A mirrorless camera is an interchangeable lens camera system which represents a fusion between Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras and compact cameras. They are designed with DSLR quality in a smaller and lighter body.
But what is the meaning of mirrorless?
Mirrorless means that the camera doesn’t have a mirror-based optical viewfinder, unlike the DSLR. With an optical viewfinder, or TTL (through the lens) optical viewfinder, light enters the lens, reflects against a mirror, then a pentaprism (also called pentamirror) and finally goes through the optical viewfinder, where your eye is looking. When you release the shutter button and take the shot, the mirror flips, letting the light hit the sensor instead (for that brief moment, the viewfinder is dark, so you are not actually seeing a live version of the picture you are taking). Because of the lack of a mirror, there is less space needed between the lens mount and the sensor, which can reduce both the size of the camera and the size of the lenses, as they are close to the sensor.
The term “mirrorless” is very generic as mostly only DSLRs (and film SLRs) have a flipping mirror, therefore even a small point-and-shoot camera or smartphone is “mirrorless” from a technical point of view. The term mostly refers to digital cameras but the technology isn’t new as film cameras without a mirror such as the rangefinder-type camera (Leica M series is the best example) have been around for a long time.
Usually people who look for mirrorless cameras on the Internet are either referring to MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Cameras) such as the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four Thirds series or cameras with a non-interchangeable lens and a large sensor (like the Fuji X100s). We also include reviews about high-end point and shoot cameras that have a large sensor for their category, such as the Fuji X20 or the Sony RX100.
Usually mirrorless cameras rely on an electronic viewfinder or an electronic LCD screen. There are a few exceptions, such as the Leica M which incorporates a traditional optical rangefinder, and the Fuji X100/s and X-Pro1 that have a hybrid viewfinder (switchable between optical and electronic).
There is also the case of Sony’s SLT cameras, which are in between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They have an electronic viewfinder and a different type of mirror, called translucent. It is a semi-transparent fixed mirror that will reflect a portion of the light to the phase detection AF system and the other half to the sensor. A few users have asked us if they should be considered mirrorless as well, but since they in fact incorporate a mirror, we don’t include them on the list.
The first digital mirrorless camera was the Epson RD-1. In the blink of an eye, several other brands joined the mirrorless world and today they offer a wide spectrum of choice.
Why choose a mirrorless camera ?
Because they are ideal. Because the mirrorless philosophy of combining DSLR quality with a compact body is real, and while it certainly has some limitations, it is a continuously evolving technology. Plus, the fact that the best known DSLR brands, Nikon and Canon, joined the mirrorless world recently is a clear sign that those who make cameras believe in this system.
I honestly don’t think that mirrorless cameras will replace DSLRs entirely, at least not in the foreseeable future. Reflex cameras still have many advantages over mirrorless cameras, and a lot of professionals will continue to rely on them. But mirrorless cameras are a true alternative, if not the perfect second body for small jobs where discretion (and a small bag) is required. You will attract less attention with a smaller body and lens than with a D700 with a 24-70 attached, but you can still take similar if not equal pictures when it comes to quality, sharpness, bokeh and so on.
Since I started to use the OM-D and X cameras for my work, I haven’t touched my Nikon D700. That’s why I will soon sell it and go completely mirrorless!
Interested? Doubtful? Need more convincing? Then this is the site for you: go and read our reviews, browse through the galleries and discover the mirrorless world.
You won’t find cumbersome technical and scientific reviews here. There are already many excellent sites which provide them.
What we want to talk about here is photopgraphy – the concept, the philosophy, the pleasure – around a technology which is constantly growing and can satisfy amateurs, professionals and needy professionals: like the two of us!