Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera
The mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera (MILC) is a class of digital system cameras. This type of cameras provide interchangeable lens mount. They do not have a mirror reflex optical viewfinder. MILC cameras comprise 5% of total camera shipments.
Various alternative names exist – see terminology – including: compact system camera (CSC), mirrorless system camera (MSC), digital single lens mirrorless (DSLM), digital interchangeable-lens system camera, and electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens (EVIL)
As of 2012[update] there were several MILC camera systems available. In chronological order (by their introduction) and referring to the adopted lens-mount type, they are: Epson R-D1 using Leica M mount in 2004; Leica itself in 2006; Micro Four Thirds mount for Olympus and Panasonic MILCs; Samsung NX-mount for Samsung MILCs; Sony E-mount for Sony MILCs; Nikon 1-mount for Nikon MILCs; Pentax Q mount for Pentax small-sensor MILC (Pentax Q); K-mount for both Pentax DSLRs and Pentax large-sensor MILC; X-mount for Fujifilm MILCs; and Canon EF-M mount for Canon MILCs.
- 1 Types of digital cameras
- 2 Systems comparison
- 3 History
- 4 Comparisons
- 5 Market
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Types of digital cameras
Several types of digital cameras are available on the market, including:
- DSLR cameras, which have an optical viewfinder for viewing the image through the lens and usually have a relatively large sensor. The mirror moves out of the way for exposure allowing the light to hit the sensor.
- Compact cameras, which are usually equipped with small sensors, a fixed lens, and an electronic viewfinder (e.g., a rear-facing LCD display). Smaller sensor may have relatively poor imaging in some situations such as low light, as it is unable to capture as much light as a larger sensor.
- The fixed mirror Sony SLT camera, which uses a semi-transparent mirror mounted in a fixed position and has a relatively large sensor and an electronic viewfinder. The mirror is used for continuous phase-contrast auto-focusing for still and motion pictures.
MILC cameras feature lens interchangeability without an optical viewfinder. The size of sensors in MILCs varies. Two styles of MILCs exist, compact and DSLR-like. Compact-style ones are approximately the size of larger compact cameras. DSLR-style MILCs overlap with entry-level DSLRs, providing a contoured body and extensive features, like DSLRs, but still in a significantly smaller and lighter body.
Not all MILCs have a large sensor: The original Pentax Q (announced in June 2011) has a 1/2.3" sensor (typical of mainstream compact cameras); the current Pentax Q7 (announced in June 2013) has a 1/1.7" sensor (typical for high-end compacts). In September 2011 a new sensor format was announced by Nikon for its first MILC: the CX format, with a sensor area 2.6 times bigger than the 1/1.7" sensor equipping high-end compact cameras, and about half the size of a Four Thirds sensor. The Sony NEX looks like a compact camera with a zoom lens, but has a larger sensor; its APS-C sensor is the same size as that of most (amateur) DSLRs. The Canon EOS M, that company's first MILC, is slightly smaller than the Sony NEX series, but also has an APS-C sensor.
Lenses equipping MILCs
Sony supplied 10 E lenses for its NEX system (adopting an APS-C sensor). The Micro Four Thirds System, shared by Olympus and Panasonic, currently offers 34 native lenses (including 17 by Panasonic and 12 by Olympus, not counting versions of the same lens; e.g., all three versions of the 14-42mm lens are counted together as one lens). Samsung has 11 different lenses available for its NX cameras (using an APS-C sensor). Nikon has 7 lenses available for the Nikon 1 system. Canon introduced two EF-M lenses alongside the EOS M. The Pentax K-01 can use all existing K-mount lenses, but because it lacks an aperture coupling, pre-1983 lenses (i.e., original K and KF) require stop-down metering. Many lens adaptors exist but most do not support autofocus.
There is an inevitable trade-off between sensor size and compactness of the camera, due to the size of the lens required. Sensor size varies among mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. The Micro Four Thirds system uses the same size sensor as the 225mm2 Four Thirds System (smallest among DSLRs but nine times the area of typical compact camera 25mm2 1/2.5" sensors), while the Fujifilm X cameras, Samsung NX cameras and Sony NEX cameras use a 65% larger APS-C size sensor of 370mm2. The Canon EOS M uses a slightly smaller APS-C sensor with an area of 329mm2. The Nikon 1 series uses a smaller 115mm2 1" type sensor (13.2×8.8mm) with a 2.7 crop factor and the Pentax Q uses an even smaller compact camera 28.5mm2 1/2.3" image sensor with a crop factor of 5.5, while APS-C has a crop factor of 1.5, Canon APS-C has a crop factor of 1.6, and Micro Four Thirds MILCs have 2.0.
As of November 2013[update], the only 24×36 mm (864mm2) MILCs were five closely related Leica models (M9, M9-P, M-E, M Monochrom, and M, with the Monochrom shooting solely in black-and-white) and two Sony models from the NEX/ILCE family (Alpha 7 and 7r). With the Leicas all being rangefinder cameras, they have optical viewfinders and thus can be called MILCs, but not EVILs. The Sony models, on the other hand, have electronic viewfinders.
MILCs combine some of the benefits of both compact cameras and DSLRs. Compared to compact cameras, they offer the versatility allowed by interchangeable lenses. In addition to this, those MILCs which are equipped with a large sensor also offer all the advantages associated with it.
Compared to DSLRs, MILCs are smaller (due to fewer parts) and sturdier (due to fewer moving parts). Due to the lack of the mirror system, MILCs equipped by a large, DSLR-like sensor, can place lenses considerably closer to it (flange back distance) when compared to DSLRs. Thus high-quality lenses can be made smaller, cheaper, and lighter (wide-angle lenses in particular). However, current lens selection, though growing, is still relatively limited and expensive compared with the very well-developed DSLR lens market. Compact-style MILCs fitted with a thin "pancake" lens are pocketable, hence as portable as larger compact cameras, but when fitted with larger lenses they are less portable and not in general pocketable.
Noise on shutter activation is quieter as there is no moving mirror. In August 2011 prices of MILCs were higher than the cheapest entry-level DSLRs, but decreased sharply and, as of November 2011[update], some models sold for less than high-end compact, non-system cameras from the same manufacturers.
MILCs share many of the limitations of both compact cameras and DSLRs. These include:
No TTL optical viewfinder
The lack of through-the-lens optical viewfinder (TTL OVF) is a defining feature of MILCs, and also found on compact cameras – a TTL optical viewfinder requires an optical path from taking lens to viewfinder, hence an SLR design.
MILCs primarily use a rear LCD display for arm-level shooting, but some also feature an electronic viewfinder (EVF) for eye-level shooting. Some EVFs suffer from a noticeable lag between the changes in the scene and the electronic viewfinder display, however some newer EVFs have improved their resolution and response times, with lag no longer being apparent. As a lower-priced option, some systems offer an optical viewfinder that is not TTL (as in a rangefinder), which suffers from parallax, particularly at short distances.
Contrast detection autofocus, rather than phase detection autofocus system
Contrast-based AF has generally been slower than the phase-based AF systems found in DSLRs, often significantly, until July 2011 when the Olympus Pen E-P3 surpassed top range DSLRs in focusing speed for still shots. The improvement in speed has been achieved by reducing the time taken for the contrast-detection autofocus system to begin operation after half-pressing the shutter button, doubling the sensor readout speed to 120 frames per second (and 240 fps on Olympus cameras in continuous autofocus mode), and increasing the speed with which contrast detection routines operate. Although micros from Olympus and other manufacturers also have closed or leapfrogged this gap, there is still a gap in continuous autofocus accuracy and speed, and thus MILCs are still not as good at photographing moving objects, notably in sports, as DSLRs.
Nikon's "One" system incorporates phase focusing together with contrast-detection autofocus, and Nikon claim it is as fast focusing for sport as their high end DSLRs. One advantage of contrast detection autofocus is that, for still subjects, autofocus accuracy tends to be higher than with phase detect systems, as the camera uses the actual sensor output to determine focus. Therefore, CDAF systems are not prone to calibration issues such as front or back focus as can occur with phase detect systems.
Starting with the NEX-5R, released in November 2012, Sony has likewise introduced a hybrid phase/contrast detection autofocus technology to their MILC cameras which produces significant improvement in autofocus speed. Sony also manufactures an adapter system for their NEX series MILC cameras that allows their SLT mirror technology to be mounted to NEX cameras by way of adapter. This adapter allows the E-Mount camera to use A-Mount lenses and brings real time phase detection auto focus for both still and video photography.
Canon introduced its dual-pixel autofocus technology in 2013 with its Canon EOS 70D DSLR and it is widely expected that the same technology could be useful for mirrorless cameras as well. Dual-pixel AF enables the sensor's pixels to do phase-detection autofocus by themselves.
Incompatibility with existing lenses
Most MILC camera systems use a new lens mount, which is somewhat incompatible with existing lenses – Micro Four Thirds (Panasonic and Olympus), NX-mount (Samsung), E-mount (Sony), 1-mount (Nikon) and EF-M mount (Canon). This means both that existing lenses cannot be used without an adapter, and that relatively few native lenses exist for these cameras at the time of their introduction, as new lenses must be designed and manufactured for the new mount. The only exception is the Pentax K-01, a mirrorless camera that accepts all legacy K-mount lenses without any adapter, but the consequence is that the K-01 is not as slim as the Sony NEX-7 or the Nikon 1 V1, although slimmer than one of the smallest SLRs on the market, the Pentax K-5.
As the largest investment in a system camera is the lenses, not the body, and lenses often last decades, changing a mount and rebuilding a lens collection is a significant investment. An advantage though with Olympus's IBIS system, is that adding a lens without OIS will result in the lens gaining a stability system in the Olympus range. Another advantage for MILC bodies, is that by using adapters, any lens can be added, for instance from Canon, Nikon, and also, old lens that were useless have escalated in value by many times due to MILC owners using them on their cameras.
Adapters exist for legacy lenses although most do not support autofocus on MILC bodies. Micro Four Thirds has adapters with Four Thirds, Canon FD, Leica M, M42, Nikon, Olympus OM, Minolta, Pentax K, and C mounts. The Sony E-mount has an adapter for the older Minolta A mount, Four Thirds, Canon FD, Leica M, M42, Nikon, Olympus OM, Minolta, Pentax K, and C mounts. The Nikon 1 series has an adapter for the company's F-mount, and the Canon EOS M has an adapter for that company's EF-S mount, which also accepts EF lenses. However, part of the benefit of MILCs is that newer, smaller lenses can be used; to realize these benefits, either new lenses or lenses for short flange distance legacy mounts, such as those used on rangefinder cameras, are required.
This can be compared with the situation for APS-C sized DSLRs, where the Canon EF-S and Nikon DX lenses are specifically designed to cover only the smaller imaging circle required for the smaller sensor, reducing lens size and manufacturing cost. However, they maintain the same mount distance to the sensor, providing compatibility with lenses designed for the larger full 35mm sensor size.
This drawback, however, is somewhat balanced by the fact that most MIL cameras are aimed at the "point-and-shoot" market where users rarely build a large system around their cameras and are usually satisfied with the lens supplied with the camera or, at best, purchase an all-around "super-zoom" lens to cover all possible shooting situations.
For manufacturers, this strategy eliminates price competition for their new lenses from second-hand legacy lenses.
|System||Models||Lens mount||Sensor size||Stabilization||Throat diameter||Flange focal distance||Focus system||35mm equiv multiplier||Release date|
|Canon EOS M||Canon EOS M||Canon EF-M||700126820000000000022.3 × 14.9 mm APS-C||Lens-based||58 mm||18 mm||Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus||1.6||October 2012|
|Fujifilm XF||Fujifilm X-Pro1, X-E1, X-M1, X-A1, X-E2||Fujifilm X-mount||700128290000000000023.6 × 15.6 mm APS-C||Lens-based||17.7 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus||1.5||January 2012|
|Leica M||Leica M8, M9, M9-P, M Monochrom, M-E, M; Epson R-D1, R-D1s, R-D1x, R-D1xG||Leica M-mount||7001432670000000000 35.8×23.9 mm full-frame (M9, M9-P, M Monochrom, M-E, and M), 27×18 mm half-frame (M8), 23.7×15.6 mm pseudo–APS-C (R-D1)||none||44 mm||27.80 mm||Rangefinder||1.0||March 2004 (R-D1)|
|Micro Four Thirds system||Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, G10, G2, G3, GH1, GH2, GH3, GF1, GF2, GF3, GX1, GX7 (still cameras), Panasonic AG-AF100 (video camera)
||Micro Four Thirds||700121628000000000017.3×12.98 mm 4/3||Lens-based (Panasonic); In body (Olympus)
Olympus EM-5 1st 5 axis stability system versus traditional 2 axis
|7001380000000000000~38 mm||20 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus on most bodies; hybrid contrast-detection/phase detection autofocus on Olympus OM-D E-M1||2.0||October 2008 (G1)|
|Nikon 1||Nikon 1 J1, V1, J2, V2||Nikon 1 mount||700115864000000000013.2 × 8.8mm 1" Nikon CX||Lens-based||17 mm||Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus||2.7||October 2011|
|Pentax K||Pentax K-01||Pentax K mount||700128290000000000023.6 × 15.6 mm APS-C||Sensor-based||45.46 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus||1.53||February 2012|
|Pentax Q||Pentax Q, Q10, Q7||Q-mount||70007660000000000006.17×4.55 mm (1/2.3") for Q and Q10
7.44×5.58 mm (1/1.7") for Q7
|Sensor-based||38 mm||9.2 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus||5.5 (appx), Q and Q10
4.6 (appx), Q7
|Ricoh GXR||Ricoh GXR||Sealed interchangeable sensor lens unit system, and Leica M-mount||7001281230000000000Depends on each sealed interchangeable sensor lens unit: APS-C, 1/1.7", 1/2.3"||depends||—||—||Contrast-detection autofocus for sealed camera units, manual focus (display-assisted) for Leica M mount unit||1.5||November 2009|
|Samsung NX||Samsung NX10, NX5, NX100, NX11, NX200, NX20, NX2000, NX300, NX300M||Samsung NX-mount||700128123000000000023.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C||Lens-based||42 mm||25.5 mm||Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus||1.53||January 2010|
|Sony α NEX||NEX-3, NEX-5, NEX-C3, NEX-F3, NEX-3N, NEX-5N NEX-5R, NEX-5T, NEX-6, NEX-7 (still cameras), NEX-VG10 NEX-VG20 (video camera)||Sony E-mount||700128123000000000023.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C||Lens-based||46.1 mm (1.815 inch)||18 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus (earlier models), Hybrid autofocus (newer models)||1.5||June 2010|
|Sony Alpha||Sony Alpha 3000, Sony Alpha 7, Sony Alpha 7r||Sony FE-mount (full-frame)
Sony E-mount (cropped)
|700128123000000000023.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C (Alpha 3000)
35.8×23.9 mm full-frame (Alpha 7 and 7r)
|Lens-based||46.1 mm (1.815 inch)||18 mm||Contrast-detection autofocus||1||October 2013|
The category started with Epson R-D1 (released in 2004), followed by Leica M8 (released September 2006)[according to whom?] and then the Micro Four Thirds system, whose first camera was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, released in Japan in October 2008.
A more radical design is the Ricoh GXR (November 2009), which features, not interchangeable lenses, but interchangeable lens units – a sealed unit of a lens and sensor. This design is comparable but distinct to MILCs, and has so far received mixed reviews, primarily due to cost; As of 2012[update] the design has not been copied.
Following the introduction of the Micro Four Thirds, several other cameras were released in the system by Panasonic and Olympus, with the Olympus PEN E-P1 (announced June 2009) being the first in a compact size (pocketable with a small lens). The Samsung NX10 (announced January 2010) was the first camera in this class not using the Micro Four Thirds system – rather a new, proprietary lens mount (Samsung NX-mount). The Sony Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5 (announced May 14, 2010, for release July 2010) saw the entry of Sony into the market, again with a new, proprietary lens mount (the Sony E-mount), though with LA-EA1 and LA-EA2 adapters for the legacy Minolta A-mount.
In June 2011 Pentax announced the 'Q' mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and the 'Q-mount' lens system. The original Q series featured a smaller 1/2.3 inch 12.4 megapixel CMOS sensor. The Q7, introduced in 2013, has a slightly larger 1/1.7 inch CMOS sensor with the same megapixel count.
The Fujifilm X-Pro1, announced in January 2012, is currently the only non-rangefinder MILC with an in-built optical viewfinder. Its hybrid viewfinder overlays electronic information, including shifting framelines to compensate for parallax.
MILCs can be seen as replacing or supplementing the existing categories of compacts, DSLRs, and bridge cameras. Most often, a MILC (either compact-style or DSLR-style) can be a step up from a compact, instead of or on the way to DSLRs. Alternatively, a compact-style MILC can be a more portable supplement to a DSLR, instead of a compact camera. More rarely, a MILC can be a third camera, in addition to a DSLR and compact – not portable enough for everyday (always carried) use, but not as serious as a dedicated DSLR, instead being relatively portable, for walking around and occasional shooting. They are less frequently compared to bridge cameras, as despite filling a similar intermediate niche, they differ significantly in design.
Compared to high-end compact cameras compact-style MILCs equipped with a large sensor provide better image quality. Their lens systems, though, make them considerably bulkier (zoom lenses in particular). Small-sensor MILCs have no image-quality advantage over high-end compacts, but they offer more versatility (due to interchangeable lenses).
DSLR-style MILCs are in most respects very similar to entry-level DSLRs, though DSLR-style MILCs are significantly smaller and light, most notably in being thinner, and also quieter due to lack of flipping mirror. MILC lenses are smaller than comparable DSLR lenses, but current MILC lens selection is much more limited and relatively expensive, but most MILC cameras can use DSLR lenses by adding a $40 adapter.
MILCs occupy a similar niche to bridge cameras, being intermediate between compacts and DSLRs, but in many respects make opposite design decisions, and complement rather than replace each other: with rare exception, bridge cameras use a small sensor, a fixed superzoom lens, and DSLR-style body, while MILCs use a large sensor, interchangeable lenses (with lower zoom factor), and either a compact-style or DSLR-style body. The difference is because a small sensor can be sufficiently provided for by a superzoom lens, which can hence be fixed, and since superzoom lenses are relatively large, there is little benefit in having a compact body. The small sensors on bridge cameras also boast an extremely high crop factor (typically above 5.0), thus allowing such cameras to achieve zoom ranges that are physically impossible on DSLRs and cameras utilizing larger sensors. This trait alone makes a bridge camera much more versatile than DSLRs and MILCs whose lens lineups are usually not capable of achieving anything more than the 35mm focal length equivalent of 500mm; in contrast, most bridge cameras usually ship with lenses that are capable of providing a 35mm focal length equivalent of more than 600mm, with some cameras even capable of exceeding 800mm: Nikon's Coolpix P510, for example, has a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 24-1000mm.
Large sensors, by contrast, are more demanding on lenses and hence interchangeable lenses are generally used to cover the range (though compare fixed-lens Sigma DP1 and Leica X1); smaller lenses allow an overall small camera, hence the possibilities of compact-style MILCs, while DSLR-style bodies are still easier to use for dedicated photography.
Two exceptions to the rule that bridge cameras have small sensors are Sony models that feature large sensors and fixed lenses—the now-discontinued Cyber-shot DSC-R1, with an APS-C sensor and a zoom lens; and the current Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, with a full-frame sensor and a prime lens. The current Canon PowerShot G1 X features the same combination as the DSC-R1.
Compact-style MILCs with pancake lenses have generated significant excitement in the photographer community, as they finally provide a pocketable digital camera with a large sensor (hence high image quality). DSLR-style MILCs, and compact-style MILCs with larger lenses have also generated interest, but more as refinements on the overall DSLR concept, rather than creating new possibilities.
Beyond the interest to consumers, MILCs have created significant interest in camera manufacturers, having potential to be a disruptive technology in the high-end camera market. Significantly, MILCs have fewer moving parts than DSLRs, and are more electronic, which plays to the strengths of electronic manufacturers (such as Panasonic, Samsung and Sony), while undermining the advantage that existing camera makers have in precision mechanical engineering.
Nikon announced the Nikon 1 series on September 21, 2011 with 1" sensor. It is a high-speed MILC which according to Nikon featured world's fastest autofocus and world's fastest continuous shooting speed (60 fps) among all cameras with interchangeable lenses including DSLRs. Canon was the last of the major makers of DSLRs, announcing the Canon EOS M in 2012 with APS-C sensor and 18mm registration distance similar to the one used by NEX.
In a longer-term Olympus decided that MILCs may replace DSLRs entirely in some categories with Olympus America's DSLR product manager speculating that by 2012, Olympus DSLRs (the Olympus E system) may be mirrorless, though still using the Four Thirds System (not Micro Four Thirds).
Panasonic UK's Lumix G product manager John Mitchell while speaking to the Press at the 2011 "Focus on Imaging" show in Birmingham, reported that Panasonic "G" camera market share was almost doubling each year, and that UK Panasonic "G" captured over 11% of all interchangeable camera sales in the UK in 2010, and that UK "CSC" sales made up 23% of the Interchaneable lens market in the UK, and 40% in Japan.
As of May 2010[update], interchangeable-lens camera pricing is comparable to and somewhat higher than entry-level DSLRs, at US$550 to $800, and significantly higher than high-end compact cameras. As of May 2011, interchangeable-lens camera pricing for entry MILCs appears to be lower than entry-level DSLRs in some markets e.g. the USA.
Sony announced 2011 sales statistics in September 2012, which showed that Mirrorless had 50% of the interchangeable lens market in Japan, 18% in Europe, and 23% world wide. Since that time Nikon has entered the Mirrorless market, amongst other new entries.
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