Last year 19 mirrorless camera models were launched against just 8 new DSLR models, a sign of how popular they’re becoming. If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about it’s time to catch up.
What’s the difference between mirrorless cameras and other types?
SLR cameras come with a mirror inside them that reflects the subject of photograph through the lens. So, when you look through the viewfinder, what you’re actually seeing is the reflection on this mirror — an optics system called TTL (through the lens). Pressing the shutter button sends a message to the mirror to flip up so the light can reach the camera sensor, and an image can be captured. However, if you’re taking photos in low light or with telephoto lenses (which require a lot of stability), this tiny movement from the mirror is enough to create blur or digital noise in your final photograph.
Image by Remek Trzaska
With mirrorless cameras, there’s nothing in the way between the lens and the sensor to cause any movement or noise when the shutter is open to let light in. Instead of TTL, they use an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) optics system, where you see your images on an LCD screen rather than looking through the viewfinder, just as compact “point and shoot” cameras do.
Mirrorless cameras look very similar to point and shoot cameras — they’re small and light — but they’re very effective in low light situations, unlike point and shoot cameras. Even though SLRs may not work as well as mirrorless cameras in low light, they’re much better than point and shoot cameras, because they have a solution for the camera shake caused by mirror movement: mirror lock-up.
Mirror lock-up allows you to keep the mirror in an SLR camera permanently flipped up, out of the light path, so there isn’t any movement inside the camera’s body when taking photographs (besides the shutter opening and closing). But because the mirror will be locked up, it will be impossible to see anything through the viewfinder, so it’s really important to make sure that your composition is perfect before choosing this option. On Nikon cameras, the MLU can be find in the settings as “MUP”; and on Canon cameras, it’s in the Custom Function Settings > MLU > Enable.
Obviously, it’s not ideal to use mirror lock-up because it’s slower to take photographs, and that’s where mirrorless cameras come in.
Which one is best?
The beauty of mirrorless cameras is that, while they look like point and shoot digital cameras, they’re much more sophisticated, and some of them have full frame sensors and interchangeable lenses.
Full frame SLR cameras with a mirror have always been considered to be the best because of their larger sensors, but you don’t need to have a mirror in your camera to have a full frame sensor anymore. Sony, Nikon and Leica are offering mirrorless models that come with full frame sensors and lots of other features previously only available on SLRs, such as shooting in RAW.
To help you understand the pros and cons of SLRs and mirrorless cameras, here’s a short list:
More lenses to choose from
Option for mirror lock-up
Has a viewfinder and an LCD screen
Heavier and bigger
Not as heavy
Option for full frame or cropped sensors
LCD viewer only makes it harder to see the screen clearly in bright sun
Limitation of lenses to choose from
For now, owning a DSLR is still the preferred option for professional photographers, but mirrorless cameras are definitely making waves in the photography community. With time, they’ll become a great option for professionals.