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After many long and exhausting hikes in which I carried my DSLR to the top of many mountains (well, maybe small hills), I made the switch to mirrorless. My new camera, the Nikon Z6, is smaller and lighter than my DSLR and that makes it easier for traveling and for hiking also.
In order to understand the difference between the mirrorless camera and the DSLR, I realized that I had to understand the different viewfinders of these cameras. The viewfinder is the tiny square screen you look through on the back of your camera when you're focusing with your stronger eye. The LCD screen is the large black square where the image will appear. There are two main kinds of viewfinders :optical viewfinders (DSLR) and electronic viewfinders (mirrorless). Let's look at the differences between them.
How does the electronic viewfinder differ from the optical viewfinder? First, let's understand how the DSLR creates an image. The "SLR" bit of the name means "single lens reflex" and is the mechanism by which light is directed from the lens to the viewfinder using mirrors and a prism. When you look through an optical viewfinder you're actually looking through the lens of the camera (the light is bouncing off a mirror and flipped through a prism). This gives you a every clear, sharp view of the scene. In a mirrorless camera, the imaging sensor is exposed to light at all times. This gives you a digital preview of your image on the rear viewfinder. Without the beefy mirror box taking up space in the camera body, the mirrorless camera can be much smaller than the DSLRs. That's the first thing that you'll notice.
My first day of using my mirrorless camera, I used it in the default mode of 'live view' or at least I thought it was in 'live view'. But not really. That was how it started working when I took it out of the box. The mirrorless camera has this astonishing new feature: your image is shown on your LCD screen in the same way the 'live view' on your DSLR shows you the image on your LCD screen. But there is a difference. As soon as I put my eye to the viewfinder , it shows the image to my focusing eye. The camera senses that my eye is touching the viewfinder. But when I take my eye away, the viewfinder goes black and the image is shown on the LCD screen. How can that possibly happen? That's the beauty of the electronic viewfinder. You get what you see.
Let's get technical to understand more. With an electronic viewfinder, you're actually just looking at a tiny screen, instead of seeing an image that is projected by mirrors or other optical means. You are viewing directly the image that is captured by the image sensor. This tiny screen gives you a real time preview of what your photo will look like. You have a real time exposure preview to hep you dial in the exact exposure. With the the electronic viewfinder, you'll also get a preview of your depth of field. Even though a DSLR has a depth feel button, it sometimes makes things look unrealistically dark.
I'm still getting used to the electronic viewfinder. It's definitely different than an optical viewfinder. I still feel as if I'm shooting in live view' although that's not what's actually happening. In general, I'm happy that I bought a mirrorless camera although I'm not going to sell my DSLR any time soon. I'll use both of them but in different situations.
By Laura Mansur Guerra