Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I.

A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) is a digital camera that has a lens mount like a conventional single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, but uses a digital display system rather than an optical mirror and optical viewfinder. The name includes "mirrorless" because it does not have an optical mirror as in a conventional SLR, and "interchangeable lens" because the user can mount different lenses on the camera in order to customize the camera's optical characteristics. A MILC can be considered a further evolution phase of the conversion of an SLR camera into a digital system, in which the optical mirror and optical viewfinder are replaced with a digital image display system.[1]

The biggest difference between mirrorless and digital SLR (DSLR) cameras is that electronics take over the mechanical tasks of the "reflex" function. In other words, DSLRs use a mirror-box unit to reflect the picture to an optical viewfinder or digital display.[2] A MILC uses a digital display and does not have an optical viewfinder. MILCs use high speed contrast detection auto-focus, rather than the phase-based auto-focus used in SLR cameras.[3]

Compared to SLR cameras, mirrorless cameras are simpler, smaller, lighter and quieter (unless sound is artificially generated) because they do not have a movable mirror, a mirror housing, or a viewing pentaprism.[4] Because of fewer moving parts, the camera can be more durable. As light metering is done on the image sensor, and auto-focus sensed within the sensor plane, mirrorless cameras also don't need a secondary auto-focus mirror, nor a separate light metering sensor.

Mirrorless camera designs had several challenges that initially kept them from competing with top-of-the-line DSLRs for some applications. One was to provide an EVF with adequate resolution, clarity and low-time-lag responsiveness to become competitive with the direct optical viewing that DSLRs used.[citation needed] A second challenge was that the contrast detect auto-focus (CDAF), initially used in mirrorless cameras, took twice as long to acquire focus compared to that of phase detect auto-focus (PDAF) used by DSLRs.[citation needed] The latest generation of mirrorless cameras, however, have PDAF pixels built into the image sensor, offering fully competitive and accurate auto-focus that are many times faster during continuous shooting with continuous auto-focus than DSLRs.[citation needed] Other challenges include battery life and heat dissipation, as the EVF or display as well as sensor are constantly switched on while composing images, consuming power and generating heat. As of 2017, mirrorless cameras will typically switch off when they get too hot as a cautionary measure to protect the electronics, and may then not allow the user to switch the camera on again until the system has cooled down.[5][6]


Because of advances made in digital image sensor technology and electronic viewfinders, electronics are replacing most of the mechanics that were once necessary in film SLRs for framing an image through either an optical rangefinder or an optical viewfinder based on the single lens reflex mirror concept. It is likely that this evolution will continue offering even smaller and more capable mirrorless cameras in the future.

One of the pioneers in the field has been Sony Corporation, which supplies a large number of other camera manufacturers with image sensors. Sony also sells cameras of their own, especially to show off advancements in their sensor and processing technology. Sony often releases improved designs at a rapid rate while simultaneously limiting designs to prevent competition in the image sensor industry.[citation needed]

Both Canon and Nikon, the two biggest camera manufacturers, have been[when?] struggling financially as consumers have shifted to buying simpler and less expensive cameras and abandoning buying single-purpose cameras in favor of the camera function built into mobile phones.

Other early players in the mirrorless system camera market are shown in the systems comparison below.

While mobile phones with camera capabilities have taken over the lion's share of the point-and-shoot and compact camera market, mirrorless cameras with a non-interchangeable primary lens are also still being marketed. While casual users may prefer such a pocket size-camera, sometimes with a collapsible or "pancake" lens, professional users demand a more substantial camera grip with good balance, comfortable ergonomics, and a battery life suitable for all-day use, which has led to manufacturers making new, professional mirrorless system cameras slightly larger than their compact siblings.[citation needed]


In 2013, mirrorless system cameras constituted about five percent of total camera shipments.[7] In 2015, they accounted for 26 percent of system camera sales outside of the Americas, and 16 percent within the United States.[8]

2004-2008. The first mirrorless camera commercially marketed was the Epson R-D1 (released in 2004), followed by the Leica M8 (released September 2006, which wasn't actually a mirrorless camera but a rangefinder camera, with a system of focussing that dated back to the 1930s and the release of the Leica III, which was itself a development of the 1932 Leica II)[according to whom?] . The Micro Four Thirds system, whose first camera was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, was released in Japan in October 2008.[9]

2009-2010. The Ricoh GXR (November 2009) had a radically different design. The mirrorless camera featured interchangeable lens units – a sealed unit of a lens and sensor, instead of a normal interchangeable lens.[10][11][12] This design was comparable to but distinct from MILCs, and received mixed reviews, primarily due to cost; As of 2017, the design has not been copied.

Following the introduction of the Micro Four Thirds, several other cameras were released by Panasonic and Olympus, with the Olympus PEN E-P1 (announced June 2009) being the first mirrorless camera 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, instead utilizing a new, proprietary lens mount (Samsung NX-mount). The Sony Alpha NEX-3 and NEX-5 (announced May 14, 2010, and released in July 2010) saw Sony enter the market with a new, proprietary lens mount (the Sony E-mount), though the camera included LA-EA1 and LA-EA2 adapters for the legacy Minolta A-mount.

2011. 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.[13] The Q7, introduced in 2013, has a slightly larger 1/1.7 inch CMOS sensor with the same megapixel count.[14]

In September 2011, Nikon announced their Nikon 1 system which consists of the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1 cameras and lenses. The V1 features an electronic viewfinder.[15] The series includes high-speed mirrorless cameras which, according to Nikon, featured the world's fastest autofocus and the world's fastest continuous shooting speed (60 fps) among all cameras with interchangeable lenses including DSLRs.[16]

2012. The Fujifilm X-Pro1, announced in January 2012, was the first non-rangefinder mirrorless with a built-in optical viewfinder. Its hybrid viewfinder overlaid electronic information, including shifting frame-lines, to compensate for the parallax effect. Its 2016 successor, the X-Pro2, features an updated version of this viewfinder.

Beyond just consumer interest, mirrorless lens systems has created significant interest from camera manufacturers as a possible alternative to high-end camera manufacturing. Mirrorless cameras has fewer moving parts than DSLRs, and are more electronic, which is an advantage to electronic manufacturers (such as Panasonic, Samsung and Sony), while reducing the advantage that existing camera manufacturers have in precision mechanical engineering. Sony's entry level full frame mirrorless α7 II camera has a 24 Megapixel 5 axis stabilised sensor but is more compact and lower in cost than any full frame sensor DSLR.

Canon was the last of the major manufacturer of DSLRs to announce their own mirrorless camera, announcing the Canon EOS M in 2012 with APS-C sensor and 18 mm registration distance similar to the one used by NEX.

In a longer-term Olympus decided that mirrorless 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).[17]

Panasonic UK's Lumix G product manager John Mitchell, 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 the UK Panasonic "G" captured over 11% of all interchangeable camera sales in the UK in 2010, and that the UK "CSC" sales made up 23% of the interchangeable lens market in the UK, and 40% in Japan.[18]

As of May 2010, the cost of interchangeable-lens camera is comparable to and somewhat higher than entry-level DSLRs, with costs between US$550 and $800, and significantly higher than the cost of high-end compact cameras.[citation needed]

Sony announced their 2011 sales statistics in September 2012, which showed that mirrorless lenses had 50% of the interchangeable lens market in Japan, 18% in Europe, and 23% worldwide. Since then, Nikon has entered the mirrorless market, amongst other new entries.

2013. Due to the downward trend of the world camera market, mirrorless camera sales suffered, but not as drastically and was compensated with increase by about 12 percent in the Japanese mirrorless camera market.[19] However, mirrorless cameras have taken longer to catch on in Europe and North America. According to Japanese photo industry sources, mirrorless made up only 11.2% of interchangeable-lens cameras shipped to Europe in the first nine months of 2013, and 10.5% of those shipped to the U.S. in the same period.[20] Also, an industry researcher determined that Mirrorless camera sales in the U.S. fell by about 20% in the three weeks leading up to December 14, 2013—which included the key Black Friday shopping week; in the same period, DSLR sales went up 1%.[20]

2015. 2015 sales statistics showed that overall camera sales have fallen to one third of those of 2010, due to compact cameras being substituted by camera-capable mobile phones. Within camera sales, ILCs have seen their market share increasing, with ILCs being 30% of overall camera sales, of which DSLRs were 77% and mirrorless cameras were 23%.[21] In the Americas in 2015, DSLR annual sales fell by 16% per annum, while mirrorless sales over the same 12-month period have increased by 17%.[22]. In Japan, mirrorless cameras outsold DSLRs during some parts of the year. In 2015, mirrorless-cameras accounted for 26 percent of interchangeable-lens camera sales outside the Americas, although a lesser share of 26 percent was in the U.S.[23]

2016. In late 2016, Olympus announced their OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, a successor to the earlier and successful Mark I. The Mark II model retains a micro 4/3 image sensor of 17.3x13 mm and features a 20.4 megapixel resolution lens, representing a new generation of mirrorless cameras competitive with and in many respects superior to DSLR cameras.

Systems comparison[edit]

System Notable models Lens mount Sensor size Stabilization Throat diameter Flange focal distance Focus system 35 mm equiv multiplier Release date
Canon EOS M Canon EOS M, EOS M2, EOS M3, EOS M10, EOS M5 Canon EF-M 22.3 × 14.9 mm APS-C Lens-based 47 mm 18 mm Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus 1.6 October 2012[24][25]
Fujifilm G Fujifilm GFX 50S Fujifilm G-mount 43.8 × 32.9 mm Medium format Lens-based  ?? 26.7 mm Contrast-detection autofocus 0.79 January 2017[26]
Fujifilm XF Fujifilm X-Pro1, X-T1, X-A1, X-M1, X-E1, X-A2, X-A10, X-A3, X-A5, X-E2, X-E3, X-T10, X-T20, X-Pro2, X-T2, X-H1 Fujifilm X-mount 23.6 × 15.6 mm APS-C Lens-based

X-H1: Sensor-based (5-axis IBIS, 5.5 stops compensation)

44 mm 17.7 mm Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus on X-H1, X-T1, X-T2, X-Pro2, X-T10, X-T20, X-E2, X-E3, X-A5; Contrast-detection autofocus on other models 1.5 January 2012
Hasselblad XCD Hasselblad X1D Hasselblad XCD mount 43.8 × 32.9 mm Medium format none  ?? 20 mm Contrast-detection autofocus 0.79 June 2016
Leica L Leica T, SL Leica L-mount 35.8×23.9 mm full-frame (SL)
23.6 × 15.7 mm APS-C (T)
Lens-based  ?? 19 mm Contrast-detection autofocus 1.0 (SL), 1.5 (T) April 2014[27]
Leica M (rangefinder camera) Leica M8, M9, M9-P, M Monochrom, M-E, M; Epson R-D1, R-D1s, R-D1x, R-D1xG Leica M-mount 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

Olympus PEN E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-PL1, E-PL2, E-PL3, E-PM1, OM-D E-M5, E-PL5, OM-D E-M1

Micro Four Thirds 17.3×12.98 mm 4/3 Lens-based (Panasonic); In body (Olympus)

Olympus EM-5 1st 5 axis stability system versus traditional 2 axis

~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[15] Nikon 1 J1, V1, J2, V2, J4, V3, J5 Nikon 1 mount 13.2 × 8.8 mm 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 23.6 × 15.6 mm APS-C Sensor-based ?? 45.46 mm Contrast-detection autofocus 1.53 February 2012
Pentax Q Pentax Q, Q10, Q7, Q-S1 Q-mount 6.17×4.55 mm (1/2.3") for Q and Q10
7.44×5.58 mm (1/1.7") for Q7 and Q-S1
Sensor-based 38 mm[28] 9.2 mm[29] Contrast-detection autofocus 5.5 (appx), Q and Q10
4.6 (appx), Q7 and Q-S1
June 2011
Ricoh GXR Ricoh GXR Sealed interchangeable sensor lens unit system, and Leica M-mount Depends 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, NX100, NX200, NX20, NX300, NX30, NX500, NX1 Samsung NX-mount 23.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C Lens-based 42 mm 25.5 mm Hybrid Contrast-detection/Phase detection autofocus 1.53 January 2010
Sigma SA Sigma SD Quattro, Sigma SD Quattro H Sigma SA-mount 26.7 × 17.9 mm APS-H (Quattro H)
23.4 x 15.5 mm APS-C (Quattro)
Lens-based  ?? 44 mm Phase and contrast 1.35 (Quattro H)
1.54 (Quattro)
February 2016
Sony α NEX NEX-3, NEX-5, NEX-5N, NEX-6, NEX-7 (still cameras), NEX-VG10 (video camera) Sony E-mount 23.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C Lens-based 46.1 mm (1.815 inch) 18 mm Contrast-detection autofocus (earlier models), Phase and Contrast (newer models) 1.5 June 2010
Sony α ILCE α9, α7, α7R, α7S, α7 II, α7R II, α7S II, α6500, α6300, α6000, α5100, α5000, α3000 Sony E-mount 35.8×23.9 mm full-frame (α7, α7R, α7S, α7 II, α7R II, α7S II, and α9)
23.4 × 15.6 mm APS-C (αxx00)
Depends (Lens based although α7 II, α7R II, α7S II and α9 have 5 axis IBIS and can utilise lens and IBIS at same time) 46.1 mm (1.815 inch) 18 mm Contrast-detection autofocus, Phase & Contrast (α7, α7 II, α9, α6xxx) 1.0 (α7x and α9), 1.5 (αx000) October 2013


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