Mirrorless cameras: What are they all about?

Posted by Daniel Lucian on 31 October 2012

I guess I have always wished I could own a Leica; they’re compact, easy on the eye, and can take pretty amazing photos in the right hands. On the downside, they do sell for around R60 000, which is a price most hobby photographers can’t imagine (never mind the stress of having that thing dangling around your neck). I think that’s why I have spent a lot of time looking into the emerging market for mirrorless cameras, trying to find the Leica’s affordable equivalent.

Leica M9: beautiful but pricey

If you are not sure what a mirrorless camera is, it’s basically just a more compact version of your standard DSLR, which sacrifices the conventional mirror-based viewfinder for a smaller body. In the conventional system, the mirror allows us to see a natural image through the viewfinder – that is, a reflection – of what the camera’s sensor sees. The viewfinder in a mirrorless camera, on the other hand, projects a digital image of what reaches the sensor. Simply put, no mirror equals smaller camera.

Over the last few years sales have rapidly increased for mirrorless cameras, mostly thanks to middle aged Japanese women. This has given a chance for a number of seemingly outdated camera brands to squeeze back into the market that Canon and Nikon have been monopolizing. Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax, and Fujifilm to name few, have been releasing popular and highly rated cameras that appeal to all levels of photographers – except the pros, but they’re a tough bunch to please. Even Nikon, and most recently Canon with its EOS M, have followed the trend by trying to squeeze most the perks of DSLRs, including interchangeable lenses, into a body slightly bigger than your average point-and-shoot.


Nikon V1: stylish and compact


There’s always a catch though, and the main one here is that at the price range these cameras aren’t contending against point-and-shoots but the entry-level to mid-range DSLRs. For example the Nikon V1 mirrorless camera sells at about the same price as the D3100, and the Canon EOS M is priced higher than the 600D. For those prices, the standard DSLRs are hard to beat. Another draw back is the digital viewfinder, which can’t compare to the natural view given in DSLRs. In fact, some mirrorless cameras offer no view finder at all, which means images have to be framed by the cameras display screen. If this is something you are used to, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if you are someone who loves looking at the world through a lens, this is a bit of a deal breaker.

Reading about mirrorless cameras has definitely lead me to the conclusion that it’s really all about one’s own priorities. As much as I like a natural view when taking photos, I also can’t help but like the idea of a pocket sized camera that takes high quality images and allows one to change lenses. On the professional side, they are no doubt lacking in specs, and for their price range they might not be the best your money can get. But for street photos they won’t attract nearly the same amount of attention as their bulkier more intimidating counterparts, and for hiking they’ll offer amazing quality photos without all the extra weight. And that, basically, is the trade off.


Olympus OM5: reminiscent of the old film days