While not an entirely new technology, mirrorless cameras manufacturers have been enjoying a steady rise in interest of the compact cameras among amateurs and professionals alike. Initially marketed at serious amateurs who were looking for more from their point-and-shoots, but were not interested in a DSLR, the mirrorless camera, has helped fill a gap in camera technology. Their lightweight design offers users the comforts of carrying only a compact camera and their DSLR sized sensors produce images which rival some of the most popular DSLRs on the market.
How Does a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera Work?
In a nutshell, cameras traditionally record images by taking light (thus, an image) in through the lens, reflecting it up to the viewfinder and then sending it back to the film or digital sensor using a mirror that flips up and down when the shutter release is triggered. This is how the term single lens reflex came to be.
As technology advanced, digital point-and-shoot cameras entered the market which eliminated the need for a mirror by electronically sending light to an LCD viewfinder which displayed it as a live preview. With the removal of the mirror from the camera came a great reduction in it's size which appealed greatly to novelty photographers everywhere. These mirrorless point-and-shoots were perfect for the average person, but their small sensor size (usually about 1/12th the size of a DSLR sensor) left a bad taste in the mouths of discerning photographers who wanted more control of their cameras. This spurred the need to create a compact sized camera that packed a little bit more wallop.
Enter the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. To maintain the compact size, the interchangeable lens variety of mirrorless cameras use the same electronic viewfinder system as their compact point-and-shoot cousins, but incorporate large, professional-grade sensors, advanced camera controls, and interchangeable lenses.
Untitled by Roni G, on Flickr using a Panasonic Lumix G1 mirrorless interchangable lens camera and Lumix G Vario 45-200mm
What Are The Advantages of A Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
By now, the advantages of a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera are probably becoming fairly obvious. Compared to their DSLR counterparts, the MILCs are small in size. Depending on which lens you have mounted, most of the cameras will slide right into a pocket for easy on-the-go photography. As we mentioned earlier, the sensors in most MILCs are full sized. Meaning they have sensors as large as the ones that go into our coveted DSLRs, giving us excellent image quality.
Another perk of using a MILC is how quiet they are. Less moving parts, i.e. a mirror, make these powerhouses nearly silent. It's not just average person looking for a high-end compact camera who's taking notice either. Having combined size and image quality with their overall unassuming appearance and serious street photographers everywhere began taking notice. They are almost ideal to have when you are trying not to draw attention to yourself.
The Drawbacks of MILCs
No, the MILC isn't quite perfect yet. As manufacturers continue to improve their technology, users of the MILC are forced to take the ups with the downs. One of the main shortcomings of many MILCs is their somewhat sub-par performance in low-light settings, despite having a large sensor. Granted, low-light performance on a MILC is light years ahead of most compact camera's, many MILCs struggle a bit compared to a DSLR.
The auto-focus feature, too, is bit more sluggish than a DSLR, making it difficult to capture sharp images of fast moving objects. That's a deal breaker for sports photographers and is something that will hopefully be improved upon in the near future.
You may also want to check into what lenses are available before you dive into purchasing a MILC. Brands like Pentax stuck with their K-mount, meaning you can use any Pentax lens with your MILC, but not all manufacturers were so kind. There is a wide assortment of lenses available for all brands of MILCs, however, if you prefer to use a specific lens, check to make sure one is available to fit before purchasing the camera. In some instances, it may be as simple as using an adapter to make your current lenses fit.
Which Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera is Right For You
Let's not get into the exhaustive task of comparing all the different models, as there are plenty reviews available on the internet. The Panasonic Lumix G Series is very popular and already have a rather cult like following. Panasonic also makes the Lumix DMC-GH2, which is geared towards shooting video, something it does an outstanding job at. Other popular models include the Sony NEX and the Olympus Pen Series. Pentax is also taking grip on the market with it's oddly designed Pentax K-01.
Bottom line, MILCs are the closest we've come to combining the best of both worlds and can be both a joy and a pain to operate. And yes, they can be expensive! Especially if you to chose to buy additional lenses for them. Make sure you do your research beforehand and talk to people who have used one before to help you choose the right system. If you have or currently use an MILC, be sure to share your experiences in the comments below!