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What About Mirrorless?
© 2012 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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Canon EOS M

Canon EOS M, probably the world's first serious mirrorless camera. My biggest source of support is when you use any of these links, especially this link directly to it at Adorama or directly to it at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thank you! Ken.

 

September 2012   Better Pictures   Nikon   Canon    Fuji    LEICA   All Reviews

 

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I love my mirrorless Fuji X100. I prefer it to Fuji's bigger interchangeable-lens versions, the X-Pro1 and X-E1, because I only need one lens, so the X100 does the same thing without all the bulk and expense.

Now that CCDs and OLEDs and CCDs let us see the lens' actual image electronically in an electronic viewfinder (EVF), we no longer need a reflex mirror as we did in 1959 to see what we're doing through-the-lens as we do with film.

SLRs only were created so we could see the live image through-the-lens, which we can do today electronically, eliminating the need for the SLR mirror.

All mirrorless cameras need to do to replace SLRs completely is to have instant live finder images. Today, EVF finder images are slightly delayed, making them losers for sports and action photography. Most mirrorless cameras cut the finder lag by going to higher internal frame update rates with a half-press of the shutter, but until the finder frame rates get to 100 FPS or better, mirrorless still will have a way to go for action.

The best EVFs already have enough resolution to allow precise full-frame manual focusing, and that's without the magnification that most of them provide that real SLRs can't.

Another gotcha holding back EVF cameras is battery life. EVF cameras have to keep all the circuitry running anytime you need to look through the camera, which is why they only give about 200 shots per charge on a good day. Real SLRs only turn on the CCD and most of the electronics the moment you take the picture, which is why most SLRs get a thousand shots on a charge. Heck, $6,000 pro DSLRs have huge batteries that run for thousands of shots, and mirrorless cameras are going to take a while (like maybe two years) to get this fixed.

Lastly, the other problem mirrorless needs to overcome is that until the Canon EOS-M ships, no top-tier camera maker makes one with good color rendition yet!

By "good," I mean one with knock-out color rendition that's critical to serious images. Only Nikon and Canon have enough resources to have developed the secret-sauce algorithms that work with specific sensors to get the color and values of the images to look delicious — to my eyes.

Sure, Panasonic and Sony and Casio and LEICA and others all make digital cameras with pretty colors, but it takes a lot more than "pretty" or "accurate" to sell an image. The image has got to look killer without needing a day's worth of hand-tweaking to get the colors to sing, and so far, I've only seen Canon and Nikon have the chops to get really great colors from their cameras.

That's right: the colors from my LEICA M9 are usually hideous, and from other brands they look OK to casual viewers, but when you're in this to produce for a living, I've only seen Nikon and Canon produce cameras with colors that consistently hit images out of the park.

Likewise for tonal values: only Nikon and Canon quietly have the artistry buried deep in their trade secrets to render highlights, shadows and everything else in-between to look great most of the time. Every other brand makes nice pictures, but not as great to the careful, seasoned artist as do Nikon and Canon.

How is this? As I said, only Nikon and Canon are big enough and have a big enough still-camera market to have put enough millions and millions of dollars into developing their secret sauces. They can afford this because they can spread the costs over a huge number of cameras sold, and only because they have the resources to invest in this research in the first place.

Developing a brand's image "signature" are very closely guarded trade secrets, but it's how the big two get it done. This is how and why Nikon can get better real and technical image quality out of a Sony sensor than Sony can! I've been helping people design these things since the 1980s; there is far, far more to making a camera than simply plugging a CCD into a sample-and-hold and an ADC! It's all in the sensor's color response, and the secret color matrices and algorithms that are used to go from the raw data to a final image.

Yes, Panasonic and Sony are huge, but Panasonic makes more differnt kinds of nose-hair trimmers than they make serious cameras for photographers, much less full-time pros, and Sony's forté is audio gear and all levels of professional video. Consumer electronics giants will probably bury once-great optical giants Canon and Nikon, but as we say in Japan, "It takes ten years for anything to change." Nikon and Canon are still way ahead of the others in still cameras, but times are always changing.

Accurate color is not good color; that's why Kodak has been going out of business and Fuji has been flourishing for pros since the 1990s. Good color is what looks good, which requires an artist's interpretation. Great color is rarely an exact reproduction of what a scientist would measure was there.

These effects are subtle, but to the artist, critical.

This is why I haven't gotten too excited by mirrorless yet for serious work. The sensors are too small, and they've been offered by other than Nikon and Canon. The Nikon 1 cameras use a very small sensor, so the Canon EOS-M is the first serious one to come out — but it's still not yet full-frame.

If the Sony SLT-A99V can make images consistently with the magical image quality that Canon or Nikon get, great, but mirrorless cameras for creating serious photographic art are still coming.

Still lacking are proper controls. These little cameras have little room for buttons and knobs, so they all so far (except for the superb Fujis) have done a poor job of giving us the controls we need, like focus, shutter and aperture knobs. Many mirrorless cameras, like the EOS-M again, have no built-in flash and no viewfinder and no real (direct-connected) focus rings and no depth of field scales, and well, turn out to be duds.

 

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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