SEARCH

How-To Geek

HTG Explains: Are Mirrorless Cameras the Future of Digital Photography?

6411568601_b337c4e17f_b

Recently, popular photographer Trey Ratcliff said he’s done buying DSLR cameras because mirrorless cameras are the future. Let’s take a look at what these cameras are, and see if Trey is onto something, or just full of hot air.

Today, we’ll be learning a bit about the history of cameras, what “mirrored” cameras are, and how this new generation of cameras fits into the history of photography and the development of better and better equipment. Keep reading to decide for yourself—is Trey on the money, and DSLR is actually dying? Or are these “mirrorless” cameras destined to be the Betamax of modern camera technology?

Wait, Cameras Have Mirrors?

800px-Studijskifotoaparat

Some years ago, when photography was first brought to the masses, cameras were very simple objects. They had a shutter that blocked light, and a photosensitive material that reacted to light when that shutter opened. The problem with this very simple design was that it was impossible to see what you were about to expose, and therefore very tough to compose a good shot. If you’ve ever seen or experimented with pinhole cameras, you’ll know what this is like—it’s mostly guesswork.

sshot-142

Later generations of cameras had viewfinders for photographers to look through to compose their images, but this viewfinder was a completely different lens than the one that focused light on the film. Since you were composing with one lens and shooting with another, this created a parallax. Simply defined, a parallax with this type of camera, called a twin lens reflex, means that what you see isn’t what you get. In order to solve this problem, camera engineers had to design a machine that was capable of allowing photographers to see and expose through the same lens.

Enter the Single Lens Reflex

5349888583_87a36fb018_b

Single lens reflex, or SLR cameras were the answer to the parallax problem. With a clever mechanism of moving parts, SLR cameras reflect the light coming through the lens to optical viewfinders (and to the eye of the photographer). When the shutter release button is pressed, the mirror moves, and that same light through the same single lens is allowed to expose the image on the photosensitive film.

1000px-SLR_cross_section.svglegend

As SLR cameras evolved, a few trends started to take place. Cameras started to normalize layouts—shutter advances, shutter releases, and film storage all moved to similar locations, despite the manufacturer. And 35mm film became the de facto format for professional and home use—with some exceptions, obviously. Eventually the professional photographers got interchangeable lenses, all with standard lens mounts and lenses tuned to the format of that specific camera. What this meant was that a photographer could carry a single camera body and exchange lenses to shoot a variety of situations, and the camera companies had a whole new line of products to develop, manufacture, and sell to consumers. In this age of 35mm film photography, most home photographers likely would not need the versatility of interchangeable lenses, and opted instead for more compact and simpler point and shoot cameras with permanent lenses. Even today, this same two market approach to camera design is obvious.

A Bit About Digital Cameras

sshot-144

As we’ve discussed before, digital cameras use photosensors in place of old-fashioned film to detect and record light coming in through a focused lens. Using this same single lens model (in general), digital cameras have (obviously, duh) transformed how we take pictures today. Let’s briefly talk a little bit about how.

5106470648_c2ca10eab1_b

Digital Single Lens Reflex, or DSLRs, as they’re branded, have continued the tradition of interchangeable lenses, but have the additional added benefits of through the lens metering (reading the available light through the main lens) and auto shooting modes, allowing (to the chagrin of many photographers) users to take better pictures without having much knowledge of the art or science of photography. In addition, digital cameras allow for a shorter feedback loop for those of us hoping to actually learn more. This means that we can instantly learn if a photo is bad or good, and make changes on the fly. In the past, changing ISO more or less meant changing a whole roll of film, and learning what you shot wrong took developing a whole roll and starting over if you made a mess of it.

6259159946_1de57920dc_b

Many modern point and shoot cameras have viewfinders with separate lenses, so we come back to the problem with parallax. However, these fixed lens, point and shoot cameras cleverly use the same lens and sensor to create an image on an LCD screen, replacing the optical second lens viewfinder altogether. This development is what allows the so-called “mirrorless” cameras to be mirrorless.

Mirrorless Cameras Are Here! Are They The Future?

6411568835_b6b2129900_b

Unlike a lot of innovations in digital imaging, mirrorless cameras are already commercially available. We aren’t going to mention any particular brands—we’re not making equipment recommendations or endorsements today—but there are several companies currently making high quality mirrorless digital cameras. For readers interested in sharing their experience with their own mirrorless cameras, feel free to make some noise in the comments section, and let us know what brands and cameras you’re enjoying.

6411568601_b337c4e17f_b

What makes these mirrorless cameras truly different from both DSLR cameras and modern point and shoot digital cameras is a sort of “best of both worlds” scenario. Because the design is mirrorless, the camera body is much simpler, smaller, and easier to carry. And because the camera body has been designed differently, the lenses for these cameras are also simpler and smaller to manufacture. This allows for smaller, high quality lenses to be made at lower costs. Eventually, some of that savings is bound to be passed on to the consumer, if it isn’t already. And because this new generation design incorporates interchangeable lenses, photographers will be able to use the lens appropriate to the situation—a must to attract the professional crowd.

6411566303_7e3cf3cbce_b

Like the point and shoot cameras, mirrorless cameras use the LCD screen in place of an optical through-the-lens viewfinder. The advantage of that is obvious—photographers get a larger, more accurate idea of what their final image is going to look like, even before the image is recorded. However, consumers that insist on using the optical viewfinder will find that they aren’t happy with the parallax, or being forced to use the LCD screen to compose.

1024px-Cameras

When you look at the overall trend of technology improvements over the years, it does sort of make sense that these mirrorless, or, as Trey calls them, “3rd generation” cameras, would be the future of digital photography. Mirrors in single reflex cameras were an engineering feat from the late 19th to early 20th century to solve the problem of parallax without exposing film. With today’s technology, it’s simple to use one lens to create a preview of an image on an LCD, solving the parallax problem in a much more modern way. Is this way inherently better? Depends on whom you ask.

sshot-130

Are DSLRs on the way out? It might not be as cut and dry as Trey lays it out, despite his very reasonable points. It may depend more on marketing and the reaction of camera buyers, and the amount of resources camera manufacturers will put behind this generation of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. You might draw a parallel to photographers buying “mirrorless versus DSLR” to “Betamax versus VHS”, or “Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD.” It’s a complicated question, and even if some photographers or experts call the fight, if camera companies can’t convince their customers that mirrorless is truly the future of professional digital photography, it never will be, despite any advantages.


What’s your take on the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens, aka 3rd Generation cameras? Will they have to pry your digital SLR out of your cold, dead hands? Tell us about your thoughts on the topic, one way or the other, in the comments section below.

Image Credits: PENTAX Q (mirrorless) by Jung-nam Nam, Creative Commons. Old studio camera Alter Studio Fotoapparat by Janez Novak, GNU License. Twin Lens Camera in public domain. Rolleiflex medium format camera by Juhanson, GNU License. 1957 Kodak Duaflex IV by RAYBAN, GNU License. Pleasure, little treasure (top) by Javier M, Creative Commons. SLR Cross section by Colin M.L. Burnett, GNU License. Sensor Klear Loupe by Micheal Toyama, Creative Commons. 7D DSLR Rig version 1 by Dean Terry, Creative Commons. Canon Digital Elph PowerShot SD780 IS (3) by Studioesper, Creative Commons. Cameras from Large to Small, Film to Digital by Tom Photos, GNU License. The Yosemite 2012 Photowalk by Scobleizer, screenshot from video, Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 01/9/12

Comments (69)

  1. Jaykay

    I agree that DSLR’s should be technology of the past as soon as the interested parties try the newest mirrorless cameras. We use a Nikon S8200 with jaw dropping results: compact case, 16MP pics, 14x optical zoom to 350mm (if you can suffer using digital zoom for zeroing in on tight shots you reach 700mm) PLUS HD video 1920×1080. All for a whopping $350.00US.

    Lightweight one can shot even the digital zoom handheld using the image stabilizer feature and joy of joys, even the spare batteries only cost under $15.00 each. Seriously worth considering even if you only try one out at your local camera store. (black, silver and red cases available).

    Cheers!

  2. Richard

    Personally, I’m holding out for Canon. I’ve never had a duff camera from them and their DSLRs are top notch. The advantage for me is that if I decide to move onto a full DSLR then I don’t have to throw away the lenses too.

  3. Michael Doncaster

    It is far easier to hold a camera steady if it has a viewfinder, your head and your hands are then analogous to a tripod, (three points of support).
    Cameras where have to hold them away to look at an rear mounted LCD screen, should ideally be on some sort of trpod.

  4. Chris

    As long as they keep making cameras like the Olympus PEN and Sony NEX series, I believe we will see a steady growth.
    Just ordered an NEX-C3 for my wife and I’m confident that it will carry her from her amateur status, to as far as her skills will take her.

  5. Geoff

    Two aspects of mirrors seem to be left out of this article: A physically moving mirror introduces inherent vibration that must be dealt with and the mirror in a dslr camera can function as a dust magnet requiring careful and tricky cleaning, not always convenient in the field.

  6. Paul Bradley

    Michael Doncaster has it all correct. You can add to that the fact that viewing an LCD screen in bright sunlight is often difficult.
    How about a viewfinder with a tiny screen inside? Camera position good, pressing your eye up to the viewfinder excludes light, making the screen viewable in any light. Just a thought…

  7. Eddie

    I like the idea of the mirrorless cameras, in so far as the interchangeable lenses go. It’s one of the main reasons I love my DSLR, but they’re going to be for a specific type of customer.

    I work retail. Some of the customers that come in looking for digital cameras, particularly the point-and-shoot variety, as that the camera have a viewfinder much akin to the old film-based point-and-shoots. The largest compaint they have is that in an area where’s there prevalent amount of ambietic light (beach and snow conditions, for example), they can’t make out what’s on their lcd’s. I think that argument will transfer with the mirrorless cameras as well. Even that particular design of a camera never held totally true since what you saw through the viewfinder was not the picture you were going to get. It’s generally slightly askew since it’s either off-center of the lense.

    The argument that this “new” technology will replace DSLR-based cameras is not going to hold water, imho. It’ll be a niche market, one that should succeed on it’s own merits. You’ll know that it’s doing well when you have 3rd party lens manufacturers starting to make lenses for them, much like you have now with DSLR-based cameras

  8. larry

    Uh forgive my ignorance, but aren’t all mobile telephone cameras mirrorless digital cameras??

  9. joan

    I wouldn’t buy another camera that doesn’t have an optical view finder. I like the LCD screen but if it is sunny out I really can’t see what I am shooting. I like the mirrorless idea though. I have a canon and a kodak, the canon having the viewfinder.

  10. Ian

    1) Mirrors help protect the sensor when changing lenses
    2) Mirrors can often be “pulled up” to allow “live view” to give the same advantages re shutter shake, during long exposures or otherwise. My Canon dSLR does this.
    3) The second generation of non-mirror cameras (the first have been out a while) might have to allow for mounting of dSLR lenses which on my system, are the most expensive items.

  11. Spotpuff

    @larry this refers to ILC (interchangeable lens cameras).

    At the same time, some would argue that indeed mobile phone cameras are the future of photography; “the best camera is the one you have with you” and all that.

    Mirrorless has some pros (smaller flange distance, immediate white balance/shutter/aperture effect view, etc.) but IMO having a “smaller body” only makes sense if you can get the camera down to compact size.

    Anything in between compact and small DSLR (d3100, D40, whatever Canon sells at that range) is IMO not very useful.

    If you look at the mirrorless cameras in that range, they have significant disadvantages to DSLRs: Lower battery life (constant live view = constant battery drain), slow focusing, inaccurate focus, horrible focus tracking of moving subjects, and lenses that comprise a large chunk of system volume, display delay, lack of viewfinders for most (or requiring a $200 addon viewfinder), low battery capacity (less shots).

    Yes, the cameras look great with a pancake lens on them, and that’s a great setup for most, but if I’m going to carry a small camera, it’ll be a compact or a phone sized camera. For photography with more options I’ll use a DSLR and those are a “good” comfortable size in my opinion.

    The mirrorless ILCs are sort of a weird group. The bodies are small until you stick a lens on them, then they become almost as large as a regular DSLR. So.. what’s the point then? If it means constant live view usage with a shoddy viewfinder or laggy display no thanks. Also most mirrorless ILCs have poor battery life, so they aren’t suitable for shooting all day.

    DSLRs currently have an advantage for low light shooting and focusing. And for cameras, “low light” is a lot less dim than what you think. The viewfinders also get laggy in low light.

    I think mirrorless ILCs may eventually overcome these limitations but for now it seems like DSLRs are a better option.

  12. Doug cross

    I have used both. I prefer the mirror, since I have yet to see a display screen that reproduces the view in completely accurate colour, contrast, etc. The screen image is always slightly different from what the lens is actually seeing. Since most of my photography is art rather than snapshots, I want to actually see what I’m shooting.

  13. Artie

    I have been shooting for 50 years plus and have seen all the changes in cameras during that period, I agree with the gentleman that mentioned “marketing”. If the big wigs can’t convince the buying public that this is the way to go, then it won’t sell at least for now but it will supersede DSLR’s eventually. The mirrors really aren’t needed anymore and the new technology of “mirror-less” will be honed to perfection very quickly. If you are a true professional photographer and have been with all the changes over the past half century you veru well know that with everything comes change. We as the consumer want it faster and faster and this is faster. I currently use a fantastic mirror-less but I am not at liberty to mention it’s name and and model. I am sold on it and will never look back. Happy hunting to everyone!

  14. Doz Altair

    I don’t miss the mirror but I do miss lens-ring focusing.

  15. Ouman

    So far nobody has mentioned E.V.F. – I wonder why!
    My very first digicam, Olympus C2000UZ was equipped with a screen and E.V.F. For those not in the know. E.V.F. stands for Electronic ViewFinder. A small screen, viewed through a “viewfinder” window.
    This kept the camera at eyelevel, braced against the forhead, and was a “natural” way to use a camera. (I only ever used the screen to check the result of “pressing the button.)
    My previous camera had been a Pentax A3 35mm SLR, so I didn’t have to learn how to hold a digicam with E.V.F..
    The olympus had a strange appearance – a long lens tube with the zoom lens inside – TOTALLY DUST PROOF. I didn’t need a bagfull of lenses as this camera was Ultra Zoom – equivalent of 38mm to 456mm focal length – a 12x optical zoom. [My current camera is 26x zoom! (26mm - 676mm focal length). It might look a bit unconventional, but it takes brilliant pix with its 12 Mpix sensor]
    I reckon that the old fashioned mirror/multiple lens (D)SLR will soon be an anachronism.
    b.t.w. – I’ve been taking photographs for nigh on 65 years – my first camera was a 120 Kodak Box Brownie, made of cardboard!

  16. John

    I own two cameras. One is a Cannon DSLR and the other a Panasonic, bridge or third generation mirrorless camera, whatever you want to call them. I much prefer the Panasonic because it has its own built in lens with zoom and wide angle. I can compose a shot on the rear screen and know I am going to get exactly what I want. With the DSLR I can see what I shot AFTER I shot it but not WHILE I am shooting. The DSLR is a modernization of the film SLR camera but has the nuisance and expense of buying extra lens and all that.

    Unfortunately people still think that if you don’t show up for a wedding photography shoot without a DSLR camera that you aren’t a “professional”. (sigh) I take all photos with the DSLR camera but as soon as the party starts and people want candid pics, out comes the Panasonic mirrorless camera. ;-)

    Yes, I believe that DSLR cameras will go the way of the dinosaur but it will take a long time. There are still hold outs using film cameras and there will still be hold outs using DSLR cameras long after mirrorless cameras have taken over and are accepted.

    John

  17. squirrle

    Dslr cameras are not on their way out because there are still photographers using SLR and even the really old field cameras. Photographers will always have their preference. Though I could see these cameras being used as an in-between for point and shoot and DSLR

  18. Cambot

    A lot of the comments here are missing a rather important point. Mirrorless cameras as such have been around for a very long time but they did not have interchangeable lenses. What the article seems to be touting are mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix G1 that accommodate different lenses.

    I’ve been using the G1 for two years now and I absolutely love it. I also use a conventional DSLR, the Nikon D90, but the G1 is my carry-around camera that gets by far the most use. If the G1 had a larger sensor and faster recycle times I would use it exclusively.

    One benefit of the G1 that the article fails to mention is that you can attach non-proprietary lenses by using the appropriate adapter. I have an adapter that incorporates a shift mechanism for straightening out the verticals on architectural shots. I use a 20mm Nikon lens from my old 35mm cameras. There’s no autofocus in this case but I can focus manually just fine since the G1 provides up to 10X magnification through the LCD screen. And, yes, there is a viewfinder as well as the screen. The G1 is often referred to as a poor man’s Leica because you can attach Leica lenses in the same way.

    By removing the mirror assembly the camera can be much smaller and lighter. Panasonic has demonstrated “proof of concept” with the G1. As soon as a version with a larger sensor is available, I’ll be ready to upgrade.

  19. Lady Fitzgerald

    Paul Bradly asked, “How about a viewfinder with a tiny screen inside?” Canon has a high end point and shoot that has just that, the SX series, which is possibly the closest one can get to a DLSR except for the comparatively tiny fixed lens (I look at as a tradeoff for portability and price). As Doug Cross pointed out, the display isn’t going to be as accurate as an optical viewfinder but that could be an advantage because it can give a better idea how the end picture is going to look with the camera’s settings. I rarely use the one on mine because I would have to take off my glasses to use the viewfinder (the viewfinder can be adjusted to compensate for my presbyopia) then put them back on to see anything else, like the main LCD screen or the subject (the on and off routine is a royal pain but then, not everyone is as blind as I am). What helps me most in bright light is the large flip out LCD screen that can be set at almost any angle or even flat against the camera body like a conventional LCD screen (it can also be flipped face against the camera body to protect it when not being used). Usually, a small angle change eliminates glare problem (the adjustable angle LCD is also handy for shots from down too low for my old, broken down body to get to or for shooting while holding the camera high to shoot over objects, like heads in a crowd). It’s also easy to shade the screen with my hand and still have a good grip on the camera (and I have small hands). If there is enough consumer demand for the digital viewfinders on the new mirrorless cameras in addition to the main LCD screen, the better camera manufacturers will hopefully respond. It’s a new class of camera with a lot of room to develop.

  20. Steve

    Very interesting article, however, IMHO, there will be a place for DSLRs as long as manufacturers support their systems. I think that a modern DSLR (APS-C or Full Frame) represents the pinnacle of image quality (aside from medium and large format of course). I think there is a point of diminishing return as far as camera/lens miniaturization is concerned, and I would opt for image quality over compact size every time! That said, there is obviously a place for high-quality mirrorless systems such as the Sony NEX series.

  21. dragonfly

    I received a Nikon 1 for Christmas with the more or less standard 10-30 mm lens. So far I love it. It has all the functions of my old FTN (if I ever learn how to use all the menus), but it will also take amazingly clear, high resolution photos in even the point and shoot modes. The temperature extremes are rather limited, but I have other cameras for cooler, wetter or hotter temperatures.

    So far, what not to like.

  22. Mike Klaene

    First, I have been really taking pictures for only 55 years. But really, the first 5 with Kodak point and shoots do not really count. In high school we used the 4×5 Speed Graphic camera. You focused on a ground glass plate that viewed through the camera lens, then you put in the film holder and pulled out the cover an shot your picture. Time consuming but you could get some great pictures. And you had full control over exposure time, f stop and depth of field. You could control the focus so as that only the desired subject was in focus with everything in front and behind blurry. You would take the film to the dark room and develop it, maybe make a contact print, then the negative in the enlarger and crop out what you did not want. I have no idea as to how many pixcels a 4×5 negative had, but even with Tri-X film you could enlarge away without getting pixilated. It was both fun and took understanding as well a talent. And you had better have a tripod handy if you wanted to do a 1/4 second exposure at f22 to get the shot!

    My wife and I have a Canon A3100 camera and I love it. Do not have the control that I used to have. But then I can take 25 pictures on the same subject without spending money on film, chemicals and paper and pick the one best shot. The law of large numbers says that if you take enough shots at least one will be usable!

    Sometimes I miss the Speed Graphics and my YashicaMat cameras but I would not want to HAVE to use them.

  23. crab

    Mirrorless cameras are great (not just for the lenses but for the bigger sensor than most compacts- at least in Sony and Micro 4/3 cameras), but electronic viewfinders are laggy and not very good in low light, and optical viewfinders have parallax error. Until they come up with a full-frame mirrorless with control dials, not menus, that addresses those problems, they won’t replace DSLRs. It’s high end compact cameras like the Canon G series that they’ll probably replace.

  24. Dennis

    I’m an Old Guy and I started taking pictures before SLRs were even remotely common. FWIW, I found that once I’d used a camera for some time I could, parallax included, get the picture that I wanted using the viewfinder. I’ve always been nearsighted and now that presbyopia (Poor close vision) has been added to the mix I find that a viewfinder with diopter adjustment much easier to use than an LCD screen.

  25. Steve Goodhall

    I have been using a “mirrorless” camera for several years. My current primary unit is a Canon S3. It has an eye level LCD viewfinder as well as a “vari-angle” LCD which IMHO is superior to the DSLR. , 12X optical zoom leaves me with only anoccassional wish for interchangible lenses. The current product in this lineage is the SX 40 which has 35X zoom. The only justification I have ever seen for a DSLR was if you already had a bunch of lenses from your dilm SLR.

  26. Al

    I was wondering when this would happen. The first problem with DSLR is there is a delay between when push the button and the camera takes the picture. Early Canon DSLR cameras had a limited number of their lens that would work with their DSLR because there was not enough room in the body for mirror and the image sensor. The other problem with mirror cameras is there is a soft rubber foam seal that blocks light from the view finder when the mirror retracts. After a while this seal degrades and light leaks in ruining the image. I never had a Canon mirror mechanism fail but I did have the seal fail. Still the mirror is just another unnecessary moving part adding cost and complexity.

    There are now a number of fix aperture lens since the smart sensor can electronically compensate for varying light levels. Again this reduces the number of moving parts. With film you have to adjust aperture and shutter speed to get the right exposure on the film. The only down side to this is you cannot control the depth of field with the lens. With the adjustable aperture you can open the lens which will reduce the depth of field. This is a great effect for portraits because the image of the person is sharp while the background is blurred, the result being your attention is drawn to the person’s image and not the background. I suppose you do still have the option of doing the blurring digitally.

  27. Bill

    The current crop of mirrorless cameras are more like compact / “point and shoot” cameras but with interchangeable lenses. They are great, but have small sensors. Small sensors make it more difficult to shoot good pictures in low light because of the noise. What I’m waiting for is a mirrorless camera that is more like a DSLR, but without a mirror. And, since many photographers, like me, that own DSLR’s have a collection of expensive lenses, it would be really nice if the lenses we have would fit this new “mirrorless DSLR”. Until that happens, you won’t see many so called “serious” photographers switch.

  28. Jeff

    Bill’s got it right! Serious photographers have too much invested in lens to consider a camera body that can’t utilize them. Consumers with point and shoots can easily upgrade as they have less invested lens. A mirrorless camera needs to work with current lenses, have a viewfinder and deliver the same full frame quality before it can match a high end DSLR camera. Even then they need to be cheaper and liter to render DSLR cameras obsolete. When it does It will be time to upgrade my camera body.

  29. Donald J Johnson

    I gave up on slr camera’s as soon as the digital imaging systems came out.
    NO vibration from the mirror (that has always been a killer to me.
    My first SLR was an Exacta 127 roll film camera.
    My second was an Exacta 35mm. no frills other than the interchangable viewfinder and lens
    my last SLR was much newer py miranda. it even had automatic exposure.
    Glad I now use a Kodak Camera with a 26.5 to one zoom, they claim 30 to one but measured zoom using a fifed size object gives me wgat i stated. it is equivilant to about a 26 to 700mm. I don’t even need to change the lens ever. Yes I can see the need for a t-mount adapter for astro and micro photography so should I actually need one I wiold need a different camera but not neededyet by me.
    Ny only bitch is the autofocus does not always work on small bright objects like the moon. thatthough is software cand hopefully someday ti will be fixed.

  30. Jack Davis

    After I gave up film I got an Olympus, then a Konica/Minolta. I discovered that I need a viewfinder to be comfortable taking pictures. The Konica/Minolta was better with the eye-level viewfinder but it did not really have a mirror so not very bright. The true DSLR is the only thing that feels like a camera to me. No matter how big or how bright the LCD my camera belongs on my eye. I must have a Nikon (I do) or a Cannon.
    My cell phone is for calling 911.

  31. Jason

    I have a Nikon J1 and it is great. Before it I was using a Cannon DSLR and the picture difference is almost negligible, with the advantage often going to the J1. The ability to take 60FPS and pick the best photo afterwards is great. Some higher end Mirrorless (or 3rd gen digital cameras) have digital viewfinders for those who complain about the sun on the lcd screen. The digital viewfinders also allow for HUD info in the viewfinder.

    I will say that this is the first generation of the new Mirrorless camera’s so they aren’t perfect, but any issues small issues that people will complain about will soon be fixed in the next few generations.

  32. Kerensky97

    It seems that most people are just uninformed as to what is available with “Mirrorless”/Bridge cameras right now, 95% of the people I see with DSLRs don’t know how to make use of the few bennefits they provide and treat it more of a status symbol to have a “Big camera”.

    I think that DSLR will remain in use for high end photographers just like medium and large format cameras but will become more common in the amateur end of photography.
    Other than *looking* more professional DSLRs doesn’t offer anything more to the amateur housewife photog who got a Canon Rebel for Christmas. As the prices go down for the smaller cameras and lenses I think they’ll fill the gap between point+shoot and DSLR very well.

  33. Carol

    I think there is a purpose for both DSLR and mirror-less. For me it is about size. When I am going to a specific place to just shoot, it is my DSLR. For size and convenience it has to be 4/3′s. I have tried many point and shoots and they just don’t make the grade when you have used a DSLR. The 4/3 is light enough to carry with you everyday and everywhere and not give up all the quality that a point and shoot has. So in closing I have to say the DSLR won’t go away totally, but you will have a choice.

  34. Mike

    A very interesting set of comments. Anyone thinking of upgrading their DSLR or contemplating giving up on them I suggest you find the specifications of the soon to be released Nikon D4. I accidently found them online yesterday and I was amazed. Now here is a camera I could really have fun with. My wife and I currently use Nikon D200s and after my wife fell into a stream and bashed hers on a rock and dunked it under water without any harm, (I put it in the hot water cupboard for the night with the lens off,) I am impressed. I have taken many thousands of photos with it and know its limitations. The D4 though is what I will buy when I win lotto. I can see all the advantages of the smaller point and shoot and mirroless cameras and I will probably get one for the quick shot like a car accident or candid kids shot.

  35. Ouman

    Oh wow! – so many different, approaches, so many different preferences! Isn’t it wonderful that we humans are so diverse in our tastes and “needs”. Makes for an interesting world.
    The initial query occasionally seems to get a little “lost” – i.e. do we think that the digital SLR will survive, or will it become obsolete? (because of the “mirrorless DSLR”).
    Does anyone remember the ½plate and ¼plate Thornton Pickard cameras? Great pieces of equipment. Beautifully crafted and very versatile and produced wonderful results – but now extinct.
    I’ve had a great time reading all the comments above – thanx folks. Have a wonderful and safe, snap-happy New Year with whatever is your preferrence.

  36. Ted

    I live in the sunny southwest and have trouble without a viewfinder. I echo what others have said about bright sun being a problem on LCD displays.

  37. mharrsch

    Despite the fact that I learned photography on a Canon SLR film camera, I have purchased only “point and shoot” digital cameras since my first Sony Mavica many moons ago. I, personally, never missed having to carry around a bag full of lenses and accessories and I have still been able to produce commercial-quality images that have been sold to book publishers, television production companies and educational institutions. I welcomed using an LCD screen to compose my images and actually feel I notice unwanted reflections or background objects better on the larger LCD screen than trying to squint through an optical viewfinder, even though some of my digital cameras have been equipped with both.

    I also prefer a superzoom lens as long as it is of high quality, whether affixed or detachable, to fumbling with a collection of intermediate lenses because I am far more interested in the composition of the image and the emotion I am trying to elicit with it than the mechanics of the hardware I am using to capture it.

    If anything, I have found digital photography liberating and appreciate advances that use technology to handle many of the hardware aspects of image capture. What I would like to see, though, is more research on noise reduction with minimal loss of detail on high ISO settings and the introduction of higher F-stops into point-and-shoot mirrorless cameras.

  38. angus

    the original question was, “will mirrorless cameras replace dslrs”. There are many comments discussing many interesting points. However, imho, the best example is that of the Sony A77 or the cheaper A65. With cameras like these, there is little reason to buy a dslr. It probably won’t be long before Canon and Nikon follow suit and once their excellent optics are translated into the SLT format, the market for dslrs will plummet.

  39. James

    I looked at two cameras before settling down to the Canon DSLR that I currently have. One did have a screen that was about to be adjusted (flipped out), which did lead to the option of shooting over heads in a crowed, or under areas where I wouldn’t want to get down on my stomach to shoot. At the time though, I saw one disadvantage, which a mirrorless would have to proof to have fixed before I’d go for a mirrorless, and that’s battery use. Even my Canon has the option of using the LCD screen to see the picture I am taking, but I have found that the few times I’ve used it, my camera’s battery life was quite a bit less, and I didn’t find any particular benefit to using the LCD. Yes, one can get a smaller camera with out the mirror, I agree. And the newer mirrorless camera’s are including interchangeable lenses. But for this photographer, I don’t see the desire to switch in the near future. If I want a quick candid shot, I simply use the 8 mgpxl camera on my cell phone.

  40. djetsons

    I am not an amateur or a professional, but for my money, I will always go with DSLRs. Just like the quality that they produce. Like my Nikon D40, thanks.

  41. Mike

    djetsons sums it up perfectly. If you have had a good run and taken many good photos with a particular type of camera, it will take a lot of persuasion to change to a different type. For example I have gone from a cheapie Agfa Clack to a Nikonous underwater camera, to a Pentax film camera, to a Sony Alpha DSLR, to a Nikon D200 DSLR. I am now a complete Nikon fan and as I said earlier the Nikon D4 has amazing specifications. It seems to solve many of the problems that showed up with previous DSLRs including the D200. Here is a URL you can cut and paste into you search engine to check a complete overview of it with all the specs.
    http://www.dpreview.com/articles/7799914638/nikon-d4-overview

    http://stupiddope.com/2012/01/09/nikon-d4-camera-w-high-quality-low-light-resolution/

  42. mathgeek

    While the practicality (lack thereof) of viewfinders in the sun is important, the fact that the viewfinder is an element of processing between the photographer and the picture. What makes DSLRs special, in my opinion, is that the eye of the photographer is still making the ultimate decision of how to shoot. I don’t know if this will matter, but in a cosmic sense it shifts the essence of photographer.

    I’ve had a Nikon D5000 for about 6 months now and I absolutely love that I have to make judgement calls all the time; I’m still a few degrees beneath amateur but I’m learning a lot and having a blast doing so.

  43. one.m.davis

    Hey,

    Many of the comments have related to the individual feature sets of current cameras on the market. I had a “prosumer” camera around 2003 called a Konica Minolta Dimage A1. it had a simple solution to the viewfinder issue way back then. It had an “EVF” (electronic view finder), which looked like an SLR viewfinder, but had a tiny screen inside (as many people have suggested). It also had a larger LCD screen on the back (that could be tilted up/down/left/right) and you could select to use only the EVF, only the LCD or to automatically switch between LCD and EVF when you put your eye to the EVF. The solutions are there, and sony owns the Konical Minolta camera division now (hence why KM only make photocopiers these days) so hopefully the NEX series will dig up that little gem.

    similarly dust covers for when you are changing lens are easy solutions to engineer and implement, the manufacturers just need to know that we want this stuff (and will pay the small price and size premium)

    to get people to move across the question is what to do about lenses. A mirrorless camera designed to work with SLR/DSLR lenses will (almost certainly) be larger than necessary, but lenses are a big investment, and may slow people moving across if they have already invested in DSLR

    The size and the weight of mirrorless is a massive advantage over DSLR, as is the (not complete, but less) lack of mechanical moving parts. The fact that with a flat lens it is basically a point-and-shoot, but with a “real” lense it rivals a DSLR is amazing.

    One question for the future will be sensor size. small high-res sensors can be very noisey, meaning you can oten get a much better image with a lower resolution, but physically larger (much lower pixel density) sensor camera. mimicing 35mm dimensions (approximately) has been what has “allowed” DSLR to stay with larger sensors, whilst all compact/pocket cameras have gone for small sensors. for mirrorless to REPLACE DSLR, you need to be able to produce a good, “noiseless” shot. This may provide a dimension vs. quality trade-off. Or maybe we will have two “streams” of mirrorless, a small size with potentially noiser images for home users, and a large mirrorless for professionals, not that difference to DSLR (except no SL to R) (unless of course we start getting low/no noise smaller sensors)

    I’m sure it will be the basis of the future of photography, but not exactly sure what that will look like.

  44. Carroll Hanks

    Sorry Geoff, you are mistaken about the mirror being a dust magnet. Dust on the mirror has NO effect on the images. The mirror will infact somewhat protect the sensor, where dust does affect the images.

  45. Lewis

    Personally, as someone just about to take delivery of a Sony a300 series I’m not really a huge fan of the SLTs. The semi-translucent bit makes it worse for shooting in low light, which I do a lot of. Sony/Minolta have also got the live view thing bang on, using a second sensor, which enables everything to work much faster and more smoothly. I also like the viewfinder, so these SLTs are gonna take some convincing for me.

  46. Dan

    I am sure you will see the lovely off-white Canon lenses attached to Canon DSLRs on the sidelines of all sporting fixtures & out in the field covered in Realtree camo taking pictures of wildlife for MANY, MANY years to come :-)

  47. boyfrombeach

    I use every type of digital camera I can get a hold on, from Sony shirtpocket to Canon EOS 1D heavy duty.

    Regarding the mirrorless, since I have an Olympus Pen it tends to replace my Canon 40D I used to carry when the 1D was “too much”. While the Pen can not take its bigger sisters lenses, the Pen with three excellent lenses (17, 45, 40-150) on its own is lighter than the 40D with only one zoom. On occasions where weight is is an issue, the mirrorless Pen wins.

  48. Thomas Chester

    There are various problems with viewfinderless cameras of any type. Holding a camera at a distance in front of you means every heartbeat will give a shudder, if light conditions are intense you need a reasonably large shade to the screen to allow you to see the image. Remember the old plate cameras? The great cloth over the head! No the problem is that tripods or supports of different types become necessary on various shots. Another claim is that the lighter the camera is the better. I owned a professional film slr that because of the weight (approx !kg) enabled me to take a handheld shot at half a second. The mass of the beast meant that it resisted the shake and and the movement of firing the shuitter. Like cars etc. there is not a single size that fits all!!! Choose what suits you and your needs.

  49. Michael

    I really like a view finder. An LCD is fine but just not as good as sticking your eye to a view finder. Reasons have already been mentioned. But it should be no problem for a mirrorless camera to have an LCD viewfinder as well as a full LCD screen. No parallax error and my eye is still blocking out the sun, the camera is more naturally held and steady. This will undoubtedly happen. the moving mirror is dead.

  50. Dr. Nicolas Rao

    I see a lot of feelings coming through, but in my mind as very serious photographer, may not be professional, but trained many of the top in my country.
    Mirror less, is nothing new? Cannon had the Pellix, a landmark in its time, but it did not have electronics to boost the image, only good, fantastic dynamic range film! True quality is the prime question in all these designs.
    Common sense will tell you that a square can use a circle of light better than a rectangle.
    Smaller pieces of glass carry their own aberrations as do bigger pieces of good flint glass. Honestly with modern technology, I think that this problem is disappearing!
    It is cheaper to make a camera with less glass, less metal and the money spent on imaging now, remove expense from the mirror problem, and move it to the various aberrations that reduce the quality of a lens.
    With about 25% of viewing alone, equipment removed from the camera manufacture, more of the funds should be where it is needed. How does the photographer see the image in the viewfinder. I love a full info viewfinder, as I know before I press the shutter release, what I am going to get. EVF’s have the advantage to adjust magnification relief to glasses viewers, no, I am not saying watching an LCD will make me feel better. If that same quality of view inside a viewfinder were available, I would grab it. I used a Panasonic Lumix as my first digital camera and I can tell you that my guess from the viewfinder was not far from the view on the LCD as small and brilliant as it was.

    But for people like me who have used cameras from the mid 60′s. There is no comparision as to how much viewfinders had improved and now fallen back. Optical viewfinder on my old Nikons post the F3HP, were a great improvement on their auto focus models a third the price!

    But for photography, which is a great deal more than whipping out a camera or shooting in the wild. One department of photography must be removed, the marketing department. They are the bane of photography and though I could sit here talking about delightful developments here and there, nothing will work as long as the people who make cameras, make it purely for money and not for photography at all.

    What is really important, Good lenses, good software, strong build quality! I can give my grandson my Hassleblad 500C and I have no doubt if he can put a digital back on it, he will have a better picture! That camera is already about 50 years old, I think! Every things works and the Swedish steel looks like the day I bought it.

    Its great to see the growth of the camera industry again after the dull period in the early 2000′s, but too much marketing and trying to make do, is killing the industry. Fewer models, made with better materials with the interest of the photographer in mind would make far more sense!

  51. mat

    Doesn´t the new format “micro four thirds” with bayonet really the key to mirrorless? doesn´t all the semi-pro fixed lens had this before but with a much smaller sensor? In my clases of photography, I remember been told that if your format is bigger, your quality is better, you get better deep field and more light trough the lens. If the new format is smaller in sensor, with smaller lenses, how can it be better than a SLR with a full 35mm frame? I undestand that the medium format was “the thing” once, with the rollei´s and all. and left aside in the mainstream for the 35mm. Is now the micro four thirds the new 35mm?

  52. Ralph

    Mirrorless cameras at present seem to an idea in search of a problem, effectively being point and shoots with bigger sensors. Since bigger sensors require bigger lenses, they lose the easy portability of a point and shoot for any given range of focal lengths. Yet if they do not use a full APSC sensor, they cannot quite match the overall IQ of the better DSLRs. They become, in effect a compromise having neither the portability nor the potential for image quality of the current alternatives. Given that, many seem way overpriced for what they deliver. That being said, it is likely that eventually the mirror will disappear from the SLR style camera to be replaced by a truly competent EVF (holding a camera away from the eye is a giant step backward in photography). What I am really looking forward to is the inclusion of a true electronic shutter mechanism in a DSLR style mirrorless camera, resulting in truly silent operation. The noise a DSLR makes, in my opinion, is its greatest liability in many situations.

  53. Mike

    Ralph – It looks like the Nikon D4 has addressed the shutter noise problem, that bugs me too, by giving it a silent mode. I deal for the bird photography I often do. For at least $6000 when it appears in NZ, it should make a cup of tea as well. It is very much a professionals camera. I will be interested to see how it sells. When I win lotto I may have to import one from the States.

  54. Andy

    @ Paul Bradley
    I don’t know if it’s about location or what (I’m in the UK), but I was in a camera shop yesterday, I noticed that many CSC’s (Compact System Camera) which is another term being banded about for theses mirrorless ILCs – have precisely the viewfinder you talk of. I can’t unfortunately remember any specific models, but know that they do exist, much like the viewfinder of superzoom/bridge cameras.

  55. Art Kennedy

    I’ve been seriously into photography since the early ’60′s. My first SLR was a Minolta SR-1. Digital set my fires burning again in 1999 and I came to love composing on the little screen before there were DSLRs. Next I got a SONY DSC-828 in which the camera body rotated so that I could take ground level shots without crawling on my belly – then the SONY DSC-R1 with it’s top mounted articulating screen. I began to yearn for a high quality interchangeable lens camera without the mirror/pentaprism and wonder why they weren’t being made. Then I was sure they would be. Then they were. It’s so logical. I haven’t taken the plunge yet because I’m stuck on the extreme versatility of my Canon SX series cameras but it is only a matter of time . . .

  56. DSLR's are dead

    The horse carriage manufacturers also did not get any compensation from the car manufacturers.

    Anybody using Windows 2000 these days?

    DSLR’s and the high end prices are out, gone, dead.
    For Canon + Nikon this will be destroy their revenues.

    Let me know if you think different

  57. Mike

    You say DSLRs are dead. Who knows what the preferences of the next generation of photographers will be? As long as us oldies are still around who have enjoyed all the features available on the high end DSLRs, there will still be an interest in them. From what I see of the modern trends, you may be right long term. There seems to be a tendency to want instant, reliable results, even if they are only mediocre, rather than learn skills to create superior photographs that require a knowledge of the technicalities of photography. I have noticed there are a few youngsters who are becoming very good photographers and are upgrading to quality DSLRs to give them more control of the results. I think this may be the difference as to whether you are right or not. It all depends on the present day youngsters and how many of them take to photography and want to have more control I think the modern little cameras are brilliant and have many of the features that the earlier ‘high end’ cameras had. The jury is still out.

  58. Angus

    I think a lot of the posters here seem to be thinking that mirrorless = compact or no viewfinder or CSC or micro 4/3. True, the viewfinder may not be an optical one, but with 100% coverage, it may be as good. The Sony SLTs use the same lenses as the SLRs and have all the facilities (if not more) than the SLRs. It seems that the A77 will be a significant improvement over the A300 (which Lewis is about to take delivery of and which I use myself). Once you have Canon or Nikon SLTs which can, for example, use those big white Canon lenses that Dan has rightly commended, SLRs may no longer be the only type of camera on the side of the football ground. SLTs are coming – I think they may replace a lot of SLRs.

  59. Robert

    I need an optical viewfinder (or a digital viewfinder separate from the view screen). The best combinations that I have seen are the DSLR cameras with the articulated view screen.

  60. Will Morledge

    More to the point, at least for many of us, is : will the camera fit into your top pocket? Those that would prefer the convenience of a point-n-shoot will consider that – over whether or not it is DSLR or mirrorless. I have the new Sony (I am a Nikon person, and thought I would never own one). However am shooting with their new 16 mpxl, 16 optical zoom, and it fits in my top pocket. I do almost all low light / night photography. (If one uses flash, the pop-up flash is klugey, but entirely serviceable.) Every pic I retain is processed through PhotoPaint or PhotoShop, so I have examined them at pixel level – and it is the best I have ever used – be it SLR Nikon range, DSLR, mirrorless. Mirrorless will win out, using both the LCD back AND a viewfinder with an LCD screen in it (needed for those who wear high diopter glasses, by the way).

  61. eric

    Mirror less , Fixed super zoom ,live view in the viewfinder , articulated screen, looks like most would view the future as the Olympus E-10.Not bad for a Ten year old Digital Camera .However the marketing men have decided that it has no future and therefore Olympus no longer support it I trust that the new third generation owners will not be abandoned when something newer comes along

  62. steve823

    Mirrorless is the future. They can be made smaller, simpler and for less money. In the beginning I would not buy a camera that didn’t have a view finder, but the screens have gotten clearer and brighter so it doesn’t matter any more. And besides, with glasses it is much harder to put the camera up to your face and squint through an even smaller viewfinder.

  63. ExTexan

    “digital cameras use photosensors in place of old-fashioned film to detect and record light ” sorry, wrong. The photosensor does NOT record anything. It sends the data to a processor that sends the processed data to a recording medium, memory card etc.

  64. Art Kennedy

    I’ve had compact Olympus, Sony and Canon cameras. I find the articulating screens indispensable. I’m don’t have Lady Franklin’s vision limitations but agree that being able to easily position the camera low or high is crucial. Also that changing the angle can make it usable in sunlight. I disagree with the ones who feel the need to brace the camera against their face. There are other ways to hold the puppy steady and image stabilization covers most of that anyway. Amazingly I have handheld 840mm eqiv shots with my Canon SX cameras without high shutter speeds. One of the real beauties of the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras is that the ability to have the lens mount closer to the sensor greatly simplifies wide angle lens design. I want to see a camera that allows you to turn the sensor off before the shot when the display is not needed to reduce sensor self heating and the resultant noise.

  65. JohnOfFloreat

    Be it an eye-level EVF or a large rear mounted screen I’m not yet convinced that what you are seeing is going to be as clear as viewing the actual subject through the actual lens.
    Maybe mirrorless will become a standard at some time in the future but, for my part, I’ll be waiting a while longer.

  66. canon fodder

    Anyone who has a canon made in the last 2 years has “mirrorless” capability already. Turn on “live view” and the mirror flips out of the way. The weakness of this is the slow response time and poor quality and poor contrast of traditional cheap LCDs. besides the other problems people already mentioned about LCDs.

    Sony says they have the answer. The organic LED display (or OLED) which they are using in the tiny viewfinder of the A77. They claim you can barely tell its a screen, but the a77 is in such short supply I have been unable to try one at store to see for myself.

    A science lesson: LCD is like a 1970s calculator only in color. Simply a white back-light with each ‘pixel’ being a 3 colored filter that blocks light. You know what happens to them in the cold, they slow right down.

    OLED are pixels that emit light on their own. With OLED screens: colors are more vibrant, brighter, more accurate, thinner, flexible, tighter pixels, and can have sub millisecond refresh rates. Oh and they don’t slow down in the cold since they are solid state and there is no liquid crystal to freeze. But they are patented up the wazoo and therefore costly.

    The real problem with progress is consumers demand cheaper more often than they demand better. These companies are driven by profit. They have an easy steady income selling lenses designed in 1995. I have not seen enough arguments that switching to mirrorless has any benefits. Perhaps more FPS and a smaller form factor and maybe lenses will be cheaper and lighter. Isn’t it easier just to add a couple features, add some cache, speed up the processor and call it a Mark x.

  67. Beverly Kurtin

    When I worked for Edmund Land’s cousin in the early ’60s, a man came into the camera store and asked to see “something new.” Yashica had just released a new TLR (twin lens reflex) and I showed it to him. He flipped it over and saw “Made in Japan.” His face turned beet red and said that he’d never buy anything made in Japan after what they did to us during the war. Then he asked if we carried Leicas…made in Germany. I just put the Yashica back in the case and walked away. Germany hadn’t done anything to us, eh?

    I’m one of those folks who cannot wait for SLRs to go the way of Kodachrome. When the president is speaking the blasted mirrors sound like a flamenco dance is being performed. Those miserable clicks drive me up a wall and always have. After 40 some-odd years of using TLRs, parallax correction is virtually automatic and with a 6X6 format, what I miss on a shoot can correct in the darkroom. Ah, the aroma of glacial acidic acid…

    Nikon is really proud of its 1 camera. I don’t see that value in it; it is WAY too expensive for my taste and wallet.

    The market for mirror-less DSLRs is going to be explosive…I hope.

    One final thought about all of this…I seriously doubt if many people remember the Exacta camera that was made in East Germany. Removing the pentaprism was a pleasure and a necessity when doing macro work. The Air Force wasn’t all that pleased that I was using the camera on base for official work, but they never complained about the incredible acuity I could take that could show a minute flaw in something as tiny as a screw that was smaller than one used in glasses. The only other camera I really miss is my old Olympus half-frame Pen F. I’m showing my age now .

  68. Chameleonbeetle

    I have been unable to get into DSLR because of the weight of the cameras (I have weak hands). Mirrorless cameras would allow my to get into that style of photography and I’m eager to try it.

  69. Danny

    I for one believe that DSLRs are on their way out and will eventually be replaced by Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, uncommonly referred by the acronym DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless). I use the Panasonic GH2, the flagship camera under the Panasonic Lumix series that sports the very familiar DSLR form factor, with the main difference being that it does not have a mirror or optical viewfinder. Instead, the camera has an EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) and a flip-out LCD. The EVF is a combination of a viewfinder and a very-advanced LCD screen manufactured by Epson that accurately displays your recorded image before capture. The Panasonic GH2 is often used by independent filmmakers who shoot in a DSLR-style, as the camera has very advanced video recording capabilities that surpass even the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II. The mirrorless form factor allows you to use the smaller and lighter-weight lenses, as well as virtually any lens on the market (with the appropriate adapter), an ability that even Canon’s lack because of the longer back flange mount on some lenses. I have an adapters for my GH2 that allows me to use my old Canon FD and Nikon prime lenses, a welcome feature in all of my projects that allows me to use any lens to get the job done. Without a doubt, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are the future.

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!