How to Buy a Digital Camera with a Mirrorless Interchangeable

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How to Buy a Digital Camera with a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens
Two largely incompatible aims that digital camera manufacturers try to incorporate into the design of their cameras are image quality and portability. Digital single-lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras, based on traditional film SLR cameras, have been the answer to achieving excellent quality. However, ensuring the highest image quality requires a minimum size of camera, lens, and digital sensor. DSLR cameras are the largest commonly used cameras. They need to be to ensure the highest image quality. Compact cameras, by contrast, offer the ultimate in portability. Most are pocket-sized cameras that can be carried anywhere, and some offer reasonably good quality. Their small size, however, limits their image quality. Their small lenses and digital sensors can't produce the image quality of larger DSLR cameras. Within the last few years, to fill this gap between quality and portability, manufacturers have produced new designs that attempt to combine image quality that is higher than that of compact cameras and greater portability than that of DSLR cameras.

About Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Digital Cameras

Enter the mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera; a new design of digital camera, or rather, a combination of the older designs of DSLR and compact cameras. All DSLR cameras have a mirror and optical pentaprism mechanism that work in combination to provide a viewfinder facility. By removing the mirror and pentaprism and opting instead for the electronic view system used on compact cameras, manufacturers have been able to save a considerable amount of space. This extra space has enabled them to build a hybrid camera that is physically smaller and more conveniently carried than a typical DSLR camera, yet include a larger sensor capable of image quality that is superior to that of compact cameras and not too far behind that of DSLR cameras. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are still larger than typical modern compact digital cameras, but this is actually a plus in terms of camera handling. They have the feel of a professional camera designed for more serious photography and not simply snapshots.

Interchangeable Lenses

As is the case with DSLR cameras, lens interchangeability means that a collection of high-quality lenses can be purchased over time to suit any type of photography. Most new mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are bought with a supplied lens, but for those who want to purchase lenses separately, the cameras can also be bought more cheaply without any lens. 'Camera body only' offers are mostly seen online. In many cases, they are used mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras that are being sold privately. The owner, typically, wants to upgrade to a better model but may not want to part with any of their lenses if they can be used on their next camera. Note, however, that due to to different sizes of lens mount, there is little lens compatibility between different camera brands. This is also true in the case of older DSLR-designed lenses and mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras of the same brand. Adapters usually have to be purchased to enable existing lenses to fit. Before buying a lens for a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, always ensure that it will fit the camera it's intended for.

Camera Features

Expect any new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera to be as packed with digital features as any modern DSLR or high-end digital compact camera. As with those other types, features on a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera range from extremely useful to frivolous. The following are just a few of the common features to expect.

Image Stabilisation

Whenever a camera is hand-held, minute body movements will cause the camera to move slightly. When taking a picture at slower shutter speeds, these movements tend to cause noticeable blurring of the image. Image stabilisation, which can be lens-based or camera-based, can counteract these movements to ensure a sharp image. This is only effective to an extent, however. It can't do anything about subject movement, nor can it compensate for large camera movements.

Auto-Exposure Settings

A good range of auto-exposure settings should be included as standard on any new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. These will include options such as:

Full-auto

In full-auto mode, all exposure settings are decided by the camera based on the light levels of the scene in front of it. Shutter speed, aperture setting and ISO setting are chosen automatically, and flash (unless disabled) will be fired if the camera thinks it's necessary. Keep in mind that while full-auto exposure mode is the fastest and most convenient way to take pictures, it's also the least certain. Many scenes can fool the camera into choosing the wrong settings. Learn to 'read' scenes in order to predict lighting situations where full-auto mode will work fine, and where it's likely to misread the scene.

Shutter Priority

In shutter priority mode, the photographer specifies the shutter speed and the camera varies the other exposure controls (aperture and sensitivity) to ensure correct exposure at that chosen shutter speed.

Aperture Priority

With this exposure mode, the aperture setting (f number) is chosen by the photographer and the camera works out the the best shutter speed and ISO value if necessary. In addition to controlling the exposure, aperture priority also enables depth of field (the in-focus region in front of and behind the subject) to be controlled as this depends on the aperture setting.

Scenes

Exposure settings that have been optimised for various scenes are also usually offered in abundance. These include settings for scenes such as night-time shots, firework displays, beach scenes, snow-scenes, landscapes, portraits, sunset views, and more.

Manual

In manual mode, all exposure settings: shutter, aperture and sensitivity (ISO), are chosen by the photographer. This is the opposite of full-auto exposure mode. It's the least convenient setting but, in the hands of a photographer who understands the relationships between shutter, aperture and sensitivity (ISO), it's also the most likely to produce successful results.

Image Editing Features

Image editing features will be included in any mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. Don't be over-impressed by editing features, however. As in-camera editing is carried out after the image has been captured, the same editing procedures could just as easily be carried out on any photo-editing software after the image has been transferred to a computer. This applies equally to digital zoom. Unlike optical zoom, which magnifies the actual incoming image, digital zoom simply upsizes the image after the shot is taken.

Locating Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Digital Cameras

The first thing to be aware of when tracking down mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras is that they are often advertised or reviewed under various names, sometimes vaguely and incorrectly. They are often commonly referred to as compact system cameras, mirrorless system cameras and compact DSLR cameras. Don't confuse mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with bridge cameras. Bridge cameras are a fixed-lens type of digital camera that also offer a compromise between portability and image quality but in a completely different way. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras can be purchased from a variety of retail outlets, such as camera shops, department stores and the digital photography areas of larger retail chains that specialise in consumer electronics goods. They can also be found in greater numbers, and with a greater range of brands and models available, from online sources.

Conclusion

Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have only been around for a few years. That's a short time in photography for cameras based on a new system to prove their worth, but they have proved popular in that time. As they are larger than digital compact cameras, they are not going to offer the same pocket-sized portability, but, they are still smaller and more conveniently carried than DSLR cameras. They are also increasingly capable of approaching and, according to some reports, exceeding the image quality of entry-level DSLR cameras. In other words, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are not simple point and shoot cameras but well-designed cameras capable of producing high-quality images. Judging by their growing popularity and impressive specifications for a relatively small camera, the mirrorless interchangeable-lens system is here to stay.

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