We recently took a look at some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market, but with body-only prices starting at US$1,000, they're not within everyone's budget. Luckily, their mid-range counterparts can offer almost as much photographic oomph for far less money. In this guide Gizmag compares the best mid-range mirrorless cameras on the market in 2013.
Meet the cameras
There are considerably more mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras on the market now than there were this time last year. And while that's great for consumers, it made our job of selecting the best even harder. In the end we settled on five mid-range cameras which we think offer the best balance of image quality, price and size.
The mid-range mirrorless cameras we'll be looking at are:
Most of the cameras in our selection were released in the last 12 months, with the exception being the Olympus E-PL5. It's also interesting to note that as with the high-end mirrorless camera guide, there are no cameras from Nikon or Canon. That said, the recently announced Canon EOS M2 would have featured here if it looked like the currently China and Japan-only camera would be getting a worldwide release any time soon.
The good news for those who don't want to feel like they are carrying around enough heavy equipment for a professional shoot is that these cameras are small. Most have dimensions which can rival some compact cameras, though this is admittedly before you've mounted a lens.
Of the bunch, the Panasonic GM1 is the smallest. In fact, as one of the tiniest interchangeable lens cameras ever, it's so small that photographers with larger hands could actually find it a bit awkward to operate. The Fujifilm X-M1 and the Samsung NX300 are the biggest cameras in our line-up.
The itty-bitty Panasonic GM1 is again the stand-out camera when it comes to weight. Despite featuring a magnesium alloy frame it tips the scales at just 204 g. This makes it ideal if you want a quality camera which you'll barely notice carrying, especially if paired with a pancake prime lens.
As is to be expected by their size and the fact both use metal in their construction, the Fujifilm X-M1 and the Samsung NX300 are at the other end of the scale weighing in at 330 g and 331 g.
The cameras in our line-up each feature sensors which are bigger than anything you'll find in a smartphone or typical compact camera. This gives them a distinct advantage when it comes to image quality.
The Panasonic GM1 and the Olympus E-PL5 both use Micro Four Thirds sensors which measure 17.3 x 13 mm, while the others boast even bigger APS-C sensors around the 23.5 x 15.7 mm mark, just like those found in the majority of DSLRs.
With effective megapixel counts of 16 megapixels (or thereabouts), there's nothing to call between the Sony NEX-5T, Panasonic GM1, Olympus E-PL5 or the Fujifilm X-M1. However, the Samsung NX300 has the highest resolution with 20.3 megapixels, should you need that extra bit of detail.
Mirrorless cameras have typically used contrast autofocus systems which deliver more accurate, but generally slower focusing than the phase detection found on DSLRs. However, some now combine contrast and phase detection to offer the best of both worlds.
While most of our high-end mirrorless cameras use contrast and phase detection, here it's just the Sony NEX-5T and the Samsung NX300 which boast the hybrid autofocus goodness.
FPS Burst Rate
These mid-range mirrrorless shooters are no slouches when it comes to capturing at speed. Burst shooting speeds of up to 10 frames per second mean that they can rattle off a quick succession of shots, though this is typically only for a short period of time.
While the Panasonic GM1 appears to have the slowest burst speed with 5 fps using its mechanical shutter, if you're happy using the electronic shutter it's capable of 40 fps.
Larger sensors mean these cameras are better at performing in low-light conditions that their smaller-sensored counterparts and the ISO ranges offered back this up. And while the Fujifilm X-M1 looks like it lacks the high native ISO range of the other cameras, it can be boosted to an ISO 25,600 equivalent should the need arise.
While most of the cameras we selected rely on lens-based image stabilization to reduce the wobbles and shakes often encountered when shooting at slow shutter speeds, the Olympus E-PL5 does this with sensor-shift technology. This means you don't need to use stabilized lenses to benefit.
While mid-range mirrrorless cameras lack an optical or electronic viewfinder, the rear monitors are better than those you'd typically get on an equivalent DSLR. Of those here, four tilt to make it easier to compose shots in awkward positions and four are touch screens. Most have good resolutions, with only the Olympus E-PL5 showing its age by having a dated 460K dot screen.
The Samsung has the largest monitor measuring 3.3 inches, but overall it's probably the monitor on the Sony NEX-5T which is the most versatile. In addition to having a good resolution and being a touchscreen, it tilts more than most, meaning you can even use it for selfies.
With cameras of this size it's no surprise to find that all use SD memory cards rather than something larger like Compact Flash. The Sony can also use Memory Stick PRO Duo cards, if you happen to have any sitting in a drawer somewhere.
Unlike most smartphones and many compact cameras, photographers are not limited to shooting JPEGs with these cameras as all also shoot RAW files which offer more flexibility in post production.
All of our mirrorless cameras are capable of shooting Full HD 1080p video, though at varying frame rates. The Sony NEX-5T and the Samsung NX300 are both capable of 60 frames per second, while the others do it at 30 fps. If dropping the resolution to 720p, the Panasonic GM1 is also capable of 60/50 fps.
Most of the cameras in our line-up have built in wireless capabilities which allow for the easy sharing of images and functions like remote shooting via a smartphone. The Sony NEX-5T also features NFC which allows simple pairing with equally equipped devices.
While the Olympus E-PL5 doesn't have any Wi-Fi ability baked in, it is at least compatible with EyeFi cards meaning that if all you want is the ability to get photos over to your smartphone, tablet or computer, you have that option.
Because of the different sized sensors used in these cameras, the focal lengths of their kit lenses don't give a true reflection of how they compare, as such we've included the 35-mm format equivalent. All of the lenses cover a focal range from wide angle to moderate telephoto and have a variable maximum aperture.
While not up there with the best lenses available, they each offer great value for money (some add as little as $50 to the price of the camera) and are a great place to start. It's worth noting that the kit lens with the Panasonic doesn't reach as far as the others stopping at an equivalent of 64-mm, while the one with the Samsung doesn't go as wide with its 30-mm equivalent.
The Sony NEX-5T, Fujifilm X-M1 and Samsung NX300 all feature the lens mount from their manufacturer that you would expect. The Panasonic and the Olympus use the standard Micro Four Thirds mount.
Interestingly the Panasonic GM1 and the Samsung NX300 are generally only available with their respective kit lenses rather than the body-only offerings of the others. But given that buyers of these cameras are not typically already invested in a system, that's not going to be a major issue for most people.
Other than that the numbers speak for themselves, and these prices are a lot easier to stomach than some of the prices associated with the high-end mirrorless cameras.
So there you have it, we don't think you can go far wrong with any of these mid-range mirrorless cameras. All are going to offer a considerable step up in image quality from your smartphone, along with more versatility than any compact. And unlike some DSLRs, you won't need a massive kit bag to carry it around with you.
If you want good image quality in a small package, then the Panasonic GM1 is a very good bet. While the Sony NEX-5T has the best wireless offerings and a large APS-C sensor, the Samsung NX300 isn't far behind and has that larger monitor. Then there's the Fujifilm X-M1, which has the sort of retro-looks and specs which would have cost you much more a couple of years ago. And while the Olympus E-PL5 may feel a little behind the times with its lack of wireless ability and the ho-hum resolution of its monitor, it's still a great little camera and the cheapest of those here.
As is always the way with our camera comparisons, we're not trying to tell you which camera to buy next. Instead, we hope this guide has helped you narrow down the selection by working out what features you would like, and which ones you can't live without.
If you think you might want a bit more than this level of camera can offer, you might want to take a look at our high-end mirrorless camera guide, and if you don't mind carrying something a bit bigger, there's always our mid-range DSLR guide.