10 Mirrorless Game Changers

Originally published on Bokeh on 29 July 2015

Oh mirrorless, how big you’ve grown.

Since the quiet introduction of the first digital mirrorless cameras over a decade ago the entire landscape of photography equipment has changed.

Nowadays, mirrorless cameras are the ones getting all the attention as DSLRs continue to lose the interest of the public.

But it wasn’t always that way. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant digital mirrorless cameras ever released:

1) Epson RD-1 (2004)

Image by rpavich / Flickr

Mount: Leica M

Resolution: 6.1 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 1.5x

Original Cost: $3,000 USD

If you are thinking it’s odd that Epson, a company known more for overcharging on printer ink than making cameras, would design a Leica M-mount rangefinder back in 2006 then you are partially correct. This camera was actually co-built and crafted by Cosina, who make Voigtländer lenses and Contax equipment in Japan.

This expensive rangefinder was a further oddity because the 6.1 sensor they used wasn’t even progressive; it had been in use since 2002 in cameras like the Nikon D100. Still, the RD-1 was capable of making decent images, and was the first digital rangefinder in the world.

2) Leica M8 (2006)

Image by Wikipedia

Mount: Leica M (2006)

Resolution: 10.3 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 1.3x

Original Cost: $4,500 USD

Leica probably saw the Epson RD-1 and thought: “6MP? What a waste of our Summicron.”

The Leica M8 brought the red dot to the digital age, while maintaining all the beloved ergonomics of the original classics. It was well received by the majority of Leica fans, and was arguably the first example of a successful mirrorless camera, although it recognized mainly as a digital rangefinder. Back then, nobody really thought of mirrorless as an actual genre.

3) Panasonic DMC-G1 (2008)

Image by Chad Kainz / Flickr

Mount: Micro Four Thirds

Resolution: 12.1 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 2x

Original Cost: $800 USD

The Panasonic DMC-G1 was a pioneering camera in many ways. It was not only the very first camera to use the Micro Four Thirds mount, which years later has come to revolutionize the marketplace, but it was also the first mirrorless camera that wasn’t a rangefinder. Instead, it used an EVF system that went directly from the lens to the LCD.

4) Olympus EP-1 (2009)

Image by David Wright / Flickr

Mount: Micro Four Thirds

Resolution: 12.3 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 2x

Original Cost: $800 USD

While the Panasonic DMC-G1 came a few months earlier than the Olympus EP-1, the EP-1 marked a broadening of the mirrorless market with its classy, retro design reminiscent of the 50’s era Olympus PEN cameras. This was the smallest mirrorless camera to date, smartly playing to the advantages of the system.

5) Nikon 1 J1 (2011)

Image by Aleksey Gnilenkov / Flickr

Mount: Nikon 1

Resolution: 10.1 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 2.7x

Original Cost: $450 USD

What a disaster. The Nikon 1 J1 is on this list precisely because it’s a remarkable sign of Nikon’s fear of mirrorless. Two years after Olympus and Panasonic brought excellent compact cameras to the market, Nikon finally entered the fray with an unambitious disappointment. It was nothing more than a high-end point and shoot, and it couldn’t even support the F-mount.

6) Canon EOS M (2012)

Image by Canon

Mount: EF-M

Resolution: 18 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 1.6x

Original Cost: $800 USD

It took Canon four long years to follow in the footsteps of Panasonic and Olympus, and all they came out with was a miniature 650D. In classic Canon style, they offered a high megapixel count and good image quality, but not much else. It was slow to focus, and was basically too little, too late.

7) Fuji X-Pro 1 (2012)

Image by Wikipedia

Mount: Fuji X

Resolution: 16.3 megapixels

Sensor Crop: 1.5x

Original Cost: $1,700 USD

Fuji took a gamble with the X-Pro 1 and decided to forego Micro Four Thirds, opting instead to build a proprietary series of Fujinon primes. The excellent quality of those lenses coupled with the attractive design of the X-Pro 1 led to tremendous commercial success, although the X-Pro 1 wasn’t all about looks. It was an expensive niche product, but it tackled those specifics well.

8 & 9) Sony a7/a7R (2014)

Image by Wikipedia

Mount: Sony E

Resolution: 24.3/36.3

Sensor Crop: Full-frame

Original Cost: $1,700/$2,300 USD

In 2014 Sony simultaneously launched the very first full-frame, mirrorless cameras. The a7 anda7R both featured an identical physical design, with the main difference being the sensor and autofocus system. These two cameras really announced Sony’s intentions to dominate the mirrorless market, which they’ve been doing since in a convincing fashion. Their FE/E mount also has autofocus Zeiss lenses — a feature nobody else can boast of.

10) Sony a7R II (2015)

Image by Sony

Mount: Sony E

Resolution: 42.4 megapixels

Sensor Crop: Full-frame

Original Cost: $3,200 USD

Full-frame sensor. 4k video capability. ISO 102,400. Blisteringly fast autofocus at low light. Is there anything more that needs to be said? The Sony a7R II is a real game changer that has blurred the lines between mirrorless and mirrored.