newbie questions re: compact vs. mirrorless vs. SLR vs. rangefinder

Started Aug 22, 2011 | Discussions thread
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newbie questions re: compact vs. mirrorless vs. SLR vs. rangefinder
Aug 22, 2011

so from what i've gathered, the initial split between rangefinders and SLRs was essentially based upon two different designs for how to keep images in focus when composing--how the viewfinder worked.

rangefinders (which ive never used) use a disposable-camera-esque viewfinder separate from the actual imaging lens. when you look through this, there's some kind of device that displays two images, which you can twist to superimpose--when this is done, the camera focuses the imaging lens at that distance.

to get TTL viewfinding (and get a real preview of your picture while you're composing), they came up with the SLR, which uses a swinging mirror to let you see exactly what the imaging lens sees when you're not taking the picture. when you press the shutter button down, the mirror swings out of the way to expose the film.

so the rangefinder came up with a convoluted mechanism to let you focus correctly, but it was lightweight and efficient. the SLR, in order to get TTL, had to create a bulky mirror assembly, and had increased size, weight, etc.

but then with digital compact cameras, LCD screens (and LCD screens-inside-an-enclosure, i.e., an EVF) and autofocus, you don't need a separate viewfinder window. you can have TTL without the need for the mirror. you can have both the advantages of the rangefinder and the SLR without the disadvantages of either.

my question is: doesn't this make both electronic rangefinders and DSLRs obsolete? why do we still have DSLRs? why is there no full-frame mirrorless camera? is there some downside to the mirrorless assembly that the DSLR doesn't have i'm not aware of?

the three fundamental differences between digital compacts and digital SLRs are 1) sensor size/lens interchangeability, and 2) the mirror assembly. but these are completely independent, right? all the downsides of digital cameras have to do with 1) and not 2). if you just made a camera with a huge goddamn sensor, and gave it interchangeable lenses, would it be any worse than a bulky DSLR?

why are 4/3 and NEX and all these "mirrorless" cameras created with a small form factor and small sensor? if you took a FF sensor and put a mirrorless camera around it with all the bells and whistles the D3X has, wouldn't it be basically a strictly improved camera?

thanks in advance, and apologies for not understanding how this whole complicated industry works!

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