Best Mirrorless Camera Options | Bluewater Photo & Video

Best Mirrorless Camera Options

 Best Choices for Mirrorless Cameras

Best Mirrorless Cameras for Underwater Photography 2017

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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, such as a full frame 35mm or cropped sensor, similar to many standard DSLR options. Olympus and Panasonic both use the micro-four thirds sized sensor for thier mirrorless cameras, and also share a lens mount, doubling 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 much smaller than any DSLR option. In choosing the OM-D E-M10 II, or Sony A6300 - 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 Mark II 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.

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.

Still confused?

If you are still confused by all the options, call us at 310-633-5052 or email us at sales@bluewaterphotostore.com. We try to shoot 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, Full Frame Camera

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 the housing, 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:

A7 II / A7R II Package Options

Sony A7R II, Sony 28mm + fisheye conversion lens

 

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

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the "top of the line" micro-four thirds camera. It is a competitor to the Sony A6300 & Panasonic GH5, and it accepts the same lenses as the GH5. The auto-focus on this camera is quite fast, and the Nauticam housing is exceptional.

The OM-D E-M1 II offers more customization features over the E-M5 II and E-M10 II, as well as an improved image processor, and auto focus system.

You can read our E-M1 Mark II Review here.

Learn all about the Nauticam Housing here.

E-M1 Mark II Features:

  • Improved autofocus for the fastest focusing on an Olympus mirrorless camera.
  • 4K video recording now available!
  • Offers a variety of customizations for personalizing camera settings
  • Setting custom white balance is quick and easy
  • Full flash control, auto, force flash, manual settings down to 1/64th power to save battery
  • Custom-machined aluminum Nauticam housing allows precise control of all camera functionality
  • 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, and vacuum electronics installed.
  • E-M1 II Nauticam housing includes dSLR style molded handles
  • Custom high-quality ports give you the best possible optics for all lens choices
  • Great selection of small micro-four thirds lenses by Panasonic and Olympus
  • 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

Good Alternate Choice, less expensive:

  • Ports, zoom and focus gears are available for a wide variety of Olympus and Panasonic lenses.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Bundle - Best Value

What 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 $1,599, 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-M5 II is one of the best Olympus mirrorless camera on the market today, second only to the newer E-M1 II. 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-M5 II Bundle includes the camera, 14-42mm IIR Kit lens, Olympus housing, Standard Port and Zoom Gear.

  • Great housing and camera for the money
  • 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-M5 II and Other Great Bundle Options:

  • Lightweight housing with several port options make this housing a winner
Olympus E-M1 housing bundle, 2nd Best Value at $1,999
  • Limited quantity available, easier port changes than the E-M5 II Olympus housing

 best mirrorless underwater camera 2012
Stunning color and sharpness taken with an Olympus OM-D mirrorless camera & Sea & Sea strobe by Bluewater Photo's Kelli Dickinson

 

Sony A6500 or A6300 in Nauticam Housing - great for video, great image quality

Fantasea Housing is a great budget friendly option!

** Read our Sony A6300 Review **

Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @18mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand

The advantage of the A6300 over the Olympus E-M1 Mark II is a larger sensor and greater dynamic range for wide-angle photos. For a little more money, we recommend the Sony A6500 over the A6300, and the A6300 over the A6000. However, all of those cameras offer excellent control and quality.

If the OM-D sensor size isn't big enough for you, the Sony A6500 and A6300 offer the same large sensor as a dSLR, but in a much smaller sized camera. With a 24MP, and the ability to shoot 10-11 frames per second, you can get some great images with this small camera - and some incredible video. The only slight downside is that there are fewer customization options for setting up the camera precisely to your liking, you cannot control the flash power like the Olympus and battery life can be very bad. In addition, the Sony lenses are a little bigger than the micro-four thirds lenses, and Sony is still catching up in terms of number of lenses.

  • Sony A6500, A6300 both have a dSLR size sensor for great image quality & high ISO performance
  • Sony A6500 vs A6300 - the A6500 costs more, but has 5-axis image stabilization, better quality 4k video recording, improved image processor and more.
  • Takes great hi-def video! The Sony cameras offers full manual video exposure control, and can record up to 4k.
  • Best overall image quality of the mirrorless cameras
  • Cons - limited customization, no flash power control. 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.

Nudibranch in the Lembeh Strait. Sony a6300, Sony 90mm macro lens, SubSee +10 diopter. Photo: Brent Durand

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

    Panasonic GH5 in a Nauticam Housing - Best for Video

    Read our Panasonic GH5 Review

    The Panasonic GH5 is the latest of Panasonic's high end mirrorless cameras. This powerhouse has the same sized sensor as the Olympus mirrorless cameras and boasts improved autofocus, 5-axis image stabilization, great high ISO capability and more. However it's real strength is for shooting video.

    The original GH series cameras were discovered to be hackable by initial users, allowing them to be unlocked for high video bitrate and control. Since then Panasonic has made these features standard, giving photgraphers and videographers professional level controls in a small camera body.

    Paired with any of the Panasonic or Olympus m4/3rds lenses there is a wide range of options for shooting both photos and videos underwater. Excellent rectilinear wide angle options like the Panasonic or Olympus 7-14mm or the Panasonic 12-35mm make video options. In addition the Panasonic 45mm or Olympus 60mm lenses allow for excellent macro shooting.

    The downsides of the Panasonic GH5 are the larger size, it is biggest of all the mirrorless cameras available. This translates to slightly larger housings as well.

    Panasonic GH5 Features:

    • 3.2" RGBW free-angle touchscreen LCD
    • Waveform and vectorscope monitors
    • Dual UHS II card slots (V60 ready)
    • Advanced DFD autofocus
    • 9 fps shooting with continuous autofocus
    • 225-area Advanced Depth-From-Defocus AF system
    • 1080 video at up to 180p, enabling 7.5x slow-motion
    • 4K/59.94p and 50p shooting with 10-bit 4:2:2 output or 8-bit, 4:2:0 internal recording
    • Internal 4K/30p 10-bit 4:2:2 video capture
    • All 4K footage taken using full width of sensor (oversampled from 5.1K footage)
    • 5-axis in-body image stabilization system with 'Dual IS 2' support
    • 20MP Four Thirds sensor (no OLPF)

    Mirrorless camera comparison

     

    Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

    Olympus OM-D E-M1 II

    Sony A6500

    Sony A6300

    Sony A7 II / A7R II Panasonic GH5

    Weight in grams

    469

    574

    404g

    350g

    599 725g

    Size

    125x85x45mm

    134x91x69mm

    110x63x36mm

    120x67x45mm

    12x96x60mm 139x98x87mm

    Megapixels

    16.1

    20

    24

    24

    24 / 42 20

    High ISO capability

    Good

    Great

    Great

    Great

    Excellent Great

    Sync speed

    1/250th

    1/250th

    1/160th

    1/160th

    1/250th 1/250th

    Focus speed1

    Fast

    Very Fast

    Fast

    Fast

    Fast Very Fast

    Battery Life

    Good

    Very Good

    Okay

    Good

    Okay Good

    Image Quality

    Great

    Excellent

    Excellent

    Excellent

     Excellent Excellent

    Macro Capability3

    Great

    Great

    Good

    Good

    Great Great

    Wide-angle capability

    Great4

    Great4

    Great5

    Great5

    Great Great4

    Lenses available

    48

    48

    20

    20

    Many 48

    Control dials

    2 dials

    2 dial

    3 dials

    3 dials

    2 dials 2 Dials

    Manual flash power settings

    Yes

    Yes

    No

    No

    NA NA

    Video2

    1080p, 60i

    4K, 1080p, 60i

    Excellent  -1080p, 60p + more

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

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

    Electronic Viewfinder

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes Yes

    Built-in image stabilization

    5-axis

    5-axis

    5-axis

    No

    5-axis 5-axis

    Price as of June 2017

    $899

    (body only)

    $1,999

    (body only)

    $1,299

    (body only)

    $899

    (body only)

    $1548 / $2698  

    (body only)

    $1,999

    (body only)

    1. Focus speeds are relative to other mirrorless camera options
    2. All these cameras can auto-focus well during video; the Panasonic GH5 produces the best video quality
    3. Great macro is possible with the Pany 45mm, or the Olympus 60mm macro or Sony 90mm
    4. 8mm fisheye, 7-14mm and 9-18mm lenses are available, with the 8mm giving the best results
    5. The Sony fisheye conversion lens + 16mm pancake lens gives excellent results
     
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