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A mirrorless camera is a type of camera that does not use a reflex mirror inside its body to direct the light onto the viewfinder and instead uses a high tech image sensor and an electronic LCD monitor to show the user a preview image.
Unlike the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera that uses a mirror, a mirrorless camera imaging sensor is constantly exposed to the light at all times. DSLR cameras are not known as ‘mirrored’ cameras because they were the first on the scene and so to distinguish between them and their new rivals, the ‘mirrorless’ cameras got their nickname.
The name ‘mirrorless’ is a little unclear though because technically speaking a simple point and shoot holiday snapshot camera also has no reflex mirror however, the term rightly applies to modern digital cameras with LCD monitors that give the user a clear and exact preview of the image before they take the picture.
Mirrorless cameras can often house interchangeable lenses that give them all the functionality of a more traditional DSLR model of the same category range. A mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses is also known as an ILC which has either no viewfinder at all or a digital one.
The First Ever Mirrorless Camera.
The first commercially available mirrorless digital camera was released in 2008 by Panasonic in Japan. The camera had no reflex mirror and utilized a 17.3 mm x 13 mm light sensor. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 camera was a 12.1 Megapixel model that was a game changing introduction to the world of photography.
Since the release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 the other big names in photography were quick to release competing models and rapidly the mirrorless camera became a standard item in the gear of working photographers everywhere.
What are the different types of Mirrorless Cameras?
There are three main types of mirrorless camera, the Crop Frame, the Full Frame and the Micro-Four-Thirds. These labels refer to the size of the light sensor within the camera which replaces the more traditional reflex mirror.
The Full Frame mirrorless camera employs a light capturing sensor that is roughly the equivalent to the traditional 35 mm film camera. The Crop-Sensor mirrorless camera utilizes a light sensor that is significantly smaller and consequently more compact. The Micro-Four-Thirds sensor mirrorless camera is the newest of the three and although in the early days it was considered inferior with recent improvements in technology since its release in 2008, it can now deliver equal results to its mirrorless competitors.
The main difference between these different types of mirrorless camera is the actual size of the light sensor that they use to replace the reflex mirror. They all have a digital viewfinder or LCD screen to give the user an image preview before the photo is taken and are relatively lightweight and small compared with the more bulky mirrored DSLR cameras.
The Cropping Effect on the Image.
Due to the size of the light sensors in the different types of mirrorless camera the final photo will come out differently. The Full Frame sensor will produce an image which is the equivalent of a 35 mm film camera. The Crop Sensor camera will produce an image, from the same distance, that is much more tightly cropped while the Micro-Four-Thirds sensor will create an image which is even more tightly cropped than the other two.
The size of the sensor will impact other factors in your photography including depth of field, where the Micro-Four-Thirds produces a more shallow depth of field than the Full Framed Sensor which will also outperform it in low lighting conditions and give you a better tonal range of color.
What are the Benefits of a Mirrorless Camera?
There are many advantages of switching to a mirrorless camera that range from functionality to convenience.
- Lightweight: Mirrorless cameras are significantly lighter than their mirrored counterparts. This makes them more portable and easier to have in your bag at all times. If you’re travelling a lot or exploring new places on foot, then even a seemingly small difference of a few hundred grams can really add up if you save weight on multiple items in your bag!
- You can get an exact preview of the image before you shoot. Although some DSLR cameras will give you a preview on an LCD screen since the aperture is different you won’t get an exact version of the image that you’ll end up with. This is particularly important if you are doing night time photography in which case the mirrorless camera is far superior.
- Mirrorless cameras are smaller. Having a smaller camera can be useful in many ways. Of course for travelling it’s much easier to save on valuable space but it’s also less intimidating when you’re taking photos in public. If you are pointing a huge camera around people may feel uncomfortable, particularly if you don’t know them, and so a smaller and more compact camera is better for street, urban and city photography among other genres. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO Lens is my favorite combination for photographing downtown Philadelphia.
- It’s quieter and more discrete. The mirrorless camera is nearly silent when you take a photo however a DSLR makes that tell tale sound as the mirror moves to reflect the light – ‘click click’. This can distract your subjects and in some circumstances you might want to avoid it if, for example, you’re snapping a cheeky photo in a museum where you might not really be allowed to!
- The Autofocus is better. One of the major functional advantages of the mirrorless camera is that it can autofocus much faster and more reliably than its DSLR counterpart. A DSLR may have many focal points in a single frame which can ruin a shot and so if you want to be using a lot of automatic mode then a mirrorless camera is the best choice every time.
- Mirrorless cameras are, generally speaking, far cheaper than mirrored cameras with the same functionality. As technologies and software continue to improve the prices of mirrorless cameras will continue to come down and beat those of the mirrored DSLRs.
Is Full Frame the Future of Photography?
For a few decades DSLR cameras just got better and better however in recent years they seem to have reached their peak of innovation. As software continues its rapid advances and the different technologies become better integrated, the mirrorless full frame camera is making huge strides forward and looks set to dominate the photography markets in the future.
There is an ever growing choice of full frame mirrorless cameras on the market and with the increasing competition between the major manufacturers innovation, quality and functionality is being pushed to new limits. There is no foreseeable ceiling when it comes to developments in the software industry and as new technologies are developed and integrated with new designs the future is looking very bright for the Full Frame mirrorless camera.
Do you shoot with a mirrorless camera?