By Jason Lioh

Pics by Jason Lioh/Robin Wong

There are many types of cameras – compact cameras, digital single lens reflex (DSLR), film cameras and even rangefinder cameras. In recent years, the mirror-less camera has emerged in the market and is fast gaining popularity due to its size, weight, image quality, feature and price.

Inside a DSLR camera, there is a mirror that reflects light (images) which goes through the lens and into the optical viewfinder, allowing the photographer to see what he is about to capture. This mirror is what makes DSLR cameras bulky and heavy.

In an effort to reduce the camera’s size and weight but without compromising image quality, camera manufactures removed that mirror, while retaining some of the more crucial and important features of a DSLR camera. This resulted in the creation of a new range of cameras called the mirror-less interchangeable lens camera (MILC).

Thai squid salad, shot using Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Olympus is considered a strong player, if not a pioneer, in the MILC market, with nine camera models released since the first one made its debut in 2008 (the PEN E-P1).

Panasonic, using Olympus’ “micro four third” system, also introduced a few models about the same time as Olympus. Fujifilm, Pentax, Samsung, Sony and Nikon subsequently followed suit and came out with their very own MILCs, as consumers began to see their attraction.

The MILC is significantly smaller and lighter than the normal DSLR. It is basically a higher-end compact camera but DSLR image quality. Users can also change their lenses to suit different needs and situations, just like a DSLR camera.

The colours, noise performance and image quality of MILC is comparable to most DSLR available on the market

Unlike compact cameras, the MILC utilises an image sensor, which is similar to the one used in DSLR cameras. Of course, there is a difference in size.

Olympus’ MILC uses identical image sensor as its DSLR counterpart. Sony and Samsung use image sensors that are 50% larger, while Nikon uses a smaller image sensor (though still larger than the ones found in most compact cameras).

By using a similar image sensor, the image quality in MILC is almost equal to that of the DSLR in many ways, including mega pixel counts, noise performance, light sensitivity and image processing. There are even claims by various photography enthusiasts that some MILCs can produce better image quality than a DSLR camera.

Picasa A busy street in front of Pavilion KL in the evening.

MILC users are able to change their kit lens into other prime or tele-lenses to suit different shooting needs and requirements, just like a DSLR camera. The downside is that there are not many lenses for you to choose from. However, camera manufacturers are starting to release more MILC-specific lenses that come with different focal lengths and apertures.

Unlike professional DSLR cameras, MILC has features that are akin to that of the compact camera such as art filters and scene modes (landscape, portrait, sports, night scene etc) to help amateurs take better pictures.

With the right settings, one can insects close up using the MILC, too.

The art filter software applies some of the more popular post-processing techniques such as black-and-white, sepia tones, high dynamic range and dramatic art tone onto the picture in the camera.

Since there is no mirror to reflect images into the viewfinder, the MILC uses a rear LCD display for shooting, which some might find a little weird in the beginning as they are, perhaps, too used to using a viewfinder to compose a picture. There are electronic viewfinders, though, which are sold as an optional accessory and can be attached onto your camera via its hot shoe.

While I do not own an MILC, I had the opportunity to try out the Olympus E-P3 and Olympus OM-D E-M5. I was really impressed with the cameras’ functionality, image quality, build and overall feel.

Olympus E-P3’s auto focusing speed was really fast. In fact, it seemed faster than what my own Canon EOS 40D can do. The improvement was achieved by using contrast detection auto focusing and doubling the sensor’s readout speed to 120 frames per second.

While its continuous autofocus is not as fast as the DSLR, it is still a remarkable feat. Nikon has claimed that its MILC’s “One System” has overcome this problem with its hybrid (phase and contrast) detection auto focusing system and is as fast as its DSLRs.

Olympus also introduced the first-of-its-kind five-axis image stabilisation into its MILC, which to me, works wonders. I was able to take a macro food photo handheld at 0.5 seconds in a very dimly lit dining hall. I also witnessed a videographer shooting a video for a whole morning without using a monopod, but the footage looked as if it was.

While the MILC is not able to replace the DSLR as a professional photography tool (not yet, anyway), it is capable enough to handle your day-to-day photography needs such as parties and other events.

The MILC is easy enough to use – even someone who is not gadget or tech-savvy may be able to master using the camera in no time. Also, the MILC is light enough to carry around the whole day, even if you are constantly on the move.

If you are looking for a camera, check out the MILC as it gives you the best of both worlds – compact camera and DSLR.

*Jason Lioh would like to own an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and use it as his day-to-day camera instead of his DSLR as they are really heavy and giving him shoulder aches.

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