So you’ve decided to go beyond your smartphone.

You now want a good camera to capture all those precious Kodak moments. But which one should you get? There’s an ocean of choices. From professional, semi-professional to entry-level cameras – Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and many more. From compact cameras, SLRs and more recently, a new category of cameras known as mirrorless cameras.

What in the world is a mirrorless camera? 

To understand what it is, let’s take a step back into memory lane. Not so very long ago, back in the days of film – when men were men, and cameras were made of metal – in order for you to see through the lens of a camera, you need a mirror and a prism.

Light travels through the lens, bounces up the mirror, then gets reflected through a prism to your eye.

Light travels through the lens, bounces up the mirror, then gets reflected through a prism to your eye.

Light travels through a hole in your lens called the aperture. Behind the lens is a mirror. Light reaches this mirror and bounces up to a prism, which then reflects through the viewfinder to reach your eye.

When you press the shutter release button, the mirror flips up, and instead of the light bouncing up, it goes straight to the sensor plate, which then records the image.

This is why when you take a picture with a traditional SLR camera, you hear a loud noise of something flipping up and down. That’s the mirror. It’s also the reason why when you snap a picture, everything goes black for a moment. The mirror flips up, and you see nothing.

As you can see from the diagram above, this design makes your camera body big because you have to incorporate a mirror and prism to reflect the light – hence the name Single-Lens Reflex (SLR).

Mirrorless Camera

Today with digital technology, we can project images on LCD screens. Instead of an optical viewfinder, we have electronic viewfinders (EVF). No longer do we need a mirror and prism. We can digitally capture an image on the sensor and then electronically transmit it to the LCD screen behind the camera. So we bypass the mirror and prism. This allows manufacturers to create smaller SLR-style cameras that accept interchangeable lenses!

Intro the mirrorless camera – a camera that accepts interchangeable lenses like SLRs, but is significantly smaller in size. So small in fact they border on being as compact as your traditional point-and-shoot cameras.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon Rebel

Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon Rebel

As you can see from the diagram above, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is significantly smaller than Canon’s very popular and compact Rebel SLR.

So which camera should you get?

If you want the absolute best in image quality and flexibility, and don’t mind paying big bucks for the best – and using them to their highest potential – then a traditional SLR like the new Nikon D810 is good for you.

If you want absolute practicality and are willing to sacrifice quality and awesomeness, then stay with your smartphone. It’s good enough, it’s always in your pocket/hand-bag, you’re not carrying anything extra nor buying anything so it cost $0 and 0 lbs to you.

If you want something simple that you can just point-and-click and you’re thinking of a compact camera – forget it. Spend the extra money and upgrade your smartphone to the latest iPhone/Android phone you can buy. Compact cameras are the fastest shrinking category in the camera industry today. Smartphones have all but killed them in any meaningful and practical usage.

NOW if you want the flexibility and power of a traditional SLR – interchangeable lenses, controllable settings, awesome pictures – but you still want the size and weight of small compact camera, then consider the mirrorless camera.

There are three major players in the mirrorless market today – Olympus, Fuji and Sony. Olympus’ top model is the OM-D E-M1. It’s an excellent camera. Then there’s Fuji’s X-T1, which received rave reviews, as did Sony’s A7 series. These are their top-of-the-line models but their entry-level models are also excellent. Olympus recently came out with the Olympus OM-D E-M10. It received DPReview.com’s Gold Award and it has a street price of $699. Fuji came out with the X-E2, which also received DPReview.com’s Gold Award and has a street price of $799.95.

The size of the Olympus OM-D camera vs. a credit card.

The size of the Olympus OM-D camera vs. a credit card.

Which camera are you planning to get?

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