What is a Mirrorless Camera? | Definition, Tips, and Examples

This is a guide covering mirrorless cameras.

After reading this guide, you will understand the following topics:

The rise of Mirrorless cameras was triggered by the trend of compact cameras around the mid 2000’s. Since then, most camera brands now have their own line of mirrorless cameras.

Its popularity is skyrocketing, and many are tempted to get their hands on one.

With that, today’s article will be about its meaning and why everyone is so interested in it. Let us start, shall we?

mirrorless camera

What is a Mirrorless Camera?

The mirrorless camera definition can be boiled down to “A camera with no mirror inside it”. To be precise, the cameras do not have the Reflex Mirror.

Without the reflex mirror, light can directly pass through the lens and onto the digital sensor. The screen then previews the image you are going to shoot.

The feature is quite handy for photographers that would like to avoid “chimping.” In short, chimping is when photographers repeatedly look at their camera over and over, and over.

Back in the days it was first introduced to the public, mirrorless cameras were not considered interchangeable lens cameras. But times have changed, there are numerous modifications and enhancements for this type of camera.

Thus, making it more customizable and appealing to the masses.

Piles of cameras

What is the Purpose of a Mirrorless Camera?

Well, there are a myriad of reasons behind the mirrorless camera meaning and why you should get one. The mirrorless camera itself brings various advantages that contrast the traditional DSLR camera.

People wanted a camera that was small, simpler, lighter, and quieter when operated.

While most of the mirrorless cameras still use a mechanical shutter, there are also lines that use an electronic shutter. This makes photography with it completely silent.

You can also say that it is a camera meant for people who are just starting out in photography but are willing to splurge a sum of money for simplicity’s sake.

Higher-end mirrorless cameras are gaining popularity and have been frequently used by people to document their travels and take street photography.

Its small and less intimidating body makes it easier for photographers to sneak a shot at an unsuspecting subject.

The quiet operation will also prevent the subject from being startled or feeling uncomfortable.

But how does this little photographing machine work?

mirrorless camera

How Does a Mirrorless Camera Work?

Well, unlike how you imagined it to be, it is quite straightforward actually.

While the DSLR uses a mirror to bounce light into the viewfinder and image sensor, the mirrorless camera just scraps the mirror idea and directly exposes the sensor to light.

This method generates a live preview of your scene or the object you are photographing on the electronic viewfinder.

Pressing the shutter button will trigger a door to slide over the image sensor. This door will eventually slide down and expose the sensor towards the light.

After opening, the door covers the sensor, effectively stopping the exposure and catching the picture.

Simple right? Who knew that a minor change would lead to such advantages in photography too!

What is the Difference Between a DSLR and Mirrorless Camera?

To put it simply, your standard DSLR camera has a mirror, while mirrorless (as the name suggests) does not. But that isn’t enough of an explanation, right?

Let us talk about their basic mechanical differences:

The DSLR stands for “Digital Single-Lens Reflex”. DSLR cameras are a camera body which allows light to enter through a single lens.

The light hits the mirror inside and gets reflected into the OVF (optical viewfinder). The mirror helps you preview the image by peeking through the viewfinder.

By pressing the shutter button, the mirror inside the camera will flip up. The shutter will open, allowing the lens to instantly hit the imaging sensor (the place where your photographs are created).

On the other hand, the mirrorless camera does not have this mirror mechanism. Mirrorless cameras lack an optical viewfinder, this makes their imaging sensor constantly exposed to light.

So how do you preview the image? Luckily, these cameras have an EVF at the LCD screen on the back of your camera.

Other notable differences between the two cameras are (but is not limited to):

1. Battery Life

Everything comes at a cost, so does the mirrorless cameras EVF.

Compared to the DSLR’s OVF system that does not consume energy, mirrorless cameras run out of battery faster.

This makes them less ideal for long shooting days.

camera battery

2. Image Quality

Mirrorless cameras and DSLR cameras are quite close in image quality given the optimal conditions.

But this is where you should consider all the various attachments for the DSLR cameras compared to mirrorless cameras.

camera preview

3. Camera Size

DSLR cameras are large and heavy, making them less suitable to carry around all day.

While mirrorless cameras are quite small and light, which is better for carrying around all day.

But… DSLR cameras and their attachments can give a boost to your photo qualities.

Considering their weight, it may be a wiser choice to bring a few of them or none at all when travelling.

camera and lenses
Photo by Markus Spiske

4. User Experience: Real-time Preview of Contrast and Exposure

Using its live view technology, mirrorless cameras allow you to preview settings right before you hit the shutter button.

DSLR users on the other hand, must take a photo and examine for further corrections.

Use the Image Stabilization feature

5. Autofocus

Mirrorless cameras use a technology called contrast detection for their autofocus system. This technology makes the camera unable to measure distances between the lens and subject with precision.

DSLR cameras use phase detection for its autofocus system, making it much better.

If you are in a low light situation with a mirrorless camera, the lens would move to a spot with better contrast.

The latest mirrorless cameras, however, are equipped with phase-detect autofocus systems that can exceed the performance of your DSLR cameras.

Seems quite intriguing right? But before you recommend a mirrorless camera to a friend just starting out, here are some things to consider.


DSLR Camera vs Mirrorless Camera for Beginners

To influence a new photographer, we must consider these options, so it fits them perfectly.

1. Size

One of the most brought up topics in the discussion, is size.

Mirrorless cameras are often idolized because of its absence of mirror and pentaprism that makes them so exceptionally light.

They are also generally portable and light, which is very appealing for new photographers.

Entry-level DSLR cameras also provide a condensed version of themselves, which are also small and light.

2. Price

Money will also hold you back from buying that fancy mirrorless camera you saw on YouTube.

While both entry level camera formats sit around $600, DSLR cameras can be much cheaper and provide you a decent level of photography at its price points.

Cutting corners and aiming for a used DSLR or Mirrorless might sound appealing. Their price has dropped a lot, and they seem like a particularly good offer.

But when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. An second hand unit might seem like a bargain, but pay attention to its condition, age, release date, model issue, etc.

An outdated camera will definitely not help you when comparing its performance and file size.

Purchasing cameras from reputable buyers and platforms should also be considered. I recommend you learn more about cameras before bidding or sealing a deal.

3. Autofocus

Cameras generally have one type of autofocus detection system. Every system has its own flaws and advantages, which is why better cameras use a hybrid version of the two. Putting it simply:

  • Contrast Detection : Better for shooting still subjects/objects.
  • Phase Detection : Better for shooting fast moving subjects.
  • Hybrid System : A great all around

I recommend getting cameras with either a hybrid system, or a phase detection system.

Mirrorless cameras are pretty decent as a gateway to enter the world of photography. They have their advantages, but they also have some concerning problems.

There are some things that some camera lines will not ever be able to fulfill, yet we must understand that there is no such perfect product in the market. For now.

Mirrorless vs DSLR
Photo by Frank Cone

How Can You Tell if a Camera is a Mirrorless Camera?

You can easily differentiate between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR by looking at its size, since DSLR cameras are much bulkier and heavier.

But we need to be more accurate and thorough when identifying, so here are a few more hints!

If you remove the lens on your camera, you will see its mirror. The mirror itself is in front of the sensor and should be the first thing you see.

You will then find a pentaprism on top of your camera.

In mirrorless cameras, both of those parts are replaced by a double duty sensor inside.

This sensor can both electronically display your images (also known as the EVF) and capture the image.

Do Mirrorless Cameras Take Better Pictures?

There is no one size fits all, each camera can take magnificent images given the right lens and exposure settings. Here is your daily dose of “the gear doesn’t matter, it’s all about the photographer.”

Both cameras can take high quality images with small amounts of noise. Traditionally, mirrorless cameras had lower quality, but times have changed and now they perform better.

Mirrorless cameras do not exactly take better pictures because of the myriad of attachments and settings that also determine the “make or break” of an image.

The EVF that a mirrorless camera provides may give the impression that you are taking better images, but it is nothing more than a tool.

Better pictures stem from knowledge, experience, and some gear.

But knowledge comes first! You should experience and learn the techniques and subtle stuff about photography too.

What are the Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera?

High-end mirrorless cameras are changing the game for photographers, like many high-end camera lines ever have.

Mirrorless cameras now have many benefits that are too good to be missed.

Compact Photographing Machine

Equipped with a smaller sensor, and no reflex mirror the mirrorless camera translates into a smaller camera. Its portability makes it increasingly attractive for photographers wanting to shoot on the road or on their travels.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

You might realize that your preview in the DSLR Camera is a little different from the finished image. That is because the OVF is a little skewed, due to its mechanism.

But on the EVF, you can directly adjust your settings easily because of its live view feature.

Image Stabilization

Reflex mirrors in the DSLR cameras made them prone to shaking. Without this mirror, mirrorless camera photography becomes less prone to shaking.

Making the image quality higher and appearing more professional.

Silent Photography

Quiet and discreet shots are the bread and butter of street, candid, and even nature photography.

Mirrorless cameras have fewer moving parts inside them, making them less noisy.

Snap Photos Faster

Enhanced focusing abilities, higher shutter speeds, and combined with the live view. Mirrorless camera photography allows photographers to snap even faster than usual.

But the land of mirrorless photography is not all sunshine and rainbows. This small piece of technology comes with some concerning disadvantages in certain areas.

What are the advantages of a mirrorless camera

What are the Disadvantages of a Mirrorless Camera?

The mirrorless camera definition lies in its mechanics. Without the mirror, the camera brings more features to the table that were inaccessible for DSLR cameras.

Yet, because of that same feature, it led itself towards some problems:

Shorter Battery Life

The biggest issue with this technology is the short battery life. The constant use of EVF/LCD screen while shooting will definitely drain your battery faster.

Adding to the problem is its small size, which uses a smaller battery.

Limited Lens

With mirrorless camera photography just starting out, these cameras have a much more limited selection of lenses that are interchangeable.

This is different from the DSLR that have many options from various brands. If I am not mistaken, Olympus has the most selections of lens that you can choose from.

Steep Price Tag

With its smaller size, you could assume that it would be cheaper than its DSLR counterpart. Unfortunately, they go for about the same price. But there are always budget mirrorless cameras that do just as well.

It does not directly correlate with affordability. Meaning that if you have a low budget starting as a photographer, it is more cost effective to go for a DSLR camera.

While the prices are similar, entry-level DSLR cameras usually have more features and superior specs (compared to entry-level mirrorless cameras).

Breaking the bank does not sound appealing. It itself has been the main reason for new photographers taking two steps back and thinking it through thoroughly.

Final Remarks

Mirrorless camera meaning is essentially a simple, lightweight camera with no reflex mirror and pentaprism that gives you access to live view.

It may not guarantee good shots, but the live view accurately displays your finished image. Buying a mirrorless camera does not mean you are lazy at photography, every camera has its own pros and cons.

Just keep studying and experimenting, you will definitely get better in no time.

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