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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lighten Up! Go Mirrorless!


Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera systems are a fraction of the size and weight of most DSLRs, and they can produce top-level images. What’s not to love?

Labels: CamerasD-SLRsGear
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Nikon 1 V1

Today, you can choose from a wide line of cameras that are truly compact, produce DSLR image quality and accept interchangeable lenses: the mirrorless cameras. Introduced just four years ago, the mirrorless cameras (with few exceptions) feature DSLR sensors in very compact bodies. Sigma was the first to put a DSLR sensor into a truly compact body with its DP1 in 2008. That camera, like its successors, has a built-in fixed-focal-length lens. Later in 2008, Panasonic introduced the Lumix DMC-G1, the first of the mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. Today, seven manufacturers produce such cameras, and they're the fastest-growing camera market segment—for good reason. Many photographers are finding these systems ideal for travel and shooting high-quality video footage, as well as general nature photography, because they let you lighten the load without compromising your image-making options. These aren't just small camera bodies; they're sophisticated, full-featured systems, and if you haven't considered one, you should.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Mirrorless cameras come in two basic styles—those that look like mini-DSLRs, and those that look like flat compact digital cameras. DSLR users will feel more at home with the former, while compact camera users may be more comfortable with the latter.

Pros And Cons
The obvious benefits of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are truly compact size coupled with DSLR image quality and the ability to take a variety of lenses. At a glance, a mirrorless body with a lens might be confused with a "point-and-shoot," all-in-one-style camera, but don't be fooled. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens systems are compact, but their large image sensors deliver much better image quality, and you can choose among a variety of lenses and other accessories.

We can't stress enough the advantages of compact size and weight to the outdoor photographer traveling or in the field. Anyone who has carted a big DSLR system onto an airliner or taken one afield understands this. A mirrorless system is a fraction of the size of an equivalent DSLR system. Generally, mirrorless bodies are point-and-shoot camera size. The Micro Four Thirds and smaller mirrorless systems also have much smaller lenses than comparable DSLR lenses. To cover the APS-C image format, APS-C mirrorless systems have larger lenses than the Micro Four Thirds systems, but they're still smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses—and, again, the camera bodies are much smaller.


Sony's NEX-7 features a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor and a built-in OLED electronic viewfinder along with a large LCD monitor. It's an example of the "flat" mirrorless-camera form factor.
The compact mirrorless bodies are made possible mainly by doing away with the bulk, complexity and cost of the DSLR's mirror box, moving mirror, focusing screen and pentaprism/pentamirror eye-level optical SLR viewfinder. Thus, the mirrorless models lack the DSLR's eye-level optical viewfinder. So you have to compose and (when desired) focus manually using the LCD monitor on the back of the camera (not a problem for those moving up from a compact digital camera, but a learning experience for the DSLR user). LCD monitors are hard to see in bright light and require the camera to be held away from you, which isn't the most steady way to handhold a camera, especially with longer focal lengths. Some mirrorless cameras have built-in electronic viewfinders, and with some others, an EVF is available as an optional accessory, which provides eye-level viewing more familiar to the DSLR user. EVFs aren't as good as SLR optical finders in dim light and for action shooting, but can display a lot of camera data and are convenient for eye-level viewing when shooting video. Some feel that the best of the current EVFs (such as Sony OLED EVFs) are better than the pentamirror optical finders built into entry-level DSLRs. Keep in mind that to use either the EVF or the external monitor, the camera must be switched on and "awake," while a DSLR's optical finder is always "on."

This brings us to the major drawback of mirrorless cameras for nature photography: battery life. Because they're always in Live View mode, they use up the battery more quickly than a DSLR. And to keep size down, most mirrorless cameras use smaller batteries than DSLRs, further reducing the number of shots you get per battery charge. Compact camera users moving up to a mirrorless model actually may be pleasantly surprised; most mirrorless models get more shots per charge than most compact all-in-one cameras. But DSLR users will have to get used to a lot fewer shots per charge than they have come to expect. With any camera, it's a good idea to carry a spare charged battery or two; it's especially important with mirrorless cameras.

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