Better than Point and Shoot, Cheaper than DSLR: The Mirrorless Digital Camera

By Theano Nikitas, dealnews contributor

A picture is worth a thousand words. But is a digital camera worth $1,000? For those on a budget, but who are serious about photography, we've found that the rather misunderstood mirrorless digital camera is picture-perfect.

A Camera by Any Other Name
The mirrorless digital camera goes by many different names: Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera (CILC), Compact System Camera (CSC), Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC), and — for Olympus and Panasonic only — Micro Four Thirds cameras.

No matter what you call it, this camera is a step up from a point-and-shoot machine. If you've been resistant to the bulk or expense of a traditional digital SLR, a new breed of Compact Interchangeable Lens Cameras (CILCs) may be just what you're looking for. These cameras are compact in size yet offer many of the same benefits of DSLRs such as interchangeable lenses, and a full feature set. Plus, CLICs feature both manual and automatic settings, making them ideal for shutterbugs who want to expand their photographic skills.

The CILC's Place in the Spectrum of Camera Options
CILCs are generally faster than point-and-shoot models, and you're likely to get better image quality, too, due to these camera's larger internal sensors.

On the other hand, these cameras don't offer the same viewing options and speedy performance of DSLRs. In order to make the cameras and lenses smaller, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) do not have a mirror box, which traditionally sits behind the lens and reflects images up into the viewfinder. That means that you either have to view and compose your photograph using just an LCD screen or an EVF (electronic viewfinder), and if you want an EVF, you may have to purchase it separately. Without the mirror box, MILCs' autofocus and shooting speeds aren't as fast as DSLRs, either. You may also have to purchase a separate flash as an add-on to your MICL, as most of the earlier models do not have one built in.

Still, these MILCs, with their interchangeable lenses and advanced feature sets offer versatility you simply won't find with other compact cameras. On the next page, we've gathered a few models that we've seen discounted, so you can consider the cost of going mirrorless.

Front page photo credit:
Top page photo credit: Dallas Arts Review

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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Frank Slide
No, I am not missing the point. They are not much smaller than a DSLR. To trade the superior performance of a DSLR for the smaller mirrorless camera is a tradeoff that does not make sense since it is still a large camera that is not compact.

It makes sense to trade the rich features and quality of a DSLR for something that will fit in a pocket, but with mirrorless cameras you are sacrificing features and quality for nothing as they are not small cameras once you attach a lens. This is a segment of cameras with no future.
I think both comments are missing the point.  Performance and size are placed between the P&S and DSLR, but so is the COST.  Better quality and more control over P&S, not as expensive as DSLR.  They got me interested.
They are very cute. Isn't that their only appeal?
Frank Slide
I see no point in these cameras. They are only compact if they don't have a lens attached. By the time you attach a lens, you are not much smaller than a DSLR. You are better off wit a DSLR. The only reason for going non-DSLR is so you can fit it in a pocket or purse. Since these cameras require a camera bag similar to a DSLR, I see no reason to purchase one.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
We weren't aiming to include the newest models available, but rather ones that have seen a long history of discounts, or have more current incarnations which in turn allow for these models to be heavily discounted.
Al Winston
C'mon, aren't you guys a little embarrased to post this?  No mention of the GF1,2 or 3?  No mention of the Fuji? No mention of image quality (the Samsung is awful).  No mention of pancake lens vs regular lens and how this adds to the bulk?  It would be just better to list the cameras and then send people over to dpcameraview and the digital image comparometer.