Have you ever found yourself planning a vacation getaway to some fun new place you're excited to explore and wondered what camera would be best to capture the experience in all its audiovisual glory? Maybe you considered bringing along a DSLR but didn't feel like lugging around a heavy, attention-grabbing chunk of gear that screams, "I'm a tourist with money, look at me!" So you compromised and brought just a mobile phone with a decent built-in camera or a dedicated point and shoot camera. Both of those are completely reasonable options, but if you want to improve your low-light performance and give yourself some lens options, all while keeping a smaller, lightweight profile, consider a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, or MILC for short.
MILCs are the smaller and svelter cousins of those lovable workhorses of the modern video world, DSLRs. Let's first dig into what they are by dissecting the name. You might remember from previous lessons that DSLRs have a built-in mirror that allows you to see through the viewfinder the exact framed view that the camera will record once you hit the all-powerful red button of commitment. This is great for framing your shot and was essential when LCDs with live view weren't standard on the back of every digital camera. Nowadays, though, it's not essential to have a viewfinder, especially when shooting video. It turns out, if you don't need a mirror assembly or viewfinder, you can make a similar but significantly smaller and lighter camera. This is great for when you're traveling or just out and about, since heavy stuff is, well, heavy.
Before we proceed with our etymological exploration of MILCs, check out this fresh example shot on a Panasonic GH2 by Leon Visser on a trip through Vietnam:
It's a really lovely travel piece and it probably wasn't too difficult to carry around that compact camera. Additionally, Leon was able to capture some really poignant shots at night since one of the big advantages of MILCs is a large image sensor. MILCs have image sensors that are much bigger than a point and shoot camera but not quite as large as a typical DSLR. This allows them to capture more light, which is crucial when shooting in low light or night time conditions.
Now let's discuss the interchangeable lens portion of the name MILC. Lens variety is essential if you want to capture different moods, subjects, and environments. While some point and shoots cameras have an impressive focal length range, you're not going to see the aperture ranges that you get from having dedicated and interchangeable lenses. Leon shot his video using a Voitglander lens with a focal length of 25mm and a low aperture setting of f/0.95 (writer's confession: I didn't even know f-stops could go so low!). Since MILCs allow you to swap between different lenses, you'll have a wide array of lenses to choose from for all sorts of scenarios.
Not convinced that a MILC can hold it's own against a DSLR? Well, they're getting there. Check out this comparison video by Marlon Torres:
By now you might be thinking, what's the catch? These cameras are great! Well they are, but they do make a few concessions. First up is battery life, there are plenty of MILC options out there with different specs, but many of them have batteries that don't go the distance when it comes to all-day shooting. This is gradually getting better, but it's still a hangup with some models. The other issue to consider is compatibility. Every major camera manufacturer has their own MILC models with lenses that are sometimes compatible with other brands, but are oftentimes not. So choose wisely, there's bound to be third party adaptor rings out there, but do your research before you commit to a specific MILC. With that in mind check out these videos from our friends at B&H Photo Video for an overview of a broad spectrum of MILC options:
By now you should have a good introductory idea as to what a MILC is and what it can offer you. If you want a significantly smaller camera that offers interchangeable lens versatility and image quality close to that of a DSLR, these might be the right cameras for you. Until next time, happy capturing!