A hot debate topic laced with vague advice revolves around mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras. These major camera categories confuse beginner or potential photographers. Misunderstanding these types can result in a bad investment and the burden of a camera you cannot work.
What’s more, many experienced photographers throw irrelevant opinions based on their favorite set-up, and not what may be useful to an unaware beginner in the field.
Luckily, today’s guide will present an accurate comparison between the two camera technologies. So, if you are new to photography or are just starting, the following sections will help you understand what to expect with either a DSLR or a mirrorless system.
Let’s jump in!
- 1 But First… Let’s See the Similarities
- 2 Mirrorless Vs. DSLR Cameras: Basic Differences
- 2.1 Weight & Size
- 2.2 Viewfinder (OVF & EVF)
- 2.3 Auto focus
- 2.4 Durability
- 2.5 Action/Burst
- 2.6 Battery Life
- 2.7 Video Performance
- 2.8 Lens Variety
- 2.9 Image Stabilization
- 2.10 Image Quality
- 2.11 Shooting Speed
- 3 So…Which is Better for Beginners?
But First… Let’s See the Similarities
Before jumping into the mirrorless vs. DSLR debate, it’s important to view them both as cameras. These cameras boast the ability to switch lenses. Phone and point-and-shoot cameras aren’t able to do this.
Plus, while image sensors are similar and capture great pictures, mirrorless cameras go beyond by offering high ISO performance and dynamic range.
With that being said, it’s time to unveil prominent differences between both cameras.
Mirrorless Vs. DSLR Cameras: Basic Differences
Weight & Size
This is the most evident difference between the two. DSLR cameras are definitely more heavy as they need to accommodate optical viewfinder and bigger mirrors. But mirrorless cameras are lightweight because of a compact kit and smaller lens.
However, this is not always the case because some of the recent full-frame mirrorless models are bulking up, such as a7iii. Now let’s talk about the size.
Mirrorless cameras win in this aspect because pentaprism and absence of a mirror boosts the portability. But this doesn’t consider the weight and lens. For instance, you can’t really fit a mirrorless model with a 400mm lens in your pocket. Still, these cameras are more portable and compact, which makes them ideal for routine shooting and travel.
Does that mean DSLRs fail miserably in this aspect? No. Consider entry-level models and their successors (Nikon D3300). These models are surprisingly lightweight with condensed bodies. But they also won’t fit in your pocket because true pocketable gems are mirrorless bodies fitted with small lens.
Viewfinder (OVF & EVF)
Mirrorless cameras, particularly older and cheaper models, are notorious for the absence of an electronic or optical viewfinder. But when we look onto the rival side, DSLRs on all levels boast this feature. Let’s dissect both viewfinders one by one:
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
Mirrorless bodies showcase exactly what it sees because the viewfinder is a tiny screen. Its digital screen immediately shows the moment you adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
Moreover, EVF is laced with other perks too. For example, playing back the pictures in the viewfinder and the ability to zoom during manual focus (this is called the focus magnifier). Electronic viewfinder displays all digital information , like histogram, without glancing at the back LCD screen.
Optical Viewfinder (OVF)
Most DSLRs are equipped with OVF. This viewfinder operates by light entering the lens, bouncing off a mirror, and being reflected in the glass viewfinder. This means that the user will view what the lens sees.
Is battery life important to you, then OVF will work in your favor as it is a mere piece of glass. But since mirrorless bodies are powering a tiny screen, it significantly consumes battery.
There is one downside though – you will only see what the lens sees, and if you’re in a dark place, the viewfinder will black out. What’s more, you can’t see any “results” of the settings changes live.
So which viewfinder is better for beginners? If you wish to be a pro at manual exposure, choose EVF as it’ll display the exact picture.
This feature boils down to many factors, including the age of the model, aimed level of proficiency, and the category of autofocus detection system it employs. The modern, high-grade mirrorless bodies boast excellent autofocus system, same as professional grade DSLRs. Professionals in the field are given ample choices.
The major autofocus detection systems found in the cameras are as follows:
- Phase detection
- Contrast detection
- Or a blend of the above two.
The second system is best for motionless objects, while the first one is perfect fast moving objects, such as automobiles. And if you want a hybrid of the both autofocus detection systems, choose Sony a6500.
Budding photographers are advised to go for phase detection as it is faster than the frustrating contrast detection.
Do you regularly visit the rough terrain? Then it’s worth considering a model with an additional layer of protection. The entry-level bodies in both categories usually have plastic construction. This is suitable for casual usage, but not too ideal for country trips.
The next consideration for durability should be an alloy body, which can tolerate scrapes and bumps. For instance, Canon EOS 90D comes with an aluminum alloy body. Complete weather sealing will combat rain and corrosive dust. This sealing is offered in many mirrorless cameras, like Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III or Sony a6600.
As for DSLRs, the full weather sealing is only observed in high-end models, like the Nikon D780. The newest mirrorless cameras are rugged and weather-resistant, but in the matter of affordability, DSLRs are more long lasting. It’s no wonder why the latter is often picked by professionals.
When it comes to burst mode/action photos, mirrorless bodies definitely crush DSLRs. Take Canon T7 for instance. It can shoot only 3 maximum frames per second during burst mode. This inferior performance boils down to the fact that the physical mirror needs to flip up every time the camera captures an image. This makes it sluggish.
On the flip side, mirrorless camera, like the Sony a6000 can shoot as much as 11 frames each second. This performance is guaranteed whether you are in JPEG or RAW format.
During fast action, it is surprisingly quick with an appealing shutter sound. But remember the camera needs to hit a buffer or slow down while the pictures are being recorded in the memory card.
Although superior DSLRs have impressive burst mode, but in affordability, mirrorless models are the winner.
As stated previously, mirrorless cameras feature way more fancy technology, like EVF, which drains the battery life. The majority of mirrorless bodies can offer 300 shots maximum on a single battery. Comparatively, the cheapest, entry-level DSLRs can give 1000 shots. While DSLR users only need to have one additional battery, mirrorless users fight the inferior battery life with 3-4 additional batteries.
But this failure is due to the fact that these cameras work double duty to electronically showcase images via LCD or EVF. Since DSLRs are usually mechanical, their battery life is quite impressive, unless you are using the LCD screen. Most DSLRs can go days without needing charging, just like Canon T5.
Fortunately, recent and expensive mirrorless cameras have fixed this complaint massively. But if you want something affordable with a decent battery life, DSLRs win.
Next up is video performance. Mirrorless cameras completely crush DSLRs in this aspect.
Video AF Performance
The superior autofocus system of these cameras are valuable. Even if you prefer to manually focus your shots, the focus assists, like magnifier and peaking, guide you to ace enviable focus every time.
But DSLRs depend on utilizing the “live view.” This sacrifices their already inferior autofocus system.
Information Readout and Viewfinder
Secondly, the EVF presents critical information so that users do not second guess whether their shot is completely exposed. Composing pictures or videos via the EVF enables you to prevent glare and also determine the results you will have.
Lastly, low-cost mirrorless models present a wide range of third-party accessories to record a video, such as battery grips, cages, microphones, and more. As you climb up on the price spectrum, modern and more expensive mirrorless camreas continue to win in video performance.
This is where things get interesting. Owing to age, DSLRs usually boast a bigger native OEM lens variety – from super expensive and professional to cheap. Canon and Nikon includes hundreds in their portfolio alone. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras came afterwards to the scene, which is why their OEM lens portfolio is less. But their portfolio is increasing with time.
But this doesn’t make mirrorless cameras useless as they have their own perk – adapt to third-party or vintage lens. In simple words, tons of versatile and cheap off-brand lenses exist for Sony models. These options enables users to create a massive collection of various focal lengths for a cheap cost.
And for beginners, this access to low-cost lenses is an amazing chance to grow. While DSLRs may offer more lenses, quality matters more than quantity. The majority of extra lenses available for their mounts are too old now. This is where they lose in front of modern mirrorless lenses. And who actually needs 50 lenses? But DSLRs also have a wider range of accessories, such as speedlights.
With mirrorless models, their selections varies from super-telephoto to ultra-wide. This variety will give you ample choices too. The difference in both selections is more evident in traditional brands, but the gap is getting narrower. Picking a mirrorless mount does not mean you will have to compromise on focal range.
Blurry pictures are caused by shaky hands. This effect gets more prominent the more you zoom in or the longer the shutter speed is. Both cameras offer image stabilization systems. Their sensors measure the camera movement and the device lightly shifts to either side of the image sensor or lens in an opposite direction to the shake.
The majority of mirrorless cameras and DSLRs are restricted to the lens-shift tactic. This enables them to counteract shake on both vertical and horizontal axes. Some mirrorless models move the sensor and lens on the axes in a synchronized manner for better stability.
There is minimal difference between these methods. Sensor stabilization is ideal with all lenses, even cheaper and older ones that don’t have their individual stabilization. Whatever the case, both cameras can tolerate some shaking to give a sharp image, but can not deal with longer movements.
Both cameras have similar graininess and resolution in their images. Mirrorless models traditionally came with smaller image sensors. This equates to poor quality because they were unable to capture much light. But tides have changed now because brands have created sensitive chips and have learned to suppress noise.
Moreover, different mirrorless brands employ bigger image sensors now. Canon and Sony, for example, make their mirrorless models with the same APS-C size image sensors added to a big percentage of DSLRs.
Plus, many full-frame mirrorless models boast the same 35mm size sensors found in upscale DSLRs. This was pioneered by Sony A7 lineup and now, Nikon and Canon also have the same technology. Fujifilm also adds a bigger than full-frame Medium Format sensors in its mirrorless GFX series. However, these beasts have a starting price of $3,500 and are not fit for beginners.
In short, both cameras have equivalent image processors and image sensors to capture stellar pictures.
Both cameras can shoot at a rapid shutter speed to capture many pictures simultaneously. Excluding the upscale DSLRs, mirrorless technology boast an edge. The absence of mirror makes it simpler to capture picture after picture.
Even though they alck mirrors, the majority of cameras still employ a mechanical shutter which lifts to unveil the picture. This allows superior results. There is also a choice to use an electronic shutter, which means their shooting is silent and quick. In simple words, the straightforward mechanics of mirrorless cameras enable them to take more images each second.
So…Which is Better for Beginners?
The vote strongly steers towards mirrorless cameras. Yes, second hand DSLRs are cheaper, but a superior performance in many aspects is guaranteed by a mirrorless. To summarize, here are the perks of using this camera:
- Better autofocus
- Lightweight and compact
- Cheap and diverse lenses
- Enhanced video performance
- Electronic viewfinder
Thanks for reading, and trust me, you won’t regret choosing a mirrorless.
Robert is an avid photographer and camera enthusiast with a passion for capturing the perfect shot. With years of experience testing and reviewing a wide range of camera equipment, Robert has become an expert in identifying the features and functions that are essential for capturing high-quality photos and videos.
As the founder and editor of Life in Cameras, Robert is dedicated to providing readers with honest and comprehensive reviews of the latest cameras, lenses, and accessories on the market. Whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, Roberts’s in-depth analysis and unbiased opinions can help you make informed decisions about your next camera purchase.