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What is a Mirrorless Camera? [Explained with Types]

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The world of digital cameras is evolving at a tremendous rate and we are way past those old-school Film Camera days.

The photography industry has been taken over by advanced level DSLRs, Mirrorless Cameras, Point & Shoots, and modern Smartphones.

But, perhaps the biggest impact has been made by Mirrorless Cameras.

Sure, the traditional DSLR has been around longer but, the massive shift towards Mirrorless has been extremely beneficial for both customers and companies.

Mirrorless cameras are currently producing excellent quality images, crispy ultra high-res videos while being significantly lightweight & compact.

Giants like Sony & Canon have already realized the potential, and they’ve shifted the majority of their focus to Interchangeable-lens Mirrorless Cameras, and other brands are not far behind.

Mirrorless has spread across different segments, different prices, and different sizes.

There is absolutely no doubt that the future of photography is mirrorless.

What is a Mirrorless Camera?

vector graphic showing an illustration of best mirrorless cameras under 1000

A Mirrorless Camera is a full-fledged digital camera without the traditional reflex mirror found on Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) based systems.

In those cases, the reflex mirror reflects the image on the viewfinder while in mirrorless cameras, you get an electronic display-based viewfinder.

And there are also some other advantages of mirrorless cameras.

Types of Mirrorless Cameras

There are three main types of Mirrorless Cameras available in the market.

These include Full-frame, APS-C & Micro Four Thirds.

As you can probably guess, these are also indicators of what type of sensors these cameras are having.

Types have nothing to do with how mirrorless cameras work though but, there are a few ups and downs.

1. Full-frame Mirrorless Camera

These are the best mirrorless cameras you can get on the market.

Featuring a full-frame sensor in a compact body, Full-frame Mirrorless Cameras get the best quality photos and videos in the entire line-up.

Full-frame Mirrorless Camera

There is no crop, so the photo is captured in the correct focal range of the lens, The bigger sensor size also results in better low-light performance and dynamic range.

Full-frame Mirrorless cameras also tend to get crazy-front row technologies coming into the digital camera space.

2. APS-C Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors are relatively new.

The sensors are smaller in size compared to Full-frame and they do get a 1.25 times crop.

So, the focal range of the lens will be increased by 1.52 times which means the image will be 1.52x zoomed.

APS-C Mirrorless Camera

APS-C DSLRs aren’t as good when it comes to low-light and dynamic range, but the quality of the images and videos have gotten really close to the Full-frame.

3. Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Camera

These are the most common type of Mirrorless cameras on the market.

The Micro Four Third sensor is even smaller and gives a 2 times crop.

That means twice the increase in focal range, so you get a two-times zoom.

Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Camera

Because of the smaller sensor size, Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless cameras tend to have pretty average performance in low light with higher noise levels when situations get extremely dark.

However, when it comes to providing good features at a lower price, Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Cameras is kinda unmatched at this point.

How does a Mirrorless Camera differ from a traditional DSLR?

As it might have been clear from the previous section, SLR-based cameras rely on a Reflex Mirror and an Optical viewfinder.

DSLR being nothing but the Digital SLR camera does exactly the same.

A Mirrorless Camera doesn’t require that reflex mirror or the internal prism mechanism to invert the image for orientation correction as the mirrorless camera viewfinder is electronic which is a tiny OLED display.

Mirrorless vs DSLR

However, the mirrorless camera vs. DSLR debate has been going on for a while now and they both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Other than that, Mirrorless Cameras are often faster, smaller, lighter, and easy to carry around compared to DSLRs.

As far as features go, it seems mirrorless cameras have a lead there as well but, I’m not sure if that is a hardware imitation thing or just a result of the faster-growing demand.

Although, right now Mirrorless cameras do seem to get more advanced sensors compared to DSLRs.

The Small Sensor Dilemma: Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore?

What is the Small Sensor Dilemma?

Traditionally Mirrorless cameras have been pretty compact in size.

The reason behind this was the Micro Four Thirds (4/3) sensor which is smaller in size compared to the traditional APS-C sensors.

But, that also brought a couple of drawbacks, which raised the question, why get a mirrorless camera the first time?

Firstly the smaller sensor wasn’t doing great in low light.

Secondly, the crop factor was a full 2x compared to 1.52x on the APS-C sensors.

So, the image would be zoomed in two times.

Or another way of looking at this is, the attached lens will operate at twice its focal range.

Although APS-C sensors weren’t perfect either, even further crop levels and significantly compromised low-light performance, was giving the Mirrorless cameras a hard time.

So, your options were either getting an APS-C DSLR camera and give up on some newer features and handling convenience or getting a Mirrorless camera that provides two times zoomed-in photos/videos.

So, no matter which way you went, you had to make significant sacrifices and at that point, it seemed a lot more practical to go for the APS-C DSLR.

Especially if you’re shooting videos, the APS-C seemed more practical even it shot in a lower resolution.

That’s what the Small Sensor Dilemma is as the reason at the core was the smaller size of that Micro Four Thirds sensor.

Why doesn’t it matter anymore?

Since the early days of Mirrorless Cameras, the situations have been changing rapidly.

Right now, companies have figured out ways to use bigger sensors in compact bodies.

As a result, popular companies like Canon, Sony, and recently even Nikon have releases compact APS-C Mirrorless Cameras.

Of course, all the major Mirrorless flagships now come with Full-frame sensors which means there is no crop at all and you can use the exact focal range of the lens.

That means all the flagship features & next-gen capabilities now come without the drawbacks that were faced in the early days of Mirrorless Cameras.

So, Small Sensor Dilemma isn’t really a problem anymore.

Digital Point & Shoots – Aren’t they Mirrorless Cameras as well?

Digital Point & Shoot cameras can be specified as Fixed-lens Mirrorless Cameras.

Of course, as they have the same basic working mechanism as the regular Interchangeable-lens Mirrorless Cameras, they are one type of Mirrorless Cameras as well.

The only drawback of the Digital Point & Shoots are the fixed-lens mechanism, even smaller sensors, and lack of premium features.

However, some recent Point and Shoots are improving on that front with bigger 1-inch sensors and similar Premium features as their mainstream mirrorless flagships.

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