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5 Things You Should Know About Mirrorless Cameras

Get ready, because mirrorless cameras are the next big thing for photography. If you haven’t heard about this technology, this post is for you!

Over the next few years, we may see mirrorless cameras take up more of the market that DSLRs currently dominate and more and more professional photographers choosing to work on a mirrorless system. Fuji and Sony have proven that the technology is a worthy competitor to DSLRs and rumor has it the other big camera companies are working to catch up.

Here are some of the top things you should know about mirrorless digital cameras.

Mirrorless Cameras still make a high quality image. Fuji X100s

Size

Current mirrorless cameras are smaller, lighter and more compact than their DSLR counterparts. This is due in part to the smaller sensors that most of them are using (although Sony is using a full-frame sensor in their a7) and in part to the fact there is no mirror moving around for the shutter. With fewer moving parts, you can fit more technology in a smaller package. This makes them easier to travel with and less obtrusive for street photography or any other situation where a subject may get nervous about a large DSLR system. Many mirrorless cameras look like point-and-shoot cameras. The lenses for the smaller sensor cameras can also be a little smaller, which helps when moving equipment around.

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Lenses

Ready to move to a mirrorless system? Hold up. Unless you have a Sony, you will need to purchase all new lenses or a converter for the old ones. Canon and Nikon’s mirrorless systems require a specific lens mount or a converter for EF or F-mount lenses. Fuji developed a new line of lenses for their mirrorless cameras, but you can also use Canon or Nikon lenses with a converter. Sony has fewer lenses to choose from, but any of them should now work with the full-frame a7. The technology is changing so quickly that it is difficult for photographers to know what to invest in. No Canon user wants to buy all new lenses for a Fuji system if Canon releases a full-frame mirrorless camera in the next year.

Great color from a Fuji X100s

Shutter

A huge advantage to mirrorless cameras is silent operation. Without the focal plane shutter operating, they can be used without obstruction. No more of the click, click, click sound. This is great for wedding photographers, photojournalists and street photographers, where blending in is an important part of the job.

Some mirrorless cameras, like the Fuji X100 use a leaf shutter. Currently, DSLRs are limited by shutter speed if you are using flash. Most DSLRs can only shoot as fast as 1/250 second while using a flash. Without a traditional focal plane shutter, mirrorless cameras allow 1/1000 second (sometimes faster) shutter speeds while using a flash. Faster shutter speeds open up all new possibilities for lighting. For example, if you are lighting an outdoor portrait and have metered the shot to be 1/250 second at f/5.6 with your DSLR, you can take the same shot at 1/1000 second at f/2.8. Since shutter speed doesn’t change the intensity of your flash, but aperture does, your wider aperture means the flash is four times as powerful. Of course, you need to make sure to use a hardwired flash trigger, or check to see if your wireless triggers can handle that kind of speed.

Viewfinders

When using a DSLR, you are literally looking, via a mirror, through whichever lens you have on the body. Mirrorless cameras use either optical viewfinders or electronic viewfinders, which are a little different. The optical viewfinder is typically above and to the left of the lens, so it isn’t exactly the same as the photo you are taking. It gets you close, but not exact. To fix this, many mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders. This is similar to using LiveView on a DSLR, only in addition to the LCD screen, you can see the image through the viewfinder.

There are enough advantages to outweigh the disadvantages for many professionals to move to mirrorless systems for their work. I’m almost there, but waiting to see what 2015 brings before making any purchases.

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20 Comments

Jean@johnwoodward.com

I have an Olympus-1 love it!

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Bill Waggoner

I have a Canon which I no longer use because it is heavy. But I have a Samsung NX 1000 that has a removable lens that I use always. Great little camera except I can’t see the image in bright sun. I prefer the manual mode on the Canon. Both have a glass lens. The Samsung takes as good a photo and I use both depending on conditions.

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stephen ruxton

I have 2 Panasonic mirrorless cameras and love how compact they are.

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Larry Gentile

I have the Fujifilm X-T1 and it is incredible.. I was a Nikon shooter for over 10 years and have since sold my Nikon gear with the exception of my Nikon D80 which I converted to infra red…. Simply love the size, weight and the output is fantastic…

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Jon Allen

It is pretty obvious that the market will go mirror less and I must admin I can’t wait. Both Nikon and Canon will not have to play catch up. My guess is they already have the technology, but like typical Japanese global companies they will watch the market and decide when it is ready for them to move in. Then the mirror less market will become the norm and will be dominated by them both.

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Bruce

They won’t play catchup because both Nikon and Canon make better lenses. If you are an actual photographer then you would know that Lenses are WAY more important than a body, mirrorless or not.

Sony’s mirrorless camera is AWESOME but it’s lenses are GARBAGE

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John from Buffalo

Thing with Sony – they PROMOTE adaptation. It’s the NORM for that mount, and I think the community as the whole accepts this. Mind you, the whole push for AF lenses with brighter f-stops really swung the Sony lens machine around. We now have 4-5 more lenses rounding out a fantastic lens set. Focus peaking is the best thing since sliced bread, so why auto-focus? Wastes batteries, and often is somewhat wrong on shallow DoF. Leica has never had AF in their rangefinger line. 🙂 See how THEY are doing? 🙂

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Daniel

Nice to see Samsung getting ignored again, I have an Nx300m and let me assure you it’s a fantastic piece of kit.
I’ve finally stopped putting the camera up to my face looking for the missing viewfinder (you will get used to it not being there)
Like m42 lenses? All focus to infinity and the focus peaking feature means pin point sharpness exactly where you want it.
Couldn’t be without my DSLM

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neonkaw

okay article, but one thing left a bad taste in my mouth… there was no mention of Olympus or Panasonic (which share the micro four-thirds sized sensors and the same lens mounts). Both were the first Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Cameras (remember that point and shoots also have no mirrors) and are quite comparable to other mirrorless cameras and, not only can you interchange lenses between them, you can adapt many vintage Legacy lenses to them.
I just hope that this article is not a precursor to a trend of Fugisony fanboys with mirrorless, that has been Canonikon fanboys with film and digital.

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Steven Maerz

I bought the Sony A6000 mirrorless camera a year ago.
Pros:
It is compact and light weight. This allows me to scramble over rocks and up embankments to get a vantage point I would not get with a bulkier, heavier camera. Also helps on long hikes.

It’s 24 MP sensor and smart autofocus makes taking high res, sharp photos easy, provided you pair it with a good lens.

It retails around $600-675 which makes it cheaper than many of it’s enthusiast DSLR counterparts.

Cons:
Since it is relatively new there are fewer lens choices and the high quality Zeiss choices tend to run around $1000.
(Cheaper Sony lenses are around $250-400)
In my mind the biggest con is, despite what Sony claims, it does not autofocus moving objects very well. I think this is common among all mirrorless systems right now. If you want to capture and eagle pulling a fish out of a river you’re going to still need a DSLR.

Conclusion:
Portraits, Street photography, Architecture, Landscape and Macro it handles incredibly well.
Wildlife, sports or other fast action scenes you’ll need other gear if you want it to be tack sharp.

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John

Love my Sony A65 that I have been using for 3 years now. Excellent results and more features than I can possibly get my head around.

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Ira Crummey

The comment on leaf shutters is incorrect. All interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras have focal plane shutters just like DSLRs and suffer the same limitations on maximum flash sync speed. Only fixed lens cameras such as the Fuji X100 have leaf shutters. This needs to be edited out as it seriously misleads potential strobists who buy a mirrorless based on this article.

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Tim

Thanks for pointing this out. You’re right! The comment on leaf shutters is incorrect. Leaf shutters aren’t found in any interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. Nicholas Donner should indeed edit this out.

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David Burckhard

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the same arguments for rangefinders over SLRs are the same for mirrorless cameras over SLRs. Lightweight, size, quiet operation, integrated lens leaf shutters are nothing to be ignored but they overcame the SLR advantage then and, for now, they aren’t making a compelling argument now.

I used a rangefinder for years – in 35mm and medium format – and yes, I liked that they was small, lightweight, had a fast shutter but with a limited selection of lenses, parallax issues, and other restrictions I switched to SLRs. As a pro, I don’t mind the extra size and weight of gear. In fact, I welcome them for the stability they add to my handheld shots. Approaching my 60th birthday, I still don’t mind carrying a full quiver of pro-level lenses into the field for an all-day hike and shoot.

Today’s mirrorless systems are still too limited in lens selection which will obviously change but pros can’t wait. And amateurs have immediate access to an SLR’s system’s full range of lenses.

The one big advantage I see for mirrorless systems but one that the makers have totally ignored in their marketing is that lenses can be made optically superior using simpler, symmetrical designs meaning better quality at a cheaper price (which could be a reason why they DON’T mention this as they surely won’t discount a great performing lens.) Without a mirror, the lens can be placed closer to the sensor plane obviating the need to compensate for retro-focusing as is the lens design needed for any swinging reflex camera. This inherent advantage is why Leica and Mamiya rangefinder lenses remain some of the sharpest lenses ever designed.

Until mirrorless camera makers come out with a comprehensive set of superior lenses, mirrorless cameras will always be considered a secondary choice for aspiring and professional shooters.

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Bruce

I love my Olympus M43 system. I have to say that since I started investing in m43 several years ago, I can count on one hand the times I have used my Canon FF equipment. Love the format.

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Rick

i have the SonyA7 and the Sony A6000 as backup. I have switched to mirrorless for 90% of my work. I still use my Canon 7d for fast moving shots and have thrown my Canon 50 D in my truck for when I’m out running around town and at work. The hardest thing you will do is commit that first time to using the mirrorless and only mirrorless on a wedding. It is very hard to do but once you get out of your comfort zone and trust these cameras you will be overjoyed in your photos and so will your customers. The funniest thing will be when people look at you and go your’e the photographer??? And you don’t have a hulking DSLR hanging around your neck. But your neck and body will thank you on a 8 hour shoot.

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Cabe

Love my Sony A55, had it for four years now and it’s still going strong – compact, not too heavy or bulky for my hands and gives me gorgeous pics with very little messing.. I mess up sometimes but my Sony does not! Always wanted a panny Lumix but think my next camera will still be a Sony TSLR, although not planning on changing it soon… (That’s the thing tho’ isn’t it, people tend to change their tech with the turn of the seasons, not like when my pops was a lad and had the same camera for decades! Just like a car – try and hand it in for a Service now and again..)

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warren

when you remove the lens on a mirrorless camera you can see the sensor….so where is the shutter?

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Ross Wilson

Incorrect information here about the focal plane shutter not being on mirrorless cameras.

Some mirrorless cameras do have them some don’t. When they do they are marginally quieter than a DSLR. However leaf shutters are much quieter.

Some mirrorless cameras have a digital shutter mode, where no mechanical shutter is used, the chip itself becomes the shutter. However whilst you can get faster shutter speeds and silent operation you also get “tearing” the results of “rolling shutter” or how the sensor sequentially activates the pixels one at a time left to right top to bottom.

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Gary

Just bought a mirrorless camera and its a great addition to my DSLR camera whenever I need something more compact.

Reply

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