DSLR vs. Mirrorless cameras, what’s the difference? Which type of camera should I buy? Which one is best? For beginners or professionals? A very popular debate in the digital camera world indeed, we wanted to create our own guide and article to help you understand the difference between the two most popular types of digital cameras in the market today. Are you interested in photography? Have you already spent hours on the internet trying to decide what your first ‘professional’ camera should be? I know how you feel. I did the same thing. I scrolled through hundreds of articles and watched hours of YouTube review videos trying to decide what camera I was going to buy. I was so confused and had no idea what camera to choose or where to start. My main question was: is a DSLR camera better than a mirrorless camera and what in the world was the difference? So, let’s start there and I hope this article helps you choose your next camera. Read on to learn about the top differences between a Digital SLR camera and mirrorless camera and which one I personally prefer.
What is a DSLR camera?
A DSLR camera stands for a digital single-lens reflex camera. Sounds confusing, right? What this essentially means is that there is a mirror inside the camera that reflects the light and shoots it through a prism or multiple mirrors, which then ends up in the optical viewfinder (note: most higher-end cameras have a prism and lower-end models have many mirrors). When you click on the shutter, the mirror in the camera flips up or “reflexes”, which then sends the light to the viewfinder.
So, do mirrorless cameras have this advantage? They do not. This is a huge advantage for DSLR cameras because it allows you to view exactly what you are about to shoot in real-time. Mirrorless cameras and most point-and-shoot cameras tend to have a lag, where DSLR cameras do not. But on the defense of a mirrorless camera, DSLRs do not allow you to preview your exposure through the viewfinder like mirrorless cameras do.
What is a mirrorless camera?
Now let’s talk about mirrorless cameras. What are they? In a mirrorless camera, light passes directly through the lens and straight to the image sensor, which then allows you to view a preview of your image on the display screen (display screens are found on the rear side of your camera). In some mirrorless camera models, there are even two display screens, one is located on the rear and the other is found in the viewfinder that you can see when you put your eye to it. As you can see, there are pros and cons to both. The use of mirrors allows you to view real-time what you’re aiming at in DSLR, which makes them bigger. At the same time, mirrorless cameras take out that mirror for a smaller size, yet only allow you to view your subjects with a display screen. Which leads us to our next comparison.
Size and weight does matter
You might be asking yourself the same thing I was wondering when doing all this research. Why create a mirrorless camera if we already have DSLR camera models to choose from? And the answer is size. DSLR vs. mirrorless camera on size comes down to DSLR cameras being chunky, and in older models, quite heavy and bulky. The reason DSLR’s are much bigger than your average mirrorless camera is because of the built-in mirror and prism portion found in the body of the camera.
Without the mirror parts, mirrorless cameras are much smaller and more compact and lighter in weight! But keep in mind, depending on the lens you choose for your mirrorless camera, it could be just as big as a DSLR. Another tip to keep in mind is that although DSLR cameras tend to be a bit bigger, mirrorless camera’s are growing in size over the years because of all the additional features that are being added to them. So, before you jump the gun and run to your favorite website for your small and compact mirrorless camera based on size alone, make sure about lens size and to check and see if you have a newer model that might as well be the same size as a DSLR. I also know that a few camera companies, such as Panasonic, are now offering smaller sensor formats which are smaller and lighter lenses — check those out, too.
What you should know about autofocus speed
DSLR’s are known for their autofocus and low-light shooting, but mirrorless camera’s are right behind in a close second. Over time, mirrorless cameras have improved in quality all together! But trust me when I say that I think DSLR cameras are the champions of fast-moving autofocus.
I love to watch my young twin cousins play soccer on the weekends and of course I take my DSLR Canon Rebel T61 with me. The shots I get of those little guys running around on the soccer field are incredible. I am so thankful for my DSLR when it comes to capturing moments like those. Old-school cameras wouldn’t be able to cut it. The reason I am able to shoot fast-moving objects with my DSLR is because of the ‘phase detection’, which allows for quick focusing and object tracking.
I really do love and appreciate my DSLR camera for its continuous shooting skills, but like I mentioned, mirrorless cameras might be right next to, or maybe just behind DSLRs in this category. Some more advanced mirrorless cameras are catching up to DSLR autofocus with what they call a ‘hybrid’ AF system. The hybrid AF system allows for fast phase detection and autofocus, too. Albeit a lot more expensive.
Also, with the mirrorless system, there are not as many moving parts to the capture, which results in faster captures. Even so, newer models are now shooting in 4K video, which helps continuous shooting quality. Some mirrorless cameras shoot higher frames per second than DSLRs, so make sure to do some research in this category before your big purchase. So, watch out DSLRs, mirrorless cameras are right behind (okay, right next to) you in the autofocus department!
Viewfinders and other features
Another difference between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera is that a DSLR come with optical viewfinders and mirrorless cameras come with electronic viewfinders. So, what is the difference? The difference is that electronic viewfinders display the shot directly from the sensor and not from the prism in the optical mirror. Most prefer the electronic viewfinder because there are no surprises. You see what your image will look like before shooting it. This feature also includes live histograms, which are beneficial, too.
In my opinion, I do not prefer to see the image through an electronic display, I like to see the shot through my eyes. So, this definitely depends on personal preference and photography style. When discussing photographic features and overall camera controls, I feel like the DSLR and mirrorless cameras are tied. Both camera models offer full control when it comes to exposure and focusing.
Video matters, too
So DSLRs use to be the reigning leaders of video, but mirrorless cameras are now ahead of the game with 4K video capture (I don’t know about you, but I think that 4K video is obviously the future now). DSLRs were the first cameras to offer HD and Full HD video. You could choose from a variety of accessories and lenses that would create a professional video system for you. I bet that if you asked a professional photographer/videographer what camera they enjoy shooting video in, they would say a DSLR camera for video. It’s been a reliable choice for many years, until now.
Mirrorless cameras for video not only have a 4K capture, but they offer efficient live view autofocus and processing power. When recording video with a DSLR, you can’t use phase detection with the mirror up and this leads to a slow, low quality focus method (and a lot of blurriness). But my Canon Rebel T6i DSLR has phase detection on the sensor, so my video quality is superb.
So, check it out and keep in mind the difference between mirrorless and SLR video quality. Also a quick note — DSLR and mirrorless cameras can only shoot up to 30 minutes at a time due to laws, otherwise they would have to be called ‘video cameras’. If you’re going to be filming for a long amount of time without being able to restart the clips, you may have a problem because it cuts off right at that time.
Battery life is important
There is nothing more frustrating that a camera dying in the middle of a once in a lifetime moment. It is the most frustrating thing ever. I have a lot of photographer friends that have made this mistake, lucky for me, this has never happened with my DSLR.
In my opinion, I love the battery life on my DSLR. And DSLRs are able to shoot longer because they do not use the LCD screen or EVF (these both use a lot of power). But DSLR and mirrorless cameras have similar battery lives depending on how you use the camera. If you are playing around with the preview screen, then your battery life will not last as long. Add on video to that and you’ll have to make sure you keep up with charging, but in this category they are both tied in regards to actual battery life.
Lenses, accessories and more
This is the fun part — I love lens shopping. Yes, it is pricey and super overwhelming at times, but it so much fun due to the countless possibilities we have at our fingertips. The interchangeable lens features for both DSLR and mirrorless is a huge advantage over any other type of camera.
So let’s talk about lenses. Well, hands down for me, the DSLR takes the win in this category. Have you seen how many lenses Canon and Nikon offer? It’s incredible. Not only do they have an extensive variety of lenses, but you could find one in your budget, too. Mirrorless cameras do not offer such a variety of lenses, but they are quickly catching up. Mirrorless cams, like Olympus, use the Micro Four Third lenses which offer a lot of different lenses, so take a look at those for your mirrorless camera. With time, this particular category will definitely change, but for now DSLR cameras have more lens options and support.
Digital camera lingo and tips
So, you want to be a photographer and have no idea what aperture or bokeh mean — well don’t you worry, keep on reading to get a little photo lingo breakdown.
- Aperture: This is a big word in the photography world and it is the size of the opening in the lens. If you shoot with a wide aperture, you are letting in more light. If you shoot with a smaller aperture, you are letting in less light. Pretty much, this is super important! It determines the light exposure (dark or light) of your shot.
- Bokeh: You probably have seen this in a photo without even noticing what it is, but bokeh are those fun orbs that are created when the light is out of focus on an image.
- Aspect Ratio: Understanding aspect ratio is important if you are going to print your photos. Aspect ratio determines the size of your image. For example, an 8 x 10 is equal to a 4 x 5, but a 4 x 7 shot is much wider. You can play around with your aspect ratio before shooting so your image isn’t cropped when printing.
- Exposure: As mentioned with aperture, exposure is how dark or light your image is. After all, light is how images are created. When a cameras sensor is exposed to light, your image is captured.
- ISO: It’s all about light, really! ISO is how sensitive the camera is to light. If you want to shoot during the day, go for an ISO of 100 or so because the camera is not sensitive to it. If you are planning to shoot in low-light, then higher your ISO. (Tip: balance your ISO with aperture and shutter speed!)
- Manual: Or as they call it, “manual mode”. Manual mode is when the photographer gets to choose the aperture, shutter speed, etc. It is completely manual and allows the photographer to choose the light or darkness of the image.
- Noise: Simply put, noise is the small specks on the image. I like to call this ‘grains’ or a ‘grainy image’. Keep in mind that high ISO = more noise and more grain, unfortunately. You’ll have to play around to get a feel for your preference and how much image quality you’d like to sacrifice.
- Shutter Speed: This is super important to understand. Shutter speed lets light in by opening and closing depending on how you are shooting. The shutter speed is the amount of time that shutter stays open.
Those are just a few definitions to add to your photography lingo and I hope it helps. If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to ask.
Camera price differences
Last but not least, let’s chat about pricing. Again, in my opinion, you get more bang for your buck with a DSLR, but I might just be bias because I love my DSLR so much. If you want a less expensive ‘proper’ camera, then go for the DSLR. The older models are the cheapest options and they are great quality cameras.
If you are convinced that you want a mirrorless camera after reading this article, then go for a newer model. Most new models are just as good, if not better than a DSLR, but it might be a bit pricier. It all depends on your budget at hand, or how much you’d like to save for the future.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless: The Winner is…
It really is a hard to sit here and tell you exactly which camera I think you should buy between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera. Both camera systems are incredible and offer so many great features. As you might have picked up in this article, I love my DSLR, but that doesn’t mean you might enjoy it, too. You might be a mirrorless camera type of person and that’s okay, we can still be friends.
I recommend picking them up and playing around with them in the store. Sometimes it is just love at first sight, or sometimes the camera just picks you. Photography is such a beautiful artform and takes time and experience to develop your own identity and preferences. Cameras are incredible toys that have endless possibilities. This adventure is just the beginning for you — I know that no matter what decision you make, you will be happy to do what you love. So, hurry and buy your camera and get out there and start capturing the moment.