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.




    Maybe “Single Lens Interchangeable Mirrorless” or SLIM. This would put an emphasis on it’s smaller size, although it does sound diet. Speaking of names, has digital become dominant enough that we can actually stop using the word? If an SLR uses film, maybe we should call it an “FSLR”, and assume “SLR” is digital.

    I think that any label should describe the way a camera functions, regardless of what the initials will spell. DSLR does not spell any word but it describes that kind of camera quite well. With “mirrorless” technology the word “mirrorless” only says something about that which is NOT present. What is present is a direct access of the light (in essence the image) coming through the lens to the sensor and the LED screen. Thus I would recommend a term such as “Image Direct Sensor Access” cameras, or IDSA. If one wants to include the interchangeable lens aspect, then ILIDSA camera would do.

    Why not call it an DLV Camera? DLV for digital live view. This name emphasizes the strong point of the mirrorless camera. DSLRs (with mirrors) must give homage to the “mirrorless” to provide a live view, but do it poorly. How about LAD, for Live Action Digital camera? If the camera has interchangeable lenses, it can be called an ILAD.

    (Note: I also tweeted this suggestion awhile ago) How about DDi, for “Direct Digital imaging” cameras, as that seems to succinctly describe the camera system – and it’s kinda catchy, no? The lower case “i” is just graphic license, not re “i-Things”.

    Or I suppose just DI or Di would work, since the D for Digital is pretty much assumed these days.

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