Hi-Tech Studio: Pro Backup Cameras

The old photo adage “The best camera is the one that’s with you” especially applies to pros who are in the business of content creation and realize that having a camera with them at all times is advantageous. For a long time, the choice was to lug your big pro DSLR everywhere, buy a lower-end DSLR that was still pretty bulky or get a compact digital camera whose image quality suffered due to its tiny image sensor—or go camera-less.

The mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera changed all that. Now, you can get a truly compact camera that can produce DSLR image quality due to its DSLR-size image sensor. By eliminating the DSLR’s bulky, complex and costly moving mirror, mirror box, focusing screen and pentaprism or pentamirror viewfinder and replacing them with full-time live viewing on the camera’s LCD monitor (and an eye-level electronic viewfinder, with some cameras), designers were able to greatly decrease camera bulk while retaining a large sensor. The lenses are also smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses, although not that much smaller with the larger-sensor (APS-C) cameras because the lenses have to be able to cover the sensor’s active area.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Size

The mirrorless camera’s main advantage is its tiny size. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are much smaller than DSLRs, many even pocketable with a flat “pancake” lens attached. The smallest is Pentax’s Q model, measuring just 3.9×2.3×1.3 inches and weighing a mere 6.3 ounces (and containing the genre’s smallest image sensor, a compact digicam-like 1/2.3-incher). Even the largest mirrorless models are quite compact: the Fujifilm X-Pro1 at 5.5×3.2×1.7 inches, 14.1 ounces; the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at 4.8×3.5×1.6 inches, 13.2 ounces; the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 at 4.9×3.5×3.0 inches, 13.8 ounces; the Pentax K-01 at 4.8×3.1×2.3 inches, 16.9 ounces; and the Samsung NX20 at 4.8×3.5×1.6 inches, 12.0 ounces. But by way of comparison, that “big” Pentax K-01 is just 61% of the volume and 72% of the weight of the company’s K-5 DSLR (which itself is one of the smaller DSLRs on the market)—yet it uses the same wide line of K-mount lenses and features a similar sensor. Sony’s NEX-7 measures just 4.7×2.6×1.7 inches and weighs 10.3 ounces, yet contains a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor.

Most mirrorless camera makers offer at least one flat “pancake” lens that’s a good match for the body when you want a really compact package. Note that zoom lenses, especially with the larger (APS-C) sensor mirrorless cameras, do increase package size, precluding pocketability. Even with 18-55mm kit zooms (14-42mm for the Micro Four Thirds format), however, the mirrorless models are still much smaller than DSLRs with kit zooms.

Pocketability aside, a mirrorless system, consisting of a body or even two, plus a few lenses, spare battery and memory cards, is much smaller than a comparable DSLR system, easy to carry in a small camera bag. When you want to travel light, but don’t want to give up image quality, mirrorless is the answer.

Lenses

For the most part, a smaller selection of lenses is available for mirrorless cameras than for DSLRs (in part because of their relative newness). But for an always-with-you, carry-anywhere camera, you’re not looking to cart around a bunch of glass. All mirrorless cameras provide 35mm-camera-equivalent focal lengths of at least 27mm on the wide end and 90mm on the long end (297mm on the long end if you exclude the Pentax Q and Fujifilm X-Pro1). The 27-90mm range includes the focal lengths most would want for a walkaround camera.

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