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.