Why are Cameras Changing to Mirrorless?

Why are cameras changing to mirrorless?

There are at least six reasons why camera manufacturers are no longer making Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras and are moving across to only making mirrorless cameras.

Before we get to the six points it’s probably worth just talking about what an SLR camera is and why it’s called that.  By the way, the D was added when cameras became ‘digital’ and film was made redundant.

Why Single Lens?

Prior to the invention of the SLR there were mainly two types of camera to be used.  The first being a twin lens camera, with one lens for viewing the image and a second lens for the image to hit the film once the shutter release was pressed. The other camera was the 35mm Rangefinder camera.

I have fond memories of the Mamiya C330f twin lens camera, used often in my early semi-professional days in the 1980s.  Being a 120mm roll film camera the quality was great for its day and incredibly reliable.

Mamiya C330f 6x6 film camera
Mamiya C330f 6×6 film camera Photo: Ebay

A popular rangefinder camera, you looked through a separate lens to view your image, while the lens projected the image directly to the film.

Kodak Retina-IIIC-Rangefinder Camera
Kodak Retina-IIIC-Rangefinder Camera Photo:Wikipedia

Unlike single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, where the viewfinder image is directly through the lens, twin-lens reflex (TLR) and rangefinder cameras use separate viewing and capturing mechanisms, potentially resulting in discrepancies between the viewed and final images, particularly when taking close up images.

Why Reflex?

A camera that typically uses a mirror and prism system (hence “reflex” from the mirror’s reflection) that permits the photographer to view through the lens and see exactly what will be captured.

The Single Lens Reflex

cross section-nikon-slr-camera V2
cross section-nikon-slr-camera Photo: Martin Vorel / Martin Bloomfield

More Information on the SLR can be found here > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-lens_reflex_camera

You now have an understanding of what a DSLR is and we move on to why the changes to mirrorless cameras are being made. 

Six Reasons Why Changes to Mirrorless are Being Made:

Size and weight: Mirrorless cameras are typically smaller and lighter than DSLRs, making them more portable and easier to carry around. This is especially important for professional photographers who may be travelling or hiking to remote locations,  or you may want a more lightweight camera when you are already managing a lot of additional kit such as tripod, case with different lenses, flash etc.  

Image quality: Mirrorless cameras have been catching up to DSLRs in terms of image quality, and in some cases, they may even be better. This is due to advances in sensor technology and image processing algorithms.

Video performance: I appreciate video in a camera is rarely used by a CSI, but you can’t escape this functionality.  Mirrorless cameras are generally better for video recording than DSLRs. This is because they have features that are specifically designed for video, such as continuous autofocus and eye tracking.

Technology: Mirrorless cameras are simply newer technology than DSLRs. This means that they have the potential for more innovation and feature development.

Consumer demand: As consumers become more aware of the benefits of mirrorless cameras, they are increasingly demanding them. This is putting pressure on camera manufacturers to switch to making more mirrorless cameras.

Cost: Mirrorless cameras are becoming more affordable, making them a more attractive option for consumers.

As a result of these factors, DSLR cameras are becoming increasingly obsolete. Mirrorless cameras are the future of photography, and all of the major camera manufacturers are now investing heavily in this technology.

Here is a table that summarises the advantages of mirrorless cameras over DSLRs:

Size and weightSmaller and lighterLarger and heavier
Image qualityComparable or betterGood
Video performanceBetterGood
Consumer demandIncreasingDecreasing
CostBecoming more affordableMore expensive
Summary of the advantages of mirrorless cameras

Yes, mirrorless cameras can be a good choice for crime scene investigation. They offer several advantages over DSLR cameras, including:

  • Smaller size and lighter weight: This makes them easier to carry around and manoeuvre in tight spaces, which is important for crime scene investigators who need to be able to move quickly and efficiently.
  • Faster autofocus: Mirrorless cameras use a different type of autofocus system than DSLRs, which is typically faster and more accurate. This is important for crime scene investigators who need to be able to take sharp photos of evidence, even in low-light conditions.
  • Electronic viewfinder (EVF): An EVF allows the photographer to see the image through the lens in real time, which can be helpful for framing shots and ensuring that everything is in focus.
  • Quiet operation: Mirrorless cameras are much quieter than DSLRs, which is important for crime scene investigators who need to avoid disturbing evidence or witnesses.
  • High-resolution video: Many mirrorless cameras can record high-resolution video, which can be helpful for documenting crime scenes.

In addition to these advantages, mirrorless cameras are also becoming increasingly affordable, making them a more viable option for crime scene investigators who are on a tight budget.

Here are some specific examples of mirrorless cameras that could be a good choice for crime scene investigation:

  • Sony a7 III: This full-frame mirrorless camera has a high-resolution sensor, fast autofocus, and a long battery life.
Sony Digital Mirrorless camera
Sony Digital Mirrorless camera [Photo: Sony]
  • Fujifilm X-T4: This APS-C mirrorless camera is smaller and lighter than the Sony a7 III, but it still has excellent image quality and a wide range of features.
Fujifilm Digital Mirrorless Camera
Fujifilm Digital Mirrorless Camera [Photo: FujiFilm]
  • Nikon Z7 II: This full-frame mirrorless camera is known for its rugged construction and its ability to withstand harsh weather conditions.
Nikon Digital Mirrorless Camera
Nikon Digital Mirrorless Camera [ Photog: Nikon]
  • Canon EOS R7: This full-frame mirrorless camera is a good all-around option that offers a good balance of image quality, performance, and affordability.
Canon Digital mirrorless camera
Canon Digital Mirrorless Camera [Photo: Canon]
  • Panasonic SR1L This full-frame super-fast sensor-lens communication of 480 fps and Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology help make high-speed, high-precision autofocus of approximately 0.08 seconds a reality.
Panasonic Lumix Digital Mirrorless Camera
Panasonic Lumix Digital Mirrorless Camera [Photo: Panasonic]

The above models are only suggestions.  All the manufactures make a range of models to fit all needs and funding capabilities.  

Other factors that will need to be considered are current lens and flash compatibility.  The new mirrorless cameras have a new range of lenses that work fast and more effectively, but obviously this is an additional cost to factor in.  Most of the camera manufacturers produce adaptors so you can use your current lenses or migrate completely to the new system.  If you are looking to change your entire camera kit you might want to take this opportunity to change your brand.  

The team at FTP have seen a number of Police Forces migrate to Canon, having been for decades Nikon users.  

We’ve looked at all the current cameras, not only from Nikon and Canon, and we’ve been impressed with what you can get from Sony, Fujifilm and Panasonic, all good options in our mind.  So, some factors to consider if changing the brand: it might involve extra costs, robustness of the cameras (cameras quite often break down in the hands of a CSI), support contracts, compatibility with other accessories; flash, flash lead, macro flash setup, cable release, spare batteries, etc.. 

Converting from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera is a relatively straightforward process, but there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind to ensure a smooth transition.

First, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the new menu system and controls. Mirrorless cameras often have more complex menus than DSLRs, so it may take some time to learn your way around. However, most cameras have helpful tutorials and guides built in, so you should be able to figure things out without too much trouble.

Second, you’ll need to adapt to the electronic viewfinder (EVF). An EVF is a digital display that shows you what the camera sees, instead of the optical viewfinder (OVF) found on DSLRs. Some photographers prefer the OVF, as it doesn’t have any lag or delay. However, EVs have several advantages, such as the ability to see the effects of your settings in real time.

Finally, you’ll need to make sure you have the right lenses. Mirrorless cameras use a different lens mount from DSLRs, so you won’t be able to use your old lenses without an adapter. However, there are a variety of adapters available, so you should be able to find one that works for your needs.

With a little practice, you’ll be up and running with your new mirrorless camera in no time.

If you and your team need help with migrating to the new mirrorless cameras, budget in for high quality training and speak to us at Forensic Training Partnership. We can write a bespoke two day conversion course, with loads of practical elements to help reinforce the learning.

Ultimately, the best mirrorless camera for crime scene investigation will depend on the specific needs of the investigator.  However, all of the cameras listed above are excellent options that offer a wide range of features and benefits.

Here’s a PDF produced by our friends at Wex Photo and Video explaining in more detail the options the major camera manufacturers offer to Police Forces.

Making the Move to Mirrorless

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Martin Bloomfield

Martin has over 45 years photography experience with 26 years as a specialist CSI photographer, Crime Scene Manager and occasional Crime Scene Coordinator.  Finishing his Police career as head of Sussex Police Imaging and Crime Lab.  He’s a qualified trainer (obtaining City & Guilds, Certificate in Further Education Teaching) and holds a Diploma in Crime Scene Investigation accredited by the University of Strathclyde.  He is a founding partner of the Forensic Training Partnership CIC.
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