In technology there is always the race to the top with technology and its terminology. Whoever wins has their penned term forever linked to them for example; prick stick, sellotape and blue ray. In photography where there are a many companies creating many different systems in a digital world, some standardization has been made. The .jpeg format which is an acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group, was created to have a standard image file and compression, unlike TIFF which is owned by Adobe and licenced out and Raw whose name is standard but if you look at different models of cameras you can see they have different file names.
In the days of film there was a pretty simple distinction between cameras.
You had you SLR, Single Lens Reflex camera.
The action of this camera is in the name. Light came through the lens and hit the mirror then the image came through on the viewfinder. When taking a picture the mirror would go up and the shutter would open exposing the film behind.
TLR, Twin Lens Reflex Camera.
As with the SLR light came through a lens and then reflected in a mirror to the view finder. But unlike the SLR the cameras had a second lens which took the picture. This meant that you could still see the subject of your shot while the picture was being taken. But it did have other issues like parallax error (I will cover this in another post).
Large format Cameras
These were the most simplistic of cameras in design. The light came through the lens and projected on to the focusing plain. When you took a picture you had to close the shutter inset your film and take the picture.
Rangefinder and Compact Cameras
Both of these types of cameras had one similarity and one major difference. The rangefinder had the possibility of interchangeable lenses unlike the compact, and would focus in a similar way as the TLR camera. The compact camera focusing deepened on the set features of the camera but there was no manual and precise focusing.
The evolution of photography had Darwinian characteristics “of survival of the fittest”, or “survival of the sellable”.
A big feature of the TLR was the square format of the image. This was no longer a marketable selling point. With a digital camera you can crop to a square format easily and so there was no need to have two cameras. Digital cameras also had the quality advantage of being able to create just as good images. Although I still think that a scanned medium format negative can give better images.
The large format and medium format cameras didn’t really have to adapt as the only change was adding a digital back to the cameras instead of a film one. These cameras had always been specialist kit and not really a consumer product. Hasselblad are still making great medium format cameras.
The market on the high street came to the SLR which with the added D became DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), and of course compact cameras.
At first these two types of cameras were true to their original design but slowly the viewfinder on the compact cameras disappeared replacing it with a live view on the LCD display. DSLR stayed the same sometimes giving the option to view on the LCD screen as well as using the TTL (Through the lens) view finder.
In 2004 the first MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) was released, the Epson R-D1. MILC was really a hybrid of a compact camera and a SLR. MILC cameras either looked like a SLR or a strange compact. MILC has either a traditional SLR view finder using video projection instead of a mirror or a plastic view finder. But they will always have an LCD screen to act as a view finder. With a video projection system is there to mimic the DSLR system and is slightly flawed because of the lag when taking the pictures of your subject and what was captured. This I have seen with the Fuji range of cameras.
One feature all these cameras share is that the lenses are interchangeable. The one down side is that most likely you will have to buy a new lens collection. For example Nikon lenses for your DSLR will most likely not fit your Nikon MILC. With all equipment you invest in it. You buy the lenses and the flash units knowing the will be compatible with your future cameras. Some manufactures have realised this. The new Canon EOS M will be compatible with the EF lens series with an adapter. Although using an adapter will change the focal length of the lens.
So what is the big deal about the name MILC?
Well the name for these cameras is not yet standardized, with manufactures giving different names for the grouping. The term EVIL (electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens) was a little unfortunate but describes the cameras effectively. The term was popularized by DPreview and was coined by Chales Davis in 2007 but since May 2010 DPreview has been using MILC. Popular Photography magazine has been using since September 2010 ILC (Interchangeable-Lens Compact), though not all the cameras they have written about have been compact cameras. SLD has also been used on the imaging resource site. MILC cameras have been more generally called a Compact Camera Systems (CSC) but the name sits two closely to the compact camera for some manufactures. Hybrid Cameras has also been an alternative name for some retailers as well as Mirrorless Camera System (MCS). Panasonic recently said that their new Lumix G5 will use the moniker Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) Camera.
Personally I think MILC is a good acronym and name for these cameras. As with previous acronyms they describe the mechanism of the camera. For me the naming of these types of cameras is more of a marketing ploy, to try and make them stand out of the crowd. The digital camera market is very crowded with many companies producing many different models and with constantly changing technology when you buy a camera it may be out of date within 6 months to a year. I am not saying that you should constantly buy and sell your cameras. I still use my Canon300d which is a great camera and produces images that suit the needs of my work.
These cameras though maybe are starting to change the market. With previously there being high end and low end DSLR with the low end catering for the keen amateur and the High end for the professional. The MILC cameras I feel replace the need for low end DSLR though still giving similar control to the user. The cameras are usually smaller and lighter and easier to carry and in a photographers kit and would make a perfect third camera.
The MILC cameras could fill the gap I feel has been missing. A rangefinder type camera in the digital age. Although there are digital range finders they are usually on the high price range like the Leica M series. A MILC camera without the pro price tag, that is easily accessible in a bag when traveling, would be great for street/ urban, documentary and travel photography. Of course to find the right one would take some research to weed out what would suit your need. I believe there is such a gap to fill in the market; a camera that has the pro end spec on a compact size model with flexibility.
There are a few draw backs though for me with the MILC cameras.
The lack of TTL focusing drives me mad. I love using it. With my G10 (which is not quite a MILC camera, but more a high end compact) I have got used to it but love it when I can return to my DSLR. Another would be the auto focus being a contrast based system which is slower to focus than the phase based auto focus system of traditional DSLR. Due to slower focusing the cameras are less suited for sport and subject movement photography. Also with the lens usually being incompatible between cameras within the same manufactures models.
Who will win the race to the top?
Personally I think this marketing ploy will not succeed since MILC is already out there and people are using it more than another. I can understand companies trying to show they are different within the field. Only if there is a sudden trend for using a particular model, as there has been with other technologies, will a single company win out.