Jun 19, 2015
Convergence has become something of a buzzword in the industry. Unhelpfully, this is used by different people to mean one of several things, including the convergence of DSLR and mirrorless technologies or the convergence of stills and video cameras. (Few people are in a comfortable enough position to even joke about the convergence of digital and film camera sales.) It’s the first of these options that has had me thinking of late.
Although mirrorless cameras have historically been seen as an entirely distinct type of camera, that difference is narrowing. Obviously we've seen the body styles of mirrorless cameras start to converge with DSLR styling (though it's worth remembering that the very first mirrorless camera * - Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G1 - was DSLR-shaped), but huge strides are being made in terms of capability. Very early on, mirrorless cameras matched and overtook the most popular DSLRs in terms of single-point focus acquisition speed. Now, thanks to their full-time monitoring of the scene in front of them coupled with the development of on-sensor phase detection that makes them depth-aware, the best mirrorless models are starting to chip away at one of the last big areas of DSLR supremacy: continuous autofocus tracking.
The Samsung NX1 has helped change our expectations of mirrorless camera performance. Its subject tracking and ability to maintain focus on moving subjects makes it almost indistinguishable from a similarly high-end DSLR.
But convergence has come from the other direction, too. DSLR live view and video have tended to be a little clunky, partly due to redesigning the camera to operate with the mirror held up, but also because DSLR lenses aren't designed to be driven for contrast detection
autofocus. However, the Canon EOS 70D's dual pixel AF sensor, plus the development of an increasing number of STM lenses, helps it offer some of the best video AF on the market when essentially acting as a mirrorless camera.
Then there's the Samsung NX1. It's is the size of a DSLR; it looks, feels and behaves like a DSLR. In almost every respect, it may as well be a DSLR that someone simply forgot to put the mirror into. I find it hard to look at these cameras and not think that the line between mirrorless and DSLR is being blurred, if not obliterated.
I think it's telling, though, that as well as adopting 'Mirrorless' (as shorthand for Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) as its preferred terminology, the Consumer Electronics Association also chose to adopt an umbrella term, 'ILC,' for describing both classes of camera regardless of technology.
Still a ray of light for the DSLR
There are still some differences that may never be fully eliminated. Because DSLRs' sensors aren't switched on for nearly so much of the time, they aren't nearly so demanding on batteries. This disparity is made larger by mirrorless makers using smaller batteries to ensure a body size advantage, and arguably exaggerated by the way the CIPA standard enumerates this. But if you need to shoot all day and not worry about battery, you probably still need a DSLR. Then, of course, there's the use of optical viewfinders. The quality and utility of electronic viewfinders has leapt forward generation to generation, but some users need (and some users simply prefer ) the real-world view of an optical viewfinder, along with the shorter blackout times they currently offer.