Through The Looking Glass (Part 1)

10/26/2012 4:25:15 PM

A closer look at the mirrorless system camera revolution

Everyone knows that a camera takes photographs.

For the casual shooter, there are the digital compacts. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras appeal to those looking to get more serious about their photography. Let’s not forget the bridge camera which offer more features and controls than a compact, but in a smaller package when compared to a DSLR.

Years ago, if you were an aspiring shutterbug, that meant investing in a SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera. That also meant investing in rolls of film and wasting many shots (as well as spending a great deal of money developing film) as you perfected your craft.

Fast-forward to the 90’s, and digital SLRs were beginning to replace their film-based counterparts. The ability to view your shots right after they were taken was revolutionary, offering photographers the means to immediately make the necessary adjustments in order to take better photographs.

Even with improvements in camera technology, DSLRs remained bulky and expensive. Camera manufacturers started looking at other ways to bring together good image quality in a compact package. The diminutive size of compacts restricted sensor sizes, which of course meant mediocre image quality. While DSLRs housed larger sensor, the bulkiness was something stopping the average consumer from hopping onboard. Bridge cameras offered more features than a digital compact, but they had fixed lenses, and sensor sixe remained a stumbling block to better image quality. A new solution was needed, and the mirrorless system camera was born.

The mirrorless solution

In a way, the mirrorless system camera aims to achieve balance between form and function. It houses a sensor that’s larger than a digital compact, in a body much smaller than that od a DSLR. The mirrorless camera system also offers more functionality and flexibility with interchangeable lenses, something bridge cameras lack. The size reduction was achieved by removing the mirror found in a DSLR body, which allowed for lenses to be placed closer to the sensor (thus reducing thickness of the body), hence the term “mirrorless”.

Introduced in 2008, the Micro Four Thirds format was the first mirrorless camera system, created by two major camera manufacturers, Olympus and Panasonic. Despite their relatively compact size, the first few Micro Four Thirds cameras still managed to pack in sensors that were roughly about nine times bigger than the sensor found in their compact contemporaries.

Most importantly, the sensors in Micro Four Thirds system cameras were only slightly smaller than those found in DSLRs with APS-C sensors. As more camera manufacturers hopped onto the mirrorless system camera bandwagon, the Micro Four Thirds system was joined by number of offering price points along with sensors of varying sizes, with some mirrorless system cameras housing APS-C sensors, something usually found in entry-level to mid-range DSLRs.

The mirrorless system camera currently sits in the niche market segment camera currently sits cameras, and has in fact started encroaching on the higher-end digital compact camera segment, as well as the entry-level DSLR segment. But how was it come to this?

For starters, the compact size of a mirrorless system camera will definitely appeal to those upgrading from a digital compact, but dislike lugging around a heavy DSLR.

2008 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

The Panasonic DMC-G1 was the world’s first Mirco Four Thirds camera. Offering an electronic viewfinder and interchangeable lenses in a camera body smaller than a traditional DSLR, the release of the G1 in late 2008 was an important milestone in the history of photography. The 12.1 – megapixel G1 had all the features of a DSLR, such as shooting in RAW and the ability to manually set exposure modes and shutter speeds, despite handling more like a digital compact camera.

2009 Olympus Pen E-P1

Description: 2009 Olympus Pen E-P1

Olympus’s first Micro Four Thirds camera, the E-P1 arrived not long after the release of the Panasonic G1 in mid-2009. The E-P1’s design was similar to Olympus’s famous PEN half frame film cameras from the past, and unlike the G1, did not feature an electronic viewfinder. Instead, it used a 3-inch LCD rear display, similar to digital compact cameras. The E-P1 had a 12.3 – megapixel sensor, and besides working with Micro Four Thirds lenses, also allowed the use of Olympus’s OM Zuiko lenses which were used on Olympus’s famous OM series film SLR cameras. Unlike the Panasonic G1, the E-P1 included an in-body image stabilization unit, while the G1 depended on lens-based stabilization instead.

2010 Samsung NX10

Description: 2010 Samsung NX10

Samsung surprised many by becoming only the third manufacture to come up with a mirrorless system camera. The NX10 was Samsung’s first foray into the mirrorless system camera market, and it differentiated itself from the Panasonic G1 and Olympus E-P1 by sporting an APS-C – sized sensor. Instead of opting for the Micro Four Thirds standard, the NX10’s APS-C sensor used Samsung’s proprietary NX mount, and also offered better low-light performance due to its larger sensor. In addition, the NX10 looked more like a DSLR when compared to the G1 and E-P1, though still very much compact.


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