What is a mirrorless digital camera?
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OK, so you are correct in thinking that name itself gives you an idea what a mirrorless digital camera is. It’s a camera without the reflex mirror found in all DSLR cameras.
Amateur and professional photographers had preferred DSLR cameras for decades. However the landscape is already changing with mirrorless digital cameras in the picture.
To give you a good understanding of what a mirrorless camera is, it is critical for you to first understand what makes a digital SLR unique.
What are DSLR cameras?
DSLR cameras are generally large, heavy, and popular with professional photographers. They like its speed for capturing pictures, fast autofocus features, better manual control and how easy it is to change lens while taking photographs.
One of the main drawcards for a DSLR camera has always been that it will let you see what the lens sees when you look through its viewfinder. There is an arrangement of mirrors and prisms inside the camera that bounce the light coming from the lens and into the viewfinder to form the image that will be captured.
This optical system gives DSLR cameras its speed for capturing pictures and also lets you instantly see image changes in the viewfinder.
OK, so what are Mirrorless Cameras then?
With mirrors doing so much in a camera, it is natural to wonder both how, and why camera manufacturers have come up with a way to remove the need. Mirrorless cameras are compact cameras with interchangeable lenses using digital imaging sensors instead of movable mirror and pentaprism for reflection.
Many people today prefer mirrorless over DSLR cameras because they are fast and responsive, have excellent image quality and most importantly, fit your jacket pocket or your carry-on luggage at the airport.
DSLRs have more complex mirror mechanisms like a condenser lens, pentaprism and a secondary mirror. Mirrorless cameras are much simpler mechanically.
No mirror weight
Mirrors increase the camera’s size and weight. This is what prompted manufacturers to create a compact camera that produces superior images like a digital SLR camera.
They decided to remove the cluster of mirrors which dramatically reduced the camera size. The absence of light reflecting on optical viewfinders led to mirrorless cameras depending on electronic viewfinders (EVF) and LCDs to project whatever the imaging sensor sees.
The camera however has the other DSLR features like speedy performance, manual controls, lens changing abilities and fast autofocus.
Larger sensor sizes
Mirrorless digital cameras have physically larger sensors which capture high-quality images. They prove especially useful while clicking pictures in low or dim light. Digital cameras leverage the ISO feature in dim light, where ISO measures the sensor’s light absorption abilities.
A higher ISO indicates a sensor with faster light absorption. While this lets photographers take photos in dim light, it produces poor quality images.
The smaller sensors found in compact cameras however produce poor quality images even at high ISO values. In short, dim light images taken with a compact camera will be poorer in quality than mirrorless cameras.
Perfect transitional camera
Mirrorless cameras make the perfect transitional camera. It’s perfect for people unhappy with their compact cameras, but are intimidated with a DSLR camera’s features and size.
Not only are mirrorless cameras smaller and lighter in build, they have ‘intelligent’ automatic modes. This helps photographers select and use the right mode for the get best pictures.
Most mirrorless cameras don’t have viewfinders and like compact cameras, use the LCD for taking photos. This makes it easier for compact camera users to get accustomed to regular DSLRs.
A variety of lenses
Mirrorless cameras have a bayonet-style mount for attaching lenses, just like a DSLR camera. However each manufacturer has proprietary mounts. This means you can’t interchange different mirrorless camera lenses.
There however are mirrorless camera adapters that can be used to attach various lenses including the latest Canon lens to the oldest lens available. This is a useful feature for photographers with existing lens collections. They don’t have to buy new lenses for their mirrorless camera.
Auto focus capabilities
Mirrorless cameras have different autofocus capabilities, depending on the manufacturer and lenses used. They originally relied on slower contrast-detection AF systems.
While the latest models are much better, DSLRs perform more consistently especially in low light and while tracking moving subjects. This makes it difficult to ascertain if a mirrorless camera’s auto focus feature is better than DSLRs or not.
PRO’s and CON’s
- No Noise
- Kick-ass video capabilities
- Wide range of accessories and upgrades
The minimal moving parts and mechanisms in mirrorless cameras makes its run much quieter than DSLR cameras. This is an important feature in photographers looking for a quiet and unobtrusive device.
Mirrorless cameras perform much better in video mode because of its electronic view-finder. DSLRs have to be set to live view through the rear LCD screen and not the optical viewfinder.
While most mirrorless camera manufacturer manufacture cameras with high-end video features, DSLR manufacturers aren’t doing much.
Accessories and upgrades
Despite being a new entrant, mirrorless cameras come with quite a few accessories and add-ons. Besides its broad selection of lenses, some high-end models can attach external flashes and support vertical battery grips for improved ergonomics and battery life.
- Short battery life
- Price – can get expensive quickly
- Battery required for EVF
Short battery life
One major disadvantage of mirrorless cameras is it’s short battery life. This is because of its sensors and EVFs which drains batteries much faster than DSLR camera batteries.
While this may improve in the future, at present photographers consider the DSLRs all-day battery life a big advantage, especially to cover sports or other events.
While mirrorless and DSLR cameras cost about the same, entry level DSLR cameras have more features and better specs than its mirrorless counterpart. So those on a budget make a better investment buying a DSLR camera. However if you are looking for something high-end, then both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are quite similar in price and features.
EVF works only if the mirrorless digital camera is switched on
The electronic viewfinder works only when the camera is switched on, and image sensor is powered. This affects the camera’s battery life. Some photographers may need time to get adjusted to the lag, blackouts and high contrast of electronic viewfinders.
After reading the article you reach a conclusion that mirrorless cameras are basically small and light DSLR cameras. Both camera types use interchangeable lenses, large sensors and complicated autofocus systems. The main difference between the two lies in its size, weight and internal mechanisms.
The more compact mirrorless cameras make an ideal choice for casual photographers looking for an easy-to-use camera. They usually aren’t much bothered about its short battery life.
Professional and advanced users have to decide based on their shooting skills, skill level and photography niche. For example, a DSLR camera may be a better choice if you are sports or fashion photographer. However wedding and landscape photographers may prefer a mirrorless camera.
When you compare features and specifications, mirrorless cameras have some advantages and disadvantages too. This is why it’s left to you to decide which camera is best for you based on your photography needs.