Are Mirrorless Cameras Here to Stay?

Are Mirrorless Cameras Here to Stay?

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In the late 2000s a new segment formed in the photography industry. This segment goes by many names, but the most common nowadays is “Mirrorless”. These cameras fall between the generic point and shoot cameras and the professional full frame DSLR systems.

Zhao !

By Zhao !

So what is Mirrorless all about?

The first mirrorless cameras came out with a traditional rangefinder design. They were small, had many manual settings, and were geared more towards street photographers who wanted great image quality in a small body. From these first cameras it became evident that a smaller camera with great image quality, professional grade, could be very useful. Soon there were several manufacturers developing mini-DSLR looking cameras, more rangefinder designs, and adding more and more features that are found in very high-end cameras. Along with these smaller bodies and variety of sensor sizes new lenses were engineered to take full advantage of the mirrorless design. Some of these manufacturers include Leica, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji, Canon, Nikon.

First impressions

When these cameras hit the market they were sought after by photojournalists, and street photographers as well as the techie part of the industry. Some thought it was just a trendy segment while others laughed at their size and functionality, forever comparing with full frame DSLRs (this is due to the fact that many mirrorless cameras don’t use a full frame sensor). Even after many articles had come out talking about the benefits of these cameras, many looked passed them and considered them amateur gear. But, manufacturers continued to produce new cameras with more features and better performance.

What really sets Mirrorless apart?

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As the segment continues to gain traction several key features are really starting to turn heads.

EVF: Electronic Viewfinder

Unlike traditional viewfinders which show you what is reflected via the mirror you actually see a small built-in display in the viewfinder showing you what the sensor sees. Try to picture a mini-tv monitor inside the viewfinder showing you what the camera sees.

This might seem strange, but there are tons of benefits to having it set up this way. You see what the sensor sees. So, you can point the camera into the sun and not get blinded. Or you can set the camera to black and white mode and you’ll see everything in black and white. On some cameras you can access your full camera menu through the viewfinder without having to look at the screen on the back. Also, you can fully customize the information you see in the viewfinder. What you see is what you get.

Ergonomics

9977912 origMirrorless cameras are small, compact, and very well built. They are made with high grade materials, and just by holding them you know you’re not using a generic point and shoot. To some photographers this is a huge selling point as they look to get away from their heavy camera gear. It also makes it easier to blend into the background without a big DSLR pointed at someone. Some of these cameras are even fully weather sealed, or have a flip out display, and just about all of them have a hot shoe for an external flash.

But, it goes further. The button layouts and menu systems are designed to be easy to use for even the most demanding of photographers. Unlike point and shoot cameras all the main controls are easily accessible. Some of these design cues come from professional full frame cameras while others look towards old film cameras for inspiration. With all this variety there is system for everyone.

Image quality

As each new generation comes out there has been an improvement in sensors, autofocus, and even better lenses. All of these things have caught the eye of the whole industry. The mirrorless segment is maturing at a rapid pace and it shows! Unlike the large DSLR companies who are fighting the megapixel race, the mirrorless segment is working on improving image quality in low light situations, fast moving subjects and lens quality. They have found ways to make it easier to take photos with manual focusing lenses as well. Image quality is a very important part of the development of the mirrorless segment.

The future of mirrorless – predictions

The mirrorless segment of the industry has really caught fire in the last few years. All major manufacturers have jumped on board, which means there are lots of options for anyone interested in giving them a try. New adapters have come out so you can use your existing lenses on your new mirrorless camera. Improvement on sensors, auto focus, weather sealing, range of lenses, and options, are attracting more and more people to mirrorless. Fujifilm as well as others are already developing a huge loyal customer base. Firmware updates seem to be the big game changer regarding loyalty. The constant updates and improvements are much more useful than what we’ve seen from most DSLR manufacturers.

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This segment will continue to grow and get better at a much faster rate than other segments. Although still young, mirrorless is here to stay. There is something for everyone. Even the most traditional photographers are getting excited about the possibilities of the Electronic Viewfinder as it keeps getting better and better. At the lower price point, much smaller form factor and close to equal image quality to the very large and expensive DSLRs means that it makes sense that more and more photographers will look to add, or replace, their gear with a shiny new mirrorless system.

Zhao !

By Zhao !

What are your thoughts? Where do you stand?

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Tomas Haran is a professional photographer specializing in people. Using a photojournalistic approach to his photography he portrays weddings and portraits in a very natural way. He uses mirrorless cameras to help blend into the background and to capture true moments as they unfold. He enjoys teaching photography, mentoring, blogging and learning.

  • All right, that’s what I wanted to know. Thank you for your time 🙂

  • There’s a lot of passion in this debate, but having choices is always good. I have a NIkon DSLR at work with a couple of lenses and flash that meet my needs perfectly. But when I travel, I take along my Olympus OMD, just because of the weight savings and size. I give up nothing in quality. The new Oly PRO lenses are really good. With two weather resistent zooms (24-80mm equivalent, f2.8; 80-300mm equivalent) and a 5-axis in-camera stabilization, I have a robust system I can take anywhere. Life is good!

  • Nikolay Radulov

    Price of DSLR body is insignificant to the price of lenses, especially well built ones. Also, DSLR body gives much more stability as it fits to my hands. Finally, nothing can replace the beauty of mechanics….

  • Tomas Haran

    Nice! I’m finding that many photographers are considering mirrorless for day to day and for traveling where they want to travel light and not carry around thousands of dollars worth of gear.

  • Richard

    I think that’s precisely the point. I have both 7d and 5d, both amazing cameras, but after a trip around SE Asia, and a few days at Angor Wat and surrounds, boy were they heavy? I gave up on waiting for Canon to come up with anything competitive, and bought a Sony a6000. That’s never going to compete with the DSLRs for game and bird photography, or landscapes, but it a great go to street camera and traveling.

  • Tomas Haran

    That’s awesome! It’s great there are so many options out there as well. Glad you’re enjoying your Sony.

  • I have added an Olympus EM10 to my bag of tricks for those time that I don’t want to cary around my Canon 1D. It’s a great little camera with some cool features. The one thing I don’t like about it, and this is because of some of the photography I do, is the time it takes to process a long exposure. I have been doing some light painting lately and the time it takes to process a long exposure is longer than it takes to shoot the picture. Both my DSLRs (Canon 1DIV and 450D) show the picture almost instantaneously. It may just be this model but it can be quite frustrating.

    Other than that, like I said, some cool features. Love the phone app especially the remote shutter function. A little sample from my EM10 attached.

  • Tomas Haran

    Hi Corey. That sounds awesome. Mirrorless cameras are a tad more intensive on cards. Make sure you are using class 10 cards that transfer over 60 mb/second. And it could be the camera speed as well. That could speed up in future firmware updates or newer models. Glad you’re enjoying your camera.

  • 0815

    I love my Olympus PL-5. Nice camera, awesome lenses and not so heavy to carry(++++!!!) the prices are okay and the quality of the pictures is amazing.

  • Steve

    Thanks Tomas, a great overview! I started with a Sony Nex 5 and the upgraded to a A6000. Just love it, especially the EVF. One of the other blessings occurred when I was able to by an adapter to utilise my old Minolta lenses. They work like a dream! Love the size and portability. I am excited to think about where technology is going to take these cameras – can’t wait! Thanks again for starting the discussion.

  • builderman62

    Mark,
    no disrespect and your point of view and opinion is just as valid as anyone’s,
    But you summed it up in your second statement, the point is we pick our cameras up to take a picture of what we see, not what the electronics interpret on an EVF.
    I have tried several mirror less cameras and the first thing that was obvious to me was that the scene through the viewfinder or on the EVF had been enhanced to a greater or lessor degree, either in the highlights or shadows and to some degree the colors too, for me personally that is a no, no.
    I use my camera in manual mode most of the time, to make sure the picture I see is what I get.
    We already work around the old light meter problem of black cat on black mat or polar bear on snow, hence exposure compensation, and very few people that have been taking photographs for a any length of time use the camera in automatic, at one time automatic on a camera didn’t exist and neither did digital, and no I don’t have a downer on technology, as a matter of fact I am a very tech minded person, but I have learned very recently that just because it’s new technology doesn’t mean it is better, i.e. C D versus vinyl is there a difference, you bet your sweet life there is, the dynamics and abidance of a record makes the C D sound so flat it ain’t funny and lets face it if we carry the discussion to it’s ultimate conclusion why have the option of any setting other than auto on our cameras?
    We will all use what we are happiest with and what suits us or our style of photography, and that is has it should be.
    So the answer is do we or I still need a mirror in my camera you betcha, do you? maybe not, it’s all about choice you choose one I choose the other.
    And none of it is important because it’s capturing what you see that’s important, no matter what gear you choose.

  • Sasikumar

    Two years back I suddenly switched to mirrorless segment and purchased an OLYMPUS -Pen with a basic and another 14-140mm lens. My experience was not at all encouraging. Of course the micro 4/3 cameras are convenient for handling, however, the picture quality in low light is awkward. In brighter light, performance was good, though. I believe micro 4/3 cameras are in the stage of an evolution and after certain stages from now may emerge into a winner !! Last month, again I switched back to my DSLR !!!

  • Tomas Haran

    Great to hear! ! Yes lots of great things coming!

  • Tomas Haran

    You are so right. And if you have your camera with you more you’ll take more photos. No more, should I bring my camera or not.

  • Tomas Haran

    If you remained with a 2 yr old camera I can see how it started to show its age. They are improving at a rapid rate. Making a full switch can be scary as there are always trade offs. If you decide to add on a mirrorless in the future check out Sony and Fuji.

  • MLD

    The best camera out there is the one that’s in your hand when you need it.

  • Tomas Haran

    Well said.

  • delastro

    A panasonic lx100 with apsc or full format is better than 43format. Mirrorless as a question of sensor size is still open. Mirrorless as a question of smaller cams is a good way.

  • TomTom

    I have an in-body stabilizer in my EM1 which allows me to use significantly lower shutter speed (and hence ISO) than a DSLR with all lenses. For stationary subjects (most what I do), this erases a significant of noise advantage than ff DSLR’s. Furthermore, as I am not a fan of razor thin depth of field, I would have to shut down the aperture 2 stops more than I need to for my m43 to achieve the same depth of field. Again, on a full frame body I would have to increase ISO even more. Finally, if I wanted, there are plenty fast m43 lenses Voightlander f0.95s or Panasonics 45mm 1.2 that are still relatively compact. Fortunately, I don’t have to go this route as I have all the low light performance with my 1.8 primes.

  • TomTom

    I am a big user of the depth of field preview button. Always have, always will. With a DSLR, the viewfinder dims. With the EVF, the brightness remains constant better allowing me to assess the effect of various apertures.

  • Nizmo

    Re: “Fujifilm are already developing a huge loyal customer base” Olympus and Panasonic no?

  • Ivars

    There are specific cases of mirrorless having better low-light performance than DSLRs, sure. But as a rule of thumb, DSLRs will have better low-light performance because of pure physics.
    I love mirrorless idea, but it’s just not a tool for me. And as much as fanboys would like to deny it, DSLRs have decades of shaping into tools they are now. Without any doubt, after some 5 – 10 years mirrorless will be much more polished they are now.

  • Ivars

    You can get decent performance out from mirrorless on low-light situation, but still they mostly perform worse in this aspect than comparably priced DSLR/VR lens combos.
    You have to understand that almost all design choices in camera world are about trade-offs. You get something with mirrorless (smaller camera), you loose something (low-light performance). It doesn’t make mirrorless or DSLR better than other, they are just different tools.

  • Julie

    Tomas, this was so good!!!!

  • Mary45283
  • Joe_Exceptional_American

    But you really aren’t seeing the picture that you get with an optical viewfinder and a digital sensor. You are seeing an optical version of what the image sensor will interpret and in conjunction with the camera processors, generate a reasonable facsimile of the optical image. In fact, one could argue that a good EVF will provide a more faithful rendition of the final image that is created, in which case you really are seeing what you get. Of course every one is entitled to their opinion and there is no denying that you should use what you are happiest with.

  • Joe_Exceptional_American

    Can you elaborate on how SLR camers vastly outperform mirrorless cameras in almost every way (aside from size and weight)?

  • Joe_Exceptional_American

    Can you elaborate on the physics of DSLRs that provide superior low light performance?

  • Ivars

    To put it simple – bigger sensors leads to bigger “pixels” (strictly speaking it’s only partially true, assuming that megapixel count is the same). Bigger individual elements on sensor means more light falling on it at same ambient light level, faster electrical charge, which leads to better sensitivity.
    Of course, it’s simple “how I understand” explanation and it might be not strictly correct, but those are pointers in direction for exploration if you are more interested in this topic.

  • Joe_Exceptional_American

    Sorry, meant to say, given equivalent sensors, what advantages do the physics of dslr cameras provide over mirrorless?

  • Ivars

    None, but there are not a lot of mirrorless cameras with bigger sensors than MFT standart. You can create good mirrorless camera by using bigger sensor, but then it’s gonna be roughly the same size as DSLR.

  • GCtech

    Reading lots of digital camera reviews helps a lot on deciding which one works best depending on your style of photography.

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