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This is a follow-up to a previous question that I made regarding a specific camera (K-01).

I've been comparing cycle times (or shot to shot times in single shot mode) of mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses with traditional DSLRs and all of them, even the highest end ones (like the Olympus OM-D EM-5 or Panasonic GH3) are slower than even entry level DSLRs.

How's that possible? The electronics should be the same and they don't have the burden of a mirror going up and down between each shot. I think that there must be a technical reason for that (maybe some cpu time is going to feed the live-view before the image is encoded?), because from a commercial point of view it does not make sense.

I've seen the cycle times under the performance tab in the reviews pages of imaging-resource.

The average CSC has cycle times around 0.7~1.2s, the flagship ones around 0.5s. The average DSLR has cycle times around 0.4s and the flagships around 0.25s.

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The shot to shot time includes image review and card write times. Are you sure that these are different for recent mirrorless and dSLRs? Is there a refactory period when you can't take a shot on a mirrorless, including the Nikon 1 series? –  Kaushik Ghose Oct 9 '13 at 19:54
My understanding that most if not all of the significant difference was due to autofocus. –  dpollitt Oct 10 '13 at 19:04
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2 Answers

There are two main things I can think of, the first is the autofocus. On a DSLR, the mirror reflects light on to a Phase Detect Auto Focus sensor while you are looking in the view finder. While PDAF isn't as accurate as contrast based detection (which can be done with a standard CMOS sensor) it is much faster. Since mirrorless lack the mirror, they generally use CDAF which is slower. This is probably the majority of the difference.

The other thought would be shutter. If there isn't a physical shutter on the particular mirrorless, it is going to have to use an electronic shutter which may take more time to clear the CMOS sensor before exposure, but I would expect this to be a significant contribution.

Size could also be a factor as mirrorless tend to be smaller, and thus have less room for electronics. It's hard to make electronics small, fast and power efficient, so they may have elected for slower electronics to keep small and battery efficient. Older cameras had speed, but they may be doing additional image processing now and higher resolutions now would require faster processing as well.

Update: The information you supplied about the burst makes me think it has to either be CPU or memory card access speed related. If the burst is fast, but between shots is slow, then it means that it is the actual image processing and storage that is the bottle neck. Generally, burst shoots in to a buffer and then images are processed out of that buffer and then written to the memory card. If burst is fast, then it is making it in to the cache quickly, which rules out focus or shutter issues on that particular model. The only thing left is the process of clearing the buffer out, and that's image processing and storage.

It's fairly typical for the camera to wait for image processing and storage to be completed before moving to the next image when not firing in burst, so this would seem to support that assumption as well. If comparable cards are being used in both, it would be a question of the speed of the actual card interface in the camera and if that is comparable, then CPU is really all that is left, at least of the things I can think of.

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I doubt size in electronics is a problem. Any DSLR from 2005 already had cycle times around 0.3s; given how Moore's Law works an equally fast image processor would be about 6x smaller nowadays. About the AF, I think this sluggishness also happens with the cameras in MF. Most mirrorless also have a mechanical shutter (you can hear it in operation). Electronic shutters are even faster, a CMOS clears in about 1/50s... Also the burst mode is quite fast (~6fps for consumer CSC), it's the shot-to-shot the only thing that is slow. It must be other thing that we are not thinking about... –  fortran Oct 9 '13 at 15:05
@fortran - hmm, ok. Well those were my only thoughts. I don't have any direct experience with them, though I would add that comparing to a 2005 DSLR also requires assuming that a) image processing cpus keep up with that and b) they aren't doing other things they couldn't do before that take up more processing, but the MF point rules out the AF issue and if it has a mechanical shutter, it rules that out too (I've personally never used a mirror-less, so I'm just theorizing all the possibilities I can think of.) I'll update my answer based on your comments. Also, were 2005 cameras same res? –  AJ Henderson Oct 9 '13 at 15:18
another reason: many (most, all?) DSLRs keep the sensor warmed up at all times for fastest response time. All or most compacts (and mirrorless cameras are an offshoot of those) don't do that to save battery power. As warming up the sensor can take quite a while (seconds in really old ones, tens of seconds even today in cheap ones) that time is added to the reaction time of the camera, slowing you down. –  jwenting Oct 10 '13 at 5:11
@jwenting That is something I had never heard (or think) about... I thought the sensors were "always ready". I'll search a little bit more about the subject. –  fortran Oct 10 '13 at 12:16
@jwenting - is keeping sensor warm somehow different from keeping sensor On? For in mirrorless cameras the sensor is On nearly all the time in order to provide image into EVF or live-view display. What does "keeping sensor warm" really mean then? –  Esa Paulasto Oct 11 '13 at 14:26
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This is not an answer, just a "comment" to the question about shot-to-shot cycle times when camera is set to single-shot mode. The claim made in the question is that even the slowest DSLRs are faster than the fastest mirrorless cameras in this single-shot mode. Here is some of those cycle times in a list for easy comparing, brought up from the review-site mentioned in the question.

Traditional system cameras

Canon 1D X      0,23 s
Canon 5D m3     0,27 s
Nikon D700      0,31 s
Nikon D800      0,39 s
Canon 6D        0,52 s
Sony SLT-A99    0,56 s

Pentax K-5      0,26 s
Canon 100D      0,32 s
Canon 70D       0,33 s
Pentax K5-II    0,39 s
Sony SLT-A77    0,42 s
Pentax K-30     0,43 s
Sony SLT-A37    0,45 s
Canon 600D      0,46 s
Nikon D3200     0,50 s
Nikon D7100     0,53 s
Sony SLT-A58    0,55 s
Nikon D5100     0,77 s
Sigma SD1       0,78 s

Mirrorless system cameras

Leica M9        0,66 s

Panasonic G5    0,44 s
Olympus E-P5    0,46 s
Panasonic GH3   0,48 s
Olympus E-M5    0,51 s
Panasonic GX1   0,53 s
Olympus E-PM2   0,56 s
Sony NEX-7      0,65 s
Fuji X-Pro1     0,77 s
Sony NEX-3N     0,90 s
Sony NEX-5N     0,99 s
Samsung NX200   1,29 s
Samsung NX1000  1,31 s
Nikon J1        1,48 s
Canon EOS-M     2,02 s
Pentax K-01     2,24 s

A community wiki - free to edit and expand.

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Sure there is some overlap between the fastest CSC and the slowest DSLR models... I'll add more data and plot an histogram when we have enough. –  fortran Oct 10 '13 at 12:20
Canon EOS-M, Ouch! I wonder if that is before or after the recent firmware upgrade though. If it is after, double ouch! –  dpollitt Oct 10 '13 at 14:52
I bought a K-01 that is even worse... I had to sell it after 6 months of use out of frustration! That's why I started researching shot-to-shot times, as I think they are really important for a pleasant experience. –  fortran Oct 10 '13 at 16:30
@dpollitt - EOS-M was tested first with original firmware and then again in July 24th 2013 with firmware version 2.0.2. But it seems they re-run tests only on auto-focus related timings, which actually is where the firmware update was supposed to bring improvement. My impression is they did not re-run shot-to-shot cycle time tests. –  Esa Paulasto Oct 16 '13 at 16:01
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