Best Mirrorless Camera Options

 Best choices for Mirrorless Cameras

Best mirrorless cameras for underwater photography 2015

Also check out Best Compact Underwater Cameras of 2015

and Best dSLR Underwater Cameras of 2015

 

A brief overview of choosing a mirrorless camera

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.

 

Micro-four thirds vs Sony

There are two recommended options for getting a mirrorless setup - either a "micro-four thirds camera", or a Sony setup. Micro-four thirds cameras includes the Olympus E-PL7, OM-D E-M1, E-M5, E-M10, Panasonic GH4 & GX7 / GX8. 

The Sony e-mount cameras include the Sony NEX-5R, NEX-5T, NEX6, NEX7, A5100, and A6000. You can think of the A5100 as a replacement for the NEX-5R/5T, and the A6000 as "big brother" to the A5100 that replaces the NEX6 and NEX7. Sony changed the naming from "NEX" to "AXXXX".

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 E-PL5, OM-D E-M10 or A5100 - we feel that you are getting most of the best features of the mirrorless class at the best price.  The Sony A6000, 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 Sea & Sea 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, but the Sea & Sea A7 II housing should not be dismissed - it definitely holds its own with respect to ergonomics, build quality and support for the most popular lenses and has proven to be a competitive choice - especially with its exclusive TTL converter that works well and produces great exposures.

Nauticam A7 II underwater housing
Sea & Sea A7 II underwater housing

 

Olympus E-M5 housing bundle, best value at $1,299
Easier port changes than the PEN or E-M5 MK II housings make this a winner

Nauticam 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

Olympus PEN E-PL5 housing bundle, $799 super value
Least expensive choice, but we think the E-M5 is worth the price for the better camera and easier port changes

 

olympus e-pm1 underwater housing

What can I say? Every Bluewater Photo customer who gets an Olympus PEN 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 $1,499, you can get a good housing, port and camera, and great fish, reef and macro photos. For another $1,049 you get a wide-angle lens and dome that gives you stunning 180 degree wide-angle shots.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a mirrorless camera, which accept micro-four thirds mount lenses. It has a sensor 4-5 times larger than high end compact cameras, and can auto-focus while taking video. The housing is larger than a compact camera housing, but much smaller & lighter than a dSLR housing. The E-M5 bundle comes with a great 14-42mm kit lens. 

  • Great housing and camera for the money
  • Port changes are much easier than with the E-PL5 or E-PL7 housings
  • High-end sensor, pro-level body with great controls
  • Excellent built-in 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
  • Get great TTL with the YS-01 or YS-D1 strobes
  • 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

 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

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 in a Nauticam or Aquatica Housing - best choice

Comparing the E-M1 with the E-M5 Mk II

  • 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. If you are going to use the camera oten on land in low-light, you may find the 5-axis IS useful. Also, both the Nauticam and Aquatica E-M1 housings are superior to the E-M5 Mark II housing choices.

On a budget? Olympus OM-D E-M5 and OM-D E-M10 costs much less

  • The new Olympus E-M1 brings the mirrorless world even closer to the high quality dSLR cameras, in a much more compact size, great for travel and underwater shooting! Improved auto-focus, higher strobe sync speed, larger viewfinder and more.
  • The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and OM-D E-M10 are both fantastic camera - see more details here. Fast focusing 16MB camera, great video and awesome image quality; great controls and electronic viewfinder
  • Both are a Great setup for snorkeling with whales, shooting macro, cave diving and general purpose photography

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.

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 setups really deliver, regardless of the lens, and is one of the reasons this is our best quality choice. Personally, I feel that if your budget will allow it, I would recommend getting the Olympus E-M1 over the E-M5, E-M5 Mark II or E-M10.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is the top choice for dSLR shooters who want to get a smaller mirrorless package. For compact shooters who want to move up to dSLR quality & performance without the bulk, either OM-D E-M1 camera or the Sony A6000 are the top choices.

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.

  • 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
  • Both E-M1, E-M10 and E-M5 offer a variety of customizations for 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 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 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.
  • The Aquatica E-M1 housing has great ergonomics, a very solid feel for extreme conditions and the ability to use their awesome SW8 port for over/under shots. Customers rave about this housing

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

 

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 underwater shooting guide

For more details on OM-D E-M1 settings, lens options and housings, read our comprehensive OM-D E-M1 underwater shooting guide.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mirrorless camera guide for underwater
Photo taken while diving Anilao with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, 60mm macro lens


Blue shark, taken with the Olympus E-M1, 8mm fisheye lens

 


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

 

 

Sony A5100 or A6000 in Nauticam Housing - great for video, great image quality

The advantage of the A6000 over the Olympus E-M1 is a larger sensor and greater dynamic range for wide-angle photos.

With the A5100 and A6000, 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 NEX and A5100/A6000 cameras are amazing, fast focusing mirrorless cameras 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 D7100 sensor.

If the E-PL5 or OM-D sensor size isn't big enough for you, the Sony A5100 and A6000 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, A6000 and  NEX-6 has a dSLR size sensor for great image quality & high ISO performance
  • Sony A5100 vs A6000 /  NEX-6 - the A6000 & NEX-6 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 18-55mm, 16mm, fisheye conversion lens, and 30mm macro lenses.

 

 

Mirrorless camera comparison

 

Olympus OM-D E-M10

Olympus OM-D E_M5 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Sony A5100

Sony A6000

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

Great

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 - 1080p, 60p + 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 9/30/2015

$599

$999 body only

$1099 body only

$548

$698

$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 / A6000 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

 

Contact Bluewater Photo to discuss options in more detail

 

 
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