Thinking about making the leap to a mirrorless camera, or adding one to your current camera collection? Here are some features to familiarize yourself with in your search.
The Downside of DSLRs
Digital Single-Lens (DSLR) cameras developed from digitalizing the Single-Lens Reflex camera. This was made possible by including a mirror and pentaprism. In DSLRs, light enters the camera body where the mirror inside reflects the light upwards at a 90o angle. Here, it hits a pentaprism, which forces the light to bounce at another 90° angle, reaching your eye via the viewfinder.
Some issues caused by having a mirror in the camera include camera size, shake, noise and speed. The camera body needs to be big enough to allow for the mirror and the space it needs to flip up when the picture is being taken to allow for exposure to the sensor. This process also accounts for a lag time between when your finger presses the shutter and when the image is actually captured (that second when everything goes black in the viewfinder). The noise heard when taking the picture is due to the sound the mirror makes when flipping up and the movement of the mirror also contributes to camera shake with some picture blurring, particularly at slow shutter speeds.
The Move Towards Mirrorless
Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILC) are smaller and lighter weight than DSLRs and are particularly distinguished from other compact cameras due to their ability to use interchangeable lenses. Here’s a quick overview of the main features of mirrorless cameras.
Lenses – The distance between the lens mount and the plane of the sensor, also known as the focal flange distance, is very short in mirrorless cameras, which allows you to use lenses with large focal flange lengths on mirrorless cameras with the use of a compatible adapter. This also means that along with the wide variety of mirrorless camera lenses available, any SLR lenses you have may fit as well (always check compatibility first). The downside to using older lenses is that adapters don’t allow for autofocus capabilities and don’t always transfer electronic signals, so aperture would need to be set manually.
Sensors – Sensors in mirrorless cameras vary from manufacturer and model, though there is a shift towards developing mirrorless cameras with larger sensors since the larger the sensor, the better the performance in low-light settings. If you want an option that works better in low light, consider a full frame mirrorless camera or one that has an APS-C sized sensor, similar to DSLRs.
Viewfinders – DSLRs have through-the-lens (TTL) viewfinders, where what you are seeing is close to/exactly what the lens is seeing. Mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder (EVF). A minor drawback to EVF is that it can be a drain on the camera’s battery, and there is some lag time between the movement of your subject and when you actually see it through the EVF. Technology continues to improve upon this flaw, however.
EVF definitely has more plusses, such as focus peaking – a real-time focusing aid that helps identify sharpness during manual focusing. It highlights edges of contrast within the frame with an easy-to-see colored line. EVF also shines when it comes to its ability to provide an accurate depiction of camera setting adjustments such as exposure and color balance, giving you a better representation of the final image. This feature works best when using lenses at wide apertures.
Some mirrorless models include a hyperfocal setting – great for landscape photographers – that lets you instantly find the hyperfocal distance without an app or reference table. The viewfinder includes a depth-of-field scale that shows you the point you’re focused on and the area in focus on either side according to the aperture selected. All you need to do is move the focusing ring until the depth-of-field scale touches the infinity mark at one end to find the hyperfocal distance point.
Autofocus – Mirrorless cameras use contrast detection, which measures the contrast between pixels on the sensor until it detects enough contrast to determine that the image is in focus. This feature is slower than the phase detection used in DSLR cameras, where focus is placed on the subject. It does this by dividing the incoming light into pairs of images, then compares them and quickly focuses the lens on the subject. Although contrast detection loses some of its sharpness in low light, many newer mirrorless cameras are using a hybrid phase-and-contrast detection method to compensate for this.
Video – Video quality is impressive in mirrorless cameras. Their contrasting focus feature allows videos to come out with extremely smooth finishes. This focus helps mirrorless cameras track moving objects to give you a clear shot each and every time, plus the flexibility with lenses that mirrorless cameras afford makes them outshine DSLRs in this area.
The ability to control depth of field via aperture and manually focus the shot, not only gives you great creative control but higher-quality files, as well. The lighter weight of mirrorless cameras are also less fatiguing when videoing for extended periods of time. For serious videographers, there are mirrorless camera options that let you shoot in full HD and 4K as well as record in high quality format such as AVCHD or XAVC S and use external microphones, video monitors, headphones and recorders.
Wireless Functionality – Mirrorless cameras can have pretty impressive wireless functionality, with apps that offer control over aperture, ISO, shutter speed and basic live view – features that let you control your camera settings from a smartphone or tablet. Some models let you transfer images directly to a smart device from your camera as well as to social media sites. Near Field Communication (NFC) lets you tap-to-connect with other cameras or smart devices to seamlessly share photos.
Accessories – Don’t forget about which accessories you like to use when considering which model mirrorless camera to choose. For instance, if you use an external flash, you’ll want to make sure your camera has a hot shoe, that will allow you to attach compatible flashes. Cases, remote controls and battery grips are some other accessories to keep in mind.