Mirrorless: New Kid on the Block

The two most popular types of digital cameras are D-SLRs and compact point-and-shoots.

The Olympus E-PL3 (also known as the Olympus PEN Lite) is a new 12 megapixel compact system camera with a stylish metal body featuring the world’s fastest auto-focus system, a high resolution, and tiltable 3 inch LCD screen. (Source: dpreview.com)

D-SLRs produce excellent image quality and are very quick, and interchangeable lenses make them highly versatile. Their main disadvantages are that they’re relatively bulky, complex, and costly. Overall, D-SLRs give you performance that a point-and-shoot can’t come close to achieving.

Compact point-and-shoot cameras don’t have the performance of a D-SLR, but they’re convenient and simple to use, and most will fit in a pocket. Their main drawback is that they contain tiny image sensors whose image quality can’t match that of the D-SLRs.

The eternal question, “What camera should I buy?” became even more complicated with the emergence of a new breed of cameras promising to fill a gap in the market—the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera.

Sometimes referred to as EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens, although not all have electronic viewfinders), the mirrorless models have become popular over the last couple of years.

Frustrated by the sluggishness and photo quality of your point-and-shoot but not thrilled about toting something the size of a D-SLR? These cameras were designed with you in mind.

These cameras take the large sensor and interchangeable lenses that help D-SLRs produce such good images.

Beginners and advanced photographers should feel at home with the range of exposure modes offered by the Sony NEX-F3. A wide variety of automatic modes complement the manual and semi-manual exposure modes, so this camera should appeal to a wide range of shooters. (Source: dpreview.com)

These interchangeable-lens cameras aren’t classified as D-SLRs because they don’t have a mirror. And because there’s no reflex, the cameras are much smaller than conventional D-SLRs.

Mirrorless cameras first appeared with the launch of the Micro Four Thirds system from Panasonic (G1) and Olympus (E-P1) in 2008.

The first generation cameras from these manufacturers reflect two distinct body styles that are still prevalent today; a rangefinder and the mini D-SLR look-alike. The rangefinder-style bodies omit a built-in electronic viewfinder and instead depend on the rear screen for image composition, much like compact point-and-shoot cameras.

Since the Micro Four Thirds launch, the Samsung NX (2010), Sony NEX (2010), Pentax Q (2011), Nikon 1(2011), and Fujifilm X-Pro1 (2012) systems have been introduced.

One of the last holdouts among the world’s leading camera manufacturers, Canon is rumored to be launching its new mirrorless system later this month.

Mirrorless cameras cover a lot of ground. For instance, there are compact models designed for people dissatisfied with the image quality and performance of point-and-shoot models. And there are models for advanced shooters who desire the speed and photo quality of a D-SLR without the bulk. And there are numerous models along the continuum between the two.

Since mirrorless camera systems are relatively new, they don’t have as extensive lens lineup as D-SLRs. But all the basic ones are there.

However, when considering the lens availability, it’s worth being honest with yourself about how many lenses you’re planning to buy—if you’re only going to buy one or two additional lenses, then it doesn’t really matter how extensive a ‘system’ is, so long as it includes the lenses you want.

In a recent review of the best mirrorless cameras for less than $1,000, CNET concluded with the following assessment:

  • Best overall step-up from a point-and-shoot: Olympus E-PL3 and Sony Alpha NEX-F3
  • Least expensive model with sufficient performance and photo-quality boost from a point-and-shoot to make it a worthwhile upgrade: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
  • Best photo quality: Pentax K-01 and Samsung NX200
  • Most suited for shooting video: Sony Alpha NEX-5N and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2

The Lumix DMC-GF3 is Panasonic’s smallest and lightest compact system camera to date. (Source: dpreview.com)

There is no single right answer to the “perfect camera” question.

You will need to figure it out yourself by looking at what you plan to shoot (landscapes, birds and animals, sports, family outings) and how you do it.

What’s important is that you understand your own shooting style and preferences and apply that to the appropriate features for YOUR PERFECT CAMERA.

Bottom line: Let your personal needs guide your buying decisions.

Please Note: This is the seventh in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster, or more convenient for you to get the results you need.

—Ken Rockwell, Your Camera Does Not Matter, 2005

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