Do you buy a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera? When you think of professional photography, often a DSLR comes to mind. However, mirrorless cameras are becoming increasingly popular. You can get great photos with either, but each has its pros and cons. We’ve compiled a list of those to help you make the decision that’s best for your photography needs.
Go back a few years, and the choice between mirrorless cameras and DSLRs was relatively straightforward. Essentially, if you were either a professional photographer or aspired to be one and wanted the best of the best when it came to image quality, you plumped for a DSLR. For consumers a bit more concerned with weight and portability, then a mirrorless camera was probably what you’d go for.
Main Differences Between the two cameras –
Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) and mirrorless (often referred to as compact system) cameras are both interchangeable lens cameras, with features for more advanced photography.
DSLRs use the same design as the 35mm film cameras from the past. A mirror inside the camera body reflects the light coming in through the lens up to a prism, and into the viewfinder for you to preview your shot. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up, a shutter opens and the light falls onto the image sensor, which captures the final image.
In a mirrorless camera, light passes through the lens and right onto the image sensor, which captures a preview of the image to display on the rear screen. Some models also offer a second screen inside an electronic viewfinder that you can put your eye up to.
There are a range of models available for each, from those aimed at entry-level photography enthusiasts to professionals.
Both cameras typically have big sensors, allowing them to let in more light and essentially capture more detail than a standard digital camera. The main difference between the two is that DSLR cameras have a reflex mirror inside them, which bounces light up into the optical viewfinder. With a mirrorless camera, light goes directly into the image sensor and they will have an electronic viewfinder or LCD monitor to display a preview of the image.
DSLR cameras are somewhat larger, as they need to fit in a mirror and a prism. A mirrorless camera body is smaller than a DSLR, with simpler construction. This allows you to carry a mirrorless camera more easily and fit more gear into your camera bag.
As for autofocus and low-light shooting, DSLRs have generally reigned supreme, but this has begun to change with some mirrorless low-light cameras like the Sony a7R III. Mirrorless autofocus systems have improved greatly also, with cameras like the Canon M6 now with unparalleled autofocus speeds. However, DSLRs still remain superior for autofocusing on fast-moving objects, such as photographing sports or wildlife.
With a DSLR, the optical viewfinder shows you exactly what the camera will capture. With a mirrorless camera, you get a preview of the image on-screen. Some mirrorless cameras offer an electronic viewfinder that simulates the optical viewfinder. When you’re shooting outside in good light, the preview on the screen of a mirrorless camera will look close to the final image. But in situations, such as in low light or with fast-moving subjects, the preview will suffer, becoming dull or grainy. A DSLR, by contrast, is better in low light. So, if you are shooting mostly in good light, both types will perform well. If you are often shooting in low light or other challenging conditions, a DSLR will be easier to shoot with.
Higher-end mirrorless cameras are generally better suited for video shooting. DSLRs can’t use phase detection with the mirror up while recording video, so they have to use the slower, less accurate, contrast-detection focus method. This leads to the familiar blurry look in the middle of a video when the camera starts hunting for the right focus. However, some newer SLRs are adding phase detection on the sensor, such as the Nikon D850. Increasingly, mirrorless cameras, such as the Panasonic LUMIX GH5S, can capture 4K, or Ultra HD, video with four times the resolution of HD footage. With superior autofocus in most models, mirrorless cameras provide the best results for most filmmakers.
Both camera types can shoot at very fast shutter speeds and capture a lot of images quickly. With the exception of high-end DSLRs, mirrorless cameras have an edge. The lack of a mirror makes it easier to take image after image. The simpler mechanics of mirrorless cameras allow them to shoot more photos per second, at higher shutter speeds.
Generally, DSLRs offer longer battery life because they have the ability to shoot without using the LCD screen or EVF, which use a lot of power. However, both types will have similar battery lives if you use the LCD screens to preview and view captured images a lot. All DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with removable batteries, so you can carry a spare.
Choosing a DSLR gives you access to a number of lenses from many manufacturers. Mirrorless models are more restricted, offering access to a small number of lenses from the camera maker, though the selection is growing. This gap between the two types is narrowing as more mirrorless lenses become available.
Pros and Cons of DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras –
Mirrorless cameras becoming more widely available and closer to DSLR cameras in quality, there are pros and cons to both.
Traditionally DSLR cameras use ‘phase detection’ autofocus modules in the body of the camera, which make autofocusing and tracking subjects fast.
Mirrorless cameras rely on sensor-based autofocus, which analyses the maximum contrast between pixels on the camera’s sensor. When the contrast is highest, the subject is in focus. This method is traditionally slower and also tends to struggle with moving subjects, as it doesn’t involve measuring distance, just the level of contrast. However, advancements in high-end cameras will see ‘hybrid’ autofocus systems featuring in the best mirrorless cameras, narrowing the gap between the autofocusing speeds of DSLR and mirrorless cameras.