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
Leica SL APO-Summicron 90mm F/2Weatherproof
Leica L Mount Prime Lens
Leica SL APO-Summicron 75mm F/2Weatherproof
Leica L Mount Prime Lens
Nikkor AF-S 180-400mm F/4E TC1.4 FL ED VRStabilization & Weatherproof
Nikon F Mount Zoom
Samyang AF 14mm F/2.8 EFWeatherproof
Canon EF Mount Prime Lens
Sony E 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 OSSStabilization
Sony E Mount Zoom
Panasonic Lumix GH5s10 Megapixels Mirrorless
Micro Four-Thirds Lens Mount
Weatherproof down to -10C
Nikon D850 Review
Nikon Full-Frame flagship DSLR. 46 Megapixels, ISO 32-102400, 7+ FPS 153-Point AF system and 4K Ultra-HD Video. Professional weatherproof DSLR with dual control-dials and a extra-large 0.75X magnification OVF with 100% coverage and a built-in shutter. Illuminated controls, 3.2" LCD, WiFi and Bluetooth.
Lens Features for B&W Street Photography
Important lens features for B&W street photographers.
Key Tips On How To Take Amazing Model Shots For Publication
Essential tips for starting portrait photographers to make professional model shots.
Nikon D7500 Review
In-depth review of the Nikon D7500 professional-grade APS-C DSLR with ISO 50-1638400 range, 8 FPS and 4K Ultra-HD video. Dual control-dials in a weatherproof body. Large 0.94X magnification OVF with Eye-Start Sensor. WiFi and Bluetooth.
Think Tank Photo Spectral 10 Review
Review of the Think Thank Photo Spectral 10 photography shoulder bag.
Fujifilm X-T20 Review
Highly compact mirrorless built around a 24 MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor and X-Processor Pro capable of 14 FPS drive and 4K Ultlra-HD video. Features dual control-dials and a 2.4 MP 0.39" EVF with 0.62X magnification and an Eye-Start Sensor.
Digital Camera Viewfinder Comparison
Global comparison of viewfinders from all digital cameras. Optical viewfinders (OVF) and electronic viewfinders (EVF) all in one easy to compare table.
Best Digital Cameras of 2017
The Best Cameras of 2017 awarded by Neocamera: Best Travel-Zoom, Best Premium Compact, Best Ultra-Zoom, Best Mirrorless (Beginner, Advanced and Professional) and Best DSLR (Entry, Enthusiast and Professional), now including budget choices.
MindShift Photocross 13 Review
Review of the Mindshift Photocross 13 Sling Bag.
Fujifilm X-E3 Review
Unique Fujifilm rangefinder-styled mirrorless. 24 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor with built-in 325-Point Hybrid AF system and X-Processor Pro. 14 FPS Drive with Electronic-Shutter or 8 FPS with Mechanical Shutter. 4K Ultra-HD Video at 30 FPS. Highly compact body with a builtin 2.4 MP 0.39" LCD with Eye-Start Sensor, 0.62X magnification and 100% coverage and 3" Touchscreen 1 MP LCD plus dual control-dials.