How Mirrorless Cameras Are Changing the Photography LandscapeHow Mirrorless Cameras Are Changing the Photography Landscape

How Mirrorless Cameras Are Changing the Photography Landscape

Long overlooked and ignored, mirrorless cameras will soon dominate the market. Here, we look at how the design is defining the next era of digital photography.

Mirrorless cameras are quickly becoming the norm, but it wasn’t always this way. Take a glimpse into the past to consider where these cameras came from and what they mean for photography’s future.

For years after the debut of the first mirrorless camera in 2008 – the Panasonic Lumix G1 – photographers looked at the design with scepticism. Famously hesitant to change, consumers perceived the long-established DSLR design as a dependable partner that successfully superseded the film era. So when it was claimed removing the internal pentaprism and reflex mirror would deliver better image quality in a more compact format, professionals and enthusiasts expressed their doubts.
These reservations weren't wrong – at least in the beginning – as many mirrorless products failed to yield a superior experience. While the reduced size and weight were appealing, many models suffered from subpar autofocus, low screen refresh rates and poor battery life. Meanwhile, industry giants Canon and Nikon refused to shift focus from the DSLR market, leaving brands like Sony and Panasonic to cater to a small group of early adopters.
Struggling to reach customers amid fears "it might never catch on," many photographers rejected the mirrorless concept. Now 15 years after it was first revealed, the situation has changed dramatically, with mirrorless cameras steadily recognised as equally or even more capable than their DSLR counterparts. As more and more photographers switch to mirrorless, Canon and Nikon are reportedly moving away from DSLR, anticipating the customer base to shrink from here on out.
So, how did we get here and what have mirrorless cameras changed about the photography landscape?

From gimmick to dominance

While not unique in their resistance to change, many photographers needed convincing about the merits of the emerging mirrorless design. Sony was a critical driving force behind this transformation, taking mirrorless cameras to new heights to become one of today’s leading photographic brands. Launched in 2013, Sony’s Alpha series is often credited with accelerating the shift, with its popular lineup of full-frame mirrorless cameras helping to elevate the company alongside Canon and Nikon in the eyes of many.
“No moving mirror means photographers can shoot much faster bursts, with high-end mirrorless cameras offering 40 frames per second using a silent electronic shutter.”

Hudson brown

While it took time and numerous improvements to persuade consumers, mirrorless pioneers like Sony, Olympus and Panasonic were eventually justified. Following a downturn in sales during the pandemic, the re-emerging tourism sector and the release of AI-based features have contributed to 20% year-on-year increases in global mirrorless camera shipments. While initially slow to get on board, Canon has released six mirrorless camera models since June 2022.

Pushing forward photographic technology

DSLRs aren’t about to disappear, but mirrorless technology is already defining the next generation of cameras. Capable of incredible image quality in a smaller, lighter body, it’s the obvious choice for a streamlined workflow. No moving mirror means photographers can shoot much faster bursts, with high-end mirrorless cameras offering 40 frames per second using a silent electronic shutter. This feature is also great for photographers working in quiet spaces like art galleries, theatres and wedding venues.
Although DSLRs outperformed mirrorless autofocus for years, the gap gradually closed and is now reversed in many cases. As light goes through the lens straight to the image sensor, autofocus on mirrorless cameras is remarkably fast and precise. Upmarket mirrorless cameras have also altered the videography landscape, providing exceptional footage for a fraction of the cost of a cinema-style camera. Supported by the full range of accessories, creatives benefit from these flexible hybrid systems.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is another once-derided mirrorless feature now preferred by many. With the time-lagging image preview on early mirrorless cameras, getting the perfect shot in less-than-ideal conditions was reported to be frustrating. However, modern mirrorless cameras resolve many of these complaints. Photographers also increasingly value the detailed information displayed in the EVF, such as the histogram, which provides a more accurate impression of the final image and helps identify compositional and technical issues.
One downside of mirrorless cameras is battery life; a smaller body means lower-capacity batteries. They also consume more power, as the sensor is constantly active and the bright LCD display and EVF impact battery life. Some of those who have shot for years with DSLRs prefer how optical viewfinders (OVF) rely on the speed of light, finding that EVFs break the immersion with their subject. Fortunately, mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro3 are designed with both EVF and OVF.

What the mirrorless shift means for photographers

While it’s taken more than a decade for many photographers to consider mirrorless cameras worthy of attention, the reasons to avoid them are quickly disappearing. However, there’s no need to rush out and upgrade your kit if it doesn’t benefit your work. Countless photographers continue to shoot on film using old SLR or point-and-shoot cameras. More are bound to use highly capable DSLRs for the foreseeable future.
The market is shifting towards mirrorless cameras, but the design is just another option for photographers to consider. Long-time DSLR users might even take advantage of the changing market to get their hands on sought-after equipment for cheap. As more photographers adopt mirrorless, the second-hand market is overflowing with older bodies and lenses. DSLRs are being phased out, but don’t mistake gear envy for necessity.
Elsewhere, smartphone photography has decimated the low-end camera market, yet it’s introduced millions of people to the art form. For some, buying a mirrorless camera is the next logical choice. Since the hefty DSLR can feel intimidating for beginners, the compact size of mirrorless cameras, along with their touchscreen and interchangeable lenses offers a familiar experience, while still enhancing creative freedom and photographic results.
From the emergence of colour film to digital sensors, photography and new technology have always coincided. Signposting the next step, the latest mirrorless cameras now offer AI-powered features like automated framing, complex object recognition and real-time tracking. Whether you're an AI advocate or sceptic, these features will likely grow in prominence either way. What's even more certain is their inclusion with mirrorless cameras ensures the design will help shape photography's next paradigm, wherever that lies.