Mirrorless Camera Guide 2018
Mirrorless digital cameras are usually mid-size cameras supporting interchangeable lenses. They are system cameras and each model gives access to a set of compatible lenses. In this guide to mirrorless cameras, you will learn what these cameras are good for, plus how mirrorless systems presently compare. There are much more differences between mirrorless systems than DSLR systems, so it is critical to consider both the camera and system before buying.
A mirrorless camera is an interchangeable lens camera without a reflex mirror, the same way that a car is a horseless carriage. Until the appearance of mirrorless cameras, digital cameras with interchangeable lenses were all DSLRs which are defined by having a single lens and a reflex mirror to reflect light towards an optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras still have a single lens but no optical viewfinder. The original term, SLD which stands for Single Lens Digital, was easy to confuse and therefore the more descriptive mirrorless name was broadly adopted.
While compact cameras were always appreciated for their size, the same could not be said about their image quality. Meanwhile, DSLRs that consistently deliver excellent image quality are frequently abandoned because of their bulk. Mirrorless cameras were invented to produce high quality images from a compact camera.
Mirrorless Image Quality
The high image quality traditionally attributed to DSLRS stems from the size of their imaging-sensors. All else being equal, a larger sensor will always deliver better image quality since it gathers more light than a smaller one. Mirrorless cameras now use very similar sensors to DSLRs with many sporting APS-C and Full-Frame sensors, just like a DSLR. There are some smaller Four-Thirds and 1" sensors too and even larger Medium Format sensors.
The diagram shown on the right displays sensor sizes used in current mirrorless cameras. All rectangles are to scale and even coincide with actual sizes on most computer displays. There are actually two very similar variants of APS-C with the one used by Canon being fractionally smaller.
There are now several full-frame mirrorless digital cameras with resolutions ranging from 12 to 42 MP. Most are relatively compact, while some are just as large as a high-end DSLR. All these produce image-quality comparable to modern full-frame DSLRs.
Mirrorless Camera Size
The size of mirrorless cameras varies equally widely. Despite being called relatively compact and many having official measurements similar to compact cameras, mirrorless cameras take on bulk once a lens is mounted. When ready to shoot, most mirrorless cameras are the size of a typical ultra-zoom, only with higher image-quality and a shorter zoom range.
A camera's sensor-size influences its operational-size because larger sensors require larger lenses. As image quality gets closer to that of a DSLR, so does the total size of the camera and lens. However, there is no simple relation between image-quality and total-size. Slightly wide to medium focal-length lenses give the most size advantage to mirrorless digital cameras, while telephoto lenses often even the gap.
Mirrorless vs DSLR
Mirrorless cameras are evolving faster than any other type of digital cameras. Being the youngest type of digital camera increases chances for smaller companies to take the lead, so more manufacturers are trying. The speed of this evolution plus tremendous variations among mirrorless cameras means that there are also plenty of misconceptions.
Top 10 Mirrorless Camera Facts
- Image quality from the best mirrorless cameras is comparable to that of a DSLR using a sensor of the same size. The latest Micro Four-Thirds cameras even produce output which is very close for common print sizes until moderately high ISOs when compared with typical APS-C DSLRs.
- A lens influences the image quality of a mirrorless camera just as it does for a DSLR. To get the best out of a mirrorless, a sufficiently sharp lens must be used. Typical kit zoom lenses sold along with cameras are generally built for compactness and low-cost rather than quality.
- In good light, mirrorless cameras are capable of focusing as quickly as mid-range DSLRs. Autofocus performance drops in low-light, as it does for a DSLR. The Contrast-Detect AF used by most mirrorless cameras is as accurate and sensitive as possible. In fact, mirrorless digital cameras cannot front-focus or back-focus since AF is measured directly on-sensor.
- Shooting speed of mirrorless cameras exceeds that of the fastest DSLRs. Continuous shooting up to 60 FPS or 18 FPS with continuous autofocus are available at full-resolution and so are fast shutter-speeds exceeding 1/8000s, which no DSLR can do.
- Mirrorless cameras are quieter than DSLRs because they do not have a reflex mirror to move between shots. Some use an electronic shutter which makes them nearly silent. This is really advantageous for shooting in quiet environments.
- The preview on a mirrorless camera is electronic, just like a fixed-lens digital camera or Live-View on a DSLR. The preview varies considerably in terms of sharpness and accuracy between models. The best offer a sharp Exposure-Priority display and EVF. When resolution is too low, it is hard to confirm focus. When the update rate is slow, following action is difficult.
- Mirrorless cameras are power-hungry because their sensor must constantly feed the digital preview. Plus, mirrorless cameras are often fitted with smaller batteries. As a result, their average battery-life is 350 shots-per-charge, compared to 1036 for DSLRs.*Based on current models as of November 2017.
- Mirrorless cameras are strong in terms of video features. It is possible to shoot video with the camera at eye-level and continuously autofocus while recording, either by on-sensor Phase-Detection or highly optimized Contrast-Detect processors and lenses.
- Plenty of mirrorless cameras are now aimed at professional photographers. Those provide high-end features and controls, including dual or even triple control-dials. A number are now weatherproof and freezeproof and there is a reasonable number of compatible weatherproof lenses. At the extreme end of the spectrum though, there is a waterproof mirrorless while no such DSLR exists.
- Lenses mount closer to the sensor on mostExcept for Sony SLT and Pentax K mirrorless models. mirrorless cameras compared to DSLRs. This makes them more adaptable to use legacy lenses, although features such as autofocus are often lost.
SLT - Mirrorless with Pellicle Mirror
Sony makes cameras the size and shape of DSLRs which use the same sensors and lenses. They call these SLT cameras for Single Lens Translucent. They use a semi-transparent mirror to reflect around 30% of light to focus and metering sensors. Contrarily to an SLR, an SLT has an EVF. This viewfinder can preview exposure, color, white-balance and focus, up to its maximum resolution.
All current mirrorless models provide a number of advanced features, although their accessibility greatly differs. Particularly, all of them include: full manual-controls, manual focusing, custom white-balance, continuous drive and full 1080p HD video capture. Most models also sport a hot-shoe. They all offer a wide range of shutter-speeds, at least matching those of entry-level DSLRs, but most often exceeding them.
The high-speed CMOS sensor and continuous Live-View allows mirrorless cameras to provide features usually unavailable to DSLRs. This includes sweeping panorama capture and shooting of images in multiple aspect-ratios which only a handful of DSLRs can do.
Manual focusing has traditionally been difficult with anything other than an optical reflex viewfinder. However, the majority of mirrorless cameras offer a Manual Focus Assist function which magnifies part of the image to make manual focusing easier. A few add something called Focus-Peaking which highlights edges of in-focus areas, something which is impossible to do with an OVF.
As with all interchangeable lens cameras, the aperture range and minimum focus distance of mirrorless ones is determined by the lens being used. Most lenses support screw-on filters to modify incoming light.
Flash, either built-in or add-on, is limited by a sync-speed just like it is on DSLRs because all-but-one mirrorless cameras use a focal-plane shutter and electronic shutters are still relatively slow. Expect sync-speeds between 1/60 and 1/250s.
Mirrorless cameras have taken video capabilities to the next level. Some can capture Ultra-HD 4K video and record it directly to a memory-card. The leading models can provide clean 4K or 1080p HD output, including embedded timecode. Ultra-high-speed and slow-motion video recording is also quite common with frame-rates from 2 to 1200 FPS.
Proceed to Step 2 to learn about Mirrorless Camera Systems from each manufacturer. There we compare what each brand has to offer considering cameras and lenses as a system.
New Cameras & Lenses
Venus Laowa 65mm F/2.8 2X MacroCanon M Mount Prime Lens
Venus Laowa 65mm F/2.8 2X MacroSony E Mount Prime Lens
Venus Laowa 65mm F/2.8 2X MacroFujifilm X Mount Prime Lens
Fujifilm Fujinon XC 35mm F/2Fujifilm X Mount Prime Lens
Fujifilm Fujinon GF 45-100mm F/4R LM OIS WRStabilization & Weatherproof
Fujifilm G Mount Zoom
Fujifilm X-T20024 Megapixels Mirrorless
Fujifilm X Lens Mount
Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 Review
This highly capable and compact mirrorless ranked as Best Beginner Mirrorless Digital Camera of 2019. Its 20 MP Four-Thirds CMOS sensor with Anti-Alias Filter is pared with 5-axis stabilization to maximize sharpness. Features a tilting 2.8 MP 0.39" EVF with large 0.7X view and Eye-Start sensor in a body with dual control-dials.
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Sony Alpha A7R IV In-Depth Review
The newest Sony high-resolution mirrorless packs a 61 MP Full-Frame BSI-CMOS sensor on 5-axis Sensor-Shift system. It shoots at 10 FPS, records 4K Ultra-HD video and focuses with a new 567-Point and 425-Area Hybrid AF system with Realtime tracking. This professional-grade camera features a 5.8 MP 0.5" EVF with 0.78X magnification, 100% coverage and an Eye-Start Sensor plus triple control-dials in a weatherproof body. This review shows exactly how the A7R IV performs and compares to top Full-Frame and Medium-Format digital cameras.
Olympus OM-D E-M1X Review
Professional Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless sporting an ultra-high speed 20 MP sensor with 121-Point Phase-Detect AF on a 5-axis image-stabilization system effective to 7-stops. 60 FPS drive with blackout free view on a huge 0.83X magnification 2.4 MP 0.5" EVF. Even a builtin GPS in a dual-grip double dual-control-dial IPX1-rated weatherproof and freezeproof body.
Nikon D3500 Review
The lightest DSLR packs a 24 MP APS-C sensor with ISO 100-25600 sensitivity-range, 5 FPS drive and Full HD video capture. Basic features with simple ergonomics.
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Fujifilm X-T30 Review
The newest 26 MP 4th-Generation X-Trans CMOS sensor and X-Process 4 from the flagship X-T3 in more compact body. ISO 80-51200, 1/32000-30s, 20 FPS Continuous drive, Cinema 4K video. Dual control-dials and 2.4 MP EVF with Eye-Start Sensor.
Nikon Z6 Review
Nikon Full-Frame Mirrorless with 24 MP and 5-Axis Built-In Image-Stabilization effective to 5-Stops. ISO 100-202400. 12 FPS Continuous Drive. 3.7 MP 0.5" EVF with 0.8X Magnification and 100% Coverage. 4K Ultra-HD video.
Fujifilm GFX 50R Review
Medium Format Mirrorless Digital Camera based on 50 MP 0.8X-Crop CMOS sensor without Anti-Alias Filter. ISO 50-102400, 1/16000s-60m Shutter-Speeds, 3 FPS and Full 1080p HD video at 30 FPS. Large 0.5" EVF with 3.7 MP, 100% coverage, 0.77X magnification and an Eye-Start Sensor. Dual control-dials in a weatherproof and freezeproof body.