Best Mirrorless Camera Options of 2020

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Brief Introduction to Mirrorless Cameras:

If you are looking for an underwater setup that can produce amazing image quality while still remaining relatively compact, look 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 full frame sensor setup. Sony spearheaded 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 their mirrorless cameras, and also share a lens mount, doubling the lens options available. The first full-frame sensors for Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic have all been released at the end of 2018 - this is exciting news for those interested in a full frame mirrorless system. However, it is important to note that lens options are relatively scarce, and will continue to be for a little while.

best mirrorless camera

Sony A7R III on the right and Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II on the left. Full frame mirrorless systems tend to be larger than micro four thirds systems.

The Sony cameras (along with new Nikon Z6/Z7, Canon EOS R, and Panasonic S series) have the advantage of larger sensor sizes and more dynamic range. People focused on wide-angle and/or video will gravitate towards this setup. The Sony A7R IV and A7 III series boast full-frame sensors with unsurpassed image quality in this class of cameras, and full frame cameras in general. In addition, we just reviewed the Nikon Z7 and the Canon EOS R, and we consider them to be two of the top mirrorless cameras in 2020 on the market.

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, albeit expensive, macro option.

Mirrorless Versus Compacts:

If you want a smaller system, less expensive setup, or the ability to change between macro and 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, autofocus speed, and high-quality lens options. 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 when they are released, and we can talk you through the subtle differences.

 

 

Sony A7R IV

Pixel Shift, 4K Video, Full Frame Sensor & Great Lens Options

best mirrorless camera for underwater photography and videography

Read our Full A7R IV Review for Underwater Photography

The Sony A7R III established itself as a solid choice for underwater photographers, along with pros and semi-pros who were required to shoot both videos and stills on assignment. The Sony A7R IV is making waves as the highest resolution full frame camera on the market at 61 megapixels! It also improves on the A7R III with much better autofocus, a higher resolution EVF, and an updated pixel shift feature that can create 240 megapixel photos! If you want the latest and greatest hybrid full-frame system, look no further. In fact, this might just be the top full frame camera on the market. Read out Sony A7r IV review for underwater.

The A7R IV is a great option for still shooters proven by its full-frame high-resolution image quality, small size, great high ISO performance, good auto-focus speed, and high-quality lense availability. Video shooters will love the A7R IV for 4K video, good auto-focus, and excellent large aperture lenses.The autofocus speed on the Sony A7R IV is now similar to what you might experience with a high-end DSLR, if just a tad slower.

Downsides of the A7R IV include the price, which can be substantial once you include the housing, lenses, ports, and adapters. The lenses are typically quite a bit larger than micro-four thirds lenses. The high resolution 61 megapixel sensor in the Sony A7R IV does introduce a little more noise to images, but it's fine grain and easily removed in post.

The Nauticam A7R IV housing has great ergonomics and an easy port change system. The Ikelite housing offers reliability and substantial cost savings, with a slight trade-off in ergonomics and durability. We also expect high quality housings from Sea & Sea and Aquatica.

Sony A7R IV Key Features:

  • 61 MP Full Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
  • Updated BONZX Image Processor
  • Updated pixel shift which now combines 16 still photos to produce a 240 MP photo
  • Improved autofocus capability
  • Eye Animal AF Tracking
  • Electronic Viewfinder with 5.7 M dots
  • New Multi Interface Shoe (for audio)

Sony A7R IV Underwater Housing Options:

 

Sony a7r iv sample image

Beautiful dynamic range with the Sony A7R IV. Taken with the Ikelite A7R IV housing, dual Ikelite DS 161 strobes, and the Sony 16-35mm rectilinear wide lens aboard the Socorro Vortex liveaboard. 1/250, f/10, ISO 320

 

 

A nudibranch photographed with the Sony A7R IV, Sony 90mm macro lens, Nauticam A7R IV underwater housing, Saga Magic Tube, and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes.

 

 

Sony a6500/a6300 Housing, Port, and Lens Gears Package

Killer Deal for only $899.95

The Fantasea Sony A6500/A6300 Housing, Port, and Lens Gears Package is the best deal of 2020. Every Bluewater Photo customer who gets an Sony A6500 APS-C mirrorless 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 $899.95, you can get a good housing, port, and lens gear, for great fish, reef and macro photos. For another $2,270 you can upgrade to the Ultimate Fantasea a6500 package and get a UWL-09F wide angle wet lens, Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe, Sea & Sea fiber opitc cable II, Bluewater +7 macro lens, ultralight tray package, and that gives you stunning wide angle shots and macro shots.

The Sony a6500 offers one of the world's fastest autofocus systems, and a great versatility in E-mount lens choises. The housing is larger than a compact cmaera housing but much smaller and lighter than a DSLR housing and full-frame mirrrorless cameras.

Sony A6500 Key Features:

  • The best overall image quality of the mirrorless cameras
  • Takes great hi-def video! The Sony cameras offer full manual video exposure control, and can record up to 4k.
  • 5-axis image stabilization, 4k video recording, improved image processing (from the A6300), and more.
  • Sony A6500 has a dSLR size sensor for great image quality & high ISO performance
  • The Sony 90mm macro lens is now out. This is an awesome macro option but the port, port adapter, and lens all together are pricey.

 

Sony a6500 Packages Available:

  • Fantasea a6500/a6300 housing, port, lens, and lens gear package ($899.95) - Includes Fantasea a6400 underwater housing, Fantasea FML Flat Port 34, and Fantasea lens gear for Sony 16-50mm kit lens
  • Ultimate Fantasea a6500/a6300 housing package ($3169) - Includes Fantasea a6500/a6300 underwater housing, Fantasea FML flat port 34, Fantasea zoom gear for SELP1650, Fantasea UWL-09F wide angle wet lens, Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe, Sea & Sea fiber optic cable II, Bluewater +7 macro lens, ultralight tray, ultralight handle w/ ball adapter, ultralight 5 inch arm, ultralight 8 inch arm, ultralight clamps (3)
  • Nauticam Ultimate A6500 Package ($6,373.70) - Includes Nauticam A6500 housing, Nauticam M16 vacuum valbe II, Nauticam battery pack, zoom gear for Sony 16-50mm, Nauticam macro port 45, Nauticam WWL-1, buoyancy color, Nauticam M67 port, Nauticam CMC-1, bayonet mount, double bayonet holder, ultralight arms, Sea & Sa YS-D2J strobe, and fiber optic cable.

Sony a6500 Underwater Housing Options:

Camera Body & Lenses:

 

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

 

Sony A6500

Read our A6500 Review

If the OM-D sensor size (like on the Olympus E-M5 & E-M1) isn't big enough for you, the Sony A6500 offers the same large sensor as a dSLR, but in a much smaller sized camera. It offers excellent control and quality at an affordable price. With a 24MP sensor, and the ability to shoot 11 frames per second, you can get some great images with this small camera - and some incredible 4K video. 

The only slight downside is that battery life can be poor. The camera is good for about 310 shots without strobes and less when they're used. *Fortunately, Nauticam and Aquatica offer a battery pack designed specifically for this camera to go in their housings.

Sony A6500 Key Features:

  • The best overall image quality of the mirrorless cameras
  • Takes great hi-def video! The Sony cameras offer full manual video exposure control, and can record up to 4k.
  • 5-axis image stabilization, 4k video recording, improved image processing (from the A6300), and more.
  • Sony A6500 has a dSLR size sensor for great image quality & high ISO performance
  • The Sony 90mm macro lens is now out. This is an awesome macro option but the port, port adapter, and lens all together are pricey.

Sony A6500 Underwater Housing Options:

Sony A6500 Packages Available:

Camera Body & Lenses:

 

 
 

 

With their versatility, lightweight design, and top-of-the-line image quality, full-frame mirrorless cameras are the hottest on the market right now. Sony leads the charge initially with the A7 series, but Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic were hot on their tail with some impressive full-frame mirrorless cameras – some of which might just edge out Sony.

 

Panasonic S1R

Read our Panasonic S1R Article

The Panasonic S1R is Panasonic’s first full-frame mirrorless camera and very well might be the jewel on the crown of full-frame mirrorless cameras to date. The S1R has a 47.3MP sensor. The S1R also features the highest resolution EVF on any camera as well as the ability to shoot 4K at 60fps – something full-frame mirrorless shooters have long been waiting for. All in all, the Panasonic S1R breaks new ground in full-frame mirrorless cameras.

The only downside to the Panasonic S1 and S1R is that fact the there are limited lenses available. However, Sigma is releasing several L-mount lenses, which will increase the pool of native mount lenses available.

Panasonic S1R, S1, & S1H Underwater Housing Options:

 

Nikon Z7/Z6 

Read our Nikon Z7 Review

The Nikon Z7 is Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera and it’s fair to say they knocked it out of the park. The Z7 boasts a 45.7MP sensor, 435-point autofocus, 9fps continuous shooting, and 4K at 30p video recording. The in-camera image stabilization is fantastic and the densely populated 45.7MP sensor renders brilliant image quality. The Nikon Z7 was released in late 2018 and is one of the most popular underwater cameras of 2020. We consider it to be one the best cameras for underwater photography.

Nikon Z7 Underwater Housing Options:

 
 
 
Anemonefish photographed with the Nikon Z6 camera, Nikon 105mm macro, Isotta Z6 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobes, reefnet fiber optic snoot, Saga magic tube. f/16, 1/200, ISO 160
 

 

Canon EOS R

Read our Canon EOS R Article

The Canon EOS R is Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera as well. The EOS R did not receive the same praise bestowed to Sony’s A7RIII or Nikon’s Z7, but those are high standards and under different circumstances, the EOS R would surely not disappoint. The Canon EOS R is characterized by a 30.3MP sensor, excellent AF performance, and a lovely touchscreen. The EOS R is a very capable camera and will prove to be a great alternative to loyal EOS DSLR owners looking for a lightweight, run-and-gun camera. 

Canon EOS R Underwater Housing Options:

Wolf eel photographed with the Canon EOS R in a Sea & Sea EOS R housing, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

 

 


Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Read our E-M1 Mark II Review

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is the "top of the line" micro-four thirds camera for photography. It is a competitor to the Sony A6500 & 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. There is also a great selection of micro-thirds lenses for all potential uses.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Key Features:

  • Improved autofocus - the fastest focusing on an Olympus mirrorless camera.
  • 4K video recording
  • 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
  • Incredible macro with the Olympus 60mm macro lens, incredible wide-angle with the Panasonic or Olympus 8mm fisheye
  • 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
  • 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.
  • E-M1 II Nauticam housing includes dSLR style molded handles
  • Custom high-quality ports give you the best possible optics for all lens choices

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Underwater Housing Options:

Read our in-depth review of the Nauticam EM1 Mark II Housing

Camera Body & Lenses:

 

Diver entering the lagoon in Silfras, Iceland: Shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Olympus 8mm FE Pro Lens

 

 

Panasonic GH5

Read our Panasonic GH5 Review

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 photographers 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 great video options. In addition, the Panasonic 45mm or Olympus 60mm lenses allow for excellent macro shooting.

Pansonic GH5 Key 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 the sensor (oversampled from 5.1K footage)
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization system with 'Dual IS 2' support
  • 20MP Four Thirds sensor (no OLPF)

Panasonic GH5 Underwater Housing Options:

Camera Body & Lenses:

 

 

 

 

Click Here to View the Mirrorless Camera Comparison

Click Here to View our comparison between the Nikon Z6/Z7 and Sony A7R IV