Mirrorless vs DSLR – which should you buy?

Mirrorless vs DSLR - which should you buy?

If you're new to photography and you're struggling to choose between mirrorless vs DSLR, then this is the article for you. If you also are a photographer, and you're considering switching from DSLR to mirrorless cameras, then you might want to read this article before you make your decision.

Mirrorless vs DSLR

What is DSLR and What Does it Stand For?

DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. Back in the film days, it was just SLR, however, when the digital cameras started coming into the photography world, then they added a " D " to SLR, making it DSLR.   

How Do DSLR Work?

Well, what goes on inside a digital camera is that you have a mirror mechanism and a pentaprism that streamlines the light towards your optical viewfinder. When you take a picture, the mirror flips up, blocking the viewfinder and letting the light go through and exposing the sensor or the film, and that is how an SLR (or DSLR) works.         

How Does a Mirrorless Camera Work?

Now on the other hand, in a mirrorless camera, you do not have a mirror, hence the name mirrorless camera. You probably all have a mirrorless camera in your pocket or on your desk or somewhere right now, or even maybe you're holding it because you use a smartphone. Every smartphone is a mirrorless camera.
pproximately three years ago, mirrorless technology had a lot of differences compared to where we are now. They weren't as many native lenses available, and there weren't as many camera options. However, in 2019, we've got Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Olympus, and many other brands produce mirrorless cameras. And now more than ever before, the lines are starting to blur between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Now, What's the Difference Between the DSLR and the Mirrorless?

Let's talk about the differences.
What's the Difference in Size Between the Mirrorless Camera and the DSLR?
DSLRs tend to be larger, thicker, and heavier. They take up more space because they have that mirror box and the pentaprism inside.  
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras are smaller, thinner, and lighter. 

In terms of size, if you're out there shooting a job, somebody may look at you and think your mirrorless camera is small and you may not as look as professional. This is because people do not understand that just because the camera is smaller, thinner, lighter, and more compact doesn't mean that it is not as good as the DSLRs. 

How about the stabilization - Mirrorless vs DSLR?

One of the latest trends is practically all manufacturers are producing the in-camera-body stabilization as a default feature. The principle is quite simple: as you move with the camera during the shooting and as your shutter button is pressed camera sensor moves very precisely to compensate your shaking and vibration to achieve a stable and sharp image.
Of course, there is the lens stabilization system used in the DSLR world present even since 1994. This lens stabilization or anti-vibration systems are based on the movement of lens segments to achieve the same effect as we already described for mirrorless in-camera stabilization. But the cons are a high price, and you have to pay it each time you buy the new lens practically. Yes, there are cons also of in-body stabilization, and it is energy consumption and therefore battery life.


What's the Difference in Buttons? 

A couple of years ago, it seemed like there was a race to get to a smaller, lighter, and thinner body.   Whereas DSLRs tend to have a lot of buttons on the top of the camera, on the back of the camera, and also on the front of the camera. But now we are starting to see that the mirrorless cameras have fully caught up. They have the same buttons as the DSLRs have.   So over time, we are starting to see that mirrorless cameras are not focusing on being much smaller, much lighter, and much more compact because what you realize as you begin to put bigger lenses on these cameras, you want to have more stability in your hands. But what happens to some of these mirrorless cameras is when you adapt DSLR lenses to them, the balance seems to be off. So, the race to have the smaller and lighter cameras is over. And so also mirrorless cameras began to be more robust because it just feels better in your hand which makes less difference for mirrorless vs DSLR.

How about the Lenses?

In the past, you didn't have native lenses to put on them without using adapters. Now with the introduction of the Nikon Z series, and some of the mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers, there are native adapters that allow you to take a DSLR lens, and adapt it seamlessly perfectly to a mirrorless camera. So, this is another argument that is making mirrorless cameras more enticing because you can use some of your older lenses without losing much of the functionality if any. The adapters are usually very well-calibrated1 nowadays, but in some cases, you could have some color shifts in the corners, so you have to try it out.       

Another thing that mirrorless cameras have done is to shrink the flange distance, which is the distance from the back of the lens to the image sensor. Because in the DSLR you have the mirror box, you had to keep the lenses further away from that area. But now, with a smaller flange distance and newer lenses being built specifically for the mirrorless cameras, you can get sharper images edge to edge because the lenses are closer to the sensor. You can see the manufacturers tend to start to produce more and more native lenses.


What About Battery Life- How Different Are They? 

As the mirrorless cameras were designed to decrease the size and weight logically, there was less space for the battery. The premium mirrorless cameras are sold with two batteries because it is a reality that mirrorless has 50% battery life compared to DSLRs. So it is essential to keep it in mind and take with you at least two batteries to the shooting place to be able to exchange it when needed quickly. Some manufacturers like Sony make the batteries rechargeable by standard smartphone charger which brings you the benefit 

DSLRs, on the other side, have longer battery life that can go up to hundreds and even thousands of shots on one battery charge. The reason is, you don't have to power an electronic viewfinder, your sensor isn't always on, receiving a signal.

But on the other side when you flip the mirror up on a DSLR to shoot video, it's behaving just like the mirrorless camera. This is because it is using the sensor just like it would use in a mirrorless camera. In spite of not having the EVF while shooting a video, the mirror is up, and you can see the picture on the backplane display of the DSLR. Also, you're now using more battery power because the sensor is on receiving the images continuously.


EVF stands for an Electronic View Finder, while OVF stands for an Optical View Finder. There are pros and cons to both.  
With an OVF, what you see through the lens is what you see optically. This is because the light passes through the lens, then it hits a mirror inside the camera. Mirror bounces the light through pentaprism directly to the Optical Viewfinder you use to focus and frame the shot. Additionally, in modern cameras, only a part of the light goes to OVF while the other part hits special Autofocus sensor. When you want to take a picture, you push the shutter button, and the mirror flips up. This makes the specific typical DSLR sound of taking a picture, and the light hits the camera sensor. The camera OVF blacks until the exposure is finished.

In mirrorless cameras, there is no mirror and no Optical Viewfinder. So the light passes straight through the lens and hits the sensor. The sensor is taking control of the autofocus and passes the digital image also into the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) or to the back panel LCD screen. On an EVF, what you're seeing is an electronic representation of what the sensor is seeing. One of the pros of an EVF is that it puts a lot more information right in front of your eyeballs. You can get things in there that you could not put in a DSLR in the OVF. Things like the histogram, focus peaking, zebra lines, audio levels, it is putting all of that right in front of your eyes. This also means when you're shooting video, you can shoot video holding the camera right up to your eye. Whereas with a DSLR, you can't do that. One of the cons of an EVF is that it may be harder to see in low-light or bright sunlight. Some of these cameras have low refresh rates, which means that it doesn't look as clear when you're trying to follow a subject. This means, you may get some lag times, but in the next couple of years, the technology will keep evolving and get better, and you'll start to see almost no difference between the clarity of an OVF and that of an EVF.

There are some myths regarding the differences between DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras:

There is a myth that DSLRs have larger sensors than the Mirrorless. Of course, when first mirrorless cameras came out, big DSLRs had the best and largest sensors, but nowadays Sony’s Alpha 7s line has the best full-frame sensors available on the market.

What's the Difference in the Auto-focus System of Both DSLRs and Mirrorless?

With a DSLR, you tend to see the autofocusing points, clumped into the middle of the frame. These points do not cover as much of the frame as a mirrorless camera. So, whereas the high-end DSLRs may cover 60-some percent of the frame with focusing points, the mirrorless cameras can cover over 90% depending on the camera that you're using. That means, your focusing system can reach further around to the edges of the frame, making it much easier to shoot.  


You also have eye AF technology built into a lot of the mirrorless cameras, especially the ones that Sony makes. The eye AF works as following: the autofocus will find the eyeball, and stick with it and focus on it. I don’t know any DSLR with such or similar system.  

Another cool advancement in mirrorless cameras is the ability to use your thumb on the LCD screen to move your focusing points, while your eye is up to the electronic viewfinder.  

One of the reasons most photographers love mirrorless cameras is that they give you the ability to shoot completely silent.  On the other hand, in the case of DSLR, it is a problem. The mirror movement is a mechanical one, and it simply will make a noise or a specific sound anyhow.

Final Thoughts

In the past, there was a big argument against the mirrorless cameras, and that was the battery life. Today there is tremendous progress made in this area. Now you can go with your Sony Alpha III and shoot images and videos throughout the whole day, and your battery will survive. In spite of that, I would anyhow take with me one or more spare batteries. Especially when you go to nature destinations without any possibility to recharge. Comparing to the past 2-3 years is; however, the battery life situation wholly changed and improved.

Another argument against the mirrorless cameras was complaining regarding Electronic viewfinder. The main issues are now solved. The resolution of EVF is increasing, so there is no more a situation you see a picture in EVF, and the image was taken is afterward different. Even though there is a significant advantage against DSLRs, you can see much more information directly in the electronic viewfinder (histogram and so on). You can even preview your taken images in the EVF, which can be a significant advantage, especially on bright sunny days. In the case of DSLRs, you have to use a unique shade for the LCD display to be able to see your taken photographs. 

Nowadays there is a substantial amount of native lenses for mirrorless cameras. Even third party manufacturers are producing high-quality lenses, so it is not a stopper for you when deciding whether to go with mirrorless. Here I would mention an important thing when you are changing your lenses on a mirrorless you have to be very careful because nothing is covering your camera sensor. This is a little advantage on the DSLRs' side because there is a mirror covering the sensor. 

Finally, the size and weight are undoubtedly a great advantage of mirrorless, especially when you travel a lot. Of course, the weight of the lenses is something you cannot improve a lot, but the overall equipment weight is in case if mirrorless a lot more acceptable also for traveling. 

There is no doubt that mirrorless cameras are the future, and if you're looking to switch from DSLR to mirrorless, I will say go for it.

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