DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Which Camera System To Use?

DSLR vs. Mirrorless – which camera system would you choose?

DSLR vs. Mirrorless
DSLR vs. Mirrorless | Photo by Michelle Terris

Choosing between a DSLR camera or Mirrorless camera can be both difficult and frightening. Here we will cover the main differences between the two. There’s a lot to consider, so let’s get to it.

DSLR vs. mirrorless

The Main Difference

DSLR vs. Mirrorless
DSLR vs. Mirrorless | Photo by Michelle Terris

The biggest, most important difference between a DSLR vs. mirrorless camera is exactly that a mirrorless camera is – mirrorless.

A DSLR camera works the following way. Light enters through the lens, hits a mirror that reflects the light into a prism and then into the viewfinder where you can see what you are framing.

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When you fire the shot the mirror flips up, exposing the image sensor to the light and therefore recording the image. A mirrorless camera, lacks a mirror and therefore the light going through the lens goes straight to the image sensor.

Size Differences

A DSLR camera is usually larger and heavier than a mirrorless camera, as are the lenses. The DSLR has a larger design for the very reason that it has a prism and mirror built into it.

If you are looking for something portable and light, then a mirrorless camera is something to consider. If size isn’t a problem then both cameras are fair game.

Related: Here’s How To Upgrade To a Mirrorless Camera

The Viewfinder

As explained, when looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR you are seeing exactly what is in front of you. You don’t see the actual image you capture until after on the rear display, and from there you can determine how to adjust your exposure settings.

Mirrorless cameras are different. Not all mirrorless cameras have viewfinders, and those that do are electronic viewfinders and usually more expensive. What you see in the viewfinder or live display is an electronic copy of what is in front of you. This helps you see in real time the changes you are making to your camera settings, whether the image is under or over exposed and so on.

Auto/Manual Focus

Auto focus speed has usually been significantly faster on DSLR cameras than mirrorless cameras. This is due to DSLR cameras using phase detection to focus and mirrorless using contrast detection. Phase detection focusing is significantly faster than contrast detection, especially in low light. However, recently, new models of mirrorless cameras offer both phase and contrast detection focusing, matching their autofocus speeds with some DSLRs. Primarily DSLRs will autofocus faster and more efficiently making them more suitable for photographing fast moving objects or sports, but continuous updates to mirrorless technology may soon change that.

When it comes to manual focusing both style of cameras offer lenses with auto/manual options and display what part of the image is and isn’t in focus on the viewfinder. Some Mirrorless cameras now offer “focus peaking,” which highlights the border of the objects that are in focus at the time in order to help get in focus photos when using manual settings.

Shooting Speeds

When it comes to frames per second (fps) mirrorless cameras have the winning edge. Since mirrorless cameras lack a mirror, that is an extra step that they do not have to go through and therefore typically offer higher frames per second than a DSLR. This may not be the case when comparing to high end DSLRs but when comparing entry to amateur level cameras, mirrorless is faster.

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Battery Life

This is an easy win for DSLRs. Mirrorless cameras tend to use up their battery more quickly due to them being completely electronic. The only time battery is really being consumed in a DSLR is when the image is being previewed on the display and when the image is taken. Mirrorless cameras on the other hand have their live display constantly running and therefore use more juice in each battery.

Sensor Size

Until recently, DSLRs had the advantage when it came to sensor size.

While entry level DSLRs come with cropped sensors they are still large and capture a lot of light. Amateur and professional level DSLRs offer full frame sensors that perform well in low light situations and capture more detail. Mirrorless cameras all used to come with cropped sensors.

A smaller sensor is not as efficient in low light situations and can inhibit the printing of photographs in larger sizes. Sony, however, has managed to level the playing field, offering a full frame mirrorless camera.

Video Capability

Video capabilities between DSLR vs. mirrorless cameras differ.

DSLR cameras tend to offer video recording with great resolution and usually with a microphone port to record audio as well.

Mirrorless cameras also offer video recording with great resolution but at a lower price. Most mirrorless cameras being released offer HD recording with a variety of fps options as well as some feature in camera stabilization, significantly reducing camera shake. Unlike DSLRs, a lot of mirrorless cameras do not offer a microphone port and therefore, require audio to be recorded separately. While this is not a deal breaker it is something you may consider if you are looking to do video.

Lens Options

The final point to consider of DSLR vs. mirrorless are the lens options.

DSLRs, for the most part, offer a larger variety of lenses than do mirrorless cameras. This is due to the fact that DSLR cameras have been around a lot longer and you have a whole array of vintage and new lenses that you can attach.

Mirrorless cameras are more recent therefore the variety of lenses is more limited. Adapters are available in order to use other lenses but these can either reduce quality or function of the lenses at times. However, with more time more lenses are being produced and therefore the gap continues to narrow.

These are the main differences to consider when choosing between a mirrorless and DSLR camera. Both options are great and each offer their own advantages and disadvantages. What camera best suits you, depends on your budget, your use for the camera and your comfort. For some size alone is a determining factor, while others care more about the technicalities. 

Which camera system do you prefer to use? DSLR vs. Mirrorless? Share with us on social at @h_collective