Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras of Late 2012

Don’t laugh when I say MILC, but that’s one of the many terms being thrown around right now in an attempt to describe this new generation of cameras that sit somewhere between a compact and a DSLR. These cameras each share a common bond in that they have no mirrored viewfinder, yet they boast a very DLSR-like interchangeable lens system. Some of them have cropped sensors that match that of their larger entry-level DSLR cousins, but others simply act as a step up from the world of point-and-shoot compacts.

No matter what you choose to call them, this type of camera is believed by many to be the eventual replacement of the DSLR once the technology catches up. Some members of this product line (including the Sony NEX-5R and Canon EOS M) are actually beating DSLRs in the eyes of many photogs.

When deciding on which cameras to include in this list, we didn’t just go for the most expensive offerings from each manufacturer. Instead, we looked closely at value and general market adoption of these technologies. After all, what good are a few more checks in the specs sheet if the price bump makes it an unappealing deal?

Olympus PEN E-PL5

Olympus is arguably the initiator of the interchangeable mirrorless craze currently hitting the photography world. Whether you call them micro four-thirds or simply interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, there are few forces out there as respected as Olympus.

The E-PL5 has wicked fast autofocus and an impressive line of Micro Four Thirds lenses only adds to the flexibility of this somewhat small, light system.

The E-PL5 doesn’t have the most impressive specs sheet in this list, but that doesn’t stop it from being a monster of a small camera. The 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor and 31 autofocus points combine with the F.A.S.T. AF system to make focusing on moving subjects a matter of just pressing the button. Improved colors and image clarity are also among the improvements made in the E-PL5.

Canon EOS M

The Canon EOS M is like a smaller version of the popular 650D (T4i) DSLR. It brings a lot to the table in terms of lens compatibility as existing M, EF, and EF-S lenses will work with it, but also because it shares the same 1.6x crop sensor with the T4i. This, in addition to some clever engineering, makes it a very capable video shooter. While it may be a bit unbalanced with a larger lens attached, the Canon EOS M features a hybrid autofocus system with 31 autofocus points and a touchscreen that makes shooting a matter of tapping your finger.

You can use the traditional shutter button and manual focus if you want to, but the EOS M makes it easy to kick back and take photos without having to so much as raise the camera up to your eye.

Some reviews place the autofocus as the weak point, being a bit slow on the draw, but this is an easy setback to overlook when you consider just how video capable this little camera is.

Sony NEX-5R

Sony has two spots in this list, but that isn’t because it’s the best brand out there. The NEX-7 is last-year’s top model, and it just hasn’t been updated yet. The NEX-5R is the “new hotness” of the Sony line, though it doesn’t come with all the premium features (or the premium price tag) of the NEX-7.

The NEX-5R brings Wi-Fi connectivity to the table in addition to an external mic jack for better audio capture during video. Its slightly more expensive cousin, the NEX-6, leans more heavily on the photography side of things with an included electronic viewfinder and mode dial. The NEX-5R keeps it fun and classy. A flippable touchscreen and 3D photo feature makes it a favorite for consumers who want to get a little more enjoyment out of their camera.

Oh, and did I mention low-light performance? The NEX-5N and 5R are among two of the best cameras you can find for low-light photography thanks to their exceedingly strong noise performance.

Sony NEX-7

Luxury is the word that comes to mind when I think about the NEX-7. It’s quite simply the best of the best in the mirrorless camera world. You not only get full manual control, but a 24.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor to boot. It might not be the latest camera on the market, but it’s still counted among the best.

You’ll be paying a premium price for this larger sensor. Starting at nearly $1,200, the NEX-7 is priced higher than many DSLRs out there that boast incredible stats of their own. You’re paying for industry-leading performance and photo clarity, though. The NEX-7 is perhaps the professional photographer’s best secondary shooter.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1

Panasonic and Olympus worked together to found the Micro Four Thirds standard on which the mirrorless interchangeable lens world has greatly benefited. Today, Panasonic remains one of the leaders in the market, despite not being considered one of the top two contenders in the DSLR world. That title still belongs to Canon and Nikon.

Panasonic isn’t without its heavy hitters, though. Take the Lumix DMC-GX1. It’s a Micro Four Thirds system that boasts some of the most impressive specs on the market today.

Not only can the GX1 take great photos thanks to a contrast autofocus system, three integrated CPUs, and improved noise performance, but it also boasts excellent video. You can take advantage of full HD with the GX1 with excellent clarity at a price well under $500. That’s not something many other cameras in this range can boast, at least not without making sacrifices.

Agree with this list? Had experience with any of the above cameras, or would you recommend another? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts with us!

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • LewiHussey

    Have to recommend this to my friend, he owns a photo store and ive been trying to tell him to get these types of camera’s!

  • lodave

    Just bring back optical viewfinders so we can see what we’re shooting in broad daylight!