I’m not talking tape to CD, but rather CD to DVD. For a little history on the birth and progression of mirrorless technology; read on.
What Is a Mirrorless Camera?
The Digitalization of the Camera World
A mirrorless camera is a revamp of the digital cameras we have been using for the past 20 years. Since 1975 when the digital camera was invented, it has improved significantly.
Now we have a split in the digital photography world; DSLR or Mirrorless.
The first digital camera came from a Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson. In 1975, Steven cobbled together some Motorola parts along with a Kodak movie camera lens. He used newly invented Fairchild 100×100 pixel CCDs (charge coupled device) as recording sensors.
This toaster-sized camera weighing almost four kilograms served as the prototype. Black and white scenes captured on a digital cassette tape. A special screen viewed these 0.1 MP images. It took 23 seconds to record the first image.
In 23 seconds, the newest mirrorless camera could record (in theory) 460 images.
The first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) could very well be the beast made by Kodak. It was definitely the premise of the DSLR camera to come.
In 1981, Sony unveiled the Sony Mavica. It was an SLR with interchangeable lenses, producing an analog video signal at a resolution of 0.5 K (570 x 490).
Mavipak discs placed inside the camera recorded still images. It could hold 50 at any one time.
You could only view these images on a TV screen. During the 1990s, these revamped models held bigger floppy discs and CD-Rs. Rather than being DSLRs, the name video camera stuck.
Back to Kodak five years later. This is when they developed a 1.3 MP CCD image sensor. The first sensor to cross the million-pixel mark. A year later in 1987, the sensor found its way inside a Canon F-1 SLR body at Kodak headquarters.
Kodak continued to design and improve circuitry. Their aim was to sync imager exposure with the mechanical shutter of the Nikon F3 SLR. This was through its motor drive contacts. Digital images stored on a tethered hard drive.
They were then processed as histogram feedback to the user. The system became refined. This was with input from the Associated Press.
The system was finally demonstrated at Photokina in 1988.
This became the first commercial DSLR, launched by Kodak in 1991.
What made a DSLR a DSLR was the digitalization of the Single Lens Reflex camera. What made this type of camera possible was a mirror and pentaprism.
Light enters the camera body where the mirror inside reflected the light upwards 90°.
Here it hit a pentaprism which forced the light to bounce at another perfect 90° angle. This is how it reached the photographer’s eye via the viewfinder.
This periscope-style method allowed for a correct framing of the scene.
With the shutter depressed, the mirror would move out of the way, exposing the film. This was revolutionary compared to the TLR (Twin Lens Reflex).
It didn’t have the parallax errors that came with it.
After a while, photographers started to find problems with the DSLR versions. Four main issues caused problems; speed, size, noise, and camera shake.
The mirror had to ‘flip’ during the exposure of the sensor.
This meant that the rate of the images taken possessed a limit. Even the most expensive, top-of-the-line DSLRs can only manage, at most, a rate of 14 fps.
There is a chance to ‘lock up’ the mirror, but it would stop you from viewing your scene.
The constant mirror flipping caused noise, which was not acceptable for quiet events. On top of that, moving the mirror up and down caused vibrations. This blurred images appeared at slow shutter speeds.
Due to the mirror and pentaprism, the DSLR had a limit to its size. There was only so much that could be done to reduce its bulkiness.
With today’s camera market, photographers are looking for smaller systems for transport.
The birth of the mirrorless helped to combat these issues.
A Brief History of the Mirrorless Camera
Let’s start with where we are now. Canon and Nikon recently released their mirrorless cameras into the wild. Hoping they will take root and grow into healthy camera systems.
It’s about time too, as they are a little behind the times. Or are they?
Canon released their 2nd mirrorless camera in October 2018. This might surprise some of you out there. Turns out you might not know as much as you thought.
Many Canon users saw that Canon was behind the times. After all, Fujifilm released the X-T1 in 2014.
This groundbreaking camera paved the way for every other camera company. Here, they are forced to revamp their technology.
Epson (yes the printer company) was the first company to develop the mirrorless camera in 2004. It was co-built and crafted by Cosina. They are known for the Voigtlander lenses and Contax equipment.
This was their one and only foray into the mirrorless world.
Leica, not wanting to see their Summicron lenses wasted on the Epson RD-1 created their mirrorless version in 2006.
This M8 had a resolution of 10.3 megapixels and a sensor crop of 1.3x. Leica now has the SL (Type 601) range, started in 2015.
Panasonic released their DMC-G1 in 2008. Not only was it the first camera to use the Micro-Four-Thirds system, but it was also the first to use an electronic viewfinder.
This 12 megapixel-beast was outdone by their incredibly popular DMC-G5 in 2012.
Olympus introduced their first mirrorless system in 2009 with the EP-1. This compact micro four-thirds camera with interchangeable lenses came with 12.3 megapixels. Their OM-D E-M1 released in Autumn 2013.
It was another micro four-thirds camera with interchangeable lenses. It also came with a 16-effective megapixel resolution.
Nikon did release a mirrorless camera in 2011, known as the 1 J1. It had interchangeable lenses with a 1″ sensor size and a 10.1-megapixel resolution.
Pentax announced their K-01 mirrorless camera early 2012. This interchangeable-lens camera came with a 16-megapixel sensor.
Their second and more improved K-1 mirrorless camera released in early 2016. This came with a full-frame sensor and 36 MP resolution.
Canon’s original mirrorless camera was the 2012 EOS M. Interchangeable lenses, a crop sensor of 1.6x, 18-megapixel resolution.
It was only in late 2018 that they decided to announce their newest mirrorless system.
The Canon EOS R came at the end of a long line of already established mirrorless systems. For a review of this camera, see our Canon EOS R Review here.
Fuji released their first mirrorless camera in 2012, with the X-Pro 1. Two years later, the X-T1 became a very popular camera, partly due to its ease of use.
Photographers liked the electronic viewfinder, manual controls, and lens selections.
Sony announced their α7 late 2013, after the initial development of their E-mount range. It was a full-frame interchangeable-lens camera with 24-megapixels.
This was their first, and they continually revamp their system and hardware. Currently, we have the A7 IIIR.
Why Do We Need a Mirrorless Camera?
In the last seven years, there has been a photographic war taking place. We saw the rise of the mirrorless camera take off at an incredible rate. This is starting to put strain and pressure on companies.
They needed to review their ideas, concepts and the way they work.
Since 2004, when Epson released their R-D1, many manufacturers went through the idea of creating a mirrorless system.
For a while, a few camera manufacturers played around with this new technology. Leica created the M8 immediately after.
Four years later, Panasonic released its model – the original Lumix DMC-G1. It was a turning point as this was the first to use interchangeable lenses. A game changer.
The next technology shift came from Ricoh. They created a heavily criticized interchangeable unit idea.
For the past decade, every camera company saw the benefit of developing the mirrorless idea. DSLRs have been the standard for a great many years, but the design has flaws.
Right in the middle of each camera body is the mirror.
This chuck of reflective plastic not only took up a huge amount of space, but it also created camera shake. Especially for handheld users with slow shutter speeds. On top of this, it was noisy as hell.
These disadvantages needed to go. Losing them was the next natural progression with the way we shape cameras.
Mirrorless cameras. Love them or hate them, created a silent photography session, and enabled cameras to shrink in size.
When the Samsung NX10 released, it didn’t turn any heads. The Olympus Pen E-PI was the introduction of a new mirrorless camera system.
The micro four-thirds was born. It was a step in the right direction for users who wanted the power of a DSLR, but not its physical size.
In the same year, 2010 saw the first Sony alpha Nex3 and Nex5 released. They both introduced new proprietary lens mounts.
Without the mirror in the center of the camera body, flange distances could be reduced.
As we are well aware, those that invent a technology are often forgotten about. It is the individual or company that makes it popular that gets placed in history books.
Who do you remember, Antonio Meucci or Alexander Graham Bell?
No one remembers all of the small technological changes. But they do know when the Fujifilm X-Pro1 came out in 2012.
2012 AFF (After Fujifilm)
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 announced in January 2012. It was the first mirrorless camera with an inbuilt optical viewfinder.
This hybrid overlaid electronic information that was now necessary due to the lack of a reflective surface. it relayed the scene back to the user.
Other camera companies took notice and started to pump money into R&D to release their own versions. They were already behind.
DSLRs cost a lot of money to manufacture. Trying to keep up with the range that Canon and Nikon put forth wasn’t cheap.
Now, companies could focus on smaller units. They could leave the mirror-flip, amongst other features behind.
Electronic manufacturers such as Panasonic, Sony and Samsung could finally shine. They had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Precision mechanical engineering, an area that Canon and Nikon were heavily invested in, saw their advantage slip.
When Sony released their a7 II camera, it had 24 MP and a five axis-point stabilized sensor. It was more compact and lower in cost than any full-frame DSLR.
Where were the big players during this time? Nikon released some of their best cameras during the few years leading up to 2012. The D5200, D3200, and D7000.
These changed and updated many of the aspects DSLR cameras worked from since their start.
Leading up to 2012, Canon was working on revamping their huge EOS 5D range. Out came the successful Mark III.
This was a camera that became the go-to camera for many professional photographers.
On top of this, They were also working on the EOS-1D X, a reimagining of the EOS-1Ds Mark III. Both of these camera systems were following the flagship models of two ranges of cameras. The pressure was high.
Canon had its focus elsewhere. This meant they didn’t release their first mirrorless camera until 2012.
Canon’s Mirrorless Trial
The EOS M was Canon’s first trial in the mirrorless world. It had an APS-C crop sensor, with interchangeable lenses, and a resolution of 18 MP.
The 3-inch touch screen supported multi-touch gestures. Pinch to zoom, swiping and tapping were possible.
It worked with EF-M lenses accepting EF and EF-S lenses with the use of an adaptor. The pop-up flash? Disregarded, which made way for a dedicated Speedlite, named the 90EX.
Compared to the X-Pro1, the M wasn’t as favorable. Sure, the Canon had 1.7 more megapixels but it didn’t have the Hybrid viewfinder or the freshly adopted X-Trans style sensor.
The Fujifilm is said to provide a higher resolution than full-frame cameras.
After this, the Canon released the Canon EOS M2 in late 2013. The Canon EOS M3 came in February 2015. After that, the Canon EOS M10 in October 2015; and the Canon EOS M6 in August AllAll of these I never heard of until now.
Fujifilm released the X-T1 in 2014, and then the X-Pro2 and X-T2 during the same year in 2016. These are well known throughout the photographic community that Canon is just entering.
When they did, they got a lot of stick because of it.
Photographers expected huge leaps in technology. Instead, they were knocked over by their shortcomings. To no fault of their own, how could they compete against companies such as Sony or Fuji?
They had been developing their tech for the past 5 or 6 years. And that is a lifetime in these modern times.
Nikon’s Mirrorless Journey
Many people believe that the Z7 and subsequent Z6 were Nikon’s first foray into the mirrorless world. If you believed this, you would be wrong.
Nikon, like Canon, created their first mirrorless system in 2011. It was foreshadowed by a bigger event at the time.
It did beat Canon to the punch. It did this by releasing a full nine months before the EOS M. But, first to the party, last to drink the spiked cool-aid.
Canon had the time to look at their technology and better it.
The 1 J1 only had a 1″ sensor, making it a 13.2 mm × 8.8 mm sensor rather than the 35 mm’s 24 mm × 36 mm. This is almost three times smaller than the 35 mm equivalent sensor and half of the micro thirds system size.
It did, however, use many new technologies at the time. The CMOS image sensor integrated two types of autofocus. 73 phase detection and 135-point contrast sensors provided hybrid autofocus.
It ensured the camera had the fastest autofocus system in the world.
The Nikon 1 Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-Zoom also included many new technologies. 21 elements came together in one package.
It included a high refractive index, extra-low dispersion, and two aspherical lenses. The shutter speed had a maximum of 1/16,000th of a second.
The Future of the Mirrorless Camera
Throughout the entire history of the camera, there have been uncountable advancements in technology. The camera obscura is where it started.
A box with a reflected albeit upside-down image has become a device that can capture a score of images in a second.
To record a true representation of the scene, we need a recording device.
For now, we are stuck in a small box. Until we are no longer in need of a complete system, things will stay as they are.
After all, the mirrorless camera is an improvement on a DSLR. Sure, it removed the prism and did away with the mirror flip. But it can only go so far.
Until we have the technology to break down the camera into smaller, connected devices, we are here for a while. All invention is born from necessity.
The mirrorless camera lost the prism and mirror due to the noise and speed limitations.
What issues do we face today? The resolutions of sensors in current digital cameras far surpass our needs. One limitation comes from having to use external stabilization, such as a tripod.
Handheld photography is not a possibility for many situations, settings, and fields.
Lenses also house their own problems. Aberrations come in many kinds, which put a dampener on the quality of your images. For now, the quality of the glass used in the lens can stop these but increasing the price per unit.
The price needs to drop for these to be widely used.
What about changing the aperture of an image after the scene was captured? This would be great for slightly missed focal points when using wider apertures.
The Lytro light-field camera already focused on this, and it didn’t take off as expected.
Bulkiness is an issue, especially as more of us travel to photograph. Weight and size could always be smaller. As more of us use improved technology in smartphones, digital cameras could disappear altogether.
Cameras you can place in your pocket pose a huge advantage. They function as editing tools and social media launchpads.
Oh yeah, they also work as phones and places for research. You can run your business from your phone, and a portable monitor.
The photography world one day will remove most devices at some point. Perhaps hand gestures will capture a scene.
Contact lenses act as a lens and a small, wearable pin as the recording device.
This is a really great way to grab candid shots, but then starts a conversation about privacy and public rights.