Can a small mirrorless camera replace a DSLR?

A question I get several times a week: Can a small mirrorless camera replace a DSLR? 

With the trend in digital photography today heading to the small powerhouse bodies with larger sensors many have dumped their DSLR’s for the likes of  a Sony NEX camera, an Olympus OM-D, a Leica X2, Nikon V1 or one of the many other small mirrorless cameras that are now flooding the market.

It seems that ever since digital cameras started being produced, photography has taken a turn of some sorts. Today, for many, it is just as much about the device being used as it is the images themselves. Many shooters today get more enjoyment out of the GEAR than they do the PHOTOS. This is a true fact, and I try to keep a balance myself as I love the gear but I also love and am passionate about photography. But what is the most important is that people are gaining joy from all of this and if buying a Leica X or Sony NEX makes you happy, then why not?

I feel it is important to use a tool that you can bond with..learn with and thoroughly enjoy. I have had a love affair with smaller cameras over the past few years because I was so tired of lugging a huge backpack around whenever I wanted to go out and shoot.

Back in the earlier digital days DSLR’s were everywhere as we did not even have a choice if we wanted small AND high quality. I remember going to disneyland about 6-7 years ago and seeing everyone with a large DSLR. I remember thinking ‘how could you lug that around Disneyland AND still enjoy your day”? Made my back and arms hurt looking at some of those rigs.

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When I was there at DL I waltzed around with a Leica M7 and a few rolls of film and it was no problem though I do remember worrying that the rides would jar the rangefinder out of alignment but even after 3 days there and many rides the RF was fine and even with water splashing on the old M7 I had zero issues. I would not try this with an M9 though as it somehow seems more delicate due  to all of the electronics inside that can have water leak onto them since there is no weather sealing in an M camera. Yet.

Yea, those days with the old M7 were fine indeed. No worries. Compose, snap, shutter and wind. But before I go on a rant about remembering my easy days with the M7 I have to stop myself because that is not what this article is supposed to be about!

Many readers e-mail me and ask me if a small mirrorless can replace a large DSLR. That is a very common question I get these days but you have to remember that these small cameras are usually not as versatile as a DSLR. For example, if you want to shoot sports action, a DSLR will usually be the best bet, though someone like me and a few others would use an M9 without worry, lol.

For sports the only mirrorless choices are really the Olympus OM-D as it has the speed, the lenses, and the high quality and ISO performance that almost matches a nice DSLR. Something like an X2 would not be good for sports with its limited 35mm lens and slow operation. A Nikon V1 could do sports but with the slow zooms available you would need REALLY good light. The AF is good enough as is the IQ if you keep the ISO lower. The Sony NEX series is great for sports as well as you can use some kick ass manual glass to do so.

While the cameras mentioned can do great, a DSLR will still be the sports shooting king so if you are a sports pro a mirrorless would/could not replace a DSLR just yet.

But what about Street? Portraits?

For street I feel a Leica M is king. That is MY opinion as I can shoot a Leica M faster than I can AF with most when on the street. I do not consider myself a street photographer though I do enjoy it and find it to be a great exercise to get your confidence up. Street Photography is nothing more than recording and capturing moments of real life as they happen. This is easier said than done but some people out there are very good at it while others are awful at it. It seems that in the past 2-3 years “Street” has become popular and it has brought out some great photographers but it also seems that there is a lack of REAL street shots with impact, even from old pros who call themselves street shooters because they shoot every week. I think I see maybe 1-2 really fantastic street shots a month from the slew of guys on flickr and Facebook who shoot street every day.

Like I said, I do not call or consider myself “street shooter” though I do shoot with an M and have shot street. I have tried my hand at it with MANY cameras and the Leica M just works. I had a hard time with the original Leica X1 but with that camera and the new X2 you can set the camera to manual focus and use Zone Focusing to shoot quick and easy so they also can work well. The Fuji X100 is also a great street camera as is the Nikon V1 (I have an upcoming Guest article with samples and they have def have impact). The NEX series can also do great with street and I had fun with the NEX-5 and 16mm a year or so ago so just about any mirrorless made today can do street well if you learn the camera and features and best way to shoot with it while out in the urban jungle.

Bottom line? For street I would say a mirrorless is MUCH better than a DSLR as DSLR’s are too large and scare people away. 

How about portraits?

Today I was sitting in my office reading e-mails and noticed I had a slew of cameras around me. A Leica X2, a Sony A57 DSLR with 16-50 lens and a Nikon V1. I also have a Fuji X100, Sony NEX-7 and NEX-F3 here as well (the F3 and A57 are here for  testing right now). I have heard and seen great things from the Sony A57 and 16-50 lens as this lens is super sharp even at 2.8 wide open. It also will keep the 2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range, so this is one of the premo Sony lenses.

My nephew is here visiting so I called him in the room and asked if I could snap 2-3 shots of him with a couple of cameras. I was not even going to post these but after viewing them I was impressed by what the Sony did with that 16-50 Zoom lens at 2.8. The camera seemed to put out a nice file. When viewing the file from the Leica X2 I was also pleased with what I saw. There was that Leica sharpness and detail but it also had a different color signature. The Nikon V1 could not match the richness of the two larger sensor cameras but it can do a good job, but the color is not as good or rich due to the smaller sensor.

First the A57 file with the 16-50 Zoom at 2.8

The Sony A57 puts out a beautiful rich file but with the camera and zoom lens attached it is MUCH larger than a Leica X2 (but much more versatile, faster, and with gorgeous video) The Sony combo will cost you $1650. $650 for the body and $750 for the lens (and this lens is superb but don’t take my word for it, read the reviews at B&H). The 16-50 lens is a quality lens, easily used for pro work.

The Leica X2 is a small little powerhouse. A little slow when compared to the competition but it is indeed a powerful imaging device put into a small body, that is the one thing that is certain. If you can live with the 35mm focal length and only the 35mm focal length then it is a viable but expensive option. Below you can see the shot from the X2..

Both of those images were shot as RAW files and converted using ACR.

The A57 seems like it has a richer and smoother rendering while the Leica retains that Leica signature. For in studio portraits, as in..if I were a portrait pro, I would choose a nice medium format camera for the absolute best quality. Either that or a Nikon D800 DSLR because in the studio you need all of the quality you can get and even shallow depth of field, which is the weakness of cameras like the Nikon V1 and in some cases Micro 4/3.

1st image is from the Leica X2 and the 2nd is from the Nikon V1

So while a mirrorless like the X2, Nikon V1 and X100 or OM-D can do studio, for more versatility and overall quality cameras like a Nikon D800 or Canon 5D III would be better.

A Sony NEX-7 also works well in studio especially when you mount Leica glass.

The new mirrorless cameras that are available today ALL make for amazing every day cameras. You can take them anywhere, capture anything you want and do it without looking like a big dork with your DSLR, 70-200 and sun visor and fanny pack on. A Leica X2 or Nikon V1 or Fuji X100 can be taken with you where a camera like a Nikon D800 would most likely be left at home. So for capturing life’s little moments smaller is always better. For pro work like weddings, sports, action or even studio a DSLR would give you more versatility and quality.

With all of that said, I would take a Leica M9 anywhere and shoot anything with it 🙂


  1. Most funniest part of mirrorless is when start using it with big lenses we feel like it doesn’t have enough grip so end up with buying grip, when found another problem battery draining quickly, then there is solution there is battery grip so upgrade. Once all upgrades made what you get is so called bulky similar DSLR with lesser features. Who is behind this mirrorless idea? What is the really gain at last. If really compare this nobody have benefit; even though P&S users because its not going to fit on your pocket anymore. Who gains?
    If you are Canon user all lens is going to dump it for nothing. Innovation is good but if innovation not beat existing technology what is innovation for?

  2. I totally disagree with mirrorless will replace DSLR , After reading many reviews I decided to go with mirrorless camera. After one month of use I found bad decision made. When come to quality of stills/pictures way better in DSLR. If you are own point-of-shoot camera then mirrorless will be an upgrade but for DSLR users don’t expect same result you going to get with mirrorless. I feel this is marketing gimmick by company. The lead company like Canon /Nikon are still not in this area as much because this mirrorless camera is not solution for good pictures. For name there is one or two from those brands. mirrorless will replace point of shoot camera not the DSLR

      • It was Olympus OM-D E-M10 Olympus with Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro Interchangeable Lens and Olympus FL-600R Wireless Flash, still not good as Canon entry level dslr with with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash.

  3. I agree in most things regarding smaller cameras, but as the bird season just started again I realized how much I missed a DSLR with a good tele. I tried with the E-M1 and X-T1, but didn’t really have any success. Brought out my “old” DSLR and got myself a new tele, and voila!

    I use an X-T1, X100S or a GR most of the time, but am really glad I kept my DSLR. I rarely (never) do street shots except when on vacation, and then it’s more architecture than people. And landscape, macro and nature. I do print large but are by no means a pro. The only pictures I’ve ever gotten paid for was taken with a Nikon J1 and Coolpix A! 🙂

  4. nice and awesome one sharing… its very interesting and informative one i like it very much keep sharing this type of fantastic stuff i like your sharing very much keep it up man….

  5. Just read this old thread but would just chime in and say that I agree. Started with a Canon 550D but got tired of the weight. Got a M9 with two lenses, but it wasn’t much lighter. I then bought a Nikon V1, but now I shoot an Olympus E-M5 and the IQ and usability is miles ahead of the Canon, Leica and V1. These cameras (at least the Canon and Leica) are heavy and the glass too.

    Have an E-P5 on order as I it smaller than the E-M5, but I hear it is heavier so I may not keep it.

  6. Mirrorless cameras…”You can take them anywhere, capture anything you want and do it without looking like a big dork with your DSLR, 70-200 and sun visor and fanny pack on.” it.

  7. I’m in the middle of this exact decision… Canon 5d iii or a mirrorless system (I have Canon lenses already… but then, we do travel a lot and smaller would be better).

    However, a question: am I imagining it or is there something less ideal about the B&W shots that these mirrorless systems take? They somehow seem less ‘meaty’ to me or something. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but they don’t seem as substantial.

    • All images from less than full frame sensors are less “meaty” than a full frame sensor 5DIII but the RX1 has more “meat” than a 5DIII and it is considered a small mirrorless camera. I feel the RX1 takes amazing B&W photos, the OM-D excellent, the Fuji X bodies decent (but they come off as a but flat from what I have seen) and Nikon V1 better than expected.

  8. Mirrorless looks great for travel when you loathe carrying heavy gear. Many a time I wished I was hands free while walking on the streets and yet do not want to miss out on unique images. Mirrorless can be an answer as you can carry light stuff yet need not compromise on image quality. Yet, I have a question. Is there a mirrorless with a lens compatible for birding? I am a birder myself and will be happy to carry a gear light enough for street photography yet compatible for taking bird pics.

  9. I just shot the 4th o’ july weekend completely with my Sony NEX-7, this was the first time departing from DSLR’s all together and shooting with only a mirror-less. I must say I got wonderful results. Just fantastic. I couldn’t have been happier. It did hunt a few times here and there but nothing that a little fortitude didn’t fix, plus my DSLR would sometime run into focusing behind the subject every once in a while, where my NEX never has this issue, its either on or totally off. I also pixel peep a lot, I’m glad to say I love the very detailed files of the NEX and rarely run into high ISO so noise is controlled perfectly well. I must say its a joy to shoot with the NEX-7 all day in comparison to shooting with my old DSLR. I’m pretty sure after a half case and the LEAE-2 adapter I will be right where I want with any given situation.

  10. I can’t understand why you don’t even name Ricoh’s GXR system. Specially, considering it’s a mirrorless which can do something that most DSLRs can’t: Syncing your flash at high speeds. That’s really important for me in some kinds of Photography. And, of course, in sports…

  11. Hi, dslr´s existence goes attached to the fact you can look through the lens…it´s a matter of technical issues…really nobody needs mirrors because the mirror in itself…
    Today techonlogy allows you to look through the lens without mirrors so…fuji know this very well…they don´t have large mirror cameras to protect… they can take the market by storm and make their day…nikon and canon will eventually and slowly disengage from their mirror lenses and cameras….

    A year ago i owned a x1…what a marvel…you really don´t need AF…it´s a 24mm lens so use hyperfocal and be happy…haven´t had the op to use a x2…but for the pictures showed in some sites the performance of the sensor and lens is even better than the older x1….

  12. I find size to be the important factor to me. During my three year stay abroad, I purchased the NEX-5. I loved the camera to death. I found myself using A-mount lenses most of the time with LA-EA1 adapter(manual focus) and then with the LA-EA2. I then traded it for an a55 because I only used A-mount lenses and wanted to use a hot-shoe flash. Now that I’ve returned home, I don’t see that I need to carry around this giant hunk of metal and plastic, even though the a55 is one of the smaller bodied DSLRs.

    I’m now considering going back to an NEX camera because there are a few native lenses that would keep me satisfied and I also use Sony’s LA-EA2 adapter again.

    Another funny reason I want to switch back to mirrorless is because I live in a fairly boring town(big city, but no tourism) so I rarely see others with DSLRs(unlike when I was abroad in Bangkok, Thailand or even my short trip to San Francisco). I just think people would look at me funny if I walked around the mall here with a giant camera and lens around my neck.

  13. Of course it can, but I just got my first-ever DSLR, a Nikon D7000, and It’s loads of fun (I’m an amateur photographer). I’m just getting started with it. Before I got it, I was shooting film (still am.) I had a choice, while I had the money, between the D7000 and the Nikon V1. I got the D7000 first. I’ll get the V1 next. ;<)

    With best regards,


  14. For me, the weight of my antique Nikon D2H is easy to handle for the street all day. It feels right in my hand and gives me the images that work FOR ME! As far as focusing, I usually use two lenses for my daylight work when roaming my local streets. Neither is very fast but I know what they will do after almost four years of use. For wide angle stuff, I use a Tokina 12-24mm f4 and set my D2H’s autofocus to the closest subject priority and often shoot from the hip. It works well for me. I understand what you are saying about the need for gear (or as you once called G.A.S. for ‘gear acquisition syndrome’) but I have what works for me and, for me, that is all that counts, both professionally and personally.

    So, everyone find what you enjoy and get out there and SHOOT!!!

    • Amen brutha!
      I’ve been sayin this all along…you seldom used to hear all this whining about “lugging” a d300, d90, d3, etc around until very, very recently, when suddenly there are 2 or 3 pretty good m4/3 camera bodies on the scene and some high-quality (albeit expensive as all get-out) lenses.

      Now these perfectly fine, far more economical and in many ways technically superior dx / fx cameras weigh 100 lbs. Then again, prior to the Taco Bell chihuahua commercials, real men weren’t rushing out to buy miniature dogs and poodles either.

      I for one am tired of hearing these fabricated stories about why an entirely new and redundant camera system is now warranted due to weight and bulk. MOST amateurs DON’T carry 2 full-frame bodies and three or more f2.8 lenses, large tripod, flash and god-only-knows what else on a hiking or camping trip. That might be what a pro like Peter Lik would do, but not any average guy out for a walk in the woods or a big-time wilderness trip into the back country, yet to read these posts online you’d think there are dozens, if not hundreds, of pro photographers working for nat geo and outdoor photo online, reading reviews about m4/3 cameras.

      This obsession with gear has no bounds. All of these latest m4/3 cameras everyone is ditching their standard bodies for will be outdated and obsolescent in a year or less, and we’ll still have the same guys hootin about how whatever that is then is so much better than something else.

      Funny….most Europeans aren’t anywhere near as obsessed about camera models as americanis are and actually spend time shooting the shutters out of d80s and rebels, with better and more interesting images.

  15. There is another option available, which is to mount a pancake lens onto a DSLR. It is amazing how the new Canon EF 40mm 2.8 STM lens changed the character of my 5D. I had been studying the Voigtlander Ultron and some legacy pancakes with adapters, when Canon announced and then released their own auto-focusing pancake lens. I already knew that a 50mm lens on an SLR made for a lightweight combination, (and Keith, above, described using a 35mm lens on a D700) but the shorter pancake lens enables a DSLR to fit into an amazingly small bag or belt pouch, as it is little more bulky than a body cap.

    If nothing else, a pancake lens on an SLR enables me to travel more lightly while I save for a mirror-less compact system camera, or a fixed-lens X camera, or perhaps even a rangefinder.

    I think that, ultimately, it is good to have a big, versatile camera, and a smaller one (or two) that can fit into smaller spaces and be less of an encumbrance when one wants to travel more lightly, as jarj and Harry indicated above.

  16. No comments on the X2 anywhere. Not in either. I got tired of loving a camera nobody has a comment on. It was great IQ, light to carry. But one feels lonely. Interestingly I look forward to the Sony RX100 and already have the Olympus E-M5, dpreview’s two most populars.

    • I talked about the X2 in detail several times, many posts here about it but the reason it is not as popular is because it’s just like an X1, just a bit faster.

    • why do u need to buy a camera to hear what other ppl have to say….maybe u should hear wht ppl have to say bef u buy the camera…

  17. I need to ask a question, and this seems like a great place.

    I need a camera to focus fast and accurate, especially on the eyes. I am not quick enough to do this with manual focus.

    In this comparison, the Sony focus was very accurate. Is the Sony as good as the OM-D in this respect, or is this something that required fine-tuning?

    I really could use some advice from the experts here.

  18. I switched from a Rebel T2i with battery grip and Tamron 2.8/Telezoom/50mm setup to a Panasonic G3/Kit Zoom/Tele/prime lens setup a while ago – because of weight. There are downsides to the mirrorless setup, but in the end of the day I’m much happier with it. I use it for my job as a writer/editor at a local newspaper, and it’s more than adequate for that. Let’s face it, most shots I have to do myself are group shots, portraits and event documentary, and for that, the G3 is great. I even did some good lowlight shots of screenplays and outdoor sports, although for indoor sports it lacks the fast lenses – at least it did so far, the Oly 75mm might help with that, but it’s darn expensive. It’s rare that I have to do sports anyway, I leave that to the experts.
    The real upside is, all of ihe G3 gear fits in a standard messenger bag together with a macbook air, a notepad and a Gorillapod – and my breakfast, for that matter:-). I have it with me all the time. With the canon setup, i always had to ask myself if I really wanted to take a second bag of gear with me.

    The only real downside is that the huge camera bag with all the chunky gear somehow seemed more “pro” to most people, at least those who don’t know much about cameras. I mean, a T2i is nothing special, but with a battery grip and rather big tamron 17-50 2.8, it looked pretty bad-ass. In my job, it still matters sometimes if people recognize you as the newspaper guy, and DSLRs with some extra gear seem to be more convincing in that area.
    Still, I prefer having my gear with me all the time and not killing my back. In the end, the results count, even if there might sometimes be some more explaining to do on location.

  19. The body only for A57 is $618 on Amazon ($718 with the kit lens). That’s pretty cheap for what A57 offers as a camera

  20. Steve says: “For street a Leica M is king”: But my king (M9) gets beaten by my NEX 7 with m-glass or the Sigma 30mm for street shooting any day. Zone focusing works like a charm on both, focus peaking is as fast as RF focusing. The NEX allows waist level shooting with its flip up screen whereas the king reuires to be lifted up to the eye for framing/composing the shot or else ist’s a “blind” shooting. And there goes the “moment” and unobtrusiveness with the realtively chunky M held in front of ones face (and yes, I’m used to shoot RF and quite fast with it, but the NEX is faster). The king’s ergonomics and weight don’t allow to shoot it one handed. And lastly, the NEX can be carried around in one hand for as long as I want, even with a Leica 90mm lens mounted. And lastly, the NEX 7 has the fastest shutter release of any camera I ever put my hands on, which is quite relevant to capture the decisive moment.

    • As a Leica M9 owner, I have to agree with you. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Leica, but as a camera system, it has a somewhat narrow application. When you are not pressed for time and have time to compose that photograph, the Leica is great. Try photographing a group of people walking out of a cafe in a hurry under low light, and most Leica users would be struggling to get passable photos. Having only tried out the NEX-7, I get the impression that this Sony wonder could handle such a scene without problems.

      • I think there are probably plenty of Leica M shooters in history that photographed people walking out of a cafe in a hurry under low light, and they got more than passable photos.
        Because they weren’t thinking about pixels, sensor sizes, ISO’s and whether the Sony Nex series is better than Micro four thirds or whatever.
        Weren’t they lucky?

  21. There is no point discussing which camera is best without defining the context. For shooting fast and for ultimate image quality nothing beats a DSLR although a Leica compares when focusing fast is not an issue. The auto focus systems on the new generation Nikon and Canon cameras are remarkable and you can shoot a rapid series while still seeing the subject. Leica works as well in situations where you can prefocus. Other mirrorless cameras have slower frame rates and it is really difficult to shoot a quick series of shots when relying on an EVF because you are blind most of the time after images begin appearing in the EVF. A full frame DSLR and Leica M9 are also unmatched for landscape shots.

    The big drawback to a DSLR is size, weight and inconvenience, which, if you are not a full time professional photographer, is a big deal. Most of the time you need a smaller camera for the occasional shot but that doesn’t get in the way of doing other things.

    The best we can hope for as things develop is two systems, one a full frame DSLR that provides the ultimate versatility and IQ, and the other a smaller versatile camera that is easy to haul around but still provides good image quality, good lenses and will shoot fast when needed.

  22. Now if you put the question the other way : Can a DSLR replace small mirrorless camera ?

    The answer is no, nope, nein, non. not at all ! 🙂

  23. Not just any DSLR. A full frame DSLR.
    With the recent advances in sensor technology, m43 is capturing the quality of APS-C in a much smaller package. (Even the Sony NEX-sized lenses add unnecessary weight and clumsiness.) If you’re also collecting video files at the same happenstance as pics, then mirrorless is better integrated than a mirrored DSLR. Yes, the Sony translucent mirror technology is an advance, yet you still have the issue of size; when their full-frame camera with translucent mirror arrives–takiing advantage of those excellent Zeiss lenses–then Sony will have made the great leap forward in image quality and hybrid flexibility that will lure many of us to invest, even at the price of increased size.

    • Leica is a full frame mirrorless camera with Zeiss lenses. Are you just referring to Sony? I hope the Nex system can somehow get a FF sensor in that. But the current crop, no pun intended, looks promising and gladly trade my APS-C DLSR for a Nex-7.

      I have a nice library of Nikon film lenses, I just can’t justify the price of digital FF right now when my film bodies are still going strong. Film is just so much cheaper for me at the moment. I also shoot MF and looking into 4×5. I even went cheap and have a Voigtlander rf with my one and only Leica lens on it.

  24. So again the discussion devolves from what can deliver true image quality- a memorable photo, a rare circumstance, an ironic juxtaposition- to what can deliver laboratory results in images blown up real big.

    I’m thinking about any decent camera made in the last 60 years can deliver the former. And all the blow ups and measurements and numbers of the latter will not ever by themselves result in the former.

    Quit worrying about the camera. Quit trying to grow out of the constant serial inadequacy the industry and blogs are foisting on you. Quit spending the resulting gobs of money you can’t afford to resolve that fake inadequacy. Go out and take pictures.

  25. Just wondering why if you’re going to go through the trouble and do this;
    Why not shoot the Sony A57 at a 35mm equ. at f2.8Like the Leica?

    Make them a bit more equal not:

    A57 @ 75mm f2.8 and
    Leica X2 @ 35mm f4

  26. We, the wife and I, still have two DSLRs (we’ve sold one), but it is now rarely used. Like this weekend, when the NEX-5N carried the Zeiss 1.8/24, and the V1 sported an AF-S 50/1.4. Great combination for people and street photography, both lenses superb!

  27. When shooting film, I had, (still do), an SLR and a ‘pocketable’ camera. With digital, I have a DSLR and a ‘pocketable camera and something in between, a Canon G11.
    I have all three because IMHO none of them will do everything. When I go out for the day, specifically to shoot, like the first time in a new city, I take my DSLR, with a grip, and an 18-125 zoom. It’s not light, (a really good bag and strap help a lot), but it’s versatile, fast, has depth of field preview, good IQ, takes rechargeable AA batteries, tough, dependable, the grip with it’s extra controls is excellent for vertical shots, very fast to operate………
    I wouldn’t take it to a dinner out with friends. The G11 fits into a nice little pouch for that. The pocket camera is for daily living, (I literally never go anywhere without some sort of a camera).
    I don’t know if we’ll ever see a camera that does everything really well. I think we’ll always have to have two or three, (or more) cameras to do it all.
    But for gear heads, that’s half the fun.

  28. I agree, the mirror less camera like the Olympus OM-D which I have and love can actually take over 90% of the DSLR’s (I am also having the Canon 5D mkll). Except for pure landscape and birds and fast action sports photography, the OM-D can do much of the work. I am basically a nature photographer and with a weather seal body of the Olympus, I can lug it to any remote tropical jungle where weight is a drawback and much trekking is require. I think the day of the mirror less system can fully mature is when lenses of fast 400mm to 500mm (35mm. eqv) become available. That’s the time I will leave my 5D at home most of the time.

    I read much of the internet forum discussion where people are only discussing about cameras, most of the time they do not talk much about the whole camera system ie, the available lens system, the flash system, the accessories like remote release and so forth.

  29. Steve, the new Canon 650 D has a Hybrid 18 Mp sensor, incorporating both PDAF and CDAF.
    It appears PDAF is much faster at focus acquisition than CDAF in low light, but is it also very good at continuous AF or tracking say a bird flying from right to left or a horse running directly towards you or away from you ? In other words would PDAF be the answer to the challenges posed by sports and bird / wildlife photography ?
    Maybe you can do a review of the Canon 650 D with special emphasis on these aspects of its Hybrid sensor………….PLEASE ??!!

  30. I am currently in Tokyo and have decided to bring the D700 with 35mm lens (just 1.1kg, I can carry that). I opted leaving my GXR-M and V1 home. I have no regrets so far, it’s cool to rediscover my D700 again. AF is fast and spot on, even in dim restaurants and at night in neon-lit Tokyo. Grip is great for steady shooting. IQ is gonna be better than my other 2 cameras and I have the flexibility to use higher ISO if I need it.

    I like my two other cameras, though I find that a DSLR with a single prime lens could also offer a good balance between portability and quality

  31. Definitely like the camera selection and comparisons you did in this one. Would love for you to try the Nikon V1 with FT1 adapter. It’s a little odd using dslr glass on it, but if you already have Nikon glass from a dslr you own, it opens up new possibilities (especially for telephoto and macro use). The shallow bokeh suddenly becomes more doable.

    • (Adding to this – the knock on the Nikon V1 is that it has no fast lenses… but with a FT1 adapter, although large and unsightly, you do have the options to add in stuff like a 35mm 1.8g, 50mm, 105mm VR, etc) so there are fast lenses. The focus speed and limitations of the FT1 adapter (largely I’m sure just a firmware fix that Nikon may never do) is the center af point and non-continuous focus.

    • v1 with F1 is only useful for
      1. macro
      2. birding

      and both requires tripod as the ridiculous crop factor due to the small 2.7 renders all the existing nikon lens totally out of general photography.

  32. I’m really confused. Just what is ‘the Leica signature,” as related to color digital files? And, as related to a compact, APS-sensored digital camera?

    ‘The Leica Signature,’ as originally constituted, is something i do understand. It WAS probably Tri-X, D-76, a 35mm Summicron, and natural light. Now, though, there’s supposed to be a digital version of ‘the look?’ I still don’t see it. Supposedly, it exists in the M9. Going forward, it exists in the M Monochrom. Of course. But, it’s in the X2? I guess so, as it was reported to have been in the original Digilux, despite the horrid, posterized files…. I think it exists in anything with a red dot on it, but it only exists once you’re told the image came from a camera with a red dot.

    The ‘signature’ can’t even really be broken down into lens characteristics. An Elmar renders differently from a Summilux. A pre-Aspherical Summicron renders differently from a ASPH. A Hektor… well, no idea. Some of those Leica lenses render like a Zeiss. Some like a Nikon F. Yet, somehow, they’re all contributing to ‘the signature.’ It’s illusion, legend, and fable.

    Not to pick on you, Steve, as i have bitten from the Leica apple (M7s, R8, R7, CM….), but it’s ridiculous to so often read the fluff. Every Leica weakness or shortcoming is spun as a feature. Typically, “simplicity.” Or, “contemplative.”

    • I agree VERY MUCH!
      In early days a “quality” photographer with a Leica perhaps made photo’s with a “Leica signature” because he was able to work fast and silent and that resulted in a special kind of lively photography. Now I can do that with my NEX with Zeiss or Voigtländer glass (prefocus), a Nikon J1 with 10mm (very fast AF and silent) , a Lumix GX1 with 14mm (Leica glass and touchscreen release) and even an Olympus XZ-1 with fast AF and tracking focus.
      A Leica sensor is not special and Leica glass can be used on a lot of other bodies and no one will see the difference. Only in your wallet…

  33. Don’t forget the leica d-lux 5. fits in your pocket! Have it for 2years and still love the images it produces.

  34. Great article Steve with valid points!

    I have noticed this deep interest towards the gear to rise as well. I think many of those people are quite technically oriented and have maybe very little experience shooting on film. The good thing is that the noble art of photography is available for larger crowd.

    People who love computers will most likely enjoy Sony NEX 7 much more than DSLR as it shoots like computer not like camera. Okay even some DSLRs shoot like computers.

    Photography enthusiasts should have DSLR and mirrorless – then you have good tool for every occasion 😉

    But as Steve said Leica M9 can be used almost in every occasion! I just cant justify the price by any means, personally. (Okay, maybe I could but my wife couldnt…)

  35. I don’t think your comment “capture anything you want” is really accurate. as someone whose hobby is wildlife then a dSLR is the only choice.

    I get a bit annoyed at reading reviews, or product annoucements, that claim xxx mirrorless has the worlds fastest AF. Do we really care if a camera can acquire initial focus 0.000000001 secs faster with a specific lens when if the continuous focus is lets be honest pedestrian at best. The Nikon V1 an honourable exception.

    let me add the day I can get decent continuous auto focus out of a mirrorless camera then my dSLR will probably be history but alas m4/3 is not to my mind decent (as much as I love it for general photography). Can an EM5 take birds in flight? really? That is not what I’ve heard from pro photographers. I’d love to be proved wrong (and let me add d7000 fast is good enough for me).

    Of course I am going to Florence in a few weeks and the dSLR won’t.

    • Sorry to hear you won’t be taking your slr to Florence. My wife and I just returned from Florence. She was shooting the OMD-em5 with Leica/Panny 25mm 1.4, Oly 12mm and I was shooting the Nikon D4 with 24-70 f2.8. I know it’s more cumbersome but I didn’t really mind or care about the extra weight. Had no problem taking it everywhere. Many times we took the exact same pictures of the exact same scenes. Guess whose pics we used to show off to friends and family on our Flickr? The D4 pics blew away the OMD in every category. I love the OMD but just isn’t in the same league for IQ, low light, lens choices, focus capabilities (especially continuous focus), Video quality, Dynamic Range, and manipulation of raw files. I am certainly glad I had my slr for those beautiful dimly lit museums.

      • I am using an OM-D and getting shots as good as anything i’ve ever taken with a DSLR, I’m not seeing any lack of performance even compared with my Leica lenses at the distance I NORMALLY look at things at. Then again I don’t blow up pictures to look at pixels taken at ISO XXXXX. I take photos.Would genuinely be surprised if D4 pics BLOW AWAY (as you put it) the pics taken with the OM-D.
        Lens choices? How many do you need? If you are experienced you already know the few focal lengths that work for you. And the micro four thirds range is wide enough.
        Continuous focus works perfectly well on the OM-D contrary to earlier reports by people who hadn’t set the parameters correctly on the camera’s customizable menu. And EVEN in standard focus mode it is very fast to capture action.
        Manipulation of raw files? Oh dear…don’t do much of that. Get my images in the finder mostly and minimal tweaking afterwards.
        No doubt the D4 is a darn good camera but honestly I think if you are a capable photographer the OMD is plenty good enough and if it’s not..take a look around on the web…why are some of the top Pro photographers in the business buying and using it for
        shoots for clients, not just for summer holidays.?
        Personally I don’t care which camera is better as long as the one I am using gets the results I want. the problem with ALL digital batteries is that they guzzle power ( constant re-charging ) and are garbage as soon as the new model hits the shelves. You can argue about that if you like but with any kind of electronic product the rapid pace of development means you need to upgrade nearly every six months. That includes the OM-D no doubt!
        I admire you for not caring about carrying extra weight. After years of lugging around a heavy camera bag in tropical heat I REALLY care about extra weight 🙂

        • Sorry I meant to say ..the problem with ALL digital cameras…but you knew that already right?

      • I have to question, do you think the results would have been same if you switched cameras with your wife?

  36. Ok, what was the objective of the SLR? It was to enable the photographer to see what the lens saw and to see exactly what was going to be captured on film. And. If the mechanicals of the mirror to focal plane measurements were correct it enabled very accurate focus.
    All the rest is modification, add on and improvement that do not change the reason behind the SLR just make it easier to use.
    We now have electronic sensors to replace film. So with the dSLR nothing much changes, just more updating and improvements (mostly in functional speed and it gets bigger).

    BUT! We now have the ability to see the same image that the sensor sees without all the mirrors and glass prism and the possibility it goes out of mechanical calibration.

    The objectives and reason for the SLR can now be better met by the mirrorless camera. A blanket statement, yes, but true. The SLR as it is today is like comparing the CRT TV with the plasma/LCD panel TV, they both work but events have overtaken one of them.
    The digital Single Lens Imager camera is here now and like the old SLR is being modified and having addons and improvements.
    The improvement of OVF and will see the end of the dSLR as it is today. All manufacturers will go mirrorless for all their products. (irrespective of sensor size) They will maintain a dSLR line as a niche product but it will be very very expensive.
    The dSLR will become a professional only tool or just a neck trophy.
    But untill then each to his/her own.

    • I think we will see mirrorless and DSLR type cameras coexist for a long time. Even if that means the current DSLR turns into a mirrorless solution but retains the form factor and largish lenses.

      • I think that EVFs will eventually get so good that they will take over. Canon and Nikon have an enormous amount of high quality glass. They will probably keep the flange distance the same on the large pro bodies to maintain full lens compatibility. I like a bigger body when using longer telephotos. I feel like the counterbalance helps the handling. Too bad the larger Nikons and Canons are so expensive nowadays. I want an inexpensive new Nikon with the D70 form factor for shooting with the long telephotos.

        • What are you talking about by “expensive” dslr? A Nikon d7000 is the same or less than a premium m4/3 and the newer d3200 with an 18-55 kit lens is small and only $700. By contrast, an Olympus omd and 12-35 lens will set you back $2300.

  37. It’s the same old answer, just the same as to the question What Camera Should I Buy?

    Answer: It all depends on what you shoot.

  38. You didn’t mention the NEX-7. I would think that the wide range or adaptors that allow it to use just about any lens made might count towards versatility. Want a Leica lens? Use one. It’s not like you’re losing autofocus. Sony’s focus peaking makes manual focus a snap, and it’s more reliable than zone focusing with a Leica. Like that old Nikon 24mm? No problem. There’s an adaptor for that too. My Pentax Limited 31mm turns into a terrific normal lens. And on and on. At low ISO it’s a great landscape camera. It has at least the same low ISO performance as a Leica, probably better. Want to shoot weddings? Use Sony Alpha glass and a phase detection focus capable adaptor.

    With the M9, it’s not the camera that’s versatile. It’s the fact that Leica users accept the limitations of the camera in exchange for the “look.” I’ve also noticed more than a little elitism among Leica shooters, which comes off as either, “I’m a better photographer than you,” or “I have more disposable income than you.” That’s not always true, but often enough.

  39. About DSLR and weight. I have been downsizing from a D700 to a D5100 which I have been using with the 35mm f1.8. Been lusting for a M9 for some time and around Easter I got a second hand M9 with a 50mm Summicron. Have been my carry everywhere camera, replacing the D5100 but I have discovered that the Leica is heavier. Or feels heavier. I got cary the D5100 in one hand all day, but the M9 is not so good carrying around in one hand, ready to shoot. I have been thinking of getting a grip for it, but are afraid it will be bigger. And uglier…

    Anyway, in August I’m flying to Tanzania for some safari stuff and have a 90mm on order for wildlife. It will be my first travel where I don’t travel with a DSLR! 🙂

    • Before putting a “ugly” grip on the Leica M9 I would try the Thumbs up from In combination with a wriststrap it is a safe and nice looking alternative to a grip.

    • Gee, 90 mm for wildlife! They are wonderfull for shooting elefants across the road. You better take your D5100 with say 18-300 VR too.

    • 90mm for wildlife? Dear Hegg, either you’re going to shoot some very large wildlife, or shoot very close to the wildlife!

      Wildlife and M9 don’t really go together my experience. You’ve got to get pretty close to a lion to use a 90mm, and wildebeest, zebras etc ( they have wildebeest in Tanzania?..) may just look like dots on the horizon.

      Take your D5100 and a 300mm zoom.

    • You should ask Steve Huff how he does it. Apparently he’s figured out how to shoot anything with an M9. Last line of this article he says “With all of that said, I would take a Leica M9 anywhere and shoot anything with it.” I would leave the M9 at the lodge and carry my clunky, enormous SLR. Unless you like cropping the heck out of your photos to see the animals. Btw, I would recommend you also order the magnification eyepiece for your viewfinder for use with the 90mm.

      • You got it!

        Of course I was being sarcastic. I love Leica but am sort of tired of reading about how it can do everything better than any other camera, and if it can’t do it better it’s just because you’re doing it wrong. And about DSLR being heavy – my M9 is just as heavy as my DSLR. And I don’t put a superzoom on it either.

        Anyway, this being the US. I don’t understand why so many people drive SUVs and pick-up trucks when a small sedan easily can get you from A to B in less time and less hassle…

  40. Steve, are you planning on doing a true Sony A57 review. There are a few of us alpha shooters here that would love to hear your thoughts. You are a huge part in why I gave an a33.

  41. I’ve just sold my DSLR because of its size. I just did not enjoy hauling it around.

    My main camera is a Ricoh GXR-M with Leica glass. The image quality exceeds my expectations as the M mounts lack of AA filter allows the Leica glass to really shine.

    It’s been perfect for traveling as I travel for work and it’s always with me. My backup is the Ricoh GRDIII. It fits easily in my jean’s pocket.

    • +1 for GXR-M. It’s a great performer & environmentally friendly solid box (don’t throw away the camera at each sensor’s evolution). In the “war” between DSLRs and EVILs, I have chosen both:

      – Landscape/street with Ricoh GXR Mount A12 and Zeiss Biogon 25 ZM or Fuji X100
      – Portraits with Pentax K5 and my Limited film lenses: FA43 and FA77

      DSLRs rule for long focal lenses: fast AF-C & huge buffer (and sometimes, higher color depth & dual card management) and tiny EVILs dominate when discreetnees & lightness are required.

  42. Steve, you are using the term “versatile” in a very selective manner in my opinion. All of your points are valid, but you could spin this around just as easily:

    A CSC is more versatile than a DSLR because:
    • it is smaller and thus usable in places where a DSLR might not be
    • it is smaller and lighter, thus more portable
    • many CSCs have live-view and an EVF, meaning you can use them either SLR-style or like a compact camera
    • using focus peaking and manual lenses you can even use them like a rangefinder camera!
    • you can adapt lenses from basically any lens mount ever invented.
    • if you’ve got a NEX you can even transform it into an SLT-DSLR whenever you feel like it
    • the combination of live-view and tiltable displays allows you to shoot from positions that would be difficult with DSLRs

    I’m not saying they are better than DSLRs, but I really think the versatility argument goes both ways.

    BTW: This is just me, but if I only had a Leica X2 and I wanted to shoot portraits with it, I’d rather go farther away from my subject and crop the image afterwards then turn my poor nephew into Gerard Depardieu! 🙂

  43. Technically A57 isn’t a DSLR (No OVF, EVF, no mirror flips), but performance, AF (PDAF), size, and lenses wise, it behaves like a DSLR

    • Technically the A57 IS a DSLR. It’s an SLT-DSLR. By definition a DSLR is a camera that redirects (reflects) light by using a mirror – it doesn’t matter whether the mirror is flexible or translucent or if the view finder is optical or electronical.

      • Actually that is incorrect, DSLR means “digital single lens RELEX” which the A57 does not have. The A57 is a SLT “Single Lens Translucent”. Reflex isthe discription of the mirrior reflexing upward to expose the image sensor then reflexing back to normal position.

      • So by the DSLR lens definition is a G3 or EP3 suddenly a DSLR (particularly the G3) when it takes DSLR lenses via an adapter?

        • The most basic definition of a DSLR is its name: digital single lens reflex. Is the A57 digital? Yes. Does it only have a single lens mount as opposed to TLR cameras? Yes. Does it reflect light using a mirror? YES. It absolutely operates like a DSLR in the aspects that matter. It doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, but that’s simply called progress.

    • Sony even went another step and created their own term: “SLT”. But I don’t know if that term has caught on yet. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter anyways. I don’t think there is any reason to argue whether it can be called a DSLR or not because it makes no difference.

  44. I, too, worry about the RF accuracy on my M9 when going on Disney rides or after any rough handling. It is one reason my Olympus EM5 is my current go to camera for a light weight, high quality camera.

    For sports, I have great results with my M9 but my D4 is one of those amazing cameras that always seems to work with me to get the shot, it is nothing short of amazing.


  45. I absolutely agree! I bought my Nikon D90 in 2008, right before mirrorless really started taking off as for cameras in my price range. 2010-2012 in particular have been exciting years and I would simply not have bought a DSLR if I entered photography today. Not a chance. The only reason I can think of is to be cheaper than with a Leica if you stil, want full-frame for enhanced depth-of-field control, but this is seriously not a big deal in my opinion. If I bought a Leica, it would be because it was a rangefinder, not that.

    • can you help me? I am thinking of getting started to photography and do u think getting the D90 today (its darn cheap now) would be a good choice compared to sony a5000 or nex or olympus ep5 or whatever?

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