This summer, a significant victory was achieved in the name of standardization across the land of digital cameras. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) stepped-up to provide us with a much-needed answer to one of the industry's most perplexing, and nearly decade-old, questions, "What the heck do we call these emerging compact interchangeable lens-type camera systems?"

For those reading this asking "What the heck does Scott mean by compact interchangeable lens-type camera systems?" … you have every right to be confused.

A Bit of History

Historically, the digital camera industry has been divided into two camps, SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras, which are models that accept interchangeable lenses (think Canon Rebel), and Fixed-Lens cameras, which do not offer interchangeable lens capabilities (think point-and-shoot). In the summer of 2008, Olympus and Panasonic shook up the establishment by jointly developing the Micro 4/3 standard, a format that enabled SLR-like functionality without the need for bulky mirror box assemblies.


Photo Courtesy of: SLR Lounge

This innovation paved the way for a new camera form factor that was eventually embraced by additional brands, and positioned as a compact alternative to SLRs while offering the benefits of interchangeable lenses. All manufacturers agreed that these models fit nicely in between SLRs and point-and-shoots, both in price and in novice-usability, although none would agree on what name to call them by.

Below are excerpts from vendors’ recent press releases that illustrate the entertaining inconsistency in the naming of this segment:

  • Canon: only refers to as M-series
  • FujiFilm: Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC)
  • Kodak: Compact System Camera (CSC)
  • Leica: System Camera (SC)
  • Nikon: Advanced Cameras with Interchangeable Lens (ACIL)
  • Olympus: Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera (MILC)
  • Panasonic: Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM)
  • Samsung: only refers to as NX-system
  • Sony: Mirrorless Camera (MC)

So as you see, it is a wildly-described market segment, and no brand is really sticking to their guns. The above list does not even include a personal favorite of mine, “EVIL” or Electronic Viewing with Interchangeable Lens.

gap Didn't Help Either

gap intelligence calls these compact interchangeable lens cameras “SLDs,” a term that originated from the 2009 debut of Samsung's NX-system, where a press release noted the format as “Singe Lens Direct-view” (perhaps even just a computer-translated byproduct?). At that time, gap intelligence needed a solid form factor to define this emerging segment, and with SLR already established, “SLD” seemed an accurate descriptor (image & EVF = direct sensor feed). But alas, the term was never adopted outside of our own classification system, not even by Samsung! Retailers such as Best Buy embraced “CSC” for a time on in-store signage, but sluggish adoption rates showed that consumers never really got it … what is a “system-camera” anyways?

Enter the CEA

A full seven years since the debut of this innovative camera format, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has finally set standard terminology for the segment in its interest of providing consistency for retailers and consumers alike. These standardized terms include the following:

  • DSLR (short for Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras): a subset of ILC cameras that includes a mirror mechanism
  • MIRRORLESS (short for Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens cameras): a subset of ILC cameras that does not include a mirror mechanism
  • ILC (short for Interchangeable Lens Cameras): includes both DSLR and Mirrorless cameras which, by definition, have Interchangeable Lenses

By assigning “Mirrorless” as the standardized name for the segment, the CEA ended many years of confusion and mixed-messaging from brands, which will ultimately lead to increased consumer awareness, and hopefully sales! As shown in the aforementioned list of manufacturer-terms, not every brand will be pleased by the CEA’s standardization, as most will have to alter their internal classifications (don’t worry, gap does too). One of the reasons why vendors strayed away from “Mirrorless” in the first place was that they were hesitant to call attention to a component that the consumer is NOT getting. Also, “Mirrorless” is something that still needs explaining to shoppers, who never knew that they needed a mirror in the first place. Nevertheless, the CEA’s standardization efforts should be commended, even if they are long overdue.


Photo Courtesy of: DP Review

Perhaps one of the most amusing elements of the recent standardization of “Mirrorless” is that the CEA has now confirmed what many advanced users knew all along. Above is a screenshot of a 2011 Panasonic-sponsored survey that was posted on trusted photo-resource’s homepage to provide that vendor with some insight into consumer preference, which it would completely ignore for its lineup (Panasonic uses DSLM). The result of this dated survey of over 31,000 photo-enthusiasts clearly shows “Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera” as the preferred name … the same term now made official many years later.