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What camera should I buy - part 2, the mirrorless ILC

In the previous post I spoke about buying a DSLR as a first camera for a beginner. Now I'll talk about the latest thing - mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs).

Take a DSLR and remove the optical viewfinder. Replace it with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and you have a mirrorless ILC. Why is this such a big deal?

First of all, without the optical path that is needed to make the optical viewfinder work, the camera can be much smaller and lighter. Lenses also get smaller and lighter. The camera designer is now free to put the EVF anywhere on the camera, though in practice pretty much all cameras available today put it either top and centre, like a DSLR, or top left.

An EVF allows for a lot of really useful features. These include:

  • Live view histogram and shadow/highlight warning - lets you get the exposure spot on first time, no more exposure bracketing

  • Focus peaking with 100% magnification when using the manual focus ring

  • Show the effect of art and scene modes in the EVF, even when shooting raw, so you can compose the picture while seeing the effect of your chosen settings.

  • You can see a bright viewfinder image even when the light is very dim

Is there any downside? Well, just one - the viewfinder is electronic. This, for me, turns out to be the most significant difference, simply what the camera is like to look through. With an OVF you see the world as it is, with an EVF you see an image of the world and that makes a difference. The trouble is, I can't decide which is better.

All the major manufacturers are now doing a range of mirrorless ILCs except for Pentax. Some, like Olympus, Panasonic and Sony, are only doing mirrorless ILCs.

All the things that can be said about DSLRs are probably true of mirrorless ILCs. The range of lenses, the adaptability, the reliability, image quality. So it seems to come down to a couple of things - the size and weight advantage (which is significant) and whether you like to see the world through an optical or electronic viewfinder.

The best way to choose, apart from reading endless specification sheets, is to get to a shop and hold some in your hand. Buy the one that feels best.


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