Why I don’t want a mirrorless camera

The latest buzz is that Canon is going to be bringing a high quality, small camera to the market to compete with the mirrorless competitors from Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony. While I understand why they need to compete in this area, they can probably count me out as a consumer, along with all the other manufacturers.

Sony NEX-5

It’s not that I am opposed to a camera without a mirror, in fact I own one from Panasonic. It’s a point and shoot called the LX-3 and it really works for me in those situations where I just need a quick snap and don’t feel like lugging around my DSLR. But you won’t soon find me trading away the benefits of the DSLR for a smaller mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. There’s several reasons for this, and the first has to do with how you will frame your scene.  See, mirrorless cameras don’t have a viewfinder, at least not in the sense that a DSLR does. Your main source for viewing what you will photograph is the rear LCD. This means that looking at the screen outdoors on a sunny day will be difficult at best.

Olympus E-PL1

Also, it’s hard to estimate things like depth of field because there aren’t any depth of field preview buttons on the cameras (although I think this would be easily solved). But the biggest problem for me would be viewing distance. My eyes aren’t getting any younger and I already find that I need to hold the camera further away to even see the rear LCD with any clarity. This has nothing to do with how good the screen or how much resolution it has. It’s simply a matter of not being able to see anything closer than 20″ from my nose with any clarity.

Panasonic Lumix GF1

Poor vision isn’t a problem with my DSLR since all I have to do is adjust the diopter and I see things with crystal clarity. Besides, there’s just something great about looking directly through the optics of the camera that seems to make it more personal and connected. If you own one of the new mirrorless cameras, drop me a comment and share your experience with it.


  1. Charles says:

    Jeff, this would of been an ok article over 6 months ago, but it’s just lame now. Olympus doesn’t even sell the E-P1 anymore. Both their cameras have a very high quality. It’s as big as the E-3 finder making it larger than most light weight DSLRs. The G2 and GH1 have similar finders.

    The GF1 has a much inferior finder but you should of at least mentioned it. One doesn’t need to use the back LCD. You don’t mention the G1, G2 or GH1 which have a very high quality finder built in.

    You are just link baitinging for more hits and it’s a little disappointing to see.

    • Charles says:

      Ack. My apologies. You did say the EPL1. My office blocks photos and I read too quickly. My bad.

      • Not only do you read too quickly but I am offended that you would accuse me of link baiting. If you would slow down to read the article a little, it started off with the news that Canon might be jumping in to this camera segment along with Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic. I was also just pointing out how one of those styles of cameras wouldn’t really be for me because I don’t like having to use the rear LCD to compose my shots. And here’s another thing, if the camera doesn’t have a mirror but does have an electronic viewfinder, I’m still out because I haven’t found one of those that compares to a DSLR. I appreciate you trying to keep me honest but for the right reasons. The only reason I showed the camera pictures was to give a general idea to the reader as to what type of camera I was speaking of. I wasn’t denigrating any particular camera, just stating a personal opinion.

  2. I understand the point about the viewfinder, but as someone who wears glasses, I’ll be glad to see the back of the viewfinder. It’s not perfect yet, but in five years time, the LCD screen will be vastly superior.

  3. Peter Gamba says:

    Jeff – what is your opinion on storing a DSLR with lens attached lens first in the camera bag?

  4. I have a mirrorless SLR with a viewfinder from Canon — Canon EOS1n RS. Canon has been a leader in mirrorless cameras since the 60s I believe. They came up with mirrorless cameras a long time ago to come up with faster (Frames per second) and more durable film cameras. There is some light loss in both the viewfinder and on the exposure since the light coming through the lens is split. But if they use the same technology on a DSLR, they can surely program the exposures to compensate for the light loss. A mirroless DSLR with this technology (with both a viewfinder and a screen) would be an awesome camera, since it would also be more shock proof!

  5. Personally, I find the concept fascinating – a compromise camera that you can change lenses on but with better quality than compacts. I also prefer a vewfinder, I even think it adds stability to the shot, as I find taking pictures at arm’s length a very wobbly experience and raher unsatisfying – a bit like ….. Still I might give one of these new cameras a go once the price comes down a bit. But what will they be called ? Mirrorless? Mirrorless digital ? SLD ? EVIL ? Micro ? They seem to have so many names at the moment. (And to the person who wrote ‘would of’ – aaaggh !)

  6. I feel the writer of this article is really not a serious photographer interested in image quality. If he were, then he’d know that spending $500 for a Panasonic LX-3 point and shoot (with no optical view finder, and a digital sensor the size of your little finger nail), verses spennding $599 for a micro 4/3 Olympus E-PL1 (with an optional electronic view finder and a substantially larger digital sensor), is a no brainer about which compact camera is worth carrying around for a “quick snap”. Interesting that people seems to be OK with having no optical view finder for a compact camera, and even a high end, expensive one from Panasonic, Leica, Ricoh, Canon S90, etc.), but those same people cringe att he thought of a micro 4/3 camera not having one. Perhaps the article’s author should just get a high end camera phone as his sole pocket camera.

    • Steve, just so we can keep the numbers straight, the Olympus E-LP1 with the 14-42mm lens will set you back about $525, give or take a few bucks. If you want to add the electronic viewfinder you had better scrape together another $280. If my math is correct, that’s about $805, as opposed to the $400 that I spent on my LX3. Also, the point of buying the LX3 was to have a camera that I could keep in my pocket, handy for when I just wanted to take a quick snap or record a short video clip. The mirrorless rigs are a little large to be sticking in a pocket.

      When I am concerned with image quality, I pull out my D3, or my D700 or my T2i. I have “serious” photo gear for the times when I want to be a “serious” photographer. I’m not sure why folks think that I have anything against the Micro 4/3 cameras, because I don’t. I am sure that they take some fantastic images. The point of my article was that they aren’t right for me and the way I want to shoot when I am after good, quality images. As for getting a high-end camera phone as my pocket camera, I can still do things with my LX3 with much greater control and image quality than any camera phone.

  7. Why I want one: I’m not happy with the small sensors of cameras like the LX3 and S90. I want lower light/flashless ability, and I can squeeze that out of a GF1+20. And the EVF helps a ton.

    Is it perfect? No. Would I use it professionally? Unlikely for what I do (though it works pretty well for impromptu portraits, heh). What it does do is have a very compact camera balanced w/ superb image quality. This is of course, quite subjective. But I feel a G11 or LX3/5 is just as cumbersome since I can’t pocket it. If the S90 could fit a larger sensor, maybe a hair thicker… I would possibly go for that.

  8. My e-p1 has a DOF preview function.

  9. Let’s look at what’s important:

    1. Sensor size; it’s not just low light performance, but the depth of field requires a large sensor, there is no way to get around this;

    For a sensor size of APC or larger, with or without mirror, a decent range zoom lens is not going to be small; so the compact size of camera body is kind of a mute point; The pancake lens with fixed focal lens is attractive, I cant imagine people who take that lens alone on vacation would be happy. Put on a good zoom lens, the camera body looks like a accessory of the lens.

    2. Autofocus speed; DLSR still wins

    3. Movie mode, and autofocus during movie mode.
    It’s just a matter of time for DLSR to implement in recording auto focus, there is nothing prevent it from doing so;

    4.Size and weight of the camera body;
    Unless one wants to use the mirrorless camero only with the fix focal length lens like a P&S camera, the whole package is not that compact when a zoom lens is attached.

    5. Lens selections
    DSLR has wide selection, who cares, to average user, 2 lens will take care most of their needs.

    The physics works against shrinking the camera with larger sensor, the optics doesnt work out, lens scales with sensor size.

    It’s a marketing hype, but apparantly it’s working;

    On the other hand, CANON’s plan to make DSLR smaller may win in the long run.

    • Just to add to your third point Kevin, the new Nikon D3100 is supposed to have active focus during video recording. I think my biggest thing is that I need a viewfinder because my eyes stink at close distances. I know some of the cameras have electronic viewfinders but I just don’t care for them like an optical finder.

  10. Danilo Ingan-eng says:

    You never mention your need for a vari angle camera feature which is normal in this early stage of digital age. Most shutterbugs these days shoots without any of their self portraits among the thousands of pics they snap at the end of the day- a bad robotic habit acquired from the film era. Unlike most people I shoot my own memories other than other’s or what they call “arts”. Memories is what cameras are for. Personal memories I mean. If I want pics about anything I go to internet. They have millions but they don’t have my self portraits. And camera works with time a limited luxury which every shutterbugs don’t have. So with camera mounted on a tripod aim at the scene you wanted, you can compose and check the framing of your self portrait from the vari angle lcd facing you. Vari angle lcd tool are the only way you can have self portraits in angle you want with ease. With it I believe shutterbugs nowadays will turn from robotic to humans who don’t waste time. After all “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

  11. Hey Jeff,

    I was researching cameras and came upon your webite. I am not a serious photographer. I do want my pictures to have good quality and would like the ability to shoot fast action sequences.(Gymnastics for example) I was looking at the a new mirrorless camera by Panasonic LUMIX GF2 that is due out in Jan 2011. I would like for it to be able to do HD video also. Can you provide any guidance.

  12. John Bradley says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I completely agree with your reasons for not wanting a mirrorless camera. In addition, I would also like to add that the lack of a viewfinder makes it impossible to brace the camera against your face when shooting in low light situations etc.




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