Digital Single Lens Mirrorless. It's the name used by Panasonic in their marketing materials. Being a mostly DSLR person, this is logical. Compact System Camera? Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera? Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Format? How about "camera"?
When I talk to serious photographers who are DSLR (and larger format) shooters and ask them about mirror less cameras (and let's agree that this is a fundamentally stupid name), there are two reactions. First is that it's not a real camera. Okey dokey, enjoy your life on planet Denial (which is not a river in Egypt). Second is that they love their smaller cameras but are less comfortable using them on paid gigs because they don't look professional. This I definitely understand since Uncle Bob has a 5D Mark III and thinks he is a much better photographer than he actually is, because he thinks that the tool makes the photographer. Uncle Bob is plainly visiting from planet Delusion. Clients who are not photographers may expect big, bulky gear and much waving of hands and boiling of potions to make pro photography look like some kind of black art.
Some pros are actively using their new smaller cameras and letting their work speak for itself. More power to them. The camera is a tool. No more. One of the frustrations I see, and hear in stores, is the perception coming in the door, or created at the sales counter, that a camera that doesn't have a floppy mirror is not a real camera. This is, a load of poo.
I bought one of the first Lumix micro 4/3 cameras. It was pretty good, no better at anything than a DSLR and worse only in the number of lens options available at the time. That used to be a credible argument. It's not valid any more. The average DSLR buyer has just under two lenses, so round up and you have a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom and that solves pretty much everything for the general consumer. Sure an enthusiast might start looking at a macro, or an ultra wide or maybe demand a super fast big telephoto, and with the exception of the last option, those are also available.
Hang on though, a DSLR gives me way more override capabilities than one of these new mirrorless things, right? Um no. You have as much flexibility in an OM-D or NEX-6 as a similarly priced DSLR, and in some cases, more flexibility and more features.
Oh, but I have more flash options with a DSLR. Bull hockey. Most DSLR buyers never go near even a hotshoe flash, let alone anything of studio power. If you want a bigger offboard flash, they exist, and they do TTL and slaving and sync and all that and you can always load up a Skyport or PocketWizard onto the hot shoe and trip your big studio lights. Works fine.
But wait! What about low light? These smaller cameras cannot possibly have the same low light performance as a DSLR can they? In many cases we are comparing APS-C sensor to APS-C sensor, sometimes even from the same manufacturer so that argument is spurious. Yes my original Lumix was not brilliant above ISO 3200. Neither was the Canon 40D I had at the time either. Too high megapixel counts on too small a sensor make for small photosites and that is less low light efficiency. Or at least that was the way it was three years ago. Digital is as much about the software as it is the sensor and you can get excellent low light performance today that was not attainable at all only three years ago.
Well then, the lenses must not be as good. Nope, wrong again honey. Smaller? Yes. Lighter? Yes. More plastic in the construction? Probably not statistically speaking. The gap today is in lens speed. We don't yet see the f/1.4 variants that we see in the DSLR space. How many of those are sold to the average customer by the way? Oh right, that would be zero.
So your question should be, what am I actually losing if I buy one of these smaller cameras over a DSLR.
Here's a list
- physical size - less
- weight - less
- size of the bag to put it all in - less
- really big filters - don't need em, need smaller filters
big super telephoto lenses with huge maximum apertures - yes these don't exist right now, but you may not be Bill Frakes or Dave Black anyway
Manufacturers aren't helping either. Canon released the anti-enthusiast SL1, basically a Rebel with a lobotomy in a 1/4 smaller body in order to hit a size/weight target. Sony releases the A3000 that has no pentaprism or mirror box but is built to look like it does giving the camera the feeling that it's filled with foam and cheap plastic. Stupid marketing is stupid marketing. Other vendors shoot themselves in the head by making their compacts less functional than their DSLRs because the divisions compete and they are afraid of eating their own lunch, more content to let a competitor do it. Canon released the EOS-M with the world's crappiest autofocus performance and wondered why no one would pay nearly twice the price of an NEX-3 that could run circles around it. Nikon released the 1 series with a smaller than M43 sensor creating a completely unique line and mount structure and then compounded the sin with the J1, the camera with the highest customer return rate I have ever seen. The 1 Series is dead on the pad, yet the V1 and V2 were spectacular performers, virtually ignored by their maker.
Today's digital compacts with interchangeable lenses are for the most part functional equivalents to DSLRs. You choose the size and style you want and have a tool that will enable you to make great photos if you do your part. If humping a bunch of kit around is not what you want to do, you should take a serious look at this alternative. It's interesting that in Japan this market is explosive but in North America it's not nearly as strong. I put the why down entirely to misperception, misguidance and lies.