Mirrorless cameras and the law of computer power

    The boom of compact system cameras, which erupted three years ago, took by surprise both hordes of crozers, who continued to praise the advantages of their favorite systems in every way, as well as lovers of top-end compact cameras, who were ready to invest huge amounts of money in camera functionality, which was hardly comparable to SLRs of the lowest level. It is no secret that mirrorless cameras aroused not only legitimate interest, but also a flurry of hatred; before the abbreviation CSC (Compact System Cameras) was established behind the "mirrorless" in the English-speaking world, most called them nothing more than EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens). They seriously talked about the conspiracy of corporations, the takeover of market segments and even about the world war announced to the owners of huge full-format boxes from the crowds of rogues,

    The deadlines passed, the predestined was accomplished, and mirrorless cameras occupied that regular niche, which they should have occupied initially - the place of the film range finders. Retrodesign and system management, orientation to manual optics, typical for most modern mirrorless cameras (BZK), weight and dimensions, nature of use - all this indicates the return to the world of a whole segment of cameras designed equally for certain professional tasks and for very advanced, high-quality amateur photography. The lower-level compacts are gradually dying off, giving way to smartphones, and the top compact cameras for enthusiasts are already approaching the UPC in terms of characteristics and capabilities, primarily in terms of the physical size of the sensor. It's time to evaluate without any extra emotions, what processes suddenly pushed mirrorless cameras to the market, where before that there was only a dull war “crop vs full frame” and no less graceless battle “Canon vs. Nikon. " Where and why mirrorless ones surfaced?

    The answer is simple: they were created by computer technology, the same Moore’s law, fully applicable to all areas of computer life, including digital photography. As soon as it became possible to create a hardware base for reliable operation with interchangeable lenses, without resorting to phase sensors located in the area of ​​the mirror viewfinder, the mirrorless cameras carefully stepped onto the market, then strained themselves and dealt a sensitive blow to the cropped mirrors. DSLRs, however, did not remain in debt either: the miniature Canon 100D and Nikon D3300 are only slightly more massive than their mirrorless counterparts from Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic ... But the mirror in these cameras is nothing more than a tribute to tradition, a rudiment, primarily from - for the dark and small viewfinder; most of the work in these new SLR cameras takes on the screen, the processor, sensors focusing on the matrix. Such “mirroring” is nothing more than a marketing hype, designed to “hook” a user into a certain system of optics and accessories. And the decisive arguments are, as in mirrorless cameras, computer capabilities that serve both the acquisition of a digital image and its post-processing.
    From this point of view, the trends of modern camera engineering should be considered now.

    Mirrorless as a camera

    I will agree in advance that, speaking of mirrorless cameras in the context of this article, I also mean the initial DSLR models and top compacts “for enthusiasts”. This is a kind of "middle class" in public photographic equipment; many pros in the West shoot on mirrorless or cropped cameras and do not buzz. I read about a photojournalist who managed in “hot spots” with two Olympus Camedia 8080 compacts, and I must admit that this solution has its advantages. The one who happened to be in Pattaya during the Songkran festival or in the Pamir mountains in late spring, when meltwater in half with snow carries stones here and there in three pounds along the slopes, probably thought about changing his pathos carcass with a great and terrible telezoom 16- 400 / 1.2 for something easier. For those,

    So, it is traditionally believed that cameras now come in:

    Entry-level compacts (point-and-shoot) - flat "soap dishes" with a tiny sensor and a dark lens. Quality, as in a smartphone, or even dry, plus almost zero functionality.

    Ultrazoom (bridge cameras) - externally similar to a DSLR “soap dish” with a huge range of focal lengths, from the widest angle to an astronomically-terrible approximation, on a lens with the highest optical quality. A small sensor and the lack of useful settings complement the picture. However, in this segment there are pleasant, although very expensive exceptions.

    Top compacts (enthusiast-level cameras)- cameras with manual settings, a non-replaceable good lens and a relatively large sensor (there are even “full-frame” ones, with a sensor format like a film frame). This is a serious tool for everyday shooting.

    Mirrorless (system cameras) - in fact, the same cameras for enthusiasts, but with the ability to put interchangeable lenses and, almost always, flashes or camera light. They occupy, as I wrote above, the place of the rangefinders of the film era in wardrobe trunks and pockets of amateur and professional photographers. This is the fastest growing class of cameras.

    Entry-level DSLRs- the same as mirrorless, but with a mirror. (Yes, I remember that a samurai without a sword is just like a samurai with a sword, only without a sword. This is exactly the same case. Moreover, all modern digital cameras are made according to Japanese drawings!) You can usually put lenses from the past on them , film models of cameras of the same company, which many have caused their relative popularity. These SLR cameras cannot be considered for the reason that the main advantage of a DSLR - the viewfinder itself - is completely killed by a small and dark image viewing window (pentamirror) with a small increase in the eye cup that turns the picture in the viewfinder into a tunnel.

    Professional SLR cameras (top-level DSLRs)- usually have a large sensor (full frame, FF, equivalent in size to a film frame 24x36 mm) and a bunch of additional functions that are useful to a professional. With lenses and attachments, you can remove everything from the decay of the antineutron to the explosion of the metagalaxy, from the mouse fox to the dying mother-in-law and from the wedding to the uprising inclusive. For this they are loved, especially those who do not need 95% of the functions available in these cameras.

    "Watering can."It is produced by Panasonic, inheriting all the typical advantages and disadvantages of this company. A true classic rangefinder camera (there is also a DSLR, costing a little over a million rubles). It stands out in a separate class, because otherwise the owners who have accumulated on it are very offended. I will not discuss it, since I did not own and did not use it, and the pictures from Leeks seen on the net do not strike me at all with technical quality.

    Such or roughly such is a general outline of the map of the modern world of photographic equipment, which makes those involved tremble in holy ecstasy. Participants are ready to rush into battle to defend their favorite brand or class of photo equipment at the first sign of criticism of him.

    I approach the matter of classification a little easier.

    Any modern camera is a computer.

    Therefore, it is necessary to consider the properties of a digital camera from the same point of view from which we consider desktops, laptops, smartphones and other gadgets of the digital era - from the point of view of computing power, algorithms and quality of hardware, not least set by the novelty of technology.

    Mirrorless as a computer

    A digital image appears in the camera, is transmitted to the archive or transferred to print as a stream of computer data. Who is better, faster, more efficiently processed this stream, providing for this the most compact, convenient, diverse interface - he is the winner in the digital image race. In this class, mirrorless cameras are now more modern, faster, more mobile than DSLRs. And the comparison of mirrorless with traditional DSLRs is, in fact, a comparison of laptops with traditional desktop computers. Desktops have always been, are and will be more powerful, but laptops are more practical, more convenient, more mobile. From that, in the late 2000s, the world experienced a boom in laptops: their computing power and resources were finally enough for most user tasks. And with mirrorless cameras exactly the same thing happened.

    Table 1. Comparison of different types of cameras in terms of consumer properties.

    Whoever puts the best algorithms supported by good hardware into their cameras wins. Examples are the experience of Fujifilm, the only manufacturer of cameras at the moment capable of delivering not sickening and not spoiled by "art effects" results when working in JPEG, as well as Sony, whose popularity in the photographic world rests on three pillars - optics from Minolta, optics from Carl Zeiss and a normal set of high-quality algorithms for in-camera image processing.

    Therefore, it seems to me more legitimate to divide cameras not according to formal photographic parameters, but according to conditionally taken generations that reflect the influence of computer and electronic technologies on the life of an ordinary user. There is some analogy with the development of life on Earth; The evolutionary path of digital cameras is something like this:

    Proterozoic (1990s). Film skills have been lost, and the cost of digital cameras is not yet for the average user. Sometimes there is a digital footprint in the prints of this era, but most often people take pictures of film point-and-shoot soap dishes with plastic lenses and print terrible quality color pictures (but with the obligatory date and time stamp) in the laboratory around the corner.

    Problemosis (2000-2005).It is already possible for an advanced and even ordinary amateur to purchase a decent digital camera in this era, but the quality of the images and the processing capabilities are a problem. As the forerunners of future mirrorless cameras, several series of experimental compact cameras with excellent features appeared during this period. Later they die out, unable to withstand competition with the monsters of the next era - the Frost.

    Merzozoy (2003-2010).With the release of the Canon 300D and Nikon D50 in the world of amateur photographers, the camera begins to boom. The quality of the images and their ergonomics are quite vile, hence the name of the whole era. As kings of digital nature, gigantic full-length cameras dominate during this period at the cost of many thousands of green presidents; the culmination of dinosaur construction is the release of the great "pyadvachka", which became the object of worship.

    Caifozoj (2010 - today).Sneaking up on Panasonic stealthily did a great job by releasing its G1 - the first sane mirrorless with modern features. Olympus was also enormous in this matter, even before that time it had equipped its E-series DSLRs with normal LiveView and good compact optics. Olympus subsequently supported Panasonic with the revolutionary design Olympus Pen E-P1. From this moment on, mirrorless ones multiply like mushrooms, the younger SLR cameras inherit them in functionality, and shooting for a amateur photographer becomes a real buzz. The quality of images is also improving so much that it can compete with the mirror dinosaurs of the previous era. We live now in this happy time - the time of the triumph of carefree users and mirrorless cameras!

    From this point of view, the ultra-sophisticated Canon 5D Mk III or the reporter Nikon D4s, despite the excellent characteristics, are dinosaurs; as soon as Moore's law allows them to create an adequate replacement that fits in your pocket, this will be done immediately. And vice versa, every step of Fujifilm to further increase the size and price of its cameras will immediately knock the soil out of these excellent cameras in all respects, transferring them to the segment where they will have to compete for a completely different ecological niche!

    Oh yes, there is still optics, and in general - all that is commonly called “physical characteristics” and pronounced majestically: “Where do you get from the laws of physics? You can’t deceive physics! ” She doesn’t have to cheat. It must be used. Computer-based digital imaging tools can use physics very well!

    Optics, Sensor, and Post-Processing Impact

    There is no escape from optics; without a good lens, no, even the best algorithm for taking and processing a picture, will not create the correct picture, which you intuitively expect from a photo. A huge fleet of time-tested lenses is an essential advantage of large DSLRs. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras here give their older brothers a head start: a short working distance and the absence of the need for a constantly open aperture make it possible to use all possible types of old and new lenses on them from any cameras, SLR, rangefinder and cardan, as well as from magnifiers, binoculars, telescopes and optical sights. You can put anything on a typical modern mirrorless mirror, from the brazed “petzval” on which the great-grandmothers’ daguerreotypes were made, to the supermodern Canon 85 / 1.2 of the second version.

    But it’s best to put lenses specifically designed for this mirrorless on a mirrorless mirror. Why? Yes, because the lens is also a computer! Any modern lens is equipped with a processor whose algorithms are optimized to work in conjunction with the camera. What does this give, any Micro 4/3 system owner who puts an excellent Panasonic lens on the Olympus camera (theoretically, is fully compatible with Olympus under the Micro 4/3 standard) will tell you. The image “rides” because the processing algorithms are different.
    Moreover, a sensor is also, first of all, a computer. The physical size of the sensor, which amateur photographers have read so much after, is important, there is no dispute. But no less important are the post-processing algorithms used by the camera after taking the image from the sensor. A simple example: a completely identical 16-megapixel sensor, installed on a number of Nikon, Pentax, Sony models, only on Nikon had constant problems with the “carrot” - the unnatural yellow-orange skin color of the Caucasian. An example is more complicated - not a single third-party RAW file converter, with the possible exception of RPP, for a long time produced normal images when processing images from Fujifilm's X-Trans sensor. Even the built-in JPEG camera compression algorithms resulted in better quality and detail than the powerful post-processing tools used by non-native software.

    Undoubtedly, the algorithmic tools built into the camera are often criticized with taste. They criticize for bad JPEG, for aggressive noise reduction, for compression and processing of RAW images just taken from the sensor. This criticism is largely true, but we should not forget that the creators of the cameras strive to get the most perfect tool for making photographs - and not a machine for technical tests and not a conveyor belt for the creativity of folk craftsmen! Algorithms, both built-in and post-processing level, will continue to evolve. Newest topic - backupimages received from the camera directly to network services. And from this function, just think, your noses will turn up: how so, backup camera JPEG, not yet licked by photoshop and numerous plugins! Not speaking a bad word about Photoshop, I only note that the images processed by him require the preservation of the original copy; this is where a pre-made backup comes in handy!


    Modern mirrorless cameras, together with top-end compacts “for enthusiasts” and entry-level DSLRs that have joined them, become the testing ground where the future technologies related to obtaining digital images are debugged and improved most quickly. Therefore, it is not necessary to turn the nose away from "unprofessional" models; instead, one should be interested not only in the physical and optical characteristics of the new cameras, but also in the range of computing tools they use, the generation of processors provided by auto modes, creative settings, and additional functions. In particular, such parameters, burst speed, video quality and format, maximum working ISO values, etc., even if you do not need them, it makes sense to always evaluate. They contain the characteristics of the processor power of the camera, the ability of its hardware and software to receive and post-process images in the most difficult conditions. The future, as you know, is with computers. Let computers disguised as digital cameras perform their best! Then the optimization of consumer characteristics, which took so much time the minds of photographers, will become truly accessible to amateurs and professionals in all segments.

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