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A new camera category has arrived. What shall we call it?

A new camera category has arrived. What shall we call it?

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A modest proposal

July 21, 2010

I’m going to gingerly step into dangerous (for a writer) territory and talk about naming a camera category. If you just want to call them “cameras,” and have no patience for such linguistic exercises, read no further.

 

What does this strange shot have to do with cameras like the Samsung NX-10, Sony NEX-5, Panasonic G10, or Olympus E-PL1? Read on!

The reason I’m stepping gingerly is because of poor Jack Howard, who got blasted for trying to rename, with tongue in cheek, DSLRs and Film SLRs.  His blog post inspired such kind responses as “this article was a load of rubbish” and “I can do without this type of commentary. It just made me grumpy, just like the writer” and “are you serious?” (Actually, he wasn’t—he was using humor to make a point—but many people didn’t get the joke.)

With that in mind, let’s try this again. Ahem.
 

A bona-fide new category of cameras has arisen. First came Panasonic in late 2008 with its G series of cameras (see one of the more recent incarnations, the G10, right). They looked like SLRs that had shrunk in the wash. By removing the mirror housing of an SLR, replacing it with a live view sensor and an LCD monitor and an electronic viewfinder, and developing a new lensmount and line of interchangeable lenses that required a shorter flangeback (distance from back of lens to sensor), Panasonic had created a new, smaller and slimmer kind of camera that was compact, but accepted interchangeable lenses, like an SLR.

 
Olympus rolled out the itsy-bitsy E-P1, an even smaller camera, lacking an electronic eye-level viewfinder but having a live-view LCD and Micro Four Thirds sensor, and the same lensmount as the Panasonic. Olympus would subsequently roll out the faster-performing E-P2 and less pricey E-PL1. Panasonic countered with a similar kind of viewfinder-optional camera, the G-F1. The term “system compact,” which I’ve used to describe self-contained cameras that could accept wide-angle and telephoto extensions and hot-shoe flash units, sort of fit this category, but I knew it would need its own terminology as the category grew.

Within Adorama, the debate raged: What should we call these things? As of now, the category is called “Point & Shoot with Interchageable Lens,” which is kind of wordy and awkwardly constructed, and considering how sophisticated the cameras are, I’m not sure it’s very accurate any more.  How about an acronym? PSWIL? PASWIL? Naah.

 

EVIL Genius

 

Then came a gift for those of us who love playing with words for a living: Someone somewhere in the blogosphere came up with the term “Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens” cameras. That acronyms down to EVIL. Brilliant! Now we can write headlines like “Is the new DigiBlatz EVIL good?

Unfortunately, we photo industry writers can only write that headline once and get away with it. And it’s already been written more than once.


From day one, the cameras have gotten a lot of mostly positive press, and are flying off the shelves. But nobody refers to them the same way. I’ve seen “Compact SLRs” (totally inaccurate), “Interchangeable-lens compacts” (close, but not descriptive enough), “Cameras-that-act-like-SLRs-but-are-really-really-small,” and “Mini DSLRs” (wrong again). None of them have stuck.


 



Now, more companies are joining the fun. Earlier this year, Samsung became the first manufacturer to produce an EVIL built around a larger APS sensor—the just-reviewed NX-10—while somehow, amazingly, keeping the camera more or less the same size as the Panasonic G series cameras, which are built on a smaller sensor. Then in the spring, Sony announced the APS-based NEX-3 and NEX-5, both not-quite-EVILs (since they  don't come with an eye-level electronic viewfinder), and managed to make them even smaller than the Panasonic GF-1 and any of the Olympus digital Pens.  Rumors are flying around the web that other camera companies are preparing to launch their own lines. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the next wave hit in September at Photokina.


Meanwhile, these cameras are flying off the shelves and represent the fastest growing segment of the camera marketplace.


Gimme an Acronym!

So now, this category desperately needs a catchy, easy-to-remember moniker, and an acronym that doesn’t infer anything negative, like “Single-Use Camera” (SUC) did for Kodak and Fujifilm in the 90s. EVIL? It’s catchy but negative, and doesn’t cover the entire category.

I’ve got one.

First, class, what do all of the cameras in question have in common?
1.    They don’t have a reflex mirror housing;
2.    They do have interchangeable lenses;
3.    They are all very small compared to DSLRs.


Put that all together and what do you get? A Mirrorless, Interchageable-Lens Compact camera. I think that phrase covers it all. Yes it has a lot of syllables and is almost as wordy as “Point & Shoot with Interchageable Lens,” but it’s not an awkward construction, and it is accurate. EVIL is also accurate as a subset of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compacts that describes cameras such as the Panasonic G-series or the Samsung NX-10. I propose this as the standard term to use when describing this category of camera.

It also provides us writers with a nice, wholesome, calcium-enriched acronym…

Got MILC?

 


What do you think? Does it matter what we call a camera, or are they all just cameras? Leave a comment!

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