Saturday, September 17, 2011

Photography Basics - What is an ILC/EVIL camera?

With a new interest in smaller bodied cameras having high quality images, the new ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) or EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras have caught the attention of a lot of people. What is the difference between a standard DSLR and an ILC/EVIL camera?

ILC and EVIL is a hard category of cameras to describe because they come in so many shapes and sizes. ILC or EVIL can mean anything from basic, just above point-and-shoot level cameras with larger imaging sensors, to system camera with lots of lenses, rivaling a DSLR in system support. In figure 1 is a Panasonic G2 ILC or EVIL camera:

Figure 1 – Panasonic G2 ILC or EVIL camera

Comparing the Panasonic with your average DSLR you probably notice that the bump on top that normally contains a prism housing for the viewfinder is much smaller. There is no prism because the camera shows its live view output on a monitor instead. Comparing an ILC/EVIL to a DSLR, in figure 2, we see the path of light taken through a DSLR's lens, bouncing off the reflex mirror, up through the prism, and out the viewfinder to the photographer's eye.

Figure 2 – Path of light (red arrow) through a DSLR's lens, reflex mirror, and prism

An ILC camera has no reflex mirror/prism system as shown in figure 2. Instead it simply takes the output from the imaging sensor and displays it directly on a small LCD monitor inside the viewfinder's eyepiece, on the back of the camera on a large LCD monitor, or both.

An ILC/EVIL is a mirrorless camera, basically a DSLR without a mirror. Instead of a mirror/prism system an ILC/EVIL camera uses various viewfinder styles, including the following:

  • A basic viewfinder that doesn’t see through the lens (rangefinder style)
  • An electronic viewfinder inside a viewfinder eyepiece
  • A live view LCD monitor on the back of the camera
  • A combination of all three 

A small ILC/EVIL camera can be indistinguishable from a better quality point and shoot camera. Larger ILC/EVIL camera bodies can resemble DSLRs. The main things that distinguishes ILC/EVIL cameras from point-and-shoot cameras are two basic things, as follows:

  • The larger imaging sensor allows very high quality images
  • It has various interchangeable lenses you can mount on the camera body

Other than the viewfinder system, the ILC/EVIL is similar to a DSLR in how it captures the image. They can have similar quality, as long as the imaging sensor is of comparable size.

See why I say an ILC is hard to describe? Some larger ILC/EVIL cameras look very similar to small DSLR cameras, although the bump on top of the camera is much smaller since there is no need for the bulky prism a DSLR uses (figure 1). The primary difference between a DSLR and an ILC/EVIL camera is the reflex mirror and prism viewing system that only the DSLR has. Other than that, both camera types can provide similar high-quality images.

The most important thing to consider when buying an ILC style camera is that it have as large an imaging sensor as possible and plenty of lenses and accessories to select from.

Which Camera Style Should I Choose, DSLR or ILC/EVIL?

The most enthusiastic enthusiasts generally use DSLR cameras. However, ILC/EVIL cameras are increasing in power and capability with each new generation. ILC/EVIL cameras used to be considered less powerful, having a better imaging sensor but not much better otherwise than point and shoot models. However, now the line is blurred between the two types. Some ILC/EVIL cameras are very basic—similar to a point-and-shoot—while others are more like DSLRs.

When should you choose a DSLR over an ILC/EVIL camera? If you are going to do commercial work (even eventually), you may want to consider using a DSLR. If you want to make the best possible images you can make, a DSLR system may still provide an edge over an ILC/EVIL camera, due to more rapid and precise viewing of the subject through the viewfinder.

This is a touchy subject for some; however, it is generally recognized that the DSLR is the professional’s camera of choice, mainly because of the support system in place from the longer existance of SLR-type cameras. As time goes by and ILCs grow in power, this may change. For now, if you see yourself specializing in things like action or sports photography, portrait work, or event shooting, you may want to choose a DSLR over an ILC.

The primary limitations of an ILC/EVIL come from the slowness of an electronic viewfinder, in comparison to the mirror/prism system of the DSLR. The autofocus system (automatic camera focusing) can also be significantly slower on an ILC/EVIL camera due to the fact that most use a type of autofocus called contrast detection. This type of autofocus is very precise but much slower than the type used by DSLR type cameras—called phase detection. That’s why you see all those sports photographers with their DSLRs and huge, long lenses at sporting events. They must have very fast response times in order to capture fast moving subjects. DSLRs excel for that type of photography.

When you are shooting action, it can be harder for an ILC/EVIL camera to keep up with the movement, due to slower autofocus and electronic viewfinder response. However, newer ILC/EVIL cameras are drastically increasing the speed of their autofocus and electronic viewfinders, so it may be that you’ll do just fine with an ILC/EVIL instead of a DSLR.

If you are primarily doing things like street photography, landscapes and scenics, and family pictures, an ILC/EVIL camera is up to the task. Any type of slower, contemplative photography can be done equally well with a DSLR or ILC/EVIL camera. Once again, it all boils down to your own preferences and style. Which camera type do you like best? That’s the one to use!

Better yet, get both. Use the DSLR when you are out doing serious commercial-type work, and the ILC/EVIL camera when you just want to enjoy photography. Many photographers take that route. They use a DSLR when they don’t mind the extra size and weight of the camera and an ILC/EVIL camera when they are interested using a smaller camera, such as for travel photography.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books at:

1 comment:

  1. TQ. A very good explanation. I'll buy one next but still can't decide: P300 or s100. Hehe