Need a proficient camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses? You no longer have to settle for a bulky SLR.
Geared toward photographers who want a lighter and more compact alternative to an SLR, interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) come in many different sizes and prices to suit all budgets. What differentiates these cameras from SLRs is that they do not have a mirror and pentaprism arrangement. Removing this makes the camera smaller and lighter than an SLR.
ILCs have the same sorts of manual controls as SLRs, as well as many advantages, such as having fast continuous shooting speeds and performance, particularly in the higher-end models.
What's in a name?
Each manufacturer calls their ILC range something different. Panasonic terms it its G series, Olympus has Pen and OM-D, Nikon calls its cameras Nikon 1, Sony has NEX, Samsung is NX (rather confusingly close to NEX from Sony), Fuji puts some cameras under the X-series banner and Pentax calls them Q and K, while Canon's first camera is the EOS M.
Confused enough? The entire category name is also up for grabs. We call them interchangeable lens cameras, but elsewhere you may see these cameras termed as mirrorless cameras, compact system cameras or even EVIL (electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens) cameras.
Most compact cameras have a reasonably small image sensor. This means that they are not able to gather as much light as a digital SLR, and image quality is generally not at all comparable to an SLR. On the other hand, ILCs have the advantage of a much larger sensor, which is beneficial in many applications, including low-light photography.
Here is a comparison (not to scale) of the different sensor sizes found in ILCs.
Accessories and lenses
The big advantage of an ILC is that you can change lenses as you please. One important thing to remember when you're buying a camera is that one size does not fit all. With the exception of Olympus and Panasonic cameras, you cannot interchange lenses and accessories between brands.
If you are a keen photographer, or have a particular style that you want to cater to (eg, macro or portraiture), make sure to check out what lenses are available before investing in the camera body. Check out our favourite accessories and lenses for your brand new ILC.
Got a collection of older, legacy lenses? You may be able to fit them on your new ILC with an adapter. Some manufacturers offer them directly, with full warranty support, but in other cases you will need to source them elsewhere, such as from eBay.
Still not sure whether an ILC or SLR is for you? Read our article to determine which will meet your needs best.