$1148, $698 for the A6000

$1698 / $3198  

(body only)

  1. Focus speeds are relative to high-end compacts
  2. All these cameras can auto-focus well during video; the Sony A5100 / A6300 produces the best video quality
  3. Nex-5R Kit lens is larger than the micro-four thirds lenses; the new 16-50mm lens is smaller
  4. Can do 3D when a separate lens is purchased
  5. Great macro is possible with the Pany 45mm, or the Olympus 60mm macro
  6. It is difficult to get close enough to the subject with the Sony 30mm macro for 1:1
  7. 8mm fisheye, 7-14mm and 9-18mm lenses are available, with the 8mm giving the best results
  8. The Sony fisheye conversion lens + 16mm pancake lens gives excellent results
 
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