Mirrorless Cameras Explained (With Video)

By October 27, 2019 December 29th, 2019 Photography

There’s a radical shift happening in the world of photography today. 

Photographers everywhere are slowly transitioning from using the traditional DSLR cameras to the modern mirrorless cameras.

While this transition may not be as sensational as the shift from film to digital photography, it is every bit as significant and exciting.

What is a Mirrorless Camera?

How A Mirrorless Camera Works

Embed This Infographic: How a Mirrorless Camera Works

DSLR’s are similar in size and portability to a point and shoot camera but they have the image quality and interchangeable lens system of a DSLR. As the name suggests unlike DSLR’s, mirrorless cameras do not have any optical mirrors. 

As a result, the viewfinder of a mirrorless camera functions differently than a DSLR. 

Electronic Viewfinder vs. Optical Viewfinder

Mirrorless cameras are cameras that have an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder found in DLRS.

The optical viewfinder in a DSLR uses a system of internal mirrors that allows you to see the scene you’re photographing directly through the lens.

In contrast, a mirrorless camera allows light to pass through the lens directly onto the image sensor. The optical viewfinder is replaced with an electronic viewfinder that displays what the image sensor sees.

Shutter Options

In DSLR, pressing and releasing the shutter button triggers the reflex mirror to flip up and the shutter to open. This allows the light to hit the camera sensor and record an image.

Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, use either a mechanical shutter, which is the default setting or an electronic shutter. 

The mechanical shutter setting uses physical shutters to initiate the exposure. It starts with the shutter is being out of sight, allowing the sensor to record the scene and transmit it to the viewfinder.

When you press the shutter button, the top shutter will momentarily close then open to expose the sensor for the duration of the shutter speed. Once complete, the bottom shutter will close to end the exposure.

The electronic shutter, on the other hand, does not use any physical movements to initiate the exposure. Rather it relies on activating and deactivating the sensor to capture the image. 

Medium Format 

The first mirrorless camera commercially available was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 in 2008. It had a micro four-thirds sensor and set a trend for mirrorless cameras for the next 5 years. 

Following the release of the DMC-G1, other Panasonic and Olympus models would follow over the next several years which all had crop sensors. As mirrorless cameras continued advancing they would become some of the best cameras on the market but they still lacked a full-frame sensor.

Some of the best Medium Format Cameras are listed below:

Panasonic Lumix GX80/GX85

Sony A6000

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X

Fujifilm GFX 50R


Leica introduced the first full-frame mirrorless camera with the release of the Leica M9 which was the first mirrorless full-frame camera. Although it is not the typically mirrorless camera we think of today with an optical viewfinder, rather it uses a range finder. 

The first true full-frame mirrorless camera was the Sony a7 released in 2013. This was revolutionary for the mirrorless camera system. The Sony a7 truly put mirrorless cameras in the same conversation as DSLR cameras. Now, there are Mirrorless cameras that produce better photos and have more features than DSLR cameras. 

Today full-frame mirrorless cameras are just as good as DSLRs. The new waves of mirrorless cameras released by Sony, Canon, and Nikon are some of the best cameras on the market.

If you are interested in some of the best full frame-cameras check these out:

Sony Alpha A7R IV

Nikon Z6

Canon EOS R

Sony A7R III

Are Mirrorless Cameras Better than DSLRs?

Mirrorless cameras have many advantages over traditional DSLR cameras. 

Since mirrorless cameras don’t use mirrors or a pentaprism, they can be made more compact and lightweight compared to most DSLR cameras. 

The electronic viewfinder also enables you to preview live changes to your histogram and camera settings such as exposure settings, saturation, and white balance.

In addition, mirrorless cameras feature contrast-detect autofocus and focus peaking. Both these features make focusing easier and faster, particularly on static objects. 

Mirrorless cameras do have two main disadvantages compared to DSLRs.

The first is they have smaller batteries with less storage capacity. This shortened battery life is exacerbated by the fact that the camera needs to be turned on to be able to see through the electronic viewfinder.

Mirrorless cameras are also generally more expensive than DSLRs. But with all the unique features they are undoubtedly a worthwhile investment. 

Overall, mirrorless cameras are capable of matching if not outperforming DSLRs in almost everything from image quality, video quality, and speed. 


About The Author

Photographer. Explorer. Story Teller. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, capture beautiful moments, and live life to the fullest.

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