Photo of a person's hand holding a camera
Photo by Miha Jan Strehovec on Unsplash

As any photography enthusiast will tell you, the most exciting area of innovation in recent years has been in mirrorless cameras.  They are expected to eventually replace DSLRs completely, but for the time being the DSLR still has some notable advantages. Today I’m going to outline the differences between the mirrorless camera and the DSLR, so that you can better decide which is right for you.

But first of all, a summary table on what I consider to be the advantages of each type of camera, then a primer on each technology.

ADVANTAGES OF EACH TYPE OF CAMERA
DSLR Mirrorless
Less expensive
More options for lenses
Longer battery life
Smaller and lighter
Accurate image preview
Electronic shutter option (fast and silent)

 

What is a mirrorless camera?

There are actually many different kinds of mirrorless cameras out there—DSLRs are in fact the only widely used cameras that contain mirrors. Your smartphone, and basically every other digital camera you’ve ever held is a mirrorless camera. So in general when we talk about mirrorless cameras, we’re really referring to the subset of mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. The reason for the existence of the mirrors—which were a really nifty innovation back in the day—is to allow you to view the scene in front of you through the viewfinder, via the lens. When you press the shutter release button, the mirror in front of the sensor flips up and allows the shutter to control the length of time for which the light entering the lens is allowed to reach the sensor.

The Fujifilm X-T30; beautiful retro-stlying and excellent performance

Mirrorless cameras are quieter and more compact

Mirrorless cameras do have a shutter to control the timing of the exposure, so you will still hear the sound of the shutter opening and closing, but they are quieter than DSLRs because they lack the mirror. They provide a live feed from the lens to either an electronic viewfinder, or the LCD screen on the back. The fact that they don’t have that mirror system inside allows them to be much more compact than their relatively bulky DSLR cousins.

Some mirrorless cameras also have a quiet mode, using a so-called “electronic shutter” which bypasses the physical shutter. This actually allows much higher shutter speeds although it can cause distortion of moving objects. However, as sensor technology improves it is likely that they will become standard, and silent shooting (and ridiculously high frame rates) will become the norm.

Mirrorless cameras provide accurate image preview

One of the things I’ve always really liked about mirrorless cameras is the live feed, because often (but not always) it is a preview of the actual image you are about to capture. If your exposure is wrong, or not where you want it to be, you will see that before you take the photo and you can make changes accordingly. I have to admit, I regularly make errors with my exposure on my DSLR because I’m looking through the viewfinder and forgetting to check the light meter. But because I shoot in RAW mode, it’s not often an unfixable problem. That said, there have been occasions where I’ve had to kick myself for missing the shot!

Focus performance

One of the early gripes photographers had with mirrorless cameras was the focus performance; they just could not match DSLRs for speed and accuracy. Manufacturers have worked hard on this and now we’re seeing that mirrorless cameras are as good as, and in some cases even better than, DSLRs.

A photo of the Canon EOS RP full-frame mirrorless camera
The Canon EOS RP full-frame mirrorless camera

More lens options for DSLRs

One of the key advantages that the DSLR has over the mirrorless camera is the lens options. Because the DSLR has been around longer, there are more lenses to choose from. The big manufacturers like Canon and Nikon have whole swaths of proprietary lenses, and there are tonnes of other lenses available from third party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma. At this point in time the lens options for mirrorless cameras are very limited, but of course more will become available over time as the systems become more established.

When Canon and Nikon finally began to release their own range of mirrorless cameras, they also had to design entirely new lens mount systems, and new lenses to boot. In Canon’s case they now have 4 different lens types: EF and EF-S for DSLRs, and EF-M and EF-R for their mirrorless cameras. Producing a viable range of lenses for multiple mount types is a serious overhead for any company. One of the workarounds which Canon has used to compensate for the lack of mirrorless lenses for it’s M cameras and R cameras is to create lens adapters which allow you to use DSLR lenses on your mirrorless camera. I covered this issue a bit in my recent review of the Canon EOS RP Full-frame Mirrorless.

DSLR Cameras have longer battery life

One of major challenges I’ve faced when using mirrorless cameras is the battery life; it just cannot compare to that of a DSLR. DSLR batteries are bigger and and hence they can store more energy. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found myself cursing the paltry battery life of my own mirrorless camera, or those of cameras I’ve reviewed. There really is nothing more frustrating than carrying a dead camera around. The battery on my DSLR, however, seems to last forever. If I charge my batteries for both my cameras before a wedding, I know for a fact that they’ll have way more charge than I’ll need for the whole day. I really need that kind of reliability, and unfortunately mirrorless cameras just can’t give me that…yet.

DSLR Cameras are better value

If you’re on the lookout for a interchangeable lens camera and you’re keen to get the best value for money, I think that DSLR is the way to go. You can pick up an excellent Canon or Nikon camera with a decent-sized sensor (APS-C in Canon terms or DX in Nikon terms) at a very good price, and then find yourself a good lens (I’m a big fan of prime lenses, particularly 50mm lenses) and you are ready to shoot with the best of them. You’ll find that there is a busy second hand market for DSLR lenses out there too where you’ll find good discounts on excellent lenses. Remember that that good camera lenses are robust and tend to have long and productive lives.

A photo of the Canon EOS Rebel SL1
The Canon EOS Rebel SL1

Mirrorless Cameras are the future

Despite the pros and cons of both technologies, I don’t think there’s any doubt that mirrorless is the way of the future. But it’s not all bad news for the DSLR—they are still capable of making fantastic photographs, and at a price point that is hard to beat.

Take a look at the full range of great cameras available at Best Buy, then let me know in the comments which model you are thinking about picking up.

1 COMMENT

  1. I started with a spy size camera in 1957.
    I developed the film, and made prints from it.
    It was quite alright.
    Then I got a range finder camera using 35 mm film.
    Soon, I bought a 6mm by 6mm film Rolliecord camera,
    the little brother of the famed Rollieflex.
    With the film some 6 times the size of 35 mm film,
    I could set the enlarger 6 times larger,
    and make a 16 inch by 20 inch fine grain picture.
    My next camera was a 35 mm, single lens reflex.
    That worked just fine.
    In the 1950’s, I learned that the 35 mm film has 80 Mega pixels.
    When I couldn’t find any lab that process 35 mm film,
    and in 2002, I bought my very first and last DSLR with 18 MB sensor.
    Since I’m no longer produce 16 inch by 20 inch prints,
    this serve me quite well.
    Bottom line. I still have fond memories of my single lens reflex film cameras.

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