A Better Name Than “Mirrorless”

Sony Alpha NEX 7 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

Sony Alpha NEX 7 Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens CameraSony Alpha NEX 7

For the November,2013 issue of Outdoor Photographer, my In This Issue column had a little bit of a rant about the naming of photo gear. This post is a slightly edited version of what I wrote:

I wish the photo industry did a better job of naming things. The SLR was great…it’s catchy and it’s descriptive. But other than SLR, and of course, DSLR, I’m hard-pressed to think of a any particularly good names for any photographic technology. Film? It’s something that you brush off your teeth in the morning. Medium format? How about just saying sort of ok and in the middle? Shutter speed? Not as cool as “speedometer” is it? Ok, f/stop isn’t bad and Kodachrome has a nice ring to it, thanks to George Eastman’s fondness for the letter “K”, but neither is both catchy and descriptive.

Which brings me to this issue of OP with our article on the mirrorless revolution. Mirrorless cameras represent some of the best photographic tools in the market today. Manufacturers have pushed development of AF systems to make them competitive with DSLRs and many of them feature large, high-resolution image sensors. Traditional camera manufacturers and consumer electronics companies are both pushing the bounds and making these systems into compact, high-performance powerhouses. But they have a critical flaw. No one can settle on a good name.

The moniker I’m using here, mirrorless, is terrible because it defines a class of advanced technology by what it isn’t rather than what it is. How about Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens, or EVIL? Sure it’s descriptive but catchy? And it’s not a great idea to market a product that people can confuse with, well, evil. Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras, or MILCs? If they have a built in vibration alarms like smart phones, we can start calling them MILC-SHAKES.

If you think I’m crazy or wrong, which according to my email inbox many of you regularly do, I’ll give you a counter example. What’s the best selling class of car in the US? I’ll give you a hint…it’s not the Four Wheel Driveless, Increased Clearance Station Wagon. It’s the SUV—the Sport Utility Vehicle. The reason I’m ranting about this at such length is because when it comes to mirrorless cameras the naming issue really frustrates me. A lot! Take a look at  The New Wave Of Mirrorless article and you can see why I love the whole concept of mirrorless cameras with large image sensors. Their combination of excellent image quality, compact size and shape, and high-quality optics are a perfect combination of photographic technology. And the models with retro-styling and easily-accessible control knobs are particularly appealing to those of us who prefer not to hunt through menus for essential controls and settings.

In Romeo And Juliet, Juliet famously says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course she’s right, it would smell as sweet, but, of course, she could come to learn that while a rose would smell as sweet, she and her beloved could not outrun the cruel hands of fate that shackled the star-crossed lovers to their families’ long and violent feud. In the US, market data shows that mirrorless have been slow to catch on. Maybe if we can come up with a better name than “mirrorless” that will change.

Do you have a better name than “mirrorless”? Send me a Tweet @OPRobinson.