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Mirrorless Camera Options

Updated on March 15, 2015

What Camera Should I Buy?

As a professional photographer, this is the question I am asked on an incredibly frequent basis. For years, the standard answer I offered to anyone who's somewhat serious about learning and improving their photography, was to start with a basic DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera such as the Canon Rebel, or Nikon D3200, and go from there. However over the past few years a new format, or class of camera has emerged. The mirror-less bodies from companies such as Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, and Fuji have carved out a space in the market which offers the flexibility of a DSLR, but with the size and portability of a small point-n-shoot model.

DSLR's are a great tool because they offer a high level of control and customization to the photographer. The photographer typically has multiple shooting modes available, allowing the camera to control some, all, or none of the variables that go into creating an image. The photographer also has a wide assortment of lenses available to chose from. Everything from an 8mm fisheye all the way to an 800mm super telephoto, depending on the requirements. However a DSLR is limited in its physical size by the reflex mirror that allows your eye to view exactly what is coming through the lens mounted on the front of the camera. Many of the current DLSR's are quite small and compact,. But their overall working size is further limited by the size of the lenses attached to the camera body.

Removing The Mirror

The concept of a camera without a viewfinder mirror is not necessarily new. Most point-n-shoot cameras use a form of a mirror-less shutter, because they do not offer an actual viewfinder. Rather, the photographer simply composes and creates their image using the LCD screen on the back of the camera. But many P&S cameras are limited by their built in lenses, as well as by the lack of handling control over exposure. Fully manual exposure control is possible with most modern P&S cameras. This control however is not always the most intuitive or easily accessible in fast changing situations. But by removing the mirror box, and with the addition of an electronic viewfinder, mirror-less cameras now offer the benefits, flexibility and usability of a DSLR, with the size and weight of a point and shoot model. In addition to the reduction of the camera body, the lenses available for use with mirrorless cameras are also much smaller, without sacrificing image quality or durability.

Canon 5Dmkii (left), Olympus OMD-EM-1 (right).  Both shown with an equivalent lense mounted.  135mm 2.0 on the Canon, 75mm 1.8 on the Olympus
Canon 5Dmkii (left), Olympus OMD-EM-1 (right). Both shown with an equivalent lense mounted. 135mm 2.0 on the Canon, 75mm 1.8 on the Olympus

Hands-On Experience

Straight-away, if you have larger than average hands and fat fingers, you might find handling a mirrorless camera more difficult than using a DSLR due simply to the physical size differences in the camera bodies, but more importantly, in the sizes of the buttons, dials, and levers on the smaller models. However other than this minor drawback, mirrorless models such as the Olympus OM-D series, and Sony's A7 series have been designed and executed with the DSLR user in mind, offering button and dial layouts that are not all that difficult from what a DSLR user will be used to.

Olympus EPL-5, Panasonic 7-14 2.8
Olympus EPL-5, Panasonic 7-14 2.8

Image Quality

The larger overall size of a DSLR sensor typically equated to larger megapixel numbers, leading to a perceived elevation of the image quality created by these chips. Smaller cameras used to mean smaller imaging sensors, which meant a trade-off of image quality in exchange for a smaller, more lightweight camera body. With the current assortment of available mirrorless cameras, the sensor technology has improved to the point that unless your final output requires a native 30+MP image, it is unlikely that any of the supposed "lower" MP chips will prove to be inferior.

Olympus EPL-5, 75mm 1.8
Olympus EPL-5, 75mm 1.8

Depth of Field limitations

Another criticism leveled at the smaller cameras is the difficulty in achieving a shallow depth of field due to the reduced sensor size. With cameras such as Sony's A7 series, this is a moot point because those cameras feature the same size imaging sensor found in most "full frame" DSLR's. With other models such as the Fuji X series, and the Sony Alpha a6000, those cameras use an APS-C sensor, not unlike the ones found in Canon's 7D or Rebel cameras. Olympus and the other "micro 4/3" mirror-less cameras use an even smaller sensor, which does create more depth of field at the same aperture, or f.# as their larger sensor counterparts. So if constantly blurry backgrounds and a very shallow depth of field are a significant part of of your work, the micro 4/3 format might not be the best fit.

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