Anyone paying any attention to the world of digital photography would have noticed a new type of camera making its way into the hands of photographers. Small, sleek and sometimes retro-looking, this new breed of interchangeable lens compacts is set to be the next big thing in photography.
Many photographers experience a dilemma when choosing a camera: compact cameras might not produce good enough image quality or be flexible enough; but the alternatives might be too big and bulky.
There is no doubt that the standard digital single lens reflex (DSLR) is the most popular choice for serious shooters because it allows control over most aspects of photography and accessories are available for most systems.
Lenses, tripods, filters and flashes combined with software post-processing will give most photographers what they need.
Unfortunately, a full kit can be too large to carry, so some use compact cameras as a substitute for their "main" cameras. The drawback of these compacts is their comparatively low quality of image and lack of flexibility.
One of the reasons why a DSLR camera is larger than a compact (and the reason it can produce better images) is that it has a larger imaging sensor.
Another reason for its size is that a DSLR has a mirror-box assembly. DSLRs work on the principle of light entering through the lens and bouncing off a mirror into a prism that then displays the image through the viewfinder. When a shot is taken, the mirror moves out of the way, a shutter opens and allows the light to be recorded on to the film or image sensor at the back of the camera. This combination of a larger sensor and a deeper camera body means that larger lenses have to be designed to suit.
These new "mirrorless" cameras have done away with the mirror-box assembly. Most still have a much larger sensor than compacts but because they don't have the mirror-prism system they are significantly thinner. This also means the camera doesn't depend so much on mechanical technology. For example, a faster frame rate does not depend on how fast the mirror can move.
Eliminating the mirror also eliminates vibration caused by mirror movement. Furthermore, the design of mirrorless cameras is better suited to auto-focusing with movies - something which causes trouble for even the best DSLR.
Another advantage of this thinner camera body is the ability to use other systems' lenses. Lenses must be a specific distance from the film/digital sensor in order to focus properly. So, with the right adapter you can put almost any lens on to a mirrorless camera and achieve proper focus. This is especially useful for photographers who have older film-era lenses that have no digital body or for anyone who wants to experiment with exotic lenses.
- Mirrorless cameras *
_Fuji X series: _Fuji created one of the most popular digital cameras ever with its X100. It didn't have the ability to change lenses but the new X PRO 1 coming soon will. It promises to have excellent image quality, based on a new APS-C-sized sensor (the same as that found in most DSLRs) and three prime lenses. The Fujis are recognisable by their distinct retro bodies and hybrid viewfinder technology.
_Micro 4/3: _Panasonic and Olympus, the inventors of the mirrorless cameras, have combined their expertise to create the largest and best established mirrorless system. Including 18 bodies and almost 30 lenses, the Micro 4/3 system has some of the best video cameras, the brightest lenses and the most accessories on the market. Olympus camera bodies also have image stabilisation built into them, allowing all mounted lenses to be stabilised.
_Nikon 1: _The Nikon 1 has a smaller sensor than its competitors but more than compensates with technological advances. The 1 series demonstrates the benefits of mirrorless technology with its ability to shoot stills at 60 frames per second and slow-motion video at up to 1200 frames per second. Sleek, shiny and speedy, it's a sign of things to come with digital camera technology. The Nikon 1 system comprises two bodies and four lenses.
_Pentax Q: _Sporting the smallest sensor of any mirrorless camera, the Q might seem a little misplaced but it's actually extremely small and fun. Sure to be the talking point at any gathering, the tiny Pentax Q produces some very good quality images, easily managing large prints full of detail and colour. It comprises one body and five lenses.
_Pentax K-01: _Designed around the same APS-C sensor as its current flagship DSLR, the K-5, the K-01 does away with the mirror box to produce a thinner body packed with new digital technologies. The best thing about the K-01 is that it retains the standard Pentax K-mount, meaning it can utilise most of Pentax's K-mount lenses.
_Ricoh GXR: _Slightly different in its approach to mounting lenses, the GXR system consists of one body and five lens modules. Instead of changing lenses, you change the entire lens/sensor assembly as a single unit. One of the modules Ricoh has created is designed especially for the Leica M mount lenses, allowing users to mount M-mount rangefinder lenses.
_Sony NEX series: _The NEX series has an APS-C sensor and is one of the best performing on the market. Great for those wanting to shoot at high ISOs, it also gives the least aggressive "crop factor" to legacy lenses - in other words, a truer representation of what the lens should be like. This series includes the highest megapixel mirrorless camera. It comprises five bodies and seven lenses.