What is a Mirrorless camera?
In the past few years there has been a buzz in the photography industry. A new kind of camera has come out which promises fantastic optics, at a lower price, smaller form factor and has really started to gather momentum. Some of the leaders in the Mirrorless segment are Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Samsung, and Nikon.
These cameras are physically smaller than the traditional DSLR because they don’t have a mirror that reflects what the lens sees up through to the viewfinder. By getting rid of the mirror you not only get the benefit taking up less space, but it also means that the sensor is placed closer to your lens. Most of the Mirrorless cameras out there are not equipped with full frame sensors. Most are crop sensor or 4/3s sensors. The Micro 4/3 cameras offer a 2x crop factor vs the 1.5x on many other mirrorless cameras.
The sensors are larger than a point and shoot, and that equates to better image quality. In addition, many of these systems require their own lenses for optimal performance. But, these lenses are smaller than those for dSLRs and are usually the same price or less expensive to other comparable lenses.
Who benefits from a Mirrorless camera?
- Mirrorless cameras are fantastic as they can suit a variety of purposes. Given the size and image quality they produce many full time photographers are choosing one of the Mirrorless systems as their walk around camera. Many claim that when they are not working for a client it can be burdensome to lug around a lot of gear and often times find themselves leaving their heavy gear at home.
- For street photographers many of these cameras are a dream come true. Prior to Mirrorless you either had to deal with a small manual focusing camera, a point and shoot or a large DSLR, but it seemed like there was always a compromise. There are even a few models that have a fixed lens built into the camera and offer silent shutters. So if you’re looking to be discrete might be time to check them out.
- In the last couple years a lot of wedding photographers have turned to Mirrorless to be discrete and to be used as a companion camera. Ever been in a church and found your Full Frame camera to be really loud? Or maybe you’re witnesses a personal moment during the getting ready part of the wedding day and don’t want to be intrusive. There are some photographers who have actually changed all their DSLR gear in favor of a light, high quality and discrete Mirrorless system.
- Newbie photographers nowadays are faced with so many options of cameras. There is the big question of whether to go with Canon or Nikon, but Mirrorless is also a fantastic choice for your first high end camera. Many are very intuitive and help you “see” in manual mode better. Also, Mirrorless cameras are generally 40% less expensive to mid to high end DSLR and still produce fantastic images. So if you’re new, want to learn photography and are on a tight budget these could be just right for you.
- Anyone who loves photography and has to have a camera with them everywhere. They know their cell phone isn’t quite good enough and a DSLR is just too much. They don’t want to compromise on image quality, but want something capable in a variety of lighting conditions and easy to carry around.
- One perk with the micro four-thirds cameras by Panasonic and Olympus, for example, is that you can use the lenses interchangeably. (Jodi, MCP, has both brands for her Olympus OMD EM5)
What are limitations of Mirrorless cameras?
Of course there are some limitations of Mirrorless cameras. You must remember that they are only a few years old and although this generation is much better to last year’s offerings there are a few things that could be better.
- AF – Autofocus has to be one of the big concerns regarding Mirrorless cameras. In the end technique will trump inexperience, but most Mirrorless cameras aren’t as quick to snap into focus as high end DSLRs. This is one area that has improved drastically and there is no reason to believe that it won’t improve incrementally with each new model release. Low light AF is a struggle at times, but then again DSLRs also struggle in low light.
- Tracking subjects – This is related to Autofocus, but it goes a step further. Many sports photographers and similar will most likely stay away from Mirrorless systems, for now, as their tracking of moving subjects is still slower than most DSLRs. Although Mirrorless cameras do excel in the manual focusing department offering a variety of assist modes. But, even still, they can’t be relied upon for very demanding photography.
- Replacing your camera system – Given that some of these systems aren’t very old their equipment and lens offerings are still pretty limited. So if you’re looking to make the switch make sure you are content with their current line-up of lenses. Of course, over time this will all improve. Some of the more eager manufacturers are producing up to 4 lenses a yr.
- Battery life – When you have a Mirrorless camera you will instantly notice the difference in battery life to you DSLR. Mostly this is due to the smaller form factor and available space on the camera body. Most of these cameras average around 300 images per battery charge compared to around 900 photos (in RAW) on your DSLR. Some of the newer models are offering battery grips so you can have two batteries accessible at all times. Of course this adds to the bulk of the camera, but is a very useful add-on.
- LCD/Viewfinder – Although there are some amazing things to say about the LCD screens and Viewfinders on the Mirrorless systems there are also some things to get accustomed to. A handful of these cameras have no viewfinder and only an LCD screen. For people transitioning from a DSLR this will be a disappointment. On most of the other Mirrorless cameras you are treated with an electronic viewfinder which is essentially a mini screen in the viewfinder. This will take getting used to as you’re not looking through a mirror, but instead you are seeing what the sensor sees. Although this sounds fantastic, and I agree that it is, these small screens suffer from lag and in some cases very low refresh rates. This is also an area that continues to improve as each new camera rolls out. But, there are tons of benefits to having an electronic viewfinder, but of course, it’s not for everyone.
There are a variety of differences to a DSLR so it’s hard to describe some of these as limitations. Instead we should see them as a completely different kind of system with its own quirks and way of using them. For anyone going to a Mirrorless system, there is a learning curve. But, like with any new piece of gear, once you learn it you’ll be amazed. I see a really good future for Mirrorless cameras as they continue to be innovative in ways a DSLR can’t. Their small form factor will appeal to many and the image quality has been said to rival many full frame cameras. I see this as only the beginning.
Taken with the Fuji Mirrorless.
Recent developments that show Mirrorless cameras are here to stay.
- They have developed weather sealed Mirrorless cameras and lenses.
- Some Mirrorless cameras have a leaf shutter which will allow you to sync with flash up to 1/4000 of a second!
- More and more photographers are publicly writing/blogging/talking about their experiences and excitement over their Mirrorless cameras and how they are shooting more.
- Several Mirrorless cameras are winning awards by major publications as the best camera of the year. And are quickly becoming trade show favorites. They’re even making magazine covers!
Using a mirrorless camera is challenging, fun, inspiring and most of all, it’s exciting to see the future of Mirrorless. As each manufacturer keeps improving others follow suit. Competition drives innovation and I’m excited to be a part of it. If you can borrow or rent a Mirrorless camera. Who knows you might find a place in your kit for it.
Taken with the Fuji Mirrorless.