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.
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.
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?
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.
Mirrorless 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.
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.
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.
What are your thoughts? Where do you stand?