Roger's Corner

Mirrorless, Mirrorless on the Wall . . . Part I

Published August 22, 2012

Today’s post is one of those exercises in randomness that I just have to do every so often. I’ve been working with mirrorless cameras lately. That led to several people reminding me that two years ago I predicted mirrorless cameras would largely replace entry-level SLRs.

After careful evaluation I have to admit I was only 62.5% correct. While mirrorless is the fastest growing segment of the non-cellphone camera market, it hasn’t replaced entry-level SLRs by any means.. So I thought I’d look at why I was, uhm, less correct than I would like to have been (that’s male for wrong).

This post isn’t about who has the best mirrorless camera this quarter. Rather it’s about how the various companies have approached the mirrorless market, what the market seems to be looking like, and what I think will happen next. Since I was 62.5% correct two years ago, hopefully with more time for observation I’ll be 75% or so correct on what will happen next. Or maybe not. Most of the predictions will be in Part II of this series, though.

The Story of CaNikon and the Seven Dwarves in the Land Without Mirrors

Once upon a time there were two huge ogres name Canon and Nikon who made almost all of the cameras that serious photographers used. The only other cameras were made by the Seven Dwarf Companies: Pany, Oly, Fuji, Sony, Penty  . . .   never mind. I just realized I was heading for Ricohy and Samsungy. We’ll drop the dwarf names quicker than I dropped Calculus III back in college.

I have to wonder why there are only 6 Dwarves. Which one is missing? It’s kind of blurry, but I’m pretty sure the one in the front is carrying a Sony 18-200. The silver one. 


Now in reality most of the Dwarves are far larger corporations than the two ogres, but their camera divisions aren’t. Truth be known, Nikon is the only company that makes the majority of their revenue from photographic equipment. Canon makes a very significant portion (not most) of their revenue in imaging, but that includes a very large video imaging division. The others are either electronics companies or medical imaging companies that also make cameras and lenses.

To put it in perspective, Samsung is by far the largest company involved in imaging with revenues of around $145 billion, followed by Panasonic ($99 billion), Sony ($82 billion), Canon ($44.5 billion), Fujifilm ($28 billion), and Ricoh ($24 billion) (1). Nikon’s revenue, for perspective, was $11.6 billion (2), which was a bit more than Olympus.

For a little more perspective, Ricoh bought the entire Pentax camera company for $124 million, lock, stock, and patents. That’s about 1/3 the price of a small-market NBA team. Personally, I’d much rather have three camera companies than a small market NBA team. The camera companies at least might show a profit.

I think this perspective is important. Except for Nikon and Canon, none of these companies would roll over if their camera division disappeared tomorrow. It’s not the focus (what a subtle pun,eh?) of their business. Photographic equipment accounts for less than 20% of revenue; often a lot less than 20%.

This can be a disadvantage, of course. The camera division gets whatever resources the company’s directors decide to send their way, and the camera division isn’t likely to have as much clout as several of the other divisions in the annual budget meetings.

On the other hand, some of these companies may decide to let the little camera division swing for the fences and be as innovative as they like. It’s not like they’re making a bucket of money anyway. A ‘go big or go home’ philosophy may be an exaggeration for even the most aggressive of them, but logic would suggest a well-healed company with a small camera division would be willing to take some risk. A company depending on the camera division’s revenues to keep the entire company afloat might want to protect the status quo a bit.

So Once Upon a Time . . .

Innovative smaller companies, being innovative, started this mirrorless thing. The Seven Dwarves were making some nice cameras, but weren’t making huge inroads in SLR market share. Sony made a splash with the Alpha cameras, but then seemed to get distracted, as Sony often seems to do. Then some of the smaller companies decided to shake things up a bit. Instead of the same-old-same-old, they were going to start a game of TEGWAR and change up the rules.



The idea was simply brilliant: Just remove the phase detection autofocus system and the optical viewfinder. Do that and you can remove the entire mirror assembly. Now the backfocus distance (the distance from the back of the lens to the sensor) can be much shorter since you don’t have a swinging mirror to clear. You lose a couple of things (phase detection autofocus and the optical viewfinder) but you can use contrast detection autofocus and add an electrical viewfinder (EVF) or (ugh!) try to get by with the LCD.

All that stuff you eliminated was bulky and expensive, so cameras could become much smaller and less expensive. (Well, in theory they could become less expensive.) There weren’t a lot of lenses, but since the backfocus distance was short you could add an adapter to use legacy lenses for a while. It probably was the most brilliant idea since the Exacta introduced the world to SLR cameras back in the 1930s.


Cross-section of an Exacta SLR circa 1940. Red arrow shows the mirror and green arrow the rear of the lens, which has to be far enough away from the sensor (film actually) to allow the mirror to swing up. (image copyright Roger Cicala).


When I handled my first mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera, back in 2008, I was certain this would change everything. It was smaller. It would be less expensive. It needed a little more development and some lenses, but that would be just a matter of a couple of years. The lack of phase detection meant slower autofocus, but not that many people use entry level SLRs for action photography. Electronic viewfinders were getting good. How could it miss?

What has held back mirrorless?

A lot of you are going to get worked up about the ‘held back’ comment. After all, mirrorless is the fastest growing segment of the camera market. But remember, two years ago I said mirrorless would largely replace entry-level SLRs and that certainly hasn’t happened. So maybe “held back from fulfilling Roger’s optimistic prediction” would be more appropriate.

My prediction was off for a couple of reasons. It’s not because entry-level SLRs are so much better or less expensive than they were 3 years ago. Let’s see if I can break down what did happen.

Economic Factors

With all due respect to the Epson RD-1 and Leica M8, mirrorless cameras really began releasing in late 2008 and throughout 2009. This means they were being developed just before the Great Recession started and released in the depths of it. I can only speculate, but it seems reasonable that some manufacturers scaled back research and development during this time. Certainly a couple of companies found themselves in some financial distress. It may not have been a big factor, and nobody outside the companies knows exactly how much of a part it played, but it would be reasonable to think it had some effect in slowing development.


Sony 2008, 2009 stock price courtesy Yahoo.com


There was also the pricing factor, which was my first error back in 2009. If you’ve looked inside a regular SLR and a mirrorless camera, you cannot possibly doubt the mirrorless is far less expensive to produce. I made the assumption that the mirrorless cameras would be priced lower than the entry-level SLRs way before now.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Current generation mirrorless bodies run from $1799 down to $470. Prosumer and Consumer SLRs from $1700 (Nikon D300s) to $480. So the price differential between mirrorless and prosumer / consumer level SLRs didn’t really happen.

It probably would have been obvious if I had thought it through. Nikon and Canon have had entry-level SLRs at just under the $500 price point since around 2006, so they haven’t changed anything. I suspect those are break-even or loss leader price points. The mirrorless companies have to make a profit when they sell the camera, because they aren’t trying to lure entry-level photographers who will eventually climb up their equipment food chain.

Lack of Lenses

I was wrong here, too. I knew lenses would take a while, but didn’t realize it would be this long. For serious photographers, this has to be the biggest factor that prevented the adoption of mirrorless cameras. It has affected some companies (cough, Sony, cough) more than others, but lack of lenses has certainly held back mirrorless as much as any other factor.

It has become very obvious that several of the Seven Dwarves are really electronics companies. Camera companies make optics. Electronics companies make a camera body and get Leica or Zeiss to design a generic zoom lens to slap in front of it. That formula worked fine for fixed-lens point and shoots, but more serious photographers generally want lens options.

The real camera companies all tried, at least. I assume Olympus just didn’t have the resources to redesign their lenses for the shorter backfocus distance of mirrorless systems quickly, but they certainly are turning some superb ones out now. Nikon did release a reasonable set of lenses with the J1/V1 cameras. Fuji had several lenses ready with the X-Pro 1 release and a very clear timeline for more. Pentax designed their mirrorless (rightly or wrongly) to use their entire existing lens lineup, which means it had the largest native-mount lens selection of any mirrorless the day it was released.


Say what you will, other camera systems. Pentax mirrorless owners have them some lens selection!


Canon, surprisingly, may become the exception to that rule. They have only announced two lenses releasing with the EOS-M. They have, however, released several small lenses (40mm pancake and 24 and 28mm IS f/2.8) for SLRs. Perhaps we’ll see those ported over to EOS-M mount rather quickly. Or maybe not.

The ‘mostly electronic’ companies were a bit more varied. Panasonic might not have great in-house lens design abilities, but they did let Leica design a couple of superb prime lenses for their mirrorless systems. Samsung has 9 lenses available for their NX cameras, an excellent showing. (Although someone needs to tell their marketing department; the lenses are buried 3 deep under the camera page in the ‘accessories’ section.) Sony proceeded to make a series of breathtakingly small, feature-rich, excellent mirrorless cameras. But if you want to shoot native E mount lenses, well, much of that excellence is lost.

Diffraction Limits

Do any of you remember that Olympus announced, back in  2009, that the 4/3 group would not increase resolution past 12 megapixels? They changed their mind, obviously, but they didn’t change their lens designs. If you look at Micro 4/3 zoom lenses they have had a strong tendency to be aperture-impaired. Most zooms are f/5.6 or even f/6.3 at the long end. That’s not great on any camera, but it’s especially bad when you put them in front of 16 megapixel 4/3-sized sensors that become diffraction limited at f/8 or perhaps even f/5.6.

I realize that a small megazoom lens helps the ‘purseability’ of the mirrorless cameras; it’s attractive to the point-and-shoot-move-up customer. But it drives a lot of people right past mirrorless to that intro-level SLR that can mount an f/2.8 zoom or f/1.4 prime lens, or that isn’t diffraction limited with an f/5.6 lens.

They thought we would like huge lenses on adapters

It also seems apparent that several companies thought we would be happy putting a big adapter and an even larger lens on these tiny cameras. I hear it a lot from various fanboys when I trash a lens lineup (see Sony above); “You can shoot the wonderful Gazooma Lens on an adapter.” OK, so I buy this 14 ounce camera that I can take anywhere, and you suggest the best lens for it is 8 inches long, weighs two pounds, and I can go have a coffee while I wait for it to autofocus. If I’m taking the big-boy lens, then I might as well take the big-boy camera.


Some of the mirrorless size advantages are lost shooting legacy lenses on adapters.


By their nature, adapters are problematic. Then there are the possibly accidental (yeah, I’m just as suspicious as everyone else) branded adapter incompatibility issues, particularly in the micro 4/3 world. Even when they work properly, any adapter adds two more lens-camera interfaces so that you never can be quite sure when you’ll start getting side-to-side or top-to-bottom tilt. Not to mention slow (or nonexistent) autofocus with high current drains. And, of course, some of the adapters are about as big as the cameras. I understood this as a stopgap measure. I just didn’t realize that the gap they were stopping would last for 3 years.

Short Backfocus Distance

I realized the mirrorless cameras all had this, of course (For those who don’t know the term, it basically means the back of the lens is much closer to the sensor.) I didn’t consider that short backfocus distance would change the angle of light rays impacting on the sensor, and that the sensor’s microlenses might not like this. I suspect this has something to do with why the lenses have taken longer to develop than I expected. It certainly has a lot to do with why some lenses on adapters behave differently on mirrorless cameras. Wide-angle Leica-mount lenses on NEX bodies are the best documented example, but there are certainly others that are more subtle.

“They aren’t the Same” Resistance

This one is something I never once considered; I thought it was self-evident. I wanted a small camera that I could carry anywhere conveniently that would take excellent pictures. A lot of people wanted a small camera they could take anywhere that would take exactly the same image as their SLR did. That isn’t happening.

The depth-of-field is different (I refuse to discuss how it’s different: that leads to 76-post-long forum discussions about how it can be the same if you use a different focal length, aperture, shooting distance and sacrifice a chicken at midnight. But, in general, it’s different.) The native resolution is different. The aspect ratio may be different. ISO performance may be different.

The bottom line is it’s a slightly different tool. I’ve learned that ‘different’ can be an advantage in some situations and a disadvantage in others. Medium format is different, too, with advantages and disadvantages. I don’t think this really affected my initial predictions about mirrorless, though. I didn’t expect many SLR shooters would give up their full-frame camera and move to Micro 4/3, for example. I thought they would use a mirrorless as a go-anywhere camera to compliment their SLR. But at least a few people have gone mirrorless full-time and dropped their SLRs.

So, Will I Eventually be More Correct than I Recently Was?

Yes, absolutely. More or less. I still think mirrorless takes over most of the better-than-cell-phone market from intro-level SLRs. The speed and servo functions of phase-detection AF will still pull parents of young athletes, birders, and others who need that advantage toward an SLR, so that segment will never die out entirely, of course. But for the many people, every year, who decide they just want better photographs than their cell-phone or point-and-shoot, I see mirrorless as the logical next move.

There are also old photographers like me, I mean, like I will be some day, who want a small, convenient camera with excellent image quality they can carry everywhere. I’ve always owned a top-end point and shoot but now I’ve dropped that for a mirrorless system. It’s my go everywhere camera now, although I still reach for an SLR and specific lenses for a specific purpose. But for the price of a new 70-200 f/2.8 I have an excellent, fairly complete small camera system that stays with me all the time.

I think the fun speculation, though, is what’s going to happen within the mirrorless segment, not what happens overall. That will come in part II.


Roger Cicala

August 2012


Aside: Several people have asked lately where is this or that article, or why haven’t I posted in a couple of weeks. The answer is simple; I have long-term ADD. I tend to juggle two or three projects at once, getting bored with one and working on the other. Lately I’ve been writing this, doing the Nikon AF tests, and doing some work with third-party lens identification on Canon cameras. I’ve jumped back and forth enough that nothing has gotten finished, but they should all finish within the next week or so.

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Roger's Corner
  • Richard

    As usual a very insightful article, and I’d echo that for Chris J’s contributions. In my own case I gave up bulky film SLRs many years ago as they were impractical for use when skiing etc, and switched to competent 35mm compacts from the likes of Olympus. The world was a happy place and I got some nice pictures. When digital came along I switched to digital compacts – the initial ones being very dissapointing but later ones (from Canon) fine. But the photography bug bit again so I looked at something with more capability than a p&s. The mirrorless cams looked ideal on the face of it but I realised that (a) many were using sensors that still didn’t really give any dof control (b) despite being considerably bigger than my p&s sensors their sensors were producing extremely dissapointing results from what I could see in review shots (c) those sensors also seemed to have poor high ISO performancefor their size (d) the bodies were designed for non-photographers and did not give me what I wanted at all. OK perhaps I’m mistaken in (b) and (c) not having owned one. Certainly I couldn’t understand why they should be so. All this is in addition to defeating-the-object-by-sticking-a-huge-lens-on-the-front and other issues as you quite rightly point out. So the mirrorless makers missed some huge opportunities in my book. I bought a DX SLR as I saw that as the only feasible option that met my requirements of a photographer-centric design of moderate weight and size with good IQ. Only in recent months have models come out that answer these issues, especially (d): when they could have made those designs from day one. Just my take.

  • Chris Jankowski

    Another comment on the just to be announced Sony full frame mirrorless camera – RX1. Sony was able to come up with it, as they do not have much market in frame DSLRs (none, in fact, after A900/A850 retirement and before the SLT A99), small market share in the DSLRs, but they have an excellent, new 24 Mpixels full frame sensor. And they could share the sensor and great majority of electronics and firmware between A99 and RX1. They will even be priced similarly – A99 body price is to equal the RX1 price apparently.

  • Chris Jankowski

    I’d say that my prediction from my comment here on 24th of August has been realised. Sony is apparently just about to announce a *full frame* mirrorless camera, albeit with fixed Zeiss 35/2 lens. Tiny body. Details have been leaked at http://www.sonyalpharumors.com. The whole concept has enormous similarity to the Rollei 35 S – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollei_35S – from early 1970s which I mentioned in my posting. I’d guess that the camera may be a great hit with street photographers. The initial price is to be stratospherically high – $2,800. I’ll make another prediction here – there is nothing really stopping the price of this type of camera to come down to about $500 in a few years, perhaps with a cheaper lens – F2.8. I’ll buy one then (:-)).

  • Bruce

    With regard to the Rollei 35 S approach(actually I was a Leica Minilux fan)I got tired of waiting and finally bought the new Nikon 28mm 1.8 and a D3200 for that 40mm-equivalent mindset. Not “pocketable” but eminently portable, and compatible with the rest of my Nikon stuff. I have a Canon S100 for the shirt pocket. Best of both worlds IMHO, and thus no incentive to switch to mirrorless until systems sort out and prices are more reasonable.

  • Rodger your articles are the BEST !! Thank you !! Your on top of what is going on. More so than some of the can not perform camera companies, where we get to be the beta tester. I have a hard time with ,, just buy the new camera with an x on it,,, only cost 7 grand, and you only get a whopping three second burst in raw. Thats ok for 7 grand right?? Or the new version 3 does not auto focus track in video,, but our cheep t body does! Thank goodness for Nikon and Sony.

  • Esa Tuunanen

    Economics wise appearance of mirrorless definitely hit bad time considering both budgets of camera makers and buyers. So that factor can’t be downplayed.
    Then there’s religiousness of consumers with Canon and Nikon being the big holy names putting smaller brands into harder selling position even if their product would fit better into buyers needs. Because thinking is such inconceivably hard work for advertising brainwashed average consumers they don’t buy product but mental image.

    But there’s also other reason why they haven’t been replacing DSLRs: Ergonomics
    Any entry level DSLR gives more comfortable hold than any of the mirrorless cameras.
    Every camera is always compromise between various factors and mirrorless just has gone all out on downsizing while human hand size hasn’t shrinked any.
    Instead of being truely Digital Single Lens Mirrorless alternative for DSLR they suffer from CSC syndrome.
    In fact best fixed lens bridge/prosumer digicams from time before cheap DSLRs have better controls and ergonomics than any current mirrorless body which underlines the problem!

    While small size has brought new buyers from those willing to compromise controls and ergonomics for higher portability that strategy has major long term problems:
    While mirrorless bodies can be lot smaller than DSLR with lens they’re still bigger than fixed lens compacts and also cellphones are attacking that carry always with you camera segment.

    Mirrorless enables very wide diversity inside single internally compatible system from compact P&S bodies and lenses to full controls and ergonomics bodies with fast high quality lenses.
    When that happens DSLR doesn’t have anymore big place to exist.

    Development of on sensor PDAF could eventually negate any focus tracking advantage of SLR. Current SLR PDAF is result of some 30 years of R&D and that knowledge has to be now applied in new way.
    As for live view image lag advance in electronics can decrease that and mirrorless cameras could evolve to include mode in which camera starts buffering images (say last half second worth of continuous shooting) when you half press shutter and then also save those when you fully press shutter.

  • Rick Stocker

    As a non-statistically valid sample of one, I can say the Olympus-D and micro4/3 lenses have made photography fun again. The Oly body is just right, neither too big or small, the viewfinder fine, the lenses sharp enough for photos viewed on a laptop screen, and the camera plus five lenses from the 8mm to the 100-300mm small enough and light enough to be carried comfortably.

    My only question is what would be the specifications of a native micro4/3 lens appropriate for a safari?

  • Roger Cicala

    A good point, Chris. But the U. S. photographers, at least, were mostly using Speed Graphics I think.

  • Chris Jankowski

    The phase detection focus is migrating from specialised sensor to the main sensor. Once this is reasonably mature then a mixed system might emerge that will use phase detection focus for fast initial focusing and contrast detection for the final adjustment. This will eliminate the need for flapping or transluscent mirror. What will remain will be the issue of user preference for EVF (mirrorless) vs OVF (DSLR) and also optics. There is absolutely no reason why the excellent concept of a tiny film camera with high quality lens such as Rollei 35 S may not resurface as a tiny digital camera with large sensor and high quality collapsiple lens. All this space previously taken by film cassette, winder, take up spool may now be allocated to EVF and electronics. The quality of photos will be limited only by the quality of the lens. Such camera would rely on cropping for magnification. But you really can take it anywhere. I loved my Rollei 35 S.

  • Chris Jankowski

    To be pedantic, asmall correction. The first eye level finder for Exakta (aka Exacta in US) was not developed until 1950. This is why nearly all photoreporters during WWII used Leica or Leica copies. It is kind of diffult to take war pictures keeping your camera at waist level.

  • Alex

    Very fun read! Hoping the V1 will serve me well on vacation. Would love to be able to leave the D800 in the studio. As you pointed out–the entire system is hungry for lenses!

  • Now after re-reading my post, I probably came off as a raving fanboy of m43 or something. Not my intention 🙂

    I would suggest to those DSLR die-hards, though – rent the OM-D and grip from Roger and crew, slap on a Pan-Leica 25mm or 45 1.8 or 12/2 and try it out for a few days. Ignore the confusing Olympus menus (or learn them – takes about a day) and see what the fuss is about 😉

    And whoever enabled line breaks in the posts here at LR – God bless your soul.

  • Some good points, but I have to say, this m43 “diffraction limited” talk is completely overblown, on the likes of a DPR 150-response-locked thread.

    I would argue many people pointing out this fact need to check Photozone and perhaps others when they test various lenses at all the apertures. While *yes*, technically speaking, diffraction may start to creep in at 5.6 or 8.0, we’re talking (usually) such small differences that only examining by test chart reports would show up and one certainly isn’t “limited” by such phenomena.

    I do agree, the zooms on m43 are weak and slow at the long end, hopefully about to change with the supposed introduction of the Pany 35-100 2.8. My feeling is Pany-Oly had to get the cheap/light/compact stuff out the door first for the “size adopters”, then they’ll work on the slightly larger lenses for the enthusiasts who want a bit more serious gear but don’t want the bulk of DSLRs.

    The m43 *primes*, though, *primes* are where it’s at – for the most part, they’re all ridiculously good, and Pany’s 7-14 has shown they can do extremely high quality zooms as well (as well as the 12-35, barring the CA).

    I’m a former DOF maniac, and while sometimes I do miss the silky-smooth look of my Canon 5D2 with the 100 f/2 mounted, most of the time I rather enjoy the nearly across-the-frame sharpness (and still nice bokeh, if not razor thin DOF) of my Olympus 45 1.8 or Pan-Leica 25 1.4 shot wide open. Plus, hey, I might actually get both eyes in focus with m43 😉

    All in all, it’s a great mirrorless setup, perhaps the best IMO. I own a NEX-5N also, and it’s great for adapted lenses but pretty much a dud for anything native. Canon might be onto something with their pancakes – we’ll have to see if they want to release a serious mirrorless.

    Call me biased – I sold off my entire DSLR kit for a great OM-D/GX1 setup and I don’t really miss much about the DSLRs (including DOF, noise, etc) except two things – The ability of shooting ISO 100 native or ISO 50 extended, and AF-C on occasion. Both circumstances are easily overcome and I’ll gladly take a much, much smaller (but just as capable) kit in the tradeoff.

  • I think I fit into a similar category to you Roger. I want a small camera to complement my DSLRs but I do not want to compromise image quality. I will accept compromise in focus speed and lens choices. Give me a rangefinder style body and a D800 sensor with a pancake 35mm lens that is fast and razor sharp. Price it around $2500 and I’d definitely buy one. Guess I’m looking for a cheaper Leica…

    Have to say your articles are a ton of fun to read and very educational to boot.

    Take care

  • Roger Cicala

    I’m like you, Jay: I wanted a better camera to replace the G-11 I carried everywhere. I’m so happy with it, though, that I end up going “well, I can get by without the SLR” more and more often. I’m taking more OM-D shots than SLR shots theses days. The great part is I’m taking the same number of SLR shots, so what has really happened is the mirrorless camera has resulted in my doing more photography, and sort of remembering why I got into all this.


  • Roger Cicala


    It’s largely about pixel size or density. A 12 Mpx m4/3 sensor won’t be diffraction limited quite as much as a 16 Mpx sensor. When you get to tiny sensor sizes with lots of pixels (like a 12 mpix point and shoot) they may be diffraction limited at f/2.8. A big sensor (like a Nikon D700) with 12 Mpx may not be limited until f/11 or more. (I haven’t checked those numbers carefully, that’s just the general idea).

  • Lester

    Thinking on the “system” side, which is not just a body and some lenses… Perhaps some of the resistance is from the lack of an integrated range and some uncertainty about compatibility with things like on- and off-camera flash guns, grips, on- and off-camera remotes, and so on. I ran Panny G and then GH series bodies for some time, and came to realise how much I missed an add-on grip for hassle-free portrait shooting. Have gone back to the Oly fold now that the E-M5 has a dedicated grip, and also now that I can more confidently mount the Oly ring or twin flashes.

  • Sorry, but I’ll accept your ADD if it produces articles like this Roger. Fascinating insight with solid logic. I don’t think I’ve skipped one of your blog entries. Long may they continue. Thanks.


  • anon

    I didn’t quite get the Diffraction section, so does that mean ALL lenses when put on m43 will typically begin to suffer diffraction at apertures under 5.6 (like f/2)?

  • Jay Frew

    Thanks for that analysis Roger.

    I am not a big fan of compact, mirror-less, system cameras – for many of the reasons you listed above.

    One factor not mentioned above, that is Very Important to me, is the “blood and treasure” I invested in my SLR system:

    – it cost me dearly;

    -it took me a long time to accumulate the necessary components;

    – I invested a lot of time and energy discovering its limits and learning to get the best from it; AND

    – I enjoy using my SLR system (to put it mildly ;~))

    While there is no way I would replace my SLR kit with a compact, mirror-less, camera system ~ when my current digi-cam bites the dust (or if I find some money first), I will replace it with an inexpensive mirror-less, large sensor (1″ or bigger) camera. As a digi-cam replacement, I will have little reqirement for a decent viewfinder or for a large selection of lenses and other peripjerals.

    So, in my ill-considered opinion, the mirror-less camera systems are a bigger threat to the digi-cam market.

    I do enjoy your articles…keep them coming…

    Cheers! Jay

  • Roger Cicala

    Kevin, thank you! Excellent points, well made. What you say makes perfect sense.


  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Geoff,

    The flange to sensor difference can remain the same if they want (like Pentax has done) but you can also move it closer (like everyone else has done). Moving it closer lets the camera be narrower front to back.


  • You were almost right but perhaps you had too much of the futurists curse: “TV will kill radio” idea. Often new technology supplements older technologies. Though they often be more popular than the older tech often adapts and remains relevant in a much smaller roles. I think that might be happening with mirrorless and DSLRs.

    The other is timing. We are not at the end of the revololution or even the beginning of the end but perhaps we are at the end of the beginning (to mangle Churchill).

    There are going to be two distinct kinds of interchanable lens mirrorless cameras in the future: the short backfocus mirrorless (that we all know today) and the “long backfocus” mirrorless of which the Pentax K-01 is in the van of the vanguard.

    Why? Because eventually (within the next 3 to 5 years?) sensors will have PDAF on chip and EVF will become good enough (almost there) and cheap enough (not quite there) to allow DSLR makers to make “mirrorless DSLRs” that will look just like DSLRs and have the same size as DSLRs and use DSLR lenses but they won’t have a mirror in the mirror box. They’ll do this when the cost of parts and assembly of EVF and on-sensor PDAF is cheaper than the mechanics, the mirrors, the PDAF sensors and the calibration of the current design.

    The Pentax K-01 went early without an EVF (but they left the bump for the future) and the PDAF but shows that Pentax is thinking of the future and keeping their current lens selection relevant (it’s curious how Pentax keep making full frame compatible lenses too but that’s another post on Pentax’s direction).

    Canon and Nikon will follow this route when it makes business sense to them. As usual they’ll be later than their “dwarf” competitors. I expect the other DSLR makers Pentax and Sony to go down this route if they think the entry level part of the market is worth fighting for.

    The “short backfocus” mirrorless market will get EVFs mostly at the middle and top end … there are lots of low end casual users who *like* using the back panel LCD to frame their photos.

    Ricoh, Sony, Canon might still be providing “jeans pocket” (or at least “jacket pocket”) RAW capable point and shoots for those of us who like to carry a good small camera with us. Others may join them. They may even get EVFs at the top end if they’re aimed at photo otaku like us.

  • For me, where mirrorless fails is size. My DSLR (especially with the battery grip) fits my hands like a glove. The mirrorless bodies just don’t feel ergonomic.

  • Geoff

    This is a good article, and helps explain some of my questions about the slow adoption. I think you sort of touched on it, but if you happen to know the engineering reasons, could you elaborate on why companies haven’t designed bodies similar to SLRs, but without the mirror? I could be over-simplifying the problem, but it strikes me that even if you remove the mirror component, the flange distance to the sensor will still be the same. This would still result in a “mirrorless” camera, just not as thin as some may like it. Am I missing something?

  • ginsbu

    You’ve written a very sensible take on the situation. There are a two things I’d add, though:
    1) On “different” — Those most likely to be persuaded by the technical merits of mirrorless systems (so-called “early adopters”) are enthusiasts who demand larger lens selections and a more developed camera system, generally. Any new system is going to have trouble winning them over initially. (Fuji seems to have done best here.) OTOH, at least in western countries, those who want smaller cameras and aren’t bothered by limited lens selection tend to be very conservative in their buying choices (and this may have been exaggerated by the recession).
    2) Lopsided systems — NEX (still) and m4/3 (until recently) haven’t had systems that were adequately competitive with DSLRs with regard to both sensors and lenses: NEX has had competitive sensors but uncompetitive lens selection; m4/3 had a fairly competitive lens selection but was stuck with an uncompetitive sensor (the old 12MP Panasonic). Again, Fuji has done better (in its limited fashion). Samsung has been more balanced, but hasn’t made much of it.

Follow on Feedly