Earlier this week, Canon announced a new “mirrorless” camera, joining the ranks of Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic who all offer cameras with the technology. What makes the advancement significant is the fact that these mirrorless cameras don’t use a mechanical mirror that flaps up and down, a pentaprism, or any of the other bulky technology traditionally found in similar high-quality cameras. In laymen’s terms, it means that manufacturers can offer professional photo quality cameras as small as point-and-shoots and maybe one day, smartphones.
To better understand the technology, it’s important to understand some of the inner workings of a typical digital camera. Inside every camera is an image sensor, which acts as the digital film. Generally speaking, the larger the image sensor, the better the image quality. As you can see below, Gizmodo offers a great illustration that compares the size of the image sensors for a Digital-Single Lens Reflex (D-SLR left), a compact point-and-shoot (middle), and a smartphone (right):
The image sensors inside a compact camera and a smartphone camera actually do more than just capture images. They’re paired with a processor to simultaneously execute the following three tasks: face-detection/auto-focus, providing a real-time view of the image from the lens to the display, and image capture.
Learn Photography Alberta offers a glimpse of what the guts of these cameras look like:
So why not just stick a larger image sensor in one of these small camera bodies? In the past, cameras with large image sensors also had to include smaller image sensors to offer speedy autofocus, and a mirror box to split light and reflect it to the optical viewfinder so you could actually see the subject. All of this extra hardware requires more room, hence the bulky camera bodies associated with D-SLRs.
In the past, larger image sensors required stronger processor, typically found only in DSLRs. Nowadays, however, most point-and-shoot processors have now become fast enough to handle the huge amount of data from these large image sensors. Since the mirrorless tech allows them to avoid a secondary smaller image sensor, manufacturers can now build large image sensor cameras with smaller bodies. The Verge has compiled a list of most of the models that are available.
With D-SLR capabilities in certain point-and-shoots, might we one day see a mirrorless camera built into a smartphone?