The Practicing Photographer: Is a mirrorless camera in your future?

Published by | Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Digital SLRs are versatile and deliver great image quality, but are big and heavy. Point-and-shoot cameras are compact, but their image quality and versatility are often lacking.

Welcome to an episode of “Goldilocks Buys a Camera”—isn’t there an option that’s just right?

For a growing number of photographers, the answer is a mirrorless camera. This up-and-coming category sits between point-and-shoots and digital SLRs, and Ben Long talks about it in this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer.

pract photog week 10 mirrorless screen shot

The phrase “mirrorless camera” is a little misleading—after all, smart phones and point-and-shoots lack mirrors, too. But it’s an increasingly common way to describe the class of camera that occupies that middle ground between big DSLRs and compact point-and-shoots. Many mirrorless cameras, including those that use the Micro Four-Thirds format, accept interchangeable lenses—just like DSLRs. But lenses for mirrorless cams are lighter and more compact than their DSLR counterparts.

For traveling photographers, mirrorless cameras have advantages beyond their light weight and small size. For starters, they don’t look as valuable. Many mirrorless cams look like old-style rangefinder cameras, and they just don’t scream “steal me!” the way a DSLR does. Plus, their small size makes mirrorless cams less obtrusive and less intimidating to potential subjects. That’s great for stealthy candid photography and street portraiture.

I have to admit that I’m feeling the pull of the mirrorless camp. I love my DSLR, but there are many times when I wish I were carrying something lighter and more compact—but better than my iPhone.

What about you? Leave a comment below and let us know if you’re contemplating the mirrorless plunge. And if you already have, please let us know how you use it—and whether it has replaced your DSLR.

Learn more:
• The Practicing Photographer series at lynda.com
• Ben Long’s courses at lynda.com
• All Photography courses at lynda.com

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11 Responses to “The Practicing Photographer: Is a mirrorless camera in your future?”

  1. Shannon says:

    My husband bought me my Sony NEX C3 two years ago for Christmas. I love that I can change out the lenses and its very versatile. I never owned a DSLR and I love my mirrorless. I am an amateur photographer and my mirrorless camera does everything the a DSLR does, its just in a smaller body.

  2. victor says:

    One of the advantages is in candid photography, as the article states. I suppose that without a mirror, you can shoot silently without people realizing you’re taking pictures of them. I’m seriously thinking about by¡uying one.

    One thing that stops me from doing it is that their price in many cases is higher than entry level dslr’s.

  3. Jan says:

    I’m happy with my Fuji XE-1. Always wanted a small camera beside my DSLR’s to carry with me almost every day but was always disappointed with the IQ compared to my DSLR’s. With the Fuji i was finally satisfied. Especially with the IQ at higher ISO ranges. And the good fast lenses like the 35 mm f 1.4. Only negative for me is that the AF-speed is not that fast as my DSLR’s.

    Grtz,

    Jan

  4. Steve says:

    Price is an issue, not for the camera body but for the lenses. Many of my E Mount lenses are more expensive than others and the used market is not mature enough to provide much. However, my wife would never carry a standard DSLR and will carry my NEX. I can also fit it into a coat pocket but during summer I need the full camera bag.

    I would love to have a shorter fast lens. My 50 mm works great but is difficult in tight areas.

  5. Mark says:

    On a recent five-week trip to Greece, I passed on lugging around my full DSLR kit and travelled instead with an Olympus E-P2 with an electronic viewfinder and two lenses (kit zoom and a 2.8 17mm). I rarely missed the DSLR and was able to get some great shots, even in low light.

  6. Mark says:

    Nice to see you covering Mirrorless (in particular) Micro Four Thirds camera. A lot of folks don’t understand that this is the only vendor independent system with Panasonic, Olympus, Black Magic, Kodak all making bodies and a variety of companies making lenses. Weight and size of lenses is another major advantage.

  7. Davidia says:

    Love my Olympus OMD-EM5 voted best camera by DP Review in 2012. It beat out the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 / D800E. See: http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/01/01/best-camera-of-2012-results. The Oly OMD-EM5 has a ton of features and takes fantastic photos. Image stabilization is built-in and size is so convenient. Wouldn’t trade it for a Nikon or Canon.

  8. The only thing that stops me from buying a mirrorless is that I have no idea what one to buy!!!!

  9. Jan says:

    The idea of a smaller camera is great but honestly, if you are a pro what’s the use if you ad let’s say a heavy 70-200mm 2.8 zoom onto it? It’s good as a secondary camera and for snapshots with a 50mm.

  10. Stay tuned for our upcoming course, “Up and Running with Micro Four Thirds Cameras” — which should hopefully answer lots of questions!

  11. Ed says:

    I absolutely love my Micro 4/3 camera. I got one used off of ebay and on an enjoyment/price ratio it’s been a great deal. Something that nobody has touched on here is that they give new life to old lenses. You can get adapters that let you mount old glass. I love the look you get from some of these old lenses. There are two drawbacks, they have a 2x crop factor and of course old manual lenses don’t have auto focus. If you can live with those limitations you’ll find you can create some very compelling images.

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