After 70 hours of research and testing over two years, we think if you’re looking to buy a mirrorless camera with pro-level performance alongside image quality that bests most DSLRs, the Fujifilm X-T2 is the camera to get.
With a street price approaching $2,000 bundled with a lens, buying the X-T2 is a significant investment in your photography. But what you receive in return is a rugged, weather-sealed camera; best-in-class viewfinder; 4K video capability; and a sensor that delivers impressively clean, detailed, and color-accurate images even at its highest ISO settings. All this in a retro-styled body with a well-designed layout of buttons and dials for fast, intuitive operation.
In addition to the 40 hours we spent poring over reviews and test results for 13 different models in the previous version of this guide, we spent another 30 hours of research, including several days of real-world shooting with the X-T2 alongside our previous pick, the Fujifilm X-T1. As a result, the X-T2 is now our pick for the best mirrorless camera in the $1,000-plus range.
At this price, great image quality below ISO 3,200 is a given in a camera at this level, as is the ability to change camera settings and shooting controls without diving into onscreen menus. And because these high-end models are aimed at working pros as well as serious hobbyists, you can expect durable, metal camera bodies that can stand up to daily abuse from the elements.
What sets the X-T2 apart is its ability to deliver impressively detailed images even at ISO 51,200, a whopping 325-point AF system, 4K video shooting, a clever dual-hinged rear screen that offers the practical benefits of a fold-out articulating screen but with less bulk, and access to a fantastic and ever-growing lineup of XF prime and zoom lenses. On top of all this is Fuji’s impressive track record of improving camera features and functionality via ongoing firmware updates. So there’s a very good chance that your X-T2 will become an even more capable camera over your time of ownership.
The Fujifilm X-T1 was our top pick in a previous version of this guide. Its follow-up, the X-T2 bests it with a faster and customizable autofocus system, a higher-resolution sensor that excels at the top of its ISO range, dual SD-card slots, and 4K video. If these features aren’t relevant to your style of photography, however, the X-T1 remains a formidable camera. Image quality is still among the best of any APS-C mirrorless camera, its all-metal body can stand up to daily abuse, and paired with one of Fuji’s growing body of weather-sealed lenses, you can take the X-T1 out shooting in any conditions. And with a current price significantly lower than our top pick, the X-T1 saves you enough cash to add an extra lens to your kit.
The Olympus E-M1 II is one of the fastest-focusing mirrorless cameras we’ve used, boasts a class-leading image stabilization system, and can shoot in continuous autofocus mode at a ground-breaking 18 fps, faster than even pro-grade DSLRs. It matches our top pick with a rugged weather-sealed exterior, 4K video, and direct access to camera and shooting settings for swift adjustment. Its smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor, with inherent image quality limitations, and high launch price keep it from knocking off our top pick. But if you already own Micro Four Thirds lenses and have an enviable budget, the E-M1 II is a compelling choice.
The Olympus PEN-F is an impressively specced camera in a small package that’s well-suited for street photography. Compact enough to fit in a coat pocket, it has the first new sensor we’ve seen from Olympus in years, plus an articulated screen. Its image-stabilization system is rated to let you handhold images at shutter speeds up to five stops slower than without stabilization. Unlike our top picks, though, this model isn’t weather-sealed. In addition, it uses a slower contrast-detect autofocus system that is much less able to track moving subjects than the hybrid systems found in our main picks.
Why you should trust me
I’ve worked as a professional photographer and digital-imaging consultant for almost 15 years. I’m on the faculty of New York City’s International Center of Photography, and I lead photography workshops around the country. I’ve been covering cameras and photo gear here at The Wirecutter since 2013, getting to shoot with dozens of new cameras as they hit the market. As a result, I have a keen understanding of current camera technology, as well as of the features and performance that make a real difference when you’re out shooting.
In seeking out the best mirrorless camera I’ve spent more than 70 hours across various versions of this guide poring over manufacturers’ spec sheets, reading reviews from authoritative sources, and of course, doing real-world shooting in and around New York City. For this latest guide I’ve also shot side by side with our top two contenders to see which one deserves your hard-earned cash.
2016: In researching our top mirrorless camera guide, we narrowed down the contenders to the Fujifilm X-T2 and its predecessor the X-T1, which we tested side by side.
How we picked
The great appeal of mirrorless cameras is that they can offer the image quality, handling, and features traditionally found in DSLRs in a smaller, lighter system. These cameras forgo the optical viewfinders found in traditional DSLRs—whose through-the-lens view is made possible by a flip-up mirror—in favor of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that offers a digital preview of how the image will be recorded by the camera. By eliminating the entire mirror mechanism (and, yes, that’s where the name comes from), a mirrorless camera can be relatively light and compact.
With their relatively small size and adjustable rear screens, mirrorless models like the X-T2 make it easier to shoot without calling attention to you or your camera. (In-camera JPEG with no edits.)
And in the last few years, camera makers have squeezed very large camera sensors into increasingly smaller bodies, bringing great image quality in low light and the option to use shallow depth of field (i.e., blurred backgrounds) as a creative compositional tool. Photographers looking to ease their load and avoid drawing attention to themselves with a big intimidating DSLR can appreciate these advances, knowing that they no longer have to sacrifice image quality for portability.
There’s also a small but passionate community of photographers who take advantage of the fact that with the lens mount placed closer to the sensor (there’s no mirror to take up extra space) they can use adapters to mount legendary manual-focus lenses like those originally built for Leica rangefinders on their mirrorless cameras.
Researching contenders for the best mirrorless camera, I kept my criteria quite simple. I looked for interchangeable-lens cameras that have an EVF rather than an optical viewfinder like you find on traditional DSLRs. And because we already have a mirrorless-camera guide covering more affordably priced options, for this guide I looked exclusively at models in the $1,000-plus range.
We typically avoid recommending full-frame models such as the Sony α7 series. As impressive as they are—squeezing pro-level features and performance into amazingly small cameras—these specialized cameras are designed for a small segment of users with specific needs. We discuss this topic in more detail later in this guide.
Fuji has a strong (and growing) selection of both prime and zoom lenses. Here, the XF 14mm F2.8 lens lets you capture a wide expanse of both sky and foreground. (In-camera JPEG with no edits.)
I also eliminated cameras such as the Nikon 1 V3 with small sensors because they just can’t compete with the larger Micro Four Thirds and APS-C format models in terms of image quality or dynamic range (the ability to render both highlight and shadow detail in a single exposure). Nikon has since put the sensor technology from its 1-series models to much better use in compact cameras such as the DL 18-50 and DL 24-85.
Cameras with very slow AF performance or outdated specs and features that make them ripe for replacement also fell out of consideration.
We’ve put in more than 70 hours over several versions of this guide, obsessing over the minutiae of camera spec sheets, reading dozens of reviews, and doing real-world shooting with the top contenders. After all this, the Fujifilm X-T2 is our pick for the best mirrorless camera you can buy.
Using the same highly regarded 24-megapixel sensor seen in Fuji’s X-Pro2, the X-T2 delivers outstanding image quality even at its highest ISO settings. The X-T2 can capture images at up to 8 fps in continuous autofocus mode—faster than most DSLRs—aided by Fuji’s most advanced AF system to date. A new dual-hinged rear screen gives you a wide range of viewing angles when not using the viewfinder, and 4K video along with a mic input make this the first X-series camera with appeal to video shooters. This weather-sealed all-metal camera body performs flawlessly in rough conditions, and the logically arranged dials and buttons make changing camera settings fast and intuitive. Dual SD-card slots give you the choice of either extended shooting capacity or real-time backups. Not to be overlooked is that buying into Fuji’s X-system gives you access to some truly outstanding—though pricey—lenses.
The X-T2 maintains Fuji’s reputation for accurate colors and pleasing contrast in its camera-generated JPEGs. (In-camera JPEG with no edits.)
The X-T2, like its predecessor the X-T1, has arguably the best electronic viewfinder (EVF) of any mirrorless camera, with natural-looking contrast, accurate color, and a larger scene view than even the optical viewfinder on Canon’s $4,500 1D X. The EVF on the X-T2 has been tweaked to offer additional brightness options plus the ability to use an faster screen-refresh rate (both at the cost of battery life). And when it comes to using that viewfinder for manual focus, the X-T2 inherits the ingenious dual split view that lets you achieve precise focus while still viewing your entire composition, a feature we loved in the X-T1.
The X-T2 uses the latest version of Fuji’s X-Trans sensor, which the company developed in house as an alternative to the ubiquitous Bayer pattern chips found on most other cameras. Users and reviewers have long heaped praise on the in-camera JPEG output of X-series cameras, citing color, contrast, and detail that often need little in the way of post-capture editing. In its image quality analysis of the X-Pro2, which uses the same sensor, DPReview notes that, “JPEG color response is excellent,” offering “class-leading high ISO performance,” and finds that in raw mode the sensor “produces files with as much dynamic range as any of its APS-C peers, giving a good degree of processing latitude to adjust the image.”
In shooting a few hundred frames with the X-T2 I found white balance and exposure to be accurate in a range of lighting conditions with consistently pleasing results. The X-T2 delivers great-looking images in any situation you can throw at it. Shooting in JPEG mode the X-T2 continues the Fuji tradition of superior image processing. You get lifelike colors and well-judged contrast, with none of the ham-fisted sharpening or noise suppression artifacts that, on other cameras, make shooting JPEGs a huge trade-off between quality and convenience. Impressively, the X-T2 actually takes Fuji’s image processing to higher level. We were surprised at just how clean and detailed images were when shooting outdoors well past nightfall.
The X-T2’s low-light performance is great for anyone who shoots at night or in clubs and concert halls.
Offering top settings of ISO 25,600 and 51,200 (with the latter you can shoot in a room at night with the lights off) is one thing. Having them deliver pleasant-looking images is a much harder feat, but one that the X-T2 pulls off. Typically, a camera’s highest ISO setting is best left for emergencies. But we’d have no qualms at all about making prints shot at ISO 51,200 after some minimal editing to reduce the appearance of image noise. DPReview’s image quality comparison tool shows the X-T2 to have noticeably finer details and less obtrusive noise suppression artifacts at its default JPEG settings than the X-T1, the Sony α6300, or the Olympus E-M1.
The quality of electronic viewfinders (EVFs) can vary greatly even among among high-end camera models. The X-T2 uses the great performing high-resolution OLED EVF of its predecessor, adding a faster refresh rate for an even more natural, analog-feeling view when keeping up with fast-moving subjects. As a longtime DSLR shooter myself, I long held EVFs with contempt; they felt like looking at the world on a tiny TV screen. I could happily use the EVF on the X-T2, however, and never think twice about an optical viewfinder again. It’s that good. Another useful feature of Fuji’s EVF is that when you hold the camera in portrait orientation, the onscreen image info rotates as well (like on a smartphone) so you can easily read camera and exposure settings.
The X-T2’s double-hinged rear screen lets you shoot at waist level while holding the camera in portrait orientation.
For manual-focus shooters, the X-T2, like its predecessor, offers what I consider the best focusing aid I’ve ever seen on any camera. In addition to the focus peaking (where a colored overlay uses edge contrast to indicate sharpness) and simple magnified views that most cameras offer to eyeball focus, Fuji uses is a clever dual split view manual focus aid. When enabled, the EVF displays a secondary magnified view of the center portion of the scene alongside the main viewfinder image. The neat trick here is that the magnified view mimics the traditional split focus prism found on rangefinder cameras. When the image area is out of focus, there’s a horizontal offset that adjusts in real time as you rotate the lens’ focus ring. When the top and bottom half of this magnified view are perfectly aligned (as in the example below), the image is in focus. It’s intuitive, fast, unfailingly accurate, and works well even in lower-light scenes.
Fujifilm’s unique dual split view manual focusing mode lets you see your whole composition alongside a magnified view that mimics an old-school horizontal split prism to aid focus.
You can see this in action in a Fujifilm promotional video for the X-T1. As with traditional rangefinder prisms, this digital split view is locked to the center of the frame, so for off-center subjects you will have to recompose after focusing.
The X-T2 is a vastly more capable video camera than the X-T1. It is the first Fuji camera to shoot 4K video and includes other videocentric features such as a 3.5mm microphone jack and, with the optional $330 battery grip, a headphone socket to monitor your audio. Video specialists can record to an external HDMI recorder and specify a flat F-Log gamma profile for footage that allows for more color and exposure correction in video editing software. Evaluating 4K video, Sebastian Wöber, writing for Cinema5D finds “the Fujifilm X-T2 blows away most other cameras we have tested. The image of the X-T2 is very homogenous, clean and has a high resolution that dissolves lots of detail with a nice filmic grain.” DPReview, though less effusive, still found the X-T2 to be “competitive against most of the 4K-capable cameras we’ve tested … though a fraction behind those, like the Sony a6300, that derive their 4K from significantly oversampled footage.”
When buying any interchangeable-lens camera, it’s important to take a look at the company’s lens offerings. Though Fuji has only been producing X-series-compatible lenses since 2012, the camera maker has filled out its lens lineup at a furious clip. As I write this, there are 23 lenses from Fuji and 24 more compatible optics (most of them manual-focus only) from lens makers like Zeiss and Samyang. And Fuji regularly publishes “road maps” outlining lenses it plans to release within the next 12 to 18 months.
Fuji’s lenses aren’t cheap—most go for $600 to $1,000—but reviewers agree that you are indeed getting what you pay for. And though those prices are obviously too steep for casual users of entry-level mirrorless cameras, once you step up to the high-end camera systems aimed at enthusiasts and professionals, it’s not uncommon for top-quality lenses to cost nearly as much as (or even more than) the camera itself.
The X-T2, like nearly all cameras these days, has built-in Wi-Fi and an accompanying app (available for iOS and Android). After downloading the free Fujifilm Camera Remote app you can send JPEGs (but not raw RAF files) from the camera to your phone or tablet. In addition, you can control camera operation from your mobile device. Tap the live-view image on your phone and you can set focus. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and the self-timer are among the camera settings you can change remotely. In addition, you can use your phone to transfer location data to the camera so that subsequent images (both RAF and JPEG) are tagged with GPS data.
Fuji’s Camera Remote app puts a live view of the scene (left) on your phone where you can fire the camera’s shutter as well as adjust exposure settings. You can also browse JPEG images (right) recorded to the SD card and transfer them to your phone.
Fuji has weather-sealed the X-T2 in 63 locations to make it resistant to water and dust. The company says the camera is designed to function in temperatures as low as 14 °F/-10 °C. Fall weather here in New York City couldn’t pose much of a threat other than a gentle rain shower so I wasn’t able to test the weather-sealing and cold rating. Dave Pardue of Imaging Resource, however, took the X-T2 out shooting along the beach during a tropical storm on the South Carolina coast. Wading knee-deep in water with strong winds blowing water and sand, Pardue reported, “This X-T2 rig proved a beast, shrugging off the worst of [the storm] and continuing to fire with unabated reliability.” If you’re looking to take the X-T2 out in similar conditions you’ll want to use one of the eight (and counting) weather-sealed lenses Fuji has launched since 2014. Look for the “WR” designation in the official lens name.
Fuji stands apart from all of its competitors with a track record of making continued improvements to existing camera models. Ever since the launch of the X100, the company has shown an impressive commitment to its customers by releasing ongoing firmware updates to its cameras, even models that were replaced. These updates don’t just fix bugs. Often they add new functionality or improved performance. Our previous pick, the X-T1 has received three major firmware updates since it was released in 2014. Additions have included a faster shutter speed, improved AF support for some lenses, plus manual exposure control and additional frame rates when recording video. Based on this history there’s a good chance that over the course of your X-T2 ownership, you’re likely to end up with a more capable camera than the one you bought.
The X-T2 has two SD-card slots. You can opt to have the camera automatically switch to the second card when the first one becomes full or have one card serve as a real-time backup.
An oldie but still a goodie
The Fujifilm X-T1 was our top recommendation in a previous version of this guide. Our current pick bests it with a more advanced autofocus system, a higher-resolution sensor that delivers more detailed images in very low light, an additional SD card slot, and 4K video. But if these features aren’t relevant to your style of photography, the X-T1 remains a formidable camera in its own right. Its image quality is still among the best of any APS-C mirrorless camera, the all-metal body can stand up to daily abuse, and paired with one of Fuji’s growing body of weather-sealed lenses, you can take the X-T1 out shooting in any type of weather. The price of the X-T1 fluctuates from only marginally less than the X-T2 to around a $500 difference—and at the biggest gap the X-T1 saves you enough cash to add an extra lens to your kit.
The X-T1 delivers outstanding images. Though shooting in raw mode will always give you the most options for tweaking your images on the computer, the X-T1 continues Fuji’s tradition of offering some of the most pleasing color and contrast you’ll find from a camera-processed JPEG. In giving the X-T1 a Gold award, DPReview cited its stellar image quality, writing, “The X-Trans CMOS sensor and Fujifilm’s in-camera processing combine to give really good-looking out-of-camera JPEGs … The camera’s DR modes also help you make the most of the sensor’s impressive dynamic range.” In shooting nearly 7,000 images with the X-T1 between 2014 and 2016 I also found its image quality to be very impressive. White balance and exposure were accurate in a range of lighting conditions. And up through ISO 3200, color noise is barely noticeable.
The Fujifilm X-T1 consistently delivers images with pleasing color, contrast, and white balance.
On paper, the X-T1 can shoot at an impressive 8 fps while tracking focus on your subject. In practice, however, you won’t come away with every single shot in tack-sharp focus when shooting fast-moving subjects, and the burst rate slows as the camera readjusts focus. So you wouldn’t take the X-T1 to shoot a Super Bowl assignment, but for more casual use with subjects such as runners, cyclists, or automobiles moving toward the camera at a consistent speed, I found that the X-T1 returned usable results with a reasonable number of misses.
If you’re at all interested in shooting video, you’re much better off looking at our top pick, and if you’re really serious, look at the Panasonic Lumix GH4. The X-T1’s video output lacks detail and has prominent image artifacts. Also missing from the X-T1 are the manual controls, accessory ports (like mic and headphone inputs), and recording-quality options that have become increasingly commonplace on competing models.
Though the X-T1 is in some ways a less capable camera than the X-T2, the two models still share much of the same DNA. The X-T1 is ruggedly built, weather-sealed, has an outstanding viewfinder, and puts key shooting controls within easy reach for on-the-fly adjustments. And the classic retro styling is as functional as it is pleasing to look at. And though its AF performance isn’t as good as that of our top pick, it’s still more than serviceable for situations like weddings, school performances, toddler pics, and Little League games. And because it’s an older model, the X-T1, as of this writing, costs several hundred dollars less than our top pick. If you don’t need the extra features of our top pick, you can use that savings to pick up an extra lens instead.
For Micro Four Thirds owners
If you’ve already invested in several Micro Four Thirds lenses and are willing to spend more, the Olympus E-M1 II is easily the most capable Micro Four Thirds camera we’ve seen. Its sensor is physically smaller (by almost 50 percent) than the one found in the Fuji X-T1 and X-T2, so you won’t get as much detail in low-light shots and you’ll have to settle for less dramatic background blur. But the E-M1 II is a powerhouse, offering shooting speeds and image stabilization beyond even pro-grade DSLRs.
The E-M1 II acquires focus faster than any of its rivals and can shoot at 60 fps (that’s equivalent to individual frames in an HD video) in Raw mode, no less. Even with continuous autofocus enabled the camera is capable of 18 fps. By comparison, those Canon and Nikon DSLRs you see on the sidelines of pro sports events “only” shoot between 12 and 14 fps. The E-M1 II features Olympus’s latest iteration of its well-regarded image stabilization system that, depending on the lens used, is allowing photographers like Robin Wong to handhold images at up to five seconds with extremely impressive results.
The most obvious drawback to the Olympus is its high price. The launch price of the E-M1 II in a body-only configuration is more expensive than our top pick bundled with an extremely good kit lens. At this point, we really see the E-M1 II as a practical choice only if you’re already invested in Micro Four Thirds lenses. And even then, we suggest waiting a few months for the price to come down a bit, if you can.
Another factor preventing the E-M1 II from taking our top spot has to do with sensor size. Its Micro Four Thirds sensor offers 20MP of resolution, but is almost half the physical size of the larger APS-C sensor found in the X-T2. Because of its sensor size advantage, the Fuji delivers noticeably cleaner, more detailed images at high ISO settings, as you can see in DPReview’s image comparison tool. The E-M1 II’s smaller sensor also limits it to less background blur than the X-T2 at equivalent distances and aperture settings.
Micro Four Thirds users have long accepted these trade-offs in exchange for a more portable camera system. Yet the E-M1 II is actually slightly taller and heavier than the X-T2. To be fair, Micro Four Thirds lenses are significantly smaller than their APS-C counterparts, so it’ll still take up less room in your camera bag. But in many cases the size and weight savings over an APS-C camera may not be that significant.
A compact pick for street photography
The Olympus PEN-F offers a lot of features in a compact package. For starters, it boasts a new 20-megapixel sensor, the highest-resolution chip to date for a Micro Four Thirds camera. It has a touch-sensitive rear screen that rotates 180 degrees for comfortable viewing whether you’re holding the camera above your head or below your waist. The well-designed layout of external dials, buttons, and switches means you can easily change settings without pulling the camera away from your face. And like our main picks, it has a high-resolution OLED viewfinder, albeit one with a noticeably smaller image magnification.
DPReview’s image-quality tests show a measurable, if fairly subtle, increase in image detail for the PEN-F’s sensor in comparison with the previous-generation 16-megapixel sensors found in older Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II. With no increase in image noise accompanying the corresponding resolution bump, the updated sensor has no downside. Similar to Olympus’ E-M5 and E-M1-series cameras, the PEN-F offers the option for an ultrahigh-resolution multishot mode; it’s designed to work with static subjects, and you’ll have to use a tripod, but the sensor-shift technology produces a 50-megapixel file.
But though its all-metal exterior is rugged enough to survive real-world dings and bumps, this camera is not weather-sealed like our top picks, a notable disadvantage for anyone who likes to shoot in the great outdoors or even at the beach. Another knock is that this model uses a contrast-detect autofocus system. Though unfailingly accurate when shooting in single-shot mode, this technology has been largely replaced in top-tier cameras (such as our main picks) by a hybrid contrast/phase detect system that allows for superior tracking of moving subjects, a must-have for action-oriented photographers who shoot sports and wildlife.
The PEN-F is not available with any kind of kit-lens bundle, and as of this writing it’s still selling for its list price, making it a more expensive option than either of our top picks with an equivalent lens. The PEN-F is perhaps the most compact camera with such a high-end feature set and is clearly aimed at people who like to shoot documentary and street photography without drawing undue attention to their gear. If that fits your shooting style, the PEN-F is a compelling choice that may be worth the price premium. For more general-purpose photography, however, we think our main picks offer most folks greater versatility.
A pick for video specialists
One camera that deserves special mention, even though I ultimately can’t recommend it for stills-oriented photographers, is the Panasonic Lumix GH4. Launched in February, the GH4 has shaken up the industry by offering 4K video right out of the box, something previously found only on cameras costing upwards of $6,000. If specs like 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI output, a 200 Mbps bitrate, ¼-speed slow motion, and built-in time code sync speak to you, this is a groundbreaking achievement.
What’s so intriguing for the rest of us is that if you put the video specs aside, you’ve got a very capable stills camera with a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, weather-sealed body, fast AF, a fully articulated rear LCD, and a battery life that’s 1.5 times greater than that of our top pick, the X-T2. And with video resolution as high as 4096×2160 pixels (at 24 fps), you can pull high-quality 8-megapixel still images from your video footage. Andrew Reid of EOSHD sizes up the camera’s positioning nicely, saying, “The GH4 is actually a professional camera. It just so happens to be priced like a mirrorless stills camera.” Photography Blog puts it even more directly: “If you need one camera to shoot both stills and video, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is … by far your best choice.”
But there’s no getting around the fact that for stills shooters, the advantages the GH4 has over our top pick, the Fujifilm X-T2, are limited to a slightly more adjustable rear screen, more powerful built-in flash, and a larger-capacity battery. The first two are hardly deal-clinchers and picking up a spare battery for the X-T2 will set you back less than $70.
Ultimately, the benefits don’t justify recommending this model over our top pick, especially when you consider that the APS-C sensor of the X-T2 has the same image-quality benefits over the GH4 as it does over our alternate pick, the E-M1 II.
Panasonic announced an updated version of the GH4. Released as both a firmware update for existing users and as the new DMC-GH4R, the tweaked version will feature a V-Log L recording profile, which will allow it to record video for more than 30 minutes at a time; it will also support a wider dynamic range, although all footage shot in this mode will require post-processing. (The 30-minute limit exists to prevent the GH4 from being taxed as a video recorder instead of a still camera.) Panasonic has taken the unusual step of asking $100 for this firmware update, whereas firmware updates have traditionally been free. The charge reflects the fact that this is very much a pro-level tweak, and you will need to know what you’re doing with post-processing to get good footage out of it. But this update brings a feature set that pro users have been wanting for a very long time. Another firmware update, announced in March 2016, provides support for Post Focus, 4K photo mode, and burst shooting with flash.
In recent years, camera makers have been going all out to appeal to photographers who want DSLR image quality and great lenses but don’t want to lug around a heavy camera. The result? An ever-growing selection of mirrorless cameras with pro features (like large sensors, weather sealing, and high-quality viewfinders) that are smaller and lighter than their DSLR rivals.
Sony’s α6500 has essentially the same 24MP sensor as its predecessor, the α6300, but offers a number of improvements. With the a6500 you get a five-axis in-body stabilization system that will work with any lens mounted on the camera, a touchscreen that makes adjusting the focus point far quicker and easier, and a larger buffer that allows you to shoot a burst of up to 300 JPEG or 100 raw images at 11 fps. The camera menu has also been redesigned for more efficient navigation.
Our biggest reservation about the Sony has less to do with the camera, which is very good, than with lens selection for Sony’s APS-C cameras. Sony hasn’t released a native E-mount lens since 2013, and has just 17 to choose from. Yes, Sony’s FE-mount lenses are compatible with the α6500, but those optics are designed for full-frame cameras, and thus physically larger than their APS-C E-mount equivalents. There are third-party lens makers like Sigma and Zeiss and that make E-mount lenses. But we feel that for most users ready to drop more than a thousand bucks into a camera system, a robust, expanding list of native-mount lenses—common to all of our picks— makes for a more ideal long-term value proposition.
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 was the runner-up pick in an earlier version of this guide. Like our top pick, the E-M1 features a weather-sealed body with a wealth of external shooting controls. It also offers a touchscreen and image stabilization that’s built into the camera itself, thus available with every lens you use. With its smaller Micro Four Thirds imaging sensor, however, the E-M1 can’t quite compete with the Fuji X-T1 for low noise and image detail at higher ISO settings and falls significantly behind our top pick in this regard. Its smaller sensor also can’t produce as much background blur at wide apertures. Its follow-up, the E-M1 Mark II is a significant upgrade in almost every way. In fact, the only reason to consider the original E-M1 is the very substantial price savings it offers. As of this writing it costs less than half the price of the Mark II for a body-only configuration. However, we’d recommend waiting a few months for the just-released Mark II to come down in price, lessening the financial blow.
Fujifilm has released the long-awaited X-Pro2, its follow-up to the very popular X-Pro1. Though it fixes the video shortfalls of its predecessor, its price and its specialist features keep it from being a pick. With a 24-megapixel sensor, a 273-point AF system, and a revamped imaging processor, Fuji’s flagship X-Pro2 matches our top pick, the X-T2, in resolution, inclusion of dual SD-card slots, and a joystick for moving quickly among AF points. The hybrid viewfinder lets you choose between an optical scene view and an electronic one.
With the X-Pro2, Fujifilm has taken a big step in addressing the poor video performance its previous cameras have been rightly criticized for. The X-Pro2 captures Full HD video at a 36-Mbps bit rate, for cleaner and more detailed results than what previous Fuji models offered. It still won’t challenge a video-oriented camera like the Panasonic GH4, which shoots 4K video, but it is a noticeable upgrade for Fuji users who want to grab the occasional video.
Two things keep the X-Pro2 from supplanting our top pick. The first is price: Because it ships without a lens, adding even a mid-priced prime lens will leave your wallet a few hundred dollars lighter than the X-T2 kit lens bundle. Just as important, though, the X-Pro2 is a very specialized tool. As with traditional rangefinder cameras, the precision of your framing can vary from lens to lens. Furthermore, using the optical viewfinder with telephoto lenses leads to a very small view in the finder. In the film days, rangefinder cameras were favorites of documentary and street photographers but much less suited for people shooting wildlife or sports. The same idea holds true with a digital incarnation such as the X-Pro2. If this camera happens to fit your shooting style, you’ll love it. But there’s no escaping the fact that it’s less versatile than a more general-purpose camera like our top pick, the X-T2.
Sony has turned heads in the camera industry with mirrorless cameras housing full-frame sensors, a spec usually available only on much larger, heavier DSLRs. The Sony α7– and α7R-series cameras feature full-frame sensors with resolutions between 24 megapixels and 42 megapixels. The α7S has a full-frame sensor that allows video shooters to capture 4K footage in unbelievably low-light scenes. These are groundbreaking cameras, as they put pro-level DSLR resolution in a mirrorless-sized package. And Sony has begun steadily adding full-frame lenses designed for these camera mounts to its lineup, addressing a long-standing criticism: The company now has 14 FE-mount lenses, including a 24-to-70-mm zoom and a 70-to-200-mm zoomwith fixed f/2.8 apertures, meeting the requirements of the most demanding shooters.
Although lenses like that go a long way toward making the A7 a viable camera system for pro photographers, we typically avoid recommending full-frame cameras. These are highly specialized (and very expensive) tools, each with distinct advantages and drawbacks that you need to weigh against your individual needs. Frankly, if you need a full-frame camera like these, you already know that, and you won’t be coming to us for advice on which one to buy.
The name Leica can send shivers of desire up the spines of photographers, but the Leica T (Typ 701) with a single lens and EVF (sold separately) will set you back more than $4,000. That’s simply too much of a brand premium to pay for a camera whose specs can be matched or exceeded by camera systems costing thousands of dollars less.
We feel the same way about the Leica Q, announced in June 2015. At a price north of $4,000, we do not recommend paying up for this Leica model either.
The $3,200 Leica TL, an update to the T line that offers an improved autofocus system, was announced in November 2016. With the same sensor size and general design as its predecessor, the TL is another model that costs too much for its specs.
Though the Nikon 1 V3 offers very impressive 20 fps shooting with continuous AF, we’ve never understood Nikon’s rationale for using such a small, 1-inch sensor in this class of camera. It just cannot compete with APS-C or even Micro Four Thirds sensors in low-light performance or dynamic range. DPReview found the camera disappointing, concluding: “Considering the V3’s price tag … enthusiasts looking for an all-purpose tool should look at the alternatives since there are many other cheaper cameras with good handling, less low ISO noise (and larger sensor), and broader lens selection.” Nikon has recently put this sensor technology to much better use, to our minds, in its new series of high-end compact cameras, which includes the DL 18-50 and DL 24-85.
Samsung’s NX1 is a powerful and feature-laden camera aimed squarely at the pro market. It can shoot at 15 fps with continuous autofocus, it has a 28-megapixel APS-C sensor, and it captures 4K video. Add to that a 2.36-million-dot EVF and a weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body. Last year, however, rumors were rampant that Samsung was shutting down its camera division. Since then the company has officially announced that it is ending camera sales in the UK. Samsung USA will not comment on its plans, but when we recently reached out to the company’s PR rep to ask for an NX1 to review, we learned that no press units were available, with no indication that any would be so in the future. This experience, coupled with the fact that Samsung has not even released a camera since the NX500 in February 2015, leads us to imagine a bleak future for Samsung shooters, and we won’t be recommending the company’s camera systems.
The Panasonic DMC-FZ2500 is essentially a GH4 with a fixed lens and a smaller sensor. Using a 1-inch sensor and a 20x zoom lens, it offers nearly all of the 4K video specs of the GH4, including 100 Mbps bit rates with a choice of compression options, timecode support, and 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI output. A built-in ND filter (to allow wider apertures in sunny conditions), an articulated rear screen, an OLED viewfinder, and the presence of both mic and headphone sockets are all features geared toward serious video shooters. With a launch price of $1,200, the FZ2500 is a cheaper 4K option than the GH4, which comes without a lens. It’s a notably bulky package, however, with a zoom lens that remains at full extension throughout its entire zoom range. We think that anyone looking to shoot video exclusively will prefer the flexibility of choosing smaller, faster lenses, and will be willing to pay for the privilege.