DSLR vs mirrorless cameras

Svetlana November 11 2021

Do you want to buy a camera but feel torn between Mirrorless and DSLR? In this guide, we will do a DSLR vs Mirrorless comparison to help you make the best choice of a camera for your particular needs.

Both types of cameras are popular among photographers and have their pros and cons. Gradually it's becoming hard to recommend one over the other. You will feel this dilemma when we explain things. Without further ado, let's get started.

How does DSLR camera work?

A DSLR camera, or Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera, has a mirror and an optical viewfinder within the body. The sensor is situated behind the mirror and the combination of these two components enables you to see exactly what your lens sees in terms of focus and image composition.

When you press the shutter button, the mirror moves out of the way momentarily so that light coming through the lens can hit the digital imaging sensor which captures an image. Upon clicking, some cameras also make some mechanical noise as they are not completely silent although most manufacturers have made huge progress here too.

These cameras are called SLRs because when you look through them you see what is going on through a single clear lens just like with old school film SLRs before auto-focus.

Now that you know how a DSLR operates, let's move on to a mirrorless camera. Technically speaking, mirrorless cameras are not completely without the use of mirrors but they don't have a mirror in the traditional sense, hence why some people refer to them as EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) instead of M4/3 and Micro 4/3 which is what Panasonic and Olympus call their interchangeable-lens models.

How does a Mirrorless camera work?

Mirrorless cameras mostly feature an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Like we said above this helps you compose your shot clearly without any parallax issue as DSLRs suffer from. The image doesn't even get reflected off a mirror-like optical DSLR viewfinder. With mirrorless cameras, there is no focusing screen and you don't see anything through the sensor like with a DSLR either.

The image you see inside the EVF is actually being projected from a separate display that sits behind it. This has an advantage too as you can preview things like white balance, exposure, and color before even taking a shot which of course speeds up your shooting time considerably compared to DSLRs.

Additionally, some mirrorless cameras have more advanced features that will appeal to serious amateurs and professionals such as faster continuous shooting speed, better noise performance at high ISOs, and of course 4K video shooting capability.

DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras: Pros and Cons

Size

Photographers who travel know the importance of a camera's smaller size and lighter weight. This is one of the main reasons that people are choosing Mirrorless cameras these days. Flagship DSLR cameras (Canon 1DX Mark III and Nikon D6) are relatively heavier and bigger than their rival Mirrorless camera like Sony 7R Mark IV.

A smaller size is not good in every scenario as it takes its toll on ergonomics. Nonetheless, it's an excellent choice for people who travel more often.

Electronic Viewfinder Vs Optical Viewfinders

This is another advantage playing a significant role in the migration of people from DSLR to Mirrorless cameras.

Pros of Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

  • Brighter display in low light conditions.
  • Coverage issues are no problem for EVF.
  • Image review in bright conditions.
  • Live preview diminishes the call to chimp (habit of checking image) after each photo.

Pros of Optical Viewfinder (OVF)

  • OVF is always on, so there is no lag when you lift the camera to your eye.
  • It has Zero Shutter Lag, which means almost zero to no time between pressing the shutter and capturing the photo.
  • No blackout/lag while doing a burst shooting.
  • The OVF is just a piece of glass and requires no energy to remain on, so it does not affect battery life but provides better optical quality.
  • When taking a quick shot, the shutter lag can distinguish between missing or capturing a photo. This is one of the prime reasons that most paparazzi and photojournalists use DSLRs.
  • Some cameras offer you the best of both worlds.

Value for Money

There is a vast range of products from cheap to expensive in both Mirrorless and DSLR, but Mirrorless cameras offer more value to your money. You can buy a good quality DSLR camera for $500, but the Mirrorless camera for the same price will offer you very advanced features. Such as you can buy a Sony a6000 for under $500.

Advanced Features

Mirrorless cameras beat DSLR by miles in this regard because of their continuous innovations. There are yearly firmware updates to improve the shooting experience. For example, a recent update helped the camera to autofocus more precisely.

Battery Life

More technology requires more power, so the power usage of a Mirrorless camera is a lot more than DSLR.  Typical mirrorless camera models can shoot up to 3 to 400, whereas a DSLR can shoot twice the amount.  You can purchase extra batteries to solve this problem, but it will be an additional expense, and carrying them around is another problem.

Mirrorless cameras are powered by Li-ion batteries which need frequent charging. The battery life can be improved with more budget, but it`s not often the case for beginners. There is no way to charge them during shooting; you must turn off your camera or have a backup one at hand for this situation.

In most cases, DSLRs will have stronger built-in flash units than Mirrorless, so people who do a lot of indoor/night photography should consider this factor as well.

Video Shooting

DSLR cameras have a slightly better video shooting capability with their larger sensors and interchangeable lenses. Although most Mirrorless cameras allow you to shoot 4K Ultra HD videos at a higher frame rate, DSLRs offer better control over the exposure in video mode.

Ease of Use

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of features that make your life easier while shooting photos or videos. Although DSLRs are not far behind, sometimes it's a pain to go through the menus and change the settings.

Size of Lenses

Mirrorless camera manufacturers are struggling to catch up in the lens department. There are pretty good quality lenses being manufactured for use on both types of cameras. However, when it comes to price and availability, DSLR-style lenses win hands down with more variety and lower costs.

Also, they occupy less space in your bag, so if you tend to carry several lenses with you while traveling this could be a problem for mirrorless users as their lenses can be bigger compared to DSLRs.

When you look at the size of lenses for mirrorless cameras you will notice they can be bigger than DSLR lenses, which is an essential factor in your travel bag space.

Sensor Size

As mentioned earlier, this is something where mirrorless cameras are struggling to compete with DSLR cameras. The sensor size matters because it defines the quality of images that can be produced by a camera. Obviously, larger sensors produce better image quality than smaller ones. If you want extreme low light performance then stick with Full-Frame or Medium format DSLRs, but if not then APS-C sized sensor will do the job just fine.

There are rumors about Sony making a full-frame Mirrorless camera soon enough on their a7 series. If this comes true, they would make a huge hole in the market as DSLRs will not be able to compete with them in both values for money and sensor size.

Mirrorless camera sensors tend to be bigger than Micro Four Thirds and APS-C sized ones that are abundantly used by DSLRs. Full Frame DSLR cameras have a larger sensor size, but there aren't many of them out on the market yet. It seems most people think they offer better image quality although their size does not fit all travel bags.

Shooting Speed

In mirrorless cameras, you don't have to wait for your mirror to move up or down before you shoot again thanks This means fast burst shooting is possible without chimping. You can shoot at a much faster pace without worrying about the optical viewfinder blackout.

Just like other important specifications, DSLRs also have a better shooting speed compared to mirrorless cameras. Continuous shooting for a DSLR will produce superior results in fast-paced photography sessions.

What camera is better for professional shooting?

If you are looking to fulfill your true needs for professional photography, look at Mirrorless. There are many high-end cameras that offer innovative features and the ability to change lenses if needed. Although, DSLRs still have a little advantage when it comes to resolution.

The answer is simple: one cannot tell which camera is better for professional shooting unless you don`t mention what specific need(s) you have. Both types of cameras are suited perfectly for different professionals in their own special way regardless of their age or experience level. The only thing that matters is the personal needs each individual has regardless of his/her profession or hobby!

What camera is better for beginners?

Well, obviously Mirrorless is the right choice. DSLRs are difficult to operate and even more complicated when it comes to technological knowledge for beginners. If you want to learn photography but don`t have much time to invest in learning how everything works, then just jump into the world of mirrorless cameras that are easier to operate compared to their big brothers.

DSLR-style cameras tend to be a better starting point for beginners as they give them more control over their images without being too overwhelming at first sight. They are also more affordable than mirrorless cameras if you are not looking for something professional grade.

What brand to choose for each type of camera?

If you are looking for a mirrorless camera, the variety of brands is overwhelming. There are so many options available to choose from and most of them actually offer decent quality! The best way is to check out reviews and see where your favorite brand falls in their league table.

It all depends on personal preferences, but I personally love Sony mirrorless cameras as they deliver outstanding performance and all of them have their unique features that stand out from the rest. If you want something more trustworthy then go with Canon or Nikon's DSLRs as they still remain popular among professionals.

As far as choosing a specific brand goes, our suggestion would be to stick with big players such as Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm and even Samsung (yes, they have a mirrorless camera, too!) if you want a nice and easy start in the world of photography.

If you are a little bit more experienced in this field, then the best way is to go with medium-sized brands such as Leica or Pentax that will give photographer tools different from what bigger brands offer.

The good thing about both types of cameras is their growing popularity because consumers are getting tired of casual cameras and it seems like there's no longer any market for point-and-shooters anymore. Smartphone manufacturers have taken over our everyday lives when it comes to quick snapshots when there used to be DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras dominating the scene.

Conclusion

The freedom of having interchangeable lenses is what makes mirrorless cameras stand out, but DSLRs still have a few advantages when it comes to their image sensors. The difference in specifications when it comes to DSLRs vs mirrorless is not big, so it all depends on your budget and personal preferences.

If you are looking for the perfect camera that will meet all requirements, then just go with both types of cameras!