So what is a mirrorless camera? A mirrorless camera is a compact and light camera that does not have a reflex mirror. Mirrorless cameras are different than the larger DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) counterpart. DSLR cameras use a reflex mirror to reflect light that captures images which is why these cameras are usually bigger and heavier. Conversely, a mirrorless camera works differently since it has no reflex mirror, thus it is smaller and lighter.
When Did Mirrorless Cameras Appear
According to Engadget, one of the first mirrorless cameras appeared in 2004 when Epson manufactured the R-D1 digital rangefinder. Over the years, more and more camera manufacturers have produced their own. Point and shoot DSLR cameras were made possible thanks to advancements in technology, so it makes sense that camera manufacturers would want to make a smaller, faster, and more efficient camera. Now, mirrorless cameras have become just as popular and widely used as DSLRs.
Other Differences between DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras
DSLR cameras have many more components in the camera than mirrorless cameras, which is why they are larger and heavier. For example, a DSLR camera body has a focusing LCD screen, secondary mirror, condenser lens, phase-detection autofocus sensor, and optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras are more streamlined. Light goes through the interchangeable lens to the image sensor and then the electronic viewfinder replicates the image sensor.
Autofocus with Mirrorless Cameras
Generally, there are three types of autofocus systems. Phase detection is common in DSLR cameras because the camera body contains a mirror to divide light into pairs of images and then compare them in order to locate the correct focus. Mirrorless cameras use contrast detection. An imaging sensor measures the difference between pixels to find the right focal point. Different photographers have different preferences when it comes to autofocus features. By experimenting, you will know what you like in different situations, whether you are shooting landscapes, portraits, or live-action photos.
Easier to Transport Thanks to Compact Size
Most mirrorless cameras tend to be perfect for people who are constantly on the move. They do not have the mirrors of a DSLR camera, so they are often a lot thinner and lighter. This is great for people who want to whip out a camera for a quick shot on vacation or for people who are on the move. The smaller mirrorless camera body size also means there is less shaking, which means you are less likely to have blurred in your photos.
You Can Pack Fewer Accessories
Having a smaller interchangeable lens camera means you can save space on their accessories. Mirrorless cameras are meant to be used on the go, so you need fewer accessories. These cameras are perfect for people who are traveling or hiking or those who have finite space for large pieces of equipment. For example, a smaller interchangeable lens camera means you do not need a large camera bag or heavy tripod. The lightweight cameras fit perfectly in your hand no matter the angle or location.
Benefits of the ELF in Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless cameras are not just thinner and lighter than DSLR options. The electronic viewfinder means that everything is duplicated directly to the image sensor on the camera. You can see the white balance and contrast immediately in the electronic viewfinder. Seeing an accurate representation of the image saves you time. You can also quickly zoom in on a subject to use focus peaking or face detection to precisely capture your photograph.
Quieter than Other Cameras
Mirrorless cameras tend to be a lot quieter than other cameras. A mirrorless camera has fewer parts, so they are more silent. Photographers who need a compact camera that is unobtrusive will love the silent operation of mirrorless cameras. The stealth mode is perfect for weddings, birthdays, or when you are shooting wildlife.
Better Video Quality
A lot of the latest mirrorless cameras have high video resolution. In fact, some users buy these mirrorless digital cameras to use specifically for taking videos. Even the lower-end mirrorless cameras will have 4k or 1080p. Only the higher-end DSLR cameras tend to have high video resolution or Ultra HD. Most mirrorless cameras are better when it comes to shooting video because of their quick autofocus.
Night Photography Previews
If you are taking photos at night, some DSLR cameras’ optical viewfinder makes it tough to preview the image. The optical viewfinder can be dim by nature. Taking along a mirrorless camera means you can see if your image of the Milky Way or landscape shot of the trees is as you imagined. Experienced photographers have an image in mind, and you want to make sure your composition has the right lighting and arrangement.
High Burst Capability
If you like to take advantage of the burst capability of a camera, a mirrorless camera is a great investment. Look for cameras that have high frame rates. You will not have to worry about blackouts if they offer 10-20 frames per second (FPS). Mirrorless cameras also continue to focus between frames, which means all of the photos will come out crisp.
A lot of mirrorless camera enthusiasts point out its tracking features. If you are taking action photos like sporting events or animals, you want to make sure that the camera can track and focus as you take shots. Mirrorless cameras can adapt quickly to the subject matter leading to better shots and image quality. Similarly, eye detection and fast frame rates make it easier to nail the perfect image.
In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) Feature
If you are shooting handheld, then you will love the IBIS function. This means that you can shoot at slow shutter speeds (learn more here) while holding the camera. Not having to bring a tripod to a shoot is great for people who have limited space or are traveling. You can get better image quality and low-light shots without having to tweak the ISO. This also means you can get smooth shots when you are taking videos. Not every mirrorless camera has IBIS, so it is important to look for this feature.
LCD Screen View
The latest mirrorless cameras also offer LCD screen live views. Being able to easily see photos is a joy for photographers who are on the move. You may even be able to up the focus just by touching the screen. If you are shooting tricky angles, it helps that you will not have to move the camera to focus on subjects. This is great not just for still photos but for videos too.
No camera is perfect for every photographer. It is important for you to consider the disadvantages when you are choosing which camera to use for a project. As always, your own preferences, the type of project, and the included camera features will affect your decision-making.
Start-Up Time Can Be Slow
When compared to DSLRs, mirrorless cameras can have a slower start-up time. Once you hit the power button, it can take a bit for it to move out of standby mode. DSLR cameras seem to be ready right after they are powered on. If you want to take a quick shot, you may miss it because of the slower start-up which can be frustrating.
Size Isn’t Everything
A lot of experts talk about the compact size of mirrorless cameras. Some people actually do not like the small size of mirrorless cameras. For example, if you have larger hands, a compact camera may be hard to use. Some people also feel that mirrorless options to look less professional, especially if they run wedding photography or portrait business. Moving from a bigger camera to a smaller one may make it hard to capture tricky angles or use the touchscreen electronic viewfinder.
Hard to Transition
If you have been trained on a DSLR model, it can be hard to shift to a mirrorless camera. A mirrorless camera feels differently in your hand, and you may not like the limited lens features and autofocus components. Photographers who like to have more control over their cameras may not like the streamlined mirrorless cameras.
Focusing on Backgrounds
When you take a photo with a mirrorless camera, you may want the focal point to be in the background or foreground. Some people have found that the autofocus features of mirrorless cameras can get stuck on backgrounds. If you are trying to zero in on a different part of the image, the subjects may look blurry.
Blackouts Can Happen
Some mirrorless cameras have an electronic viewfinder with significant lag and have been known to blackout, which can waste time and prove frustrating. The autofocus function may be a fan favorite, but it does make it harder to take quick fast-action photos in low light areas.
Battery Life Is Shorter
Another disadvantage of a mirrorless camera is that they usually have shorter battery life. To view a photo, your EVF has to be powered on. Eventually, this will drain your battery quicker than DSLRs. The compact mirrorless camera also use smaller batteries, which also contributes to shorter battery life which can be frustrating if you are traveling without a reliable power source.
Fewer Lenses Available to Photographers
Mirrorless cameras are known for their small frame and being streamlined. They have also been available for a shorter time than DSLRs. Thus, you may not be able to get as many different interchangeable lenses to use. If you like experimenting with different interchangeable lenses, you may find that a mirrorless camera might not be right for you.
Silence Can Be Disorienting
Many mirrorless cameras are nearly silent, which can be disorienting. Traditional photographers may miss hearing the shutter sounds of DSLR and older camera models.
How to Choose Between The Two?
The only way to know if a mirrorless camera is right for you is to pick one up. DSLR and mirrorless cameras are similar in functionality, so it comes down to your preferences/ The pricing is also similar. You can find lower-end cameras in both DSLR & mirrorless digital cameras that are affordable, and you will also find advanced high-end mirrorless and DSLRs on the market.
Traditional photographers who like to experiment with interchangeable lenses and different features may like the long-lasting battery and traditional experience of the optical viewfinder whereas other people may love the light feeling of the mirrorless camera and high-resolution videos.
Type of Project Maters
When you are deciding on a camera, think about why and where you will be using it. Folks going backpacking throughout Europe or going hiking will benefit from the compact mirrorless camera whereas folks who want to take portraits or are working with stationary objects may like the extra features on the DSLRs.
What Do They Cost
Just like DSLR cameras, there is a wide range when it comes to pricing. Introductory cameras range from $200-400, and professional-level models go for $6,000 or more. Of course, any accessories like tripods, camera bags, adaptors, and mirrorless lenses will be extra. The cost of a mirrorless camera depends on its imaging sensor, FPS, autofocus, video functionality, and additional features.
Generally, the quicker and more high-resolution the mirrorless camera, the more expensive it will be. Technology continues to advance, so there will be more and more advanced models entering the market.
Available by Many Brands Today
Major brands on the market have their own line of mirrorless cameras. Sony is known for setting the standard for introducing and advancing mirrorless cameras, but all of the major camera manufacturers have entered the market with mirrorless models. Generally, if a company has a DSLR camera, they also offer a mirrorless model. Canon, Olympus, and Nikon are just some of the companies that offer both low and high-end mirrorless cameras.
Take some time to experiment with mirrorless cameras and mirrorless lenses. The more you know about different cameras, the better able you will be to choose the right instrument for the project. You may want a mirrorless camera when you are traveling and taking action shots, and you may want a DSLR model for landscapes or portraits. Technology is always changing. Expert photographers will make sure to know every tool at their disposal.
Connor Kovack is a Los Angeles based professional photographer & videographer with over 6+ years of experience. Connor is CEO of KovMedia and specializes in Music Videos, Commercials, Photography & More.