What is a Mirrorless Camera?

Mirrorless digital cameras have been rising in popularity since the mid-2000s. Most major brands, such as Sony, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Olympus, now produce their own line of mirrorless cameras. However, you may wonder what makes this camera different from a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.

What is a Mirrorless Camera? The Basics

A mirrorless camera, also known as a compact system camera (CSC), is a digital camera with an interchangeable lens. The term "mirrorless" describes digital interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) that have either electronic viewfinders or none at all. 

Unlike the DSLR, a mirrorless camera does not require a reflex mirror to take photos, hence its name. There is no optical viewfinder; instead, it features a digital display using an electronic viewfinder. This allows you to see a preview of your photo on the rear LCD screen and adjust any exposure or contrast settings as needed. 

Its system is much simpler than the DSLR. When you press the shutter button, a door slides up to cover the image sensor, then slides back down to expose the sensor to light. The light passes through the lens to the image sensor, capturing a preview of the image to display on the LCD screen. Then another door covers the sensor again, stopping the exposure to take the picture.

Mirrorless cameras are often much more compact than DSLRs and more lightweight, making it easier to carry around. They can often weigh less than a pound, while DSLR cameras can weigh up to 2½ pounds. 

The components that make up a mirrorless camera are the lens, the shutter, the image sensor, and the digital display. It uses a more straightforward system compared to DSLRs, making it particularly convenient for beginners to use. However, mirrorless cameras offer key features that appeal to both new photographers and professionals.

Key Features

The mirrorless camera shares a few common features with the DSLR. Some of those include customization options and image quality that are far better than smaller point-and-shoot cameras. They both have interchangeable lenses as well, allowing photographers to change them to meet their needs. However, other key features set mirrorless cameras apart.

Lenses

Similar to DSLR cameras, mirrorless ones attach different lenses using a bayonet-style mount. However, because mirrorless cameras have a much shorter distance between the sensor and the lens mount, called the focal flange length, it is possible to attach a large variety of lenses. Mirrorless cameras can use lenses from DSLR manufacturers using adapters, which may affect some performance.

Electronic viewfinder (EVF)

An electronic viewfinder is a small, high-resolution screen within an eyepiece that creates a similar experience to the DSLR's optical viewfinder. When you use an EVF, light passes through a mirrorless camera's lens and appears directly onto the image sensor rather than using a mirror. It gives a live view of your scene that is then displayed on the rear LCD screen.

Electronic viewfinders weren't always popular compared to optical ones, but in recent years that has changed dramatically. Some of the best mirrorless cameras have refresh rates as high as 120 frames per second and resolutions up to 5.7 million pixels. EVFs are much sharper and more responsive than they were in the past. 

EVFs also offer many customization options that optical viewfinders do not have, such as the ability to show advanced exposure aids right in the viewfinder on specific cameras. It can also reveal what your image will look like, giving you the chance to adjust your settings quickly before taking the shot.

In low-light settings, the quality of EVF previews tend to decrease. However, the convenience of taking photos right the first time using the electronic viewfinder can't be matched. Some DSLRs are able to mimic this feature with a "live view" mode that raises the mirror within to display a live preview of the photo. However, the ability to focus slows for some DSLR models in this mode.

Video Capabilities

Professionals once favored DSLRs for videography because of its video clarity. However, these cameras do not have an LCD screen and real-time displays, making it difficult to see if you like what you are filming at the moment. 

Mirrorless cameras have become ideal for shooting videos because of its constantly exposed sensor. This allows videographers to preview what they are filming using a responsive LCD screen and 4K technology. The mirrorless camera's light body also makes it easy to move without shaking the video too much.

Autofocus 

Mirrorless cameras used to be restricted to using contrast detection technology to focus on subjects. It used the image sensor to detect the highest contrast to focus. However, this type of detection is slower than phase detection, which DSLR cameras use.

However, nearly all mirrorless cameras now have both phase- and contrast-detection sensors. Older models may still struggle to focus quickly in low-lit settings, but newer mirrorless cameras use similar technology to DSLRs to offer rapid autofocus.

Advantages

Now that you understand the basic features of a mirrorless camera, let's talk about the advantages of one.

Image Stabilization

There is no mirror mechanism inside the camera's body, which makes the camera less prone to shaking. When taking pictures, your image quality becomes clearer and looks more professional. Since it also uses fewer parts inside to work, the camera is also quieter so you can take more discreet shots. 

Some higher-end mirrorless cameras offer five-axis image stabilization within the body. This axis shifts the sensor to compensate for movement on five different axes. It is far superior to other methods and is a feature not yet found in DSLRs. It allows for greater stability when shooting from a moving position, like a car, or filming videos by hand.

Higher Shooting speed

Mirrorless cameras have simple internal mechanics that allow it to shoot faster than most DSLRs. With no mirror, your camera can take bursts of images without a problem. When it comes to taking continuous shots, mirrorless cameras have higher shutter speeds and better focusing capabilities.

More Compact

Mirrorless cameras are more compact than digital SLRs, which means they are lightweight and easy to move around to various locations. The mirrorless camera is also made of simpler construction. It is small enough that you can easily fit this camera with other gear into a camera bag. 

In contrast, DSLR cameras come with many attachments and additional parts, which can be heavy to carry along with a larger camera that weighs about 1½ to 2½ pounds.

Offers Real-time Previews

The mirrorless camera allows you to preview your image and adjust the exposure and contrast settings before taking your shot. Some cameras use an electronic viewfinder to get a close look at the final image. You can change the shutter speed, and the preview will change accordingly. 

DSLR users can view their photos in real-time by reflecting light without changing the image. To see what the final image will look like, you need to take the picture first and then adjust the settings. With mirrorless cameras, you can conveniently make those changes before the first shot.

Disadvantages 

Of course, mirrorless cameras do come with a couple of disadvantages too.

Cost

Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras are expensive, but DSLRs offer more accessories and lens options, while mirrorless cameras are newer with fewer choices. DSLR cameras can cost from as low as $150 to the thousands. In contrast, mirrorless ones start around $300 and can go to the mid to high thousands for high-end models. 

When you compare the camera's cost and the accessories available, DSLRs currently come at a better value than mirrorless cameras.

Battery Life

The EVF on a mirrorless camera requires battery power, unlike a DSLR's optical viewfinder. DSLRs can shoot without using a viewfinder or an electronic screen. In comparing the number of photos a digital SLR camera can take on one battery charge against the mirrorless camera, a DSLR may be able to take thousands of pictures per charge while the mirrorless camera struggles to hit 400 shots. 

Due to the nature of the always-on sensor and electronic screen, mirrorless cameras run through batteries much quicker. It may not be the ideal one to take for those needing a camera for long shoot days.

Fewer Accessories

Since mirrorless cameras are newer than DSLRs, they have fewer accessories available. There is a lack of attachments and lens mounts for these types of cameras. Since DSLR cameras have been around longer, they have a more comprehensive range of interchangeable lenses. They also have broad support from third-party vendors, giving photographers more choices for lower prices.

However, using adapters, mirrorless cameras can use some of the same lenses that DSLRs use, though performance may be sacrificed.

Less Accurate Autofocus

Mirrorless cameras use a contrast-detection autofocus system instead of phase detection. That means these cameras cannot measure the distance between the subject and the lens as well as a DSLR. Particularly in darker settings, a mirrorless camera will shift its lens to find more contrast and struggle to focus. 

These cameras also have smaller sensor sizes than DSLRs, making them less ideal for capturing dimly-lit settings.

Conclusion

Mirrorless cameras have a variety of features with advantages and disadvantages compared to the DSLR. They are an excellent choice for casual photographers looking to take their camera around and don't mind the shorter battery life. Let us know your thoughts about cameras in the comments and share if you liked this article.

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