Beginner Tutorial 3
If you are serious about your hobby, then this tutorial is designed to outline the many advantages of taking the step from a regular compact camera to a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless system model.
What does a DSLM system camera offer?
The Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera belongs to the ever-growing compact system category.
It offers a real alternative to the traditional Digital SLR for enthusiasts who want to take high-quality photographs, but without the bulkiness and overcomplicated functionality.
Small in size, big on performance
Size and function are the most notable differences when comparing these two camera types. It used to be that DSLRs were only for serious photographers – or those fortunate enough to be able to shell out thousands for a camera body and a lens or two. That changed when the price came down to below the £500 mark, opening them up to a wider audience of enthusiasts and hobbyists. DSLRs are now within the reach of most of us, so what is it that still holds some people back and causes them to stick to a simple compact?
Panasonic recognised that a couple of things put photo enthusiasts off: the size and weight of a DSLR body and lenses, and their complicated functionality. There was a desire for an interchangeable lens system that was smaller, lighter and included features anyone with an existing compact would recognise – making the step up easier. The mirrorless compact system camera exactly fits that bill.
In 2008, Panasonic introduced the world’s first mirrorless Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera with electronic ‘Live View’ viewfinder and screen, the renowned G1.
Removing the mirror
Unlike a DSLR, a DSLM has no reflex mirror or prism – allowing a real-time live readout from the sensor, which can be closer to the lens back and allow for a smaller lens mount and lighter, more compact body. The image is seen on an electronic display in the viewfinder, or on an LCD screen on the camera’s back – the same as a compact, meaning it is familiar to the compact-owning novice.
Comparing a Four Thirds System DSLR and Micro Four Thirds System DSLM in 2008. The new mirrorless system had 27% less volume in the body alone – 40% less volume for body and lens! Today, mirrorless compacts are even smaller; it is now possible to purchase a model that will fit into a pocket, complete with lens.
Large sensor in a compact body
Despite their size, compact system cameras employ much bigger image sensors than standard compacts; the Micro Four Thirds system adopted by Panasonic uses a sensor about eight times larger – though the LUMIX GM1 body is about the size of a pack of playing cards.
A DSLM’s large sensor greatly improves image quality – more light-capturing area means a lower introduction of ‘noise’ in the picture. Powerful image-processing firmware, unrestricted creative control and larger, highly accurate lenses all contribute to a step-up in performance that surpasses all regular compacts.
Live View sensors – a new era for interchangeable lens cameras
Downsizing would not have been possible without the introduction of real-time readout from the image sensor otherwise known as Live View. A DSLR is limited to displaying and focussing the image coming through the lens only when the mirror is down. Live View not only displays the image, but a system called Contrast Detection Auto Focus calculates the focus directly from the image created on the sensor. As it constantly analyses and displays the readout, the firmware can track any changes in the focus point. So, continuous Auto Focus (AFC) during video recording is also possible.
Contrast AF also allowed the introduction of advanced features like AF Tracking, Full-area AF, Touch Focus and Face Detection.
Being able to see a Live View image from the sensor, either in the electronic viewfinder or on the large LCD screen, has many advantages:
- You can see subjects in low light more easily.
- Compose shots by viewing on the LCD, not holding the camera to your eye.
- Enlarge the subject image, to check focus before shooting.
- Touch Focus point allows intuitive focus area selection by direct touch of the screen.
- Check/Alter white balance settings and see changes before shooting.
- Apply creative colour filters experimentally, before shooting.
- Check aperture and shutter speed effects likewise.
Modern DSLRs are now adopting Live View, but they still struggle with the implementation of a Contrast AF system making Live View focusing in DSLRs painfully slow.
High quality video and stills in one compact package
A large sensor combined with lenses offering a large aperture means the creative effect, shallow depth of field, can be achieved. This is where a narrow area of focus enables a sharp subject in the foreground to stand out from an out-of-focus background – very desirable in portrait shots and in film-making for dramatic effect. We will return to this in detail in later modules.
All compact system cameras now offer another additional benefit: HD-quality video recording. Full HD, with just over 2m pixels (1920 x 1080) making up each frame of video, is broadcast-standard resolution. Powerful image-processing engines offer 50 interlaced frames per second (FPS), the same as TV, or 24 progressive FPS, the same as film – or even 50 progressive FPS for advanced recording, appealing to professionals as well as home video enthusiasts.
Dramas and documentaries, ads, music videos and even low-budget feature films are now being shot on DSLRs and DSLM compact system cameras – such as the LUMIX GH4, (shown here) which is capable of shooting in UHD 4k (3840 x 2160 at 30 FPS) and Cinema 4k (4096 x 2160 at 24 FPS). Their expanded features and effects, interchangeable lenses, relative low cost and compact size offer a very credible alternative to the traditional pro video camera.
Still undecided about stepping up to a DSLM compact system camera? Let’s summarise the main advantages over a regular compact:
- Larger sensor size, resulting in shallow depth of field, less noise and higher quality images
- Ergonomic design for sturdier grip and traditional shooting style
- Interchangeable lenses provide creative freedom and specialist shooting options
- Preview functionality on the built-in electronic viewfinder / LCD screen
- Advanced features such as ‘exposure lock’ and ‘RAW’ format shooting
- Advanced manual control over focus and exposure for ‘serious’ enthusiasts and experts
- Video shooting with advanced creative functionality
- Flexible accessories, such as external flashgun and video mic
So, for brilliant stills photographic quality and the ability to shoot video like a pro, in a compact system that’s easy to use and to carry around with you, a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera should be a serious contender.
The LUMIX G Advantage – over a DSLR
The rapid growth of mirrorless tech demonstrates that many thousands of camera buyers already appreciate the benefits of a DSLM. The LUMIX G Micro System continues to lead the field, offering many specific advantages over the traditional DSLR.
We will look in more detail at these functions and advantages as the Academy progresses, but in brief:
- Smaller, lighter camera body and lenses
- Electronic Live-viewfinder / display with full array of preview functions
- Full-time Live View with ultra-fast and accurate Contrast Auto Focus
- Full-area Focus option with Touch AF and Touch AE
- On-sensor focus point (eliminating old mechanical mirror errors)
- Advanced ‘Venus Engine’ image processor (firmware)
- Fast and precise continuous AF in video mode
- Silent shooting with electronic shutter – no more mirror noise!
- Digitally optimised lenses and maximum light capture
- Fast operating and precise kit (i.e. provided) lens
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