Currently sitting on my shelf are four cameras which are the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens models from four leading camera manufacturers. For me they demonstrate just how far these alternatives to DSLR's have come from that original Panasonic G1. When I first bought and used that camera, I could hardly have imagined that cameras such as these would be my go-to picture taking taking devices for the majority of my work. Add in the fact that they are amongst the best cameras (for me) I've ever owned, including what I regard as No 1 and No 2 in my all-time favourites list and you will appreciate that I'm glad I'm able to own them and get to use them on a daily basis. Here's my take on each counting down from 4 to 1. And no there's going to be no manufactured tension waiting to reveal my number one camera, because regular readers know only too well what that's going to be.
SONY A7 MK II
A shame that I can't find native FE lenses that work for me, but that's a personal thing. It's not going to stop me writing that I think this is the best A7 variation yet. And that surprises me. Because I thought this might be an upgrade I would miss. But the body redesign and the IBIS have convinced me that this is an excellent camera. The body changes are not just cosmetic, the camera does handle better and the matte finish certainly gives it a classier look. If you have an A7 and are thinking of upgrading, in terms of images quality the MK II is pretty similar, so it's a case of deciding whether the (very good) IBIS is important to you.
In terms of sensor technology and the ability to produce top class files under all circumstances, Sony have no equals. The A7 'collection' includes superb high-res from the A7r and amazing low light capability from the A7s. The A7 II sits in the middle of these and rather than being a middling compromise does offer the best of both worlds. The files are highly detailed and the high(er) ISO performance is surprisingly good. And that 'Full -Frame / 35mm sized sensor does make a difference. This is a camera that can handle pretty much anything.
The oldest of the four cameras here, but none the worse for that. It's a camera that's great in low light and has a superb lens range at it's disposal. An electronic shutter and excellent EVF are also included.
It's weaknesses are the poor battery life and the low spec. video. And if Fuji are inclined to improve both of those and up the pixel count to 24MP then I think that the would have a serious best seller on their hands. The X-T1 is already an excellent camera, but with those improvements it would offer pretty much everything.
OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 II
After a very short time, this has become No 2 on my all time list of the cameras I like using the most. I have to admit that when I get stuck in the menus and array of dials and buttons trying to correct something I've somehow made the camera do, my view couldn't be more different. It is a sublime camera to handle though when I've got it doing what I want, particularly with the grip set attached. A real 'big camera' feel in a relatively small and light package.
There is a superb m4/3 lens range to attach to it, the video is much improved (Though not up to what Sony offer yet) and the headline features of the 40 / 64MP high-res files and top of the tree IBIS live up to the hype. Aesthetically it's a gem and like the Sony A7 II has benefitted from a slight redesign which has made it a much more pleasant camera to work with over a period of time, as far as I'm concerned.
Again like the A7 II, I was planning to miss this upgrade, but I'm glad I didn't. A great camera and one I really enjoy using.
LEICA T (TYP 701)
As I've written endlessly my all time favourite camera and system. No it's not perfect, but it inspires me to take better pictures every time I pick it up and while my other cameras should and do do that, this one has a special place in my affections. Strange to get emotional about inanimate objects, but Leica's do that to me. It's the history, the reputation and yes, the price.
It's modern and innovative and the EVF and live view screen are the best I've used in daylight. The touch screen controls work well for me giving access to the simple menu that has all I need to create images with no gimmicky fluff cluttering it up. That brushed aluminium body is a work of art and I think Leicas problem is getting enough people to see it 'in the flesh' and pick it up, because after doing that you have to be very strong willed to resist it's charms.
And I know it's a subjective point of view and based on all sorts of things other than it's actual abilities, but it's my favourite ever camera and will be the last one out of the door. It's the mirrorless system I've been looking for for years. It's light, small with a simple uncluttered interface and it produces great images via four of the best lenses I've ever used. (If not the best) It IS expensive, but much of that IS you get what you pay for.
On all of the other three cameras there are things that are a compromise, in terms of manufacture and materials used. The Leica T is however as close to perfection, construction wise, as a camera could be. If it didn't turn out such good pictures I'd probably have it in a glass case. And that sentence probably demonstrates to all the Leica haters and baiters out there that they were right all along. Leica's are for camera snobs with too much money. But then, I really don't care, because as I've written before, I get to own it and use it and they don't.
This is not one of those be nice to everybody articles, you know me better than that! but I really do struggle to to find anything seriously bad to say about any of these cameras. Which, with all the development that's gone on before is how it should be. New cameras should be constantly improving and evolving and the four above are good examples of that. Whichever you choose (or have chosen) will do some things better and some things worse than the others and it's a case of sorting out what's the most important to you. Or you could do what I've done, buy all four!!
I suppose it is possible that a camera could exist that had the Sony A7 II video options and sensor, a combined Fuji X lens and m4/3 lens range range, with the optical brilliance of the Leica T lenses to attach to it, the AF speed, IBIS and elegance of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, the electronic shutter and handling of the Fuji X-T1 and the style, EVF and touch screen of the Leica T, but I suspect it isn't going to happen. So which works best for what?
For all round versatility in a whole variety of stills and video shooting situations including low light, the A7 II pretty much has it all. Providing you are happy with the lenses on offer that is. Of the four it is probably the best all-rounder. If you are biased towards low-light, high(er) ISO shooting then the Fuji X-T1 is a slightly better option. Of the four it does have the lowest noise in the image files and a selection of top class lenses available at decent prices via various ongoing deals makes a compelling argument for that camera. The Olympus has the best image stabilisation I've ever used and it can be set up to be silent and blindingly fast. It also has the highest resolution (from raw) of any non medium format camera, though that can only be used under specific circumstances. The Leica T however is something else. It's a camera that writes it's own rules. With it's touch screen controls, it's ability to be used like a smartphone or a more conventional camera and the quality of both the EVF and the live view screen make it something special, especially when you factor in the small but incredibly good lens range.
So there you have it. You can pretty much guess my personal preferences here. I'd rank the cameras as follows.
1. Leica T (Typ 71)
2. Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
3. Fuji X-T1
4. Sony A7 II
Now that's just me and my personal preferences and is based on all sorts of non objective criteria. But of course, we are all like that. All sorts of subjective factors influence why we buy and use what we do and that's how it should be. Personal taste IS allowed. But the bottom line is that these are four very capable cameras and they will be providing the core of what I'll be using from now on.
The plan (yet another one!) is to upgrade as and when new versions appear. For example, the rumours about an A7r II are getting stronger and I will 'swap' the A7 II for that. Olympus are unlikely to have an E-M5 III any time soon but they must surely be putting together an E-M2 with all the new features of the E-M5 II included. Fuji also probably have an X-T2 in the works as well as the almost mythical X-Pro 2, whatever that might be. Leica upgrade? Well who knows and Leica do take their time between upgrading anyway, so it will be a while I suspect before anything surfaces about where the system is going, if indeed it's going anywhere.
There is of course Samsung to consider. The NX1 looks interesting, but I suspect it's just too bulky and heavy for me and to be honest I'm not sure I'm prepared to stand the loss I'd make on it. Certainly I've not got very high resale prices for all the Samsung gear I've used (excellent though it's been) and it is Samsung's problem, certainly here in the UK, that they are not regarded as one of the big boys in the camera market. I hesitate to think what their share of the mirrorless market is here in the UK. Low single digits I suspect and nowhere near what they have achieved with their smartphones.
I would also give Panasonic an honourable mention. The only examples I have from that brand currently are my CM1 smartphone and 15mm f/1.7 lens. However, I suspect it won't be long before they are back on the innovation merry go round. My suspicion is that they will finally find a way to up the pixel count while retaining the same image quality and I also believe that they will improve on their already very impressive video offer. For me, I just prefer the way the current Olympus cameras are put together and the IBIS is very useful. But then I wouldn't be at all surprised if Panasonic aren't working on that too. And I should point out yet again, that this is the company that started all this with the revolutionary G1, which is looking more and more like a truly landmark camera as the mirrorless revolution advances.
But anyway, I've got what I need (and more) from Sony, Fuji, Olympus and Leica anyway, so I don't think I'll be moving far from what you see at the top of the page. And whether or not these cameras are truly professional grade isn't really an issue for me. The demands I put on my cameras are fairly moderate and I'm not shooting in war zones, hostile climatic conditions or with the requirement to take 1000's of shots in a day under stressful circumstances. Just like the vast majority of photographers I suspect. For me, it's all about the final image and all four of these cameras are capable of high-end reproduction and none of them concern me at all about their ability to produce what I need to make a living.
Whatever the ratio of mirrorless interchangeable to DSLR's in the coming years, one thing is for sure, cameras like the four above are here to stay. And there is no doubt in my mind that Mirrorless / CSC / EVIL or whatever else it's called is going to improve and there's also no doubt that this is where the major innovation and the technological advances in digital photography (and videography) will occur. You can do a lot more with a camera once that SLR mirror mechanism isn't around as is constantly being proved. I'm still a DSLR user and still very much a DSLR fan, but I have to admit I do get a lot more for my money with Mirrorless / CSC / EVIL and there may come a time in the future when I finally say goodbye for ever to that slapping mirror. And though that day hasn't arrived yet, I suspect it's getting closer. And the four cameras discussed in this article have everything to do with that.