Is CSC An Evil Rangefinder Camera? Explaining Mirrorless Digital Camera
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Is CSC An Evil Rangefinder Camera? Explaining Mirrorless Digital Camera

In the last couple of years, mirrorless digital system cameras have gained prominence. More and more photographers, casual or otherwise, ditched their DSLR cameras and toted around the smaller size mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras. So what are they and how are they different from your standard compact digital cameras or DSLR cameras? What does mirrorless, CSC or EVIL camera mean? What does it mean to users, what is the best camera for street photography, portrait, studio work, macro and so on?

CSC stands for Compact System Camera and EVIL actually stands for Electronic Viewfinder with Interchangeable Lens. Just to be clear, there's nothing sinister about CSC. In order for us to understand these terms, lets take a look at the different types of still camera and brief descriptions of each. Please note that these lists are in no way exhaustive. I will only cover still photo camera types and those that are relevant to this discussion.

1. Compact digital camera - (including camera phone)

Compact digital camera is probably the most common camera. It typically has a small, boxy body with some featuring retractable lens for zooming. Most new digital compact cameras lack optical viewfinders and framing to take a photo is done on the back LCD. What you see is the same as what the image sensor is seeing. It uses leaf shutter that is virtually silence though some has simulated camera sound. Photo is captured by image sensor and in these cameras the image sensors are small to keep cost and size down. Typically focus and exposure control are automated with no option to go manual except on some models. Also included in this category are camera phones that are now used by millions around the globe.

2. Bridge Digital Camera

Bridge digital camera is called such because before the advent of CSC, it sits in between digital compact camera and DSLR camera. In a way it was a bridge between the two types. Bridge cameras offer users ability to control focus and exposure manually. It’s typically larger than compact camera and some resemble DSLR camera (see DSLR camera below). It sports larger image sensor that lend to better image quality. The different between bridge camera and DSLR camera are its’ inability to change lens. Bridge camera has fixed lens that normally has large zoom and generally has electronic viewfinder as opposed to optical viewfinder.

3. Digital SLR camera

DSLR camera is the most common type of camera that comes to one’s mind when thinking of professional camera. DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. Through the use of a penta-prism and a flipping mirror, the user is actually seeing directly through the lens (thus the term TTL) of the camera in the optical viewfinder. When the shutter is pressed, the mirror will flip up and exposed the sensor to the image. This flipping action gave DSLR camera that clicking sound, a slight vibration and momentary block the viewfinder (fraction of a second to few seconds depending on shutter speed). All modern DSLR cameras also sport LCD back that display info and can be use as “Live” viewfinder. Lenses are interchangeable wand there are hundreds of lens available for the different makes of DSLR cameras.

All modern DSLR cameras have manual mode, auto mode, and a combination of auto and manual modes. In essence, DSLR camera gave the user the most control over all settings. Image sensors are of high quality in either “full frame” size (35mm film equivalent) or APS-C size (Approximately 70% smaller than 35mm film equivalent).

4. Digital Rangefinder Camera

Digital rangefinder camera has DSLR camera capabilities and uses high quality (and expensive) full frame sensors without the bulk of a DSLR camera. Due to its size and appearance, one might mistake digital rangefinder camera with a digital compact camera. This is simply not true and the high price tags of rangefinder camera attest to how different these two types are. Until recently most rangefinder camera are fully manual and analog (film camera).

The main differences between a DSLR camera and a digital rangefinders, apart from size, is how focusing is achieved. In a rangefinder camera, the user does not see through the lens and there’s no flipping mirror. Focusing is achieved by via rangefinder (thus the name) where two images of the subject are seen, one of which will move when the focus ring is turned and when the two images become one the image and the camera is in focus. Without a flipping mirror there is no momentary block of the viewfinder and no flipping noise. Small size, quiet but produces high quality image makes rangefinder camera ideal for street photography or where one needs to be discreet when photographing.

5. Compact System Camera (and its EVIL twin)

Finally we came to the main topic of this article. After understanding the main types of camera above, we now can discuss effectively what is Compact System Camera or CSC. First of all CSC, mirrorless system camera (MSC), and electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens (EVIL) are actually different terms for the same camera type. So to answer the questions posed in the title, CSC is an EVIL camera but they are NOT rangefinder camera.

CSC as the name suggest are compact camera with interchangeable lens. Its’ other acronym, MSC or mirrorless system camera also denotes one of its’ feature which is not having flipping mirror. CSC generally has electronic viewfinders, thus the EVIL acronym, but recently CSC with hybrid viewfinder, i.e. a combination of optical and electronic viewfinder, made its' way to the market. Image sensor of this camera can be as large as DSLR camera’s sensor though some still sports smaller sensors in the interest of cost and size. Therefore quality of photos taken can be as good as DSLR camera. They also offer ability for manual controls on top of the usual digital camera standard auto settings which is unlike the cheaper digital compact camera.

But, are CSCs and digital rangefinder cameras the same? The simple answer is NO because of the absence of an actual rangefinder on the CSCs but the lines are getting blurry now. In recent past, another main difference between digital rangefinder camera and CSC was that digital rangefinder cameras sports full frame sensor as opposed to smaller sensors in CSC but a new Sony CSC released recently sports a full frame sensors has changed that. So it has become even more subjective now.

There you have it, the answer whether CSC is an EVIL rangefinder. What it meant to the user is more choices for whatever photographic endeavor/project he or she which to embark on. I always believe that there is no specific camera for a specific genre of photography. Of course there are preference, but a camera is merely a tool and a tool is only as good as the person who wield it. For example, do you need to have an expensive Leica camera to do street photography or can you use any camera? You can find out more here at street photography sans Leica site.


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