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Sony Alpha 7II
Sony Alpha 7II

Mirror-less cameras: Compact cleverness

Though they are smaller and lighter, mirror-less cameras can match the image quality of DSLRs

The big and bulky digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have been the choice of professional photographers for years. But an increasing number of “enthusiasts" now prefer something that is smaller, lighter and comes with minimum performance deficit.

The mirror-less camera, also referred to as the compact interchangeable lens camera, hybrid camera and compact system camera, eliminates the need for the slanting mirror that is positioned between the shutter and the lens in a DSLR. In such a camera, light passes through the lens and hits the image sensor directly. By removing the mirror, and also the optical viewfinder, the size of the device is reduced considerably.

Among the early mirror-less cameras available in the market was the Epson RD1 in 2004, but it didn’t find many buyers owing to its high price, $3,000 (around 1.89 lakh now).

Mirror-less cameras from Panasonic and Olympus in 2008 were the first ones to be sold in big numbers—the two companies had formed an alliance to deploy and promote micro four thirds, a standard for sensor size. Sony, Samsung, Pentax, Fujifilm and Nikon too have started focusing on this category.

DSLRs vs mirror-less cameras

“In terms of focusing and shutter response, mirror-less cameras are in the same league as entry-level and pro-sumer (professional consumer cameras; they are better than typical cameras but a step below professional ones) DSLRs. Since mirror-less cameras use the same large sensors as in DSLRs, the image quality is the same. The quality variance is only visible when you compare output from premium lenses of DSLRs that professional photographers use," says Soham Raninga, editor of technology website Digit.in.

There are certain areas where DSLRs still hold an advantage. “The quality of glass and the range of high-quality lenses with large apertures is where DSLRs seem to hold some edge over mirror-less cameras, albeit for a much higher premium," says Raninga. Another area where DSLRs have an edge, though it is fading away rapidly, is the availability of physical dials and controls on the camera for quick and direct access to important settings. Mirror-less cameras are still largely focused on consumers who are not professional photographers and hence settings and controls are largely menu-driven rather than offering enough physical dials and buttons, adds Raninga.

Small can be big

While having largely the form factor and size of compact cameras, mirror-less camera sensors are physically much larger—in some cases, the same size as the ones used in a DSLR. This indicates an immediate performance advantage. The simple rule is that the larger the sensor, the higher quality images it can capture. And this is especially true when you are taking pictures in low light.

But within the mirror-less category, there are variations. Nikon’s compact 1 camera uses a sensor two-thirds smaller than other mirror-less cameras, which is perfect if portability is important. For the more advanced users, the low-light image quality and control over depth-of-field (soft-focus settings while taking a photograph) may not be on the same level as cameras with bigger hardware.

The second big advantage of mirror-less cameras is the weight. By reducing the footprint, there is corresponding weight loss too. The Nikon’s D5500 DSLR weighs 470g, while its 1-J4 mirror-less camera weighs 192g.

Sound effect

In a DSLR camera, when you press the shutter button, the mirror rises up, producing a loud thwack noise. In a mirror-less camera, on the other hand, you can take photographs without drawing any attention every time you press the shutter button.

Find the view

A DSLR works best when using the optical viewfinder because it uses the phase-detection autofocus method (the use of glass in a DSLR lens to bounce light on to the sensor), which results in quicker focus. But when the screen is used to compose a shot, the DSLR shifts to the contrast-detection autofocus method (based on the principle that an image is in focus when contrast is at its highest), which results in sluggishness in focus speed.

In mirror-less cameras, the contrast autofocus is much quicker and you can compose shots using the screen at the back.

Smartphones vs mirror-less cameras

With the constantly improving capabilities of smartphone cameras, users prefer to invest in a high-end smartphone with a good camera to avoid carrying two devices. Some users prefer the click-and-share flexibility that a smartphone offers. Mirror-less cameras could replicate this feature.

“Use a popular smartphone operating system to drive the mirror-less camera, give direct access to social media (Instagram and Facebook). Let people post, share, comment and interact via the camera, rather than having to first transfer their work of art (captures) to a smart device (laptop and phone) and go through the hassles," says Raninga.

Below are our picks of some of the best mirror-less cameras.

Some of the finest mirror-less cameras

If budget isn’t an issue, these devices can be a good alternative to DSLRs

Sony Alpha 7II

1,54,990 (with SEL2870 lens)

The Alpha 7II (ILCE-7M2K) packs in a 24.3-megapixel (MP) full-frame sensor and BIONZ X image processor. The camera features five-axis image stabilization—horizontal, vertical, rolling, pitching and yawing. It weighs 556g, which is not a lot considering that the Alpha 7II is a capable video
camera as well.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

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74,990 onwards

This camera from Olympus packs in a 16.1-MP sensor. The premium metallic body is dust-, splash- and freeze-proof (up to -10 degrees Celsius). To compensate for blur-inducing vibration, there is the five-axis image stabilization, which is useful when taking close-up shots without a tripod. It has the TruePic VII image processor, built-in Wi-Fi and an interface that is not complicated. It weighs 417g.

Nikon 1 V1

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21,429 (with 10-30mm lens)


This camera has a 10.1-megapixel (MP) sensor and 3-inch LCD. It uses a hybrid autofocus system, and the Active D-Lighting technology improves detailing usually lost in the shadows in high-contrast photographs. The 1 V1 can record full-HD videos and slow-motion movies. It is available in multiple colours, including black, white and pink, and weighs 294g.

Sony Alpha 6000

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49,400 (with SELP1650 lens)

This camera has a 24.3-MP sensor paired with the BIONZ X image processor, and uses Sony’s E-mount lenses. Sony has deployed what it calls the 4D Focus feature—this enables fast autofocus, the area covered is wider, there is constant tracking of a moving object and tweaked autofocus algorithm. It has Wi-Fi and near-field communication (NFC) to connect to your phone or tablet wirelessly. The camera weighs 285g.

Olympus OM-D E-M10

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63,699 (with 14-42mm 2RK lens)


This premium camera looks the part too—the metal body with black inserts looks classy. The 16-MP sensor is paired with Olympus’ TruePic VII image processor. It has the in-body three-axis image stabilization to improve clarity of pictures and avoid horizontal, vertical and rolling shakes. The 3-inch touch screen lets users set focus by tapping. There is integrated Wi-Fi for easy sharing of photographs from the camera. It weighs 396g.

Canon EOS-M

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This 18-MP sensor is the same size as those used in the EOS series of DSLRs. The 3-inch touch screen makes it a breeze to sift through the neat user interface, and allows tap to focus and click a photo from the screen itself. Power users will appreciate the fact that the camera works with Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses with the EF-EOS M mount adapter. It weighs 262g.

Fujifilm X-A1

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The X-A1 has a 16.3-MP sensor. There are multiple shooting modes, making it easier for the casual user. The camera has built-in Wi-Fi to transfer images. The 3-inch screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio (compared to the more common 16:9), which allows 30% more space to compose shots. It weighs 280g.

*Prices may vary.

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