The problem with 'Mirrorless'




I've many times recommended the Mirrorlessons - The Best Mirrorless Camera Reviews site, and excellent it is. But Heather and Mathieu have given themselves the widest possible brief. Because mirrorless cameras are after all everything that isn't a (D)SLR. So a single shot sheet film plate / view camera shooting 10x8" film is a mirrorless camera and so is my Blackberry Q10. Mirrorless means everything from point and shoot compacts, Leica Rangefinders to Camera Phones and the m4/3 and Sony e-mount ranges. So we seem to have a difficulty of definition. There is EVIL. (Electronic viewfinder interchangeble lenses) but that rules out the Sony RX-1 and the Fuji X100's for example. Then there is Compact System Cameras. See previous for that. So if we want one simple definition we have DSLR's and non-DSLR's. But does that mean anything or serve any purpose?

Well probably not, because (D)SLR's are the minority of cameras made and sold. Which does of course begs the question - Why does everybody make so much fuss about them and scramble to demonstrate that their non-DSLR's are just as good? They are 'professional' cameras you might argue. But so is medium-format and the various film options that are still in use. 

But we know what we mean when we say Mirrorless, right? Well do we? Well for those who subscribe to the photographic internet inaccurate shorthands the answer may be yes. You know the drill, a 35mm film sized sensor is 'full-frame' a 25mm lens is 'equivalent' to a 50mm lens on a 'full-frame' camera, 'prosumer' cameras, 'bridge' cameras, et al. So many assumptions, so many catergories, so much lazy language. 

There is of course a solution, but nobody's going to like it. Forget all the definitions. Because why on earth do we have to define and catergorise our gear? Do we really go around thinking 'I must replace my ageing prosumer camera. So should I stick with a DSLR or buy into a mirrorless / CSC / EVIL system?' Well I guess some people do and the review sites promote it as well, because without those definitions, innaccurate as they may be, where are they? What's their focus, where is their target audience? 

Choosing not to define our gear and pigeon hole it really isn't like walking a tight rope without a pole and a safety net as some would have us believe. Strange as it may seem, some of us can cope without classifying our gear. And my suspicion is that people who feel the need to do so aren't exactly going to be the most imaginative and creative when it comes to using it. 

In terms of my own personal photographic experience I have two simple rules. 

1.There are no rules. 
2. What if?

However, I seem to be in a minority here. And though I'm far from a chaotic, wildly unpredictable free spirit following my whims and caprices like some over exited dilettante (pretentious - Moi?) I do seem to be able to cope without neatly ordering my life, my work and my possessions into meaningless descriptive subdivisions, complete with title and text. Once again it's the preoccupation with gear as the be all and end all of the photographic experience. It may well be the case but I suspect artists don't bang on about brushes and paint. Though Formula One buffs do endlessly discuss tyre strategies, so who knows. 

My point (finally!) is that perhaps we should all trust our instincts a bit more. Learn to please ourselves (in a good way) and not get bogged down in the minutiae of the mediocre. For example I'm currently shooting with a Nokia 1020 most of the time, but that may or may not change in the future. That's one of the great attractions of being a grown up, the ability to choose, change our minds and ignore conventions. The relentless rigidity of what gets written about photography, which after all IS a creative art, often amazes me. And though I'm not surprised by it, I still find it deeply dispiriting. 

My last thought is why should we choose to describe what we use with the word less in it anyway? If we have to have these word boxes for our tools couldn't we at least come up with something positive. EVF enhanced perhaps? or even Mirror Free. But then that just ascribes far more importance than it deserves to a piece of silvered glass, which when you think about it is pretty much the most useless distinction for  cameras that could be devised. And that probably explains why it's so popular.



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  • N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) at the bottom of this post. 

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