Is The Future Mirrorless?

In the excitement over the introduction of the Nikon 1 System, many have debated over what they believe is a game-changing technology: the focal plane phase detection autofocus with phase detection AF sensors embedded right onto the image sensor itself. With this new configuration, the need for a separate Phase-detection AF sensor is not necessary anymore, which also means that the mirror to reflect the light to that sensor is not necessary anymore.

If this new focal plane phase detection AF returns AF speed as lightning fast as that currently obtained in DLSRs (and there’s no reason to doubt otherwise), then the use of a mirror would be relegated to reflecting light to an optical viewfinder. Even Sony’s SLT translucent mirror would be redundant.

Can the use of the mirror in a DSLR be nearing its end as the electronic viewfinder gets so much better with every new introduction? Nikon must know that, with its introduction of the focal plane phase detection AF sensors, its own DSLRs would eventually need to be retooled: without the mirror, DSLRs can be smaller, lighter, faster. Nikon claims that it had been working on the Nikon 1 System even before Olympus and Panasonic introduced their compact mirrorless cameras. Is it then beyond the realm of possibility that they are even now working on the next generation of Nikon mirrorless DSLRs?

That leaves one major camera manufacturer with still no mirrorless offering, but we are told that November 3 is the day Canon will introduce something BIG to blow away our socks. Nikon flew journalists to New York to announce the Nikon 1 System; Canon is doing it in LA. As far as we know, the embedded phase detection sensors technology is not a Nikon exclusivity; as soon as that technology became available (in some research paper probably), every camera and sensor manufacturer must have been hard at work on their version. I simply cannot believe Canon engineers have not been hard at work on their mirrorless. And I cannot think of anything bigger than a huge chunk of its DSLRs (say, the APS-C DSLRs) going mirrorless, suddenly leaving all competitors in the dust. I mean, if Leica can do it and Sony can do it and even Samsung can do it using an APS-C sensor, there’s no reason Canon cannot also accomplish this.

These are all speculations and guesses of course but some have debated that even the top of the line full frame pro DSLRs would eventually be mirrorless? What do you think? Does it seem to you that the direction is becoming clearer and clearer for DSLRs that “The Future Is Mirrorless?”


  • The current APS-C models have huge lenses which invalidates the need of wanting mirrorless cameras that are easy to carry around. M4/3rds seems to be the smartest choice at the moment. Leica is FF, but no lens options. Canon may want to go FF too to hot another niche but how to come up with a bunch of pancakes for a large sensor is beyond me 🙂

  • I personally think Canon & Nikon will be more conservative with their mirrorless route. I don’t see them building a new mount for their dslrs because it would mean maintaining a new line of lenses that is not compatible with their existing system. With the same mount, there is not much advantage in taking away the mirror in the bigger systems. What you’ll end up seeing is a mirror lock up feature and something not to different than the fuji x100 works – where you can have digital information projected into the optical viewfinder – or the optical viewfinder can flip back and forth from EVF to optical modes.

  • I think there are two different goals here.
    One is the desire to make smaller cameras the other is to eliminate the noisy/bulky/expensive mechanical bits in favor of small,quiet and inexpensive electronics.
    Enthusiasts always forget that the vast bulk of picture takers are women.Current P&S cameras are small because they are purse sized.

    As an architectural photographer, I do not desire a small camera but I do like the idea of my picture taking experience improved by better viewfinders and more options. Commercial photographers would love to eliminate mirrors in favor of large, articulated screens in the studio.
    A wedding photographer would love the near silence possible with a mirrorless camera but not necessarily an uncomfortably small body.
    Even the groundbreaking Olympus OM-1 had it’s detractors because of it’s small size.
    I like the idea of the NEX-7 as it has an EVF and I don’t insist on absolute tinyness. A Leica M-9 is a perfect size but the lenses would absolutely become more bulky to accommodate auto aperture and autofocus. Nikon’s biggest victory in their criticized new 1 series is the recognition that a real VF is necessary to be part of a real conversation on enthusiast cameras. In addition, as the article points out, there is some very significant technology buried in this small sensor camera.