Home Cameras/Lenses Mirrorless is dead. Long live the camera!

Mirrorless is dead. Long live the camera!

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When are we going to stop using the mirrorless mouthful when describing the now-mainstream camera. The vast majority of photographs these days are taken by a camera or phone without a mirror. The old method of distinguishing between cameras with and without a mirror is now superfluous. When did you last take out your mirrorless camera to take pictures of a horseless carriage?

It’s one of my hobbies, taking pictures of vehicles. But I normally use a camera to take pictures of cars. Mirrorless doesn’t even come into my head.

Isn’t it time we went back to the simple moniker of “camera” for a device that takes photographs? Why talk about the most popular modern camera by what it doesn’t have, rather than what it has?

Ten years ago, when most photographers were using single-lens reflex cameras, perhaps it made sense to differentiate the new way of seeing through the lens as “mirrorless.” But that was ten years ago; it makes absolutely no sense now.

The writing is on the wall for the DSLR: Even the big boys are now putting their efforts into the so-called “mirrorless” market. Isn’t it time we had a rethink on camera nomenclature?

Redundant

While DSLRs still account for nearly 50 per cent of shipments, the proportion continues to shrink. And if you regard smartphones as cameras—which they are undoubtedly are, and good ones at that—then the “mirrorless” tag is wholly redundant.

Even the DSLR bears an over-complex name which was perhaps necessary twenty years ago. Adding “digital” to SLR made sense when film SLRs were still in production. As far as I’m aware, though (and I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m wrong), film reflex cameras are now living in Dodoland. It would be more logical these days to differentiate cameras with mirrors from cameras without mirrors. What’s wrong with the term reflex camera?

The future is not with reflex cameras. While there are advantages in an optical view via a mirror, the benefits of a mirrorless design (see, I’ve just done it again…) are plain to all. The latest electronic viewfinders are so good that the advantage of the DSLR is shrinking rapidly.

I am thinking to ban the use of “mirrorless” from the columns of Macfilos. What do you think? Please discuss… all contributions welcome.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Ban mirrorless. Some less than brilliant experts also call rangefinders mirrorless. The term was useful when it was an innovation but it is well past its best before date.

  2. Film SLRs are no longer being made, but there are huge numbers of them still in use all around the world. Just check on the Camera Rescue website in Finland to see the work they are doing in restoring old film cameras of all kinds. Also check with your friend Hamish Gill on 35mmc. I shot a roll of film yesterday with my Rolleiflex which is a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR). I know of young people who not only shoot with TLRs, but also collect them as well.

    Mirrorless is not a term which I ever use. To my mind, EVF camera is more of a suitable term as it describes a camera by what it has as opposed to what it hasn’t. Analogue is another term which I never use. It is often used to mean ‘not digital’ and while I can forgive the young folk for using the term as they may have never come across cameras which are ‘not digital’ before, to old codgers like myself who used film cameras for many years, using the term ‘film camera’ makes much more sense and if someone wants to make a distinction with cine-cameras then ‘still’ or ‘stills’ could be added. While I am on about this there is also an increasing demand for old 16mm and 8mm cine cameras and a lot of young people are seeking tuition on those older formats. On the day we processed the ‘Swiss Roll’ I was also leaving in an old Bolex H16 cine camera at the Darkroom which I had got from an auctioneer, I know in Sweden, who wanted to dispose of it at a ‘start price’ after a bidder had let him down.

    There is more than just DSLRs v ‘Mirrorless’ happening out there.

    William

    • Dear William,

      I know you are not in favour of „analogue“ and of course I respect it. I even partially adapted my own writing to it. But should we not speak of sensor cameras then instead of digital cameras? For me, film and sensor are opposites in terms of the recording medium as are analogue vs. digital on the level of recording technology.

      As to mirrorless, I do agree. Any Leica M is mirrorless and so are all the lovely cameras I am working with for my The M Files project. But nobody means them when using the M word. New reflex cameras will die out anyway… but not because they are inferior – oh no, with their complex mechanics and optics they are just more expensive to manufacture if you want to live up to high standards. And a struggling industry on a shrinking market can only compensate for the loss of sales by trying to get their profit margin higher on every single item sold. When competition is over the price cost cutting is the only option left.

      These are hard times for most players in the camera industry. All the young people with their film cameras they only have to put out of their parents‘ drawers are no help either. But don’t get me wrong, I think their interest in classic photography is excellent and will help the film technology to survive.

      JP

      • The Leica M rangefinder uses mirrors. I’m happy with ‘sensor’ once you use digital with it as film is a physical chemical sensor of a kind. Words are not really that important once meaning is conveyed. I use the words which convey meaning to me and strangely enough most other people understand them. The young people don’t really owe the camera industry a living, particularly as most of the new products nowadays are beyond affordability for them. Film has higher use costs, but cost is not the only reason why young people are going to film.

        William

        • Fully agree, William. It was not meant as a critique of the young people of course. I am very happy about anyone who has a creative impetus – in photography or whatever other field. I just wanted to explain why I think the industry is pushing forward the mirrorless concept with such energy. It is more or less their only idea to keep their engines running. JP

          • I agree. The paradigm shifts caused by digital roll on, but so far the ‘camera industry’ still largely perceives the market as the descendants of film cameras with digital innards, but the basic concept of ILCs comes from the film age and one would have thought that much more than that could be achieved with the technology that is now available.

            Young Digital Natives are not all enthused by that and that is why they are turning back to the older technologies. How else can you explain the success of Camera Rescue and Lomography etc?

            William

  3. To me, a “camera” is just that; a piece of precision equipment, whether film or digital, for taking photographs. The description needs neither qualification nor amplification, except perhaps the makers name and model. The flat things with buttons on them, which replaced cast-iron boxes and those terrible BT booths, are “telephones”.

    • Smartphones are telephones with cameras. I note your ‘Luddite’ perspective about call boxes etc. There was once a chap called Canute……. etc

      William

  4. The term ‘mirrorless’ is still important for those who enjoy experimenting with legacy lenses which may not adapt to DSLRs but which will adapt to mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless bodies will usually ‘whoop’ DSLRs by virtue of their amplified and magnified live view images. DSLRs can usually ‘whoop’ mirrorless bodies by virtue of their brighter and maybe clearer viewfinder images. Each type has its positive and negative attributes. And film SLR cameras are not quite ‘dodoes’. Consider e.g., Ffordes Photographic ‘USED’ camera listings where I just counted c.80 35mm film SLRs and c.20 MF film SLRs / TLRs … plus several film rangefinder cameras. SLR 135 and MF film cameras still have a reasonably healthy demand and are used in colleges where students learn film and darkroom techniques. Cameras of all denominations form a broad church … sure they’re all ‘cameras’ … but each type has its niche market and uses. They’re thus worthy of differentiation. I’m a legacy lens enthusiast and just checked my stack of ‘Really Useful Boxes’ each with double decker compartment trays filled with lens adapters. The collection commenced when Leica, Olympus and Panasonic (part of the Four Thirds Consortium) commenced manufacture of 4/3 DSLRs in 2006 when I suddenly needed a Leica R to 4/3 adapter … and the collection is still growing … because hardly a month goes by when I don’t need a new type of adapter. This month I needed a Sony A to Leica L adapter … because I’m about to start using a very special Sony DSLR STF lens on my SL 601 mirrorless camera. And the DSLR STF lens cost less than half the price of the equivalent mirrorless camera STF lens … and which will not adapt to L mount. I need to differentiate between DSLR and mirrorless.

    • I’ve got my old Canon FL (breech-lock) 58mm f1.2 SLR lens here, on a Novoflex Canon FL to Leica M adaptor, to use this great old lens on a current M (with ‘live view’ for focusing at f1.2) ..and the adaptor came with a very convenient patch of white paint on it, at about “twenty-to-nine”, for adding black felt-tip marks to it so that the M10-P reads which lens I’ve attached. (And here’s a Canon-FL-to-Sony adaptor, for using the same nice blurry-background lens on an A7S or A7RII, etc.)

      I’ve never made a distinction between plain, film-loading SLRs and ‘D’SLRs ..they’re all SLRs to me. And the difference between SLRs and rangefinders – for me – is that one kind of camera is an SLR, and the other kind is a rangefinder. But what would I call a Contax G2? An ‘automatic rangefinder’? ..I’ve never stopped to think about that. I generally distinguish between ‘pocket cameras’ and just ‘cameras’. And a phone with a camera in it is just a ‘phone’.

      It gets really complicated if you want to start differentiating between, say, old 1950s 127-film cameras and 120/220/620 roll-film cameras. Or 828 roll-film cameras and ’35mm’ (with sprocket holes) cameras. They’re both ’35mm’ cameras.

      Perhaps the simplest differentiation, for me, is between ‘fixed-lens’ cameras and ‘interchangeable-lens’ cameras. You (..we-ell, I..) immediately understand the versatility of interchangeable-lens cameras (whether SLRs or rangefinders or ‘mirrorless’ or uncategorisable Contax G2s) compared with fixed-lens cameras. So, that Leica Digilux 2 which was mentioned the other week is not as versatile (..it has only a fixed 3x zoom on it, plus the option of a wide-angle adaptor..) as an old-fashioned little film-loading Leica II or III, because those take interchangeable lenses ..anything from a Voigtländer screw-fit 12mm to some-make-or-other of 1000mm lens.

      Ditto, my lovely little ‘pocket’ Sony RX100MkVI (with its 24-200mm – equivalent – lens) is not really as versatile as, say, an Olympus (film or digital) PEN-F.

      Whether or not there’s a mirror inside makes no difference; plenty of descriptions have fallen by the wayside: remember..? ..at one time small interchangeable-lens cameras with electronic (‘mirrorless’) viewfinders were called ‘EVIL’. (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens)

      ‘Pocketable’ or ‘Interchangeable lens’ ..those are really the only descriptions which make sense to me.

  5. I’m fine with just cameras. I usually refer to my own collection as either digital cameras orfilm cameras . I’m tired of people talking about sensors.Tired of the word sensor even, no matter how appropriate it is.A great camera is a great camera regardless of what medium or format it uses.

  6. A long while ago the original movies had no sound. Over time the technology to add sound to movies was adopted and those movies became known as “Talkies”. As “Talkies” became the norm people just called them “Movies”. The movies without sound became known as “Silent Movies”.

    Are we there yet with cameras?

    • Good analogy. And there’s wireless which was a common word for radio in the UK until the seventies. My grandparents would never have used “radio”.

  7. Come on, there is no such thing as a digital camera; they are digital imaging devices. Cameras are for photography; and photography is recording a real physical image on film or other light sensitive material. 🙂

    And optical viewfinders have great advantages, including accuracy and naturalness of view, connection and immediacy with the environment, and comfort in frequent or extended viewing.

  8. I think we should call lenses without mirrors “mirrorless lenses” because it is an important distinction that I would not want to error on when I make an uninformed purchase of an expensive product…

  9. I remember when this new fangled technology started and the term Electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens, EVIL for short , was used.
    Cannot see why that did not catch on. It slips off the tongue so easily.
    Now back to my recently purchased Daguerreotype in a Union case to drool.
    Cheers
    Philip

  10. Lets be honest, I will continue using my Df, purely because of its capability, and the fact it is understated on the street. I know it is a DSLR, but I have never looked at the camera and thought, “I must have a mirrorless one.” I look at the quality of the output, as that is what counts.

  11. Language will take it’s course as you have predicted here. It is normal for the word mirrorless to be dropped.

    I see very often people asking about getting a propper DSLR camera like a Sony A7 or a Fuji. It is one thing to drop a word, but misuse is another. I’ve even heard of Leica M referred to as an SLR – people simple associate the term with a camera too big to fit in a pocket / has removable lenses. It is often not worth the breath to correct those people as they are in flow about some other passion. It just indicates how much they know about photography.

  12. Im afraid I still stick to the distinction between digital image and film (analogue) image; the lenses are tweaked from one to the other depending on the demands of digital but both analogue and “digital” lenses work on both media given the right mount. The cameras are just boxes well built or not for film or sensors, and lenses. I also find the hunt to imitate “film” in digital entirely without merit — the digital look, is a digital look and depends on the sensor. And a film look depends on the film. And I shoot both for the same different reasons…..

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