What is a mirrorless camera?

Take professional-looking pictures with a camera that’s half the size. Here’s what you get with mirrorless…

30 Apr 2019

If you’re on the lookout for a new top-quality camera, it’s likely you’ve heard heaps of hullabaloo over which you should go for: DSLR or Mirrorless.

They’re both interchangeable lens cameras, which means you can change the type of shot you want by sticking a different lens on the front – whether that be macro, wide angle, zoom or others.

You’ve probably heard of the DSLR camera before – it’s an iconic bit of kit that has opened up a world of possibilities for photographers, pro and beginner. But recently, Mirrorless is giving it a run for its money, and for good reason.

Before going into why you’d want a mirrorless camera, let’s quickly run through the basics so we’re all up to speed.


What’s the difference between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras?

The main difference with a mirrorless camera is, perhaps quite obviously, the lack of a mirror in the main body.

DSLR camera diagram

In a DSLR camera, light travels through the lens to an internal mirror, where it’s reflected upwards through a prism, and then flipped back the right way up to the optical viewfinder (where your eye goes). Some of the light also goes to an autofocus sensor which measures the distance between the subject and the camera.

Still with us? Well…in order to nail the exposure for each shot, the shutter closes for a split second, causing that famous ‘click’ sound that we’ve always associated with cameras.

Mirrorless cameras don’t need a lot of this kit, and instead, rely a lot more on digital tech to capture the image. Rather than a mirror-prism combo, the light goes straight from the lens to sensor, where it’s digitised and then sent to an electronic viewfinder.

It’s the same tech that goes into the LCD screen display on the back of most cameras, except that with mirrorless you get it for the viewfinder too, which is great news for you photographers out there.


Lightweight and compact body

The big selling point of a mirrorless camera is that you get the same picture quality as a DSLR, but in a much more manageable and portable frame. This means it’s the ideal choice for on-the-go photographers and longer handheld shooting sessions.

Sony a6000

If you’re travelling abroad, or just like venturing out here and there, a mirrorless camera is the ideal choice. Its light frame and small main body won’t weigh you down, and it’s also a lot easier to capture anything that’s moving at speed.

No mirror also means there’s no shutter noise when you take a picture either, which will really help you out if you’re about to grab a close-up wildlife shot or need to stay quiet at a sports match.

Check out these mirrorless cameras perfect for the hobbyist


Better focus for darker scenes

Despite DSLR cameras offering incredible ‘phase detection’ autofocus that adapts to what’s in the viewfinder in real-time, mirrorless cameras now have some technology of their own to challenge its legendary status.

Using ‘contrast detect’ autofocus, the camera will analyse the light on the sensor for the optimal point of focus, and then adjust the contrast to fit that exact point. This makes focusing a lot more accurate and reliable than even the speediest DSLRs.

Some higher-end mirrorless models can now autofocus in even darker scenes than a DSLR, thanks to its digital image processor. It even shows you what’s in focus with a visible border, so you’ll know exactly what’s at the centre of your image when you’re lining up the shot.

For the specialists out there, take a look at these top-of-the-range mirrorless cameras


Upgrade your photography techniques

One great benefit you get when taking photos with a mirrorless camera is that you can adjust the camera settings through the viewfinder itself.

Upgrade your photography skills

This means you can change the white balance, aperture, contrast and more, all while keeping your eye on the prize. Now you have no excuse not to get the perfect shot!

You’ll be able to see what you’re shooting through the viewfinder in really dark scenes too; something you can only see through the LCD screen on a DSLR if you want to see what your low-light shot looks like.

If you prefer taking pictures of people you can master portraits too, with face and eye-tracking tech. As mentioned in Photography Life, “you could have the camera automatically focus on the nearest eye of the person that you are photographing”, which is a huge plus for those wanting to capture the lives of others.

There’s less shake and vibration when taking your shot too, due to the lack of a mirror with a physical shutter, so your images – and precious focus – will remain completely stable.

If you’re looking for top quality performance on a mirrorless camera, see some of the best mirrorless cameras.


Don’t give up on DSLR just yet

Don’t expect mirrorless cameras to push out the DSLR just yet though – they’re certainly far from being obsolete, and still represent the best of the best in terms of photography (save for NASA telescopes, anyway).

Don't give up on DSLR

As mentioned before, the speed of light will always trump an electronic viewfinder in terms of responsiveness, so DSLR might have that one over mirrorless. It’s pretty damn close, though, and soon even the keenest of eyes won’t be able to tell the difference on most models.

You’ll get more battery life with a DSLR, too. Since they already house a mirror and a prism, a big battery doesn’t make much extra difference to the body size. With a mirrorless camera, the sensors are always on, and so the digital parts tend to drain the battery a bit quicker. So, you’ll find yourself charging them more.

If you think you’d prefer a DSLR, see this stunning collection of DSLR cameras


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