If you thought a mirrorless camera was just the same as a DSLR but without the bulk, think again. With a mirrorless camera, all sorts of possibilities await.
With the industry’s biggest players, Nikon and Canon, both throwing their weight behind mirrorless cameras in 2018, there’s never been a better time to make the switch. But what are you buying into? While the most noticeable difference might be the camera’s size and weight, there’s much more to it than that.
A DSLR works by reflecting the image from the sensor to the viewfinder using a mirror. In a mirrorless camera, the sensor is exposed at all times and the viewfinder instead shows a digital image. With the sensor turned 90° and the mirror removed, a mirrorless camera is able to be far lighter and slimmer than its DSLR counterpart. But this design approach has other advantages, too.
Five reasons to go mirrorless
1. See what you’re getting
Once you get over the lighter weight and smaller form factor, put the viewfinder to your eye and you’ll instantly notice the other big difference between mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Without a mirror to reflect what you’re seeing, the camera uses a screen instead. This is the ‘electronic viewfinder’, or EVF, and it shows an image based on what the camera sees. This means that as you change the shutter speed or aperture, you can see in real-time how the change will affect your shot.
This has other advantages, too. If you’re shooting in the dark, the camera can light up the scene in front of you. And if you shoot in black and white, you can make the viewfinder show your scene in monochrome, without any distracting colours. The great thing about the EVF is that you know what you’ll get before you press the shutter.
2. Silent shooting
Not just a bit quieter, either. A mirrorless camera can shoot completely silently. This means that if you’re shooting wildlife, you don’t have to worry about the sound of the mirror flicking up and scaring your subject; and if you like to shoot street images, you can do so without drawing attention to yourself.
3. Augmented reality
Back to that EVF, and another benefit of being able to view your shot on a small screen rather than a traditional viewfinder is the ability to have extra information laid over the top of what you’re seeing. You can have a live histogram or reveal those over-exposed highlights, so not only can you make sure the settings are at their optimum, you can also see what happens if you experiment. This augmented reality feature comes in handy in other ways, too. You can get your composition just right by overlaying grid lines. Even more impressive, you can overlay the frames of a multiple exposure shot so each time you press the shutter, that frame is added to the view you’re seeing through the EVF.
4. Improved AF (manual focusing is easier too)
Mirrorless cameras offer many more focus points than a DSLR, and these run much closer to the edges. Canon’s new EOS R weighs in with a whopping 5,655 AF (auto focus) points, which might seem extreme – but even the Nikon Z7 has 493 AF points. As the AF points in a mirrorless camera are able to run so close to the edge, it makes tracking easier, too. Your camera can follow people or animals and even maintain tracking when your subject is briefly obscured (for example, if it walks behind a tree).
Manual focusing is easier, too. To check you’ve got it spot on, you can increase the magnification in the EVF and zoom right into your scene, guaranteeing pin-sharp focusing exactly where you want it.
5. Faster burst speeds
Because there’s no mirror to worry about, the whole process of capturing the image becomes much quicker. As a result, continuous shooting speeds are faster than anything you’ll get with a DSLR. Some, such as the Panasonic Lumix G9, can fire off shots at 20fps with continuous autofocusing and metering. Even faster speeds are possible when you use single point AF.
The big hitters
With its 45.7 megapixel full-frame sensor, the Z7 clearly had the Sony a7R III in its sights at launch. Some of the headline specs include 9fps continuous shooting, 5-axis image stabilisation, fast, silent autofocus and 493 AF points – but what these figures don’t tell you is that the image quality is every bit as good as Sony’s flagship model. Here though, the EVF is one of the best in class, while intuitive touchscreen controls (pinching and swiping) make it easy to change settings and find your way around. Despite the a7R III having a better continuous focus tracking system, the Z7 is easier to handle, and with the FTZ adapter you can attach almost any F-mount Nikon lens right from the off.
SONY A7 III
Apart from its 24.2MP full-frame sensor, the specs on the a7 III are very similar to Sony’s high-end offering. With full-frame 4K movie recording, 5-axis image stabilisation and 10fps continuous shooting, this camera is great value for money. Its autofocusing system is second to none, with tracking across 693 AF points, as well as eyeball tracking for perfect portraits.
CANON EOS R
Canon’s long-awaited mirrorless contender is particularly adept in low-light conditions. You’ll appreciate its 5,655 AF points and class-leading autofocusing systems (including eye detection for perfect portraits). Its 30.3Mp full-frame CMOS sensor is no match for the Nikon Z7, but this is clearly the start of something big for Canon.
With its 26-megapixel APS-C sensor, the X-T3 is a nifty little number with great retro styling that just feels ‘right’ in your hand. Top that with a 425-point hybrid AF system and you can see why Fujifilm is pushing this as an ideal contender for street photography. However, it’s video that is the big draw here. With 4K, 60fps, 10-bit video, you can achieve quality results and satisfy your creative urges without breaking the bank.
PANASONIC LUMIX G9
Although it’s being pushed as a great camera for wildlife photography, the Lumix G9, with its 20.3Mp Micro Four/Thirds sensor, is a winner no matter what you want to shoot. Clearly benefitting from Panasonic’s lengthy experience in the market, the Lumix G9 boasts a 6.5-stop built-in image stabilisation system, as well as 60fps continuous shooting. Its 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen makes those low-angle shots a dream, while videographers are going to be impressed with 4K video up to 60fps.