What is a Mirrorless DSLR anyway?
As many of our Career Training graduates can attest, if there is one thing that RMSP Founder and Owner Neil Chaput de Saintonge loves to do, it’s talk about photo equipment. He has been helping rookies and pros alike for well over 20 years with their equipment questions. So today’s post should come as no surprise.
I recently sat down with Neil to get the scoop on an emerging trend in photography, and something he even refers to as nothing less than “revolutionary.” I’m talking about mirrorless DSLRs. While the name pretty much gives it away as to why these cameras are so unique, Neil does a good job of painting the broad-brush picture of these new cameras. At the end of the interview, be sure to download Neil’s helpful comparison chart of all mirrorless cameras available today.
AK: Neil, in a nutshell, can you describe for our readers what a “mirrorless DSLR” is?
NC: Mirrorless DSLRs are essentially traditional digital SLRs, but without the mirror and mirror housing. By removing these components from inside the camera, manufacturers have made cameras that are lighter and smaller. This is a big plus for many consumers.
AK: You have described these cameras as somewhat revolutionary in the world of photography. What makes you say this? Is it just your opinion, or is it looking like there is a new norm in the industry?
NC: Mirrorless DSLRs are revolutionary in terms of their size and weight. Because they are so light and compact, they are ideal cameras for many users. They are perfect for people who travel a lot with their camera. They don’t take up much room in a bag, yet are capable of producing terrific results. For not much more money than a point and shoot (in some cases), buyers can get a full blown DSLR with lenses, and it will be smaller and lighter and fully capable of capturing great images. For most professional shooters however, these cameras aren’t going to replace their DSLRs.
As an interesting side note, mirrorless cameras have caught on big time in Europe and Asia, where they account for up to 50% of the camera market. Compare that to the U.S. market, where they represent less than 10%.
AK: Every camera out there has strengths and weaknesses. What are the strengths of mirrorless cameras?
NC: Their smaller size and lighter weight is their biggest strength. I’d also say the weight and size of the lenses, the 12-16 MP sensors most models have, and the overall price of most models are also strengths. Plus every model currently on the market shoots HD video.
AK: What kind of price range are we talking about here?
NC: It varies by brand, but roughly speaking, they start at about $450 on the low end and go up to about $1300 – $1400 including a normal zoom lens. They are more expensive than most point-and-shoots, but keep in mind you get so much more camera for the price.
AK: What are their weaknesses?
NC: Some mirrorless models have viewfinders, but not all. For many photographers that are used to holding their camera up to their eye to look through a viewfinder, looking at pixels on the back of the screen might take some getting used to. Mirrorless cameras are also not good for shooting sports or action. The pixels just can’t keep up. Another point that could be a weakness to some users is that none of the mirrorless cameras on the market have a full frame sensor. They all have a micro 4/3, APS-C or something even smaller. Here is a chart that illustrates sensor size across the spectrum, from point and shoot to full frame DSLRs.
AK: Do these cameras operate in a similar way to traditional SLRs? Do they usually have a hot shoe for a flash? What capture modes are available? (RAW, jpg, etc)
NC: Yes. They all behave exactly the same as other DSLRs with regard to f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO. They all shoot HD video and all offer RAW capture as well. Most models offer a hot shoe, which is important for adding an external flash and very important for studio shooting.
AK: Which companies are ahead of the curve in the mirrorless trend?
NC: I’d have to say Sony and Panasonic. I think these two brands have done the most to make their cameras great, but Sony only has a few lenses where Panasonic has a very large selection. Most of us are still waiting to see what Canon will come out with.
AK: Are these cameras good for use in RMSP’s Career Training or Workshops programs?
NC: Absolutely. The fundamentals of photography are still the same. F-stops, shutter speeds, and basic operations are the same as a DSLR. An exception would be in our Professional Studies courses, where a hot shoe is required for shooting in the studio.
BONUS: Neil has compiled an invaluable, easy-to-read chart which compares 15 different models of camera by a number of features such as sensor size, cost, video capabilities, weight, etc. to download this useful tool, click here: mirrorless cameras
All information was obtained from the B&H website. Prices were current as of November 2011.