The mirrorless revolution is quietly happening, with new cameras and lenses being released that blur the boundaries between SLR and mirrorless. The name comes from the fact that the mirror, which in SLR cameras is used to allow the user to look through the lens via the viewfinder, is removed.
In some cases it is replaced with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that acts much the same as LiveView mode on an SLR does except in a smaller, higher pixel-density display that can be used like a traditional viewfinder.
Removing this mirror allows manufacturers to make the camera significantly smaller and due to the closer proximity of the lens mount to the sensor, the lenses can also be made smaller. The result is near-SLR-quality images in a smaller package with several added benefits.
In addition to being able to use the EVF as a viewfinder, the EVF can handle many of the functions normally reserved for the rear LCD screen such as image review, shooting info display (HUD), and also for shooting video.
What follows is a roundup of those currently available mirrorless cameras that approach SLR quality and functionality along with a selection of lenses and available housings.
Micro Four Thirds Standard (MFTs)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
This feature rich SLR-esque MFT camera from Panasonic shoots some of the best video of any non-camcorder camera with the ability to select from AVCHD, H.264, or MP4 at up to 1080p at 60fps at a fast 72Mbps.
For still shooters, the camera features a 16MP CMOS sensor with a 3” fully articulated screen and 6fps continuous shooting.
For those switching from an SLR they will feel right at home with the similar body style and dial/button placement. The GH3 also features a built in electronic viewfinder.
Housings for the DMC-GH3 are produced by both Nauticam and Ikelite. Both allow access to all the controls with Ikelite’s featuring an integrated TTL converter. Nauticam’s NA-GH3 allows for the use of a large range of Nauticam ports and optional viewfinders as well as both optical and cable strobe control.
Olympus PEN EPL-5
The Olympus PEN cameras appear more similar to compact cameras in their lack of an electronic viewfinder and small body size but the E-PL5 still packs a MFT 16MP CMOS sensor. These cameras do still allow access to all manual exposure controls and are capable of shooting 1080p HD video at up to 30fps.
Housings are available from both Olympus and Nauticam, both offering the ability to use a variety of ports to suit the lens selection.
Olympus OM-D EM5
The flagship of Olympus’ MFT lineup, the OM-D EM5 features classical OM styling with a built in electronic viewfinder and 16MP MFT CMOS sensor. This impressive mirrorless camera also features Olympus’ 5-axis image stabilization in-camera adding to the ability to shoot blur-free images at lower shutter speeds. Not as capable as the GH-3 in its video abilities, it is still able to shoot 1080HD video at up to 60i fps.
Housings are available from both Olympus and Nauticam, both offering the ability to use a variety of ports to suit the lens selection. The Nauticam’s also allows for the use of their optional viewfinders.
Lenses for Underwater Photography with Micro Four Thirds Cameras
7-14mm Panasonic F4.0 (14-28mm equiv.)
An ultrawide and fairly fast rectilinear zoom, the 7-14mm is an excellent lens for large animals and those that prefer a rectilinear to a fisheye.
45mm Panasonic Macro F2.8 (90mm equiv.)
This optically stabilized macro lens from Leica, their first MFT lens, has inner focusing and allows for full life size (1:1) reproduction at a maximum aperture of f2.8.
8mm Panasonic Fisheye F3.5 (16mm equiv.)
The 15/16mm fisheye is standard equipment for underwater photography and this lens fills that space nicely. This lens features a fairly large maximum aperture of f3.5.
Sony Alpha NEX7
The Sony NEX-7 is a capable and compact mirrorless camera with a 24.3MP APS-C size CMOS sensor. Among the features of note to underwater shooters are a 2.4M dot EVF that can display focus peaking, huge benefit to both macro video and stills. The NEX series also features other models such as the NEX 6 and NEX 5R with lower price points than the NEX 7 while maintaining many of it's specs.
The main drawback to the NEX cameras is the lack of lenses, especially for underwater subjects, compared to the MFT standard.
Currently, housings are available from Nauticam for the NEX series that allow access to all necessary functions underwater. Paired with one of their optional viewfinders, the Nauticam is truly able to take full advantage of their NEX-7’s fantastic EVF.
16mm F2.8 Sony (24mm equiv.) with Fisheye Converter
Paired with the fisheye converter, the fast 16mm gives an impressive 180º field of view with good edge sharpness making this combination ideal for underwater users of the NEX.
30mm F3.5 Macro Sony (45mm equiv.)
With a fairly pedestrian 45mm equivalent, this lens needs an external diopter to allow for enough magnification to combat the short working distances. This moderately fast f3.5 macro is the only one currently available for the NEX line.
Canon EF-M Mount
A latecomer to the mirrorless game, Canon’s EOS-M shows great promise but suffers from the same issue as Sony’s NEX series in that it relies on its own lens system whereas the MFT is an open standard allowing lenses from all manufacturers to be used interchangeably.
Both the EOS-M and the NEX-7’s biggest advantage are their relatively large APS-C sensors. With an adapter, the EOS-M is able to take advantage of several of Canon’s EF-S lenses, including the wonderful 60mm f2.8 macro.
Nauticam currently produces a housing for the EOS-M that allows for its use with all available EF-M lenses as well as the EF-S 60mm macro with a special adapter ring making this a real contender for macro shooters looking for a more compact solution.
60mm F2.8 Macro Canon for EF-S adapter for EOS-M mount
This SLR lens in the Canon’s EF-S lineup is designed for APS-C SLRs but via an adapter it can used on the APS-C equipped EOS-M mirrorless. This fast macro lens allows for 1:1 reproduction and features a fast internal ultrasonic focus.
Nikon 1 Series
Nikon 1 V2
The original Nikon 1 V1 featured their hybrid AF system that used both phase and contrast detection, making for stellar autofocus.. The V2 added several features that were lacking in the V1 inclduing a higher resolution 14MP sensor as well as a built-in flash and a mode dial. The sensor for the 1 V2 is a Nikon CX format sensor, a 2.7X crop factor over full frame.
The Nikon 1 series is fairly limited in underwater friendly lenses, especially when it comes to macro. With no dedicated fisheye and no dedicated macro, the options are limited.
1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 "pancake"
This 27mm equivalent low profile lens is the widest on offer. With a fast F2.8 aperture, it would be suitable for wide angle photography.
A housing for the V2 is currently available from Nauticam and allows the use of interchangeable ports and features a large zoom dial and fiber optic bulkheads for use with the internal flash.
The mirrorless camera market is clearly still in flux, with manufacturers working out their own standards or going with open standards such as micro four thirds. With an ever growing lens and housing selection, it’s clear that these cameras are here to stay and will play an ever more important role in the underwater photography world.
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