Weigh the differences between mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras with thoughts and experiences from Shutterstock and Offset photographers.
We’re a few years into the “mirrorless revolution,” but the question at the forefront of many emerging photographers’ minds remains: “Should I stick with a tried-and-true DSLR or opt for a brand-new, top-of-the-line mirrorless camera?”
According to a survey conducted last year by the website DIY Photography, photographers are still split. Around forty-four percent say they use DSLR cameras and twenty-eight percent say they’ve switched to mirrorless. When we asked a handful of photographers from the Shutterstock and Offset collections, we found something similar — there were arguments for both, and they were equally valid.
The main difference between the two is, of course, the mirror. A DSLR has a mirror within its body to reflect the image to an optical viewfinder. A mirrorless camera, on the other hand, uses an electronic viewfinder. The image passes straight to the sensor without the need for a flip-up mirror.
However, the differences don’t end there, and anyone in the market for a new camera will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each system. Below, we’ll give you a quick rundown of what mirrorless and DSLR cameras have to offer to help in your decision.
Mirrorless vs. DSLR: What’s Right For You
Pros of Using DSLR Cameras
DSLR Pro: Battery Life
Electronic viewfinders in mirrorless cameras can be a battery drain, and mirrorless batteries tend to be smaller, so DSLRs tend to deliver more shots per charge. A pro DSLR, for instance, can take up to 1,000-2,000 shots per charge, as compared to the 300-400 typical for a mirrorless camera. If you travel to spots where access to power is limited, this is one factor to take into consideration.
“I use a DSLR, a Canon 6D Mark II, because I like the long battery life,” California-based photographer Eric Kunau tells us. “That said, you can take equally stunning photos with a mirrorless camera, which can also be more practical if you’re on-the-go.”
DSLR Pro: Ergonomics
Some photographers prefer the bulkier, weightier feel of a DSLR. Especially if you prefer to shoot with long lenses, the solid, reliable body of a DSLR might be the way to go. Plus, they have more space for various external manual controls, which is a game-changer for some photographers who don’t want to rely as much on a digital interface.
DSLR Pro: The Optical Viewfinder
With a DSLR, you’re looking through the lens as opposed to a video screen. While mirrorless screens continue to improve, many photographers still prefer the dynamic range that comes with viewing an image through your own eyes.
DSLR Pro: Durability
In addition to being bulky, DSLRs are resilient. They’re built to withstand heavy use and difficult conditions. Similarly, DSLR sensors are more protected from the elements than mirrorless sensors, so they require fewer cleanings, especially if you’re dealing with dust in the great outdoors.
DSLR Pro: Lenses Galore
DSLRs have been around far longer than mirrorless cameras, so they tend to give you more options in terms of lenses. DSLRs are also easier to buy used for this same reason.
“I use both a mirrorless and a DSLR, but I use my DSLR for client work, as I have a variety of lenses to choose from, depending on the session,” Washington-based photographer Erika Roa tells us. With that being said, you can use lens adapters to mount most lenses on a mirrorless camera.
Pros of Using Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless Pro: Portability
Mirrorless cameras tend to be much smaller because they’re made without a mirror box and the prism needed for a DSLR. That also means they’re lighter and more portable, making them a favorite among travel photographers. They’re also much more inconspicuous.
“I have both types of cameras — DSLR and mirrorless — but, for now, I prefer to work with mirrorless cameras,” Georgia-based photographer Anna Bogush explains. “They’re lighter, more compact, and faster, while also giving me the same quality level I expect from a DSLR. Overall, they help to be more mobile, especially when I shoot outside the studio.”
Mirrorless Pro: Silent Shooting
Mirrorless cameras don’t have the mirror flip characteristic of a DSLR, and that means they make less noise. They also have fewer vibrations for the same reason. For documentary photographers, the ability to shoot silently can make all the difference.
Mirrorless Pro: Live View
With an EVF, what you see is what you get, unlike when using an optical viewfinder. For beginning photographers, the ability to see your exposure while composing your shot is a significant advantage of mirrorless cameras. You’ll see in real time how your settings change your exposure, depth of field, and more.
Mirrorless Pro: Stunning Lenses
If DSLRs come with more lens options, mirrorless cameras can compete by having some of the best, most cutting-edge lenses available. Due to a shorter flange distance (the distance between the lens mount and the sensor), manufacturers have been able to create some wide-angle lenses that just wouldn’t exist for a DSLR.
Mirrorless Pro: Speed
Another side-effect of the mirror in DSLRs is that it physically limits camera speed, so here’s another area where mirrorless cameras take the lead.
Mirrorless Pro: Video
Ask many of today’s leading photographers and they’ll tell you that the future is video. In recent years, mirrorless cameras have come out ahead in this respect. Most mirrorless cameras offer 4K, even on the lower end of the price scale.
“I currently use a mirrorless camera — the Sony a6300 — in part because it helps with video production,” Brazil-based photographer Gabriel de Almeida Vergani tells us. “I like having the ability to easily shoot 4K video.”
The Verdict: It Depends!
The choice between going mirrorless or staying with a DSLR will ultimately depend on your comfort level and your specialty. If you’re a travel photographer who values staying light and mobile, mirrorless cameras might come out ahead. On the other hand, an adventure photographer looking for rugged durability and long battery life might prefer a DSLR.
As time goes on, the gap between the two systems continues to narrow. While once mirrorless cameras struggled to match the autofocus capabilities of a DSLR, they’ve since improved by leaps and bounds. As manufacturers continue to invest in mirrorless systems, they’ve even been able to offer options that surpass those of an average DSLR — like eye AF tracking for wildlife photographers.
These days, it’s hard to go wrong with either system. If you’re comfortable with your existing DSLR, it might not be worth transitioning all your gear over to another system. If, on the other hand, you like to have the latest gear, mirrorless might be the way to go. These systems tend to evolve and incorporate new technologies more quickly than DSLRs.
According to many, mirrorless is the wave of the future, and camera manufacturers seem to agree, at least to some extent. “I have used DSLR cameras since 2008, but I plan to switch to mirrorless in the next year or so because mirrorless technologies are constantly changing and pushing the industry forward in ways that DSLRs are not,” Saint Petersburg-based photographer Nikolay Tsuguliev says.
For many, the choice of camera body isn’t as important as the number and quality of lenses you can use with it. If you can save money on the camera, you’ll have more to spend on lenses and accessories. Eric Kunau advises, “There are so many affordable and convenient ways to rent cameras and lenses these days, so I suggest photographers try out different equipment before committing.”
Cover image by Nattawut Jaroenchai
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