Why Mirrorless?

I ditched the mirror for a mirrorless camera system two years ago. Gone was all of my Canon gear and I bought into the Panasonic G system.  I liked the video capabilities of the Panasonic but now it not just the video anymore that makes it better.  Predictions were that Micro Four Thirds and mirrorless cameras would never really catch on.  The latest predictions come from the USAToday and Dan Carr at the ProPhoto Coalition.

The article Mirrorless camera sales don’t reflect potential in the USAToday talks about declining mirrorless sales.  The article says that the mirrorless cameras are not living up to potential, “In 2008, a fresh kind of camera was set to rock the world of photography, ushering in “a new era of digital imaging,” as one news release put it.”  They say that in Asia, sales have been good for compact system cameras but in the USA and Europe this has not been the case.

The article, Micro Four Thirds & Mirrorless- Here To Stay or Gone Tomorrow ? by By Dan Carr, also comes to the wrong conclusion.  He writes, “I don’t expect we’ll see M4/3 disappear within the next two years but it’s certainly going to be a telling time.  If sales numbers continue to decline as they have done then I think we’ll see manufacturers shift their focus back to DSLR.”  He calls them “an elongated fad”.  Though he does mention that some prominent pro photographers have switched systems like I have.  Prices are coming down on DLRS because of the competition.  But why is he so gloomy?

GX7 on purple

This is new concept in cameras and it has an up hill battle.  We are living in the 21st Century but the camera design most prominent is from the 20th Century.  Compact System Cameras are a new concept that has to be sold to consumers.  Who are the major players in the DSLR market – Canon and Nikon. Look at their compact system cameras. They are rather silly.  Canon tried with the Canon EOS-M. It is a half baked attempt at capturing sales because others have done these cameras.  A more strange beastie is the Nikon 1 series.  These Nikon cameras don’t have the advantage of the larger sensors of Micro Four-Thirds, Fuji X, Sony NEX and other mirrorless cameras.  The public wants a smaller, lighter camera, but with DSLR quality.  Nikon did not want to cannibalize their DSLR sales so they made a sensor that in my opinion is too small.


At the store (Best Buy, Wall Mart, Costco), what do you see in the high end camera cabinet?  What you will find are DSLR’s, mainly from Canon & Nikon and sometimes Sony, but not their compact system cameras.  Look for Panasonic and Olympus (who are the biggest promoters of this 21st Century way of shooting). They are not featured well at all.  These mirrorless cameras are with the point n shoots.  Who is winning here?  The ones with the prime showroom space.

In the article Carr mentions that there are now full frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony RX1 and Leica M series.  That they are small and lightweight.  Both of these are out of the pocketbook of most photographers.  Sony has rumored that they are working on a full frame 35mm E-Mount camera (the mount supports it).  Carr seems to think full frame 35mm is the end all and nothing else will do.

Before full frame 35mm, there was 4×5 cameras.  35mm was small compared to that format and the quality was good but not as good as the larger negative.  Pros did switch when the film quality advanced and the cameras were better made.  Today the “film” got better (better sensors).  The full frame 35mm sensor is no longer hard to manufacture so the crop sensor is not needed to sell cameras.  But the 35mm crop sensor cameras and micro 4/3rd’s are now considerably better because of better technology.  This is better than what most people need.  Incredible advances in sensor technology have been made.  These new sensors perform much better.  I use a smaller sensor because I choose too.

But with the smaller sensor you don’t get that creamy lack of depth of field, I hear you cry.  Sometimes you don’t want that small of depth of field.  It is definitely harder to focus.  On some of these F1.2 lenses it is hard to get both the nose, eyes and ears in focus on full frame 35mm.  35mm motion pictures are shot with a sensor size that is similar to cropped sensors and it’s depth of field.  Full frame is the size of Vistavision.  In the last 100 years I have not heard of any motion picture directors of photography complain about the depth of field in their 35mm cameras.  To get shallower depth of field in the movies, the photographer used wider apertures to get the look.  To get nice depth of field with these smaller sensors, use fast aperture lenses.

When 35mm started getting adopted, Leica and Nikon proved you could make a very high quality small camera.  In the digital age, Panasonic and Olympus are doing the same thing, but they need help from retailers as well.  They have been able to remove the mirror and make a more advanced camera because of advanced technology.  The 35mm optical viewfinder is 20th century technology.  When you shoot with a digital motion picture camera, there is no mirror except one, the Arri Alexa Studio.  Video is the other advantage of no mirror in still cameras and almost most of the new cameras shoot video.

Panasonic Lumix 12-35

Carr says, “Good lenses have the potential to last a whole career”.  Not my lenses!  I started with film.  The big SLR was always a compromise in design.  The camera was tied to a mount.  Exposure or white balance are not viewed in the viewfinder.  The size of viewfinder, the type of ground glass and pentaprism affected how you saw your subject.  Cameras with phase detect auto focus can have front and back focus issues.  Wide angle lenses had to be re-engineered to take in account for the mirror.  The camera mirror had to be locked up to reduce vibration.  The lens focus field had to be adjusted to take in account for the curvature of film.  Lenses need to be reworked for digital flat sensors.  To see depth of field preview, the lens had to be stopped down.  Lenses are bigger, heavier and more expensive with full frame SLR’s.  The most expensive cameras show close to 100 percent of what you see.  Most DSLR’s have a tunnel viewfinder with a little image.

Why compromise when building a camera?  My Lumix G X 12-35 f2.8 lens has the same angle of view as a 24-70mm.  That SLR lens is much bigger, heavier and more expensive.  My lens is smaller and lighter with the same light gathering capability and the depth of field of a 35mm monition picture camera.  In the Lumix lens there is a bonus of quiet optical image stabilization.  Cost is also an advantage.   Micro 4/3rd’s cameras can be adapted to almost any lens available because they a shorter back focus, so there are a lot of adapters available.  All of these advantages are available because of the smaller sensor size.

Other advantages include, no mirror vibrations to worry about.   You see 100 percent of the what the camera sees with the exposure and white balance in the viewfinder.  Image stabilization can be in the body for all lenses mounted on the camera.  There are less moving and non moving parts that cost less.  I love the quieter shooting that I get with the Panasonic GH3‘s Silent Mode.

Do you want to use 20th century technology or do you want to be using 21st century technology?  I believe that in the distant future all cameras will be mirrorless (expect for film cameras).  The advantages are much greater.

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5 Responses to Why Mirrorless?

  1. Geoff August 13, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Nice article, but I would expect much better grammar and spelling from a reputable web site like this.

  2. Bob August 13, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    Interesting that you mention “mirror vibrations” on DSLR’s but you don’t mention “shutter shock” on MFT’s.

    A very real phenomenon for those that have experienced it. Maybe you don’t see it through your rose tinted spectacles? Panasonic certainly seem to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    • jpeak August 13, 2013 at 9:03 am #

      The “electronic shutter” mode on the GH3 and GX7 eliminates the use of the mechanical shutter.

    • Richard Wagner August 16, 2013 at 12:38 am #

      DSLR’s have shutter shock as well, the point is that there’s less total vibration from a mirrorless than a DSLR. Secondly, you can use the electronic shutter in some mirrorless cameras than eliminate the shake of both units.


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