The never ending argument of whether mirrorless cameras are better than DSLRs has gone quite intense now. But – we are going to settle this debate in this article and discuss is mirrorless better than DSLR or it is just a myth.
You might also argue that there is no point in comparing mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Most people and even manufacturers consider mirrorless as the way forward whereas DSLR is facing a slow but certain death. However, it is far from the truth. Both types of cameras offer similar image quality on most occasions. The only major difference at the moment is their construction. Knowing how they compare with each other would help you buy the right camera moving forward.
Are Mirrorless Cameras already Ahead of the Curve?
Manufacturers don’t make as many DSLR cameras as they used to just a few years ago. New mirrorless cameras are released to the market every other day. Similarly, people who would only choose DSLRs are now moving towards mirrorless cameras. Companies like Canon and Nikon have not introduced a new DSLR for a while now. The only major company that still loves DSLRs is Pentax.
But – it is wrong to say mirrorless has completely won the competition. DSLR is here to stay for some time to come. You can still find some old but terrific models to take stunning images. Nikon and Canon can still release new models. Pentax will certainly do. You can even find some great second hand models, especially with reduced prices. So, the mirrorless vs DSLR camera debate is far from over.
Difference between Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras
So, how do you choose between a mirrorless and a DSLR camera? Both are more versatile than your smartphone, bridge, or point-and-shoot cameras. They are compatible with different lenses and allow you to swap various accessories. Mirrorless cameras are lighter and smaller than DSLRs because they don’t have huge mirrors. However, DSLR cameras work with a wider variety of lenses.
When it comes to design, DSLRs are very similar to obsolete film cameras. An image sensor simply replaces the film while everything else is the same. DSLR bodies also have a mirror to reflect light coming from the lens to a prism. Subsequently, the prism reflects light to the optical viewfinder for you to frame your shot.
The mirror flips up when you press the shutter. Now, the shutter opens allowing the light to reach the image sensor which ultimately takes the image.
The mirror also points light to the autofocus sensors including auto exposure sensors. Therefore, DSLRs have dedicated parts to adjust auto exposure and autofocus.
A mirrorless camera is usually smaller than DSLRs because it lacks a mirror. Mirrorless bodies enable the light to hit the image sensor directly without any interruption. Therefore, they have a simpler construction and smaller and lighter bodies.
Keep in mind that newer full-frame mirrorless cameras are as large as their DSLR counterparts. So, the difference in weight and size is negligible.
Is Mirrorless better than DSRL?
Now, we compare various features of mirrorless and DSLR cameras to check if the former is better than the latter.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Size and Weight
We have already discussed that mirrorless bodies are smaller than DLSR because they don’t have a mirror and optical viewfinder. For instance, Nikon D5600 has a depth of almost 3” and weighs 1.4lbs without a lens. It is quite bulky and thus, a heavy camera.
Mirrorless cameras tend to be compact and lightweight. For example, the weight and thickness of the Sony a6100 are only 1.3lbs and is 1.6 inches respectively with its kit lens. You can even put it in a small purse or your pocket.
The winner in the size and weight department is mirrorless. You can carry these cameras for long distances without any fatigue. They are small, allowing you to fit more gear in your camera box as well.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Autofocus Performance
DSLR used to deliver better autofocus performance thanks to a certain phase-detection technology. This technology can measure the convergence of two light beams in a jiffy. Mirrorless cameras only had contrast-detection technology when they first came out. This technology detects the highest contrast using the image sensor to adjust focus. Phase detection is faster, especially in low light than contrast detection.
However, mirrorless cameras have caught up to DSLRs and they essentially offer similar or even better autofocus performance. The image sensors of all the new mirrorless cameras and even smartphones have both phase and contrast detection technologies. Canon EOS R5, for example, has Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus with 5940 autofocus points with 100% coverage across the screen. The Sony a6100 has 425 autofocus points for phase and contrast detection each.
Some modern DSLRs such as Nikon D780 and the latest Canon models have both phase-detection and contrast-detection sensors on their image chips. They have very quick autofocus and display live view on the screen. As a result, they essentially work like mirrorless cameras.
Some models can also raise their mirrors and display image preview in the Live View mode. Mirrorless cameras also work on the same principle albeit they don’t have a mirror. However, you cannot expect Live of View of cheaper DSLRs to be as fast as that of premium models. They focus on the object using the slower contrast detection as they lack the faster hybrid phase detection on the chip.
We don’t have a clear winner in the autofocus category. Latest mirrorless and DSLR bodies use almost similar technologies to deliver fast and accurate autofocus performance. Just buy a camera with on-chip phase detection if you want to shoot videos with DSLR as well.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Image Preview
You can see exactly what the camera will capture using the optical viewfinder in DSLRs. The mirrorless camera offers a digital preview of the scene on the screen. However, some mirrorless cameras do have electronic viewfinders. It mimics the optical viewfinder of the DSLR cameras but is small in size and has a higher resolution.
The electronic viewfinder performs better in good light, providing you with the closest preview of the final image. But preview will become erratic, grainy, and gloomy in case of fast moving objects or low light. The mirrorless camera tries to capture more light by reducing its shooting speed, all the while trying to display the moving preview. Optical viewfinders in DSLRs directly reflect light to your eyes and thus ensure better image preview in low light.
However, one of the advantages of mirrorless cameras having an electronic viewfinder is that you can see what you are going to capture before pressing the shutter. The preview will change according to the change in aperture or shutter speed.
In the case of a DSLR, you have to trust your experience and metering by the camera to predict the outcome as optical VF does not change the image while reflecting the light.
Both mirrorless and DSLR cameras deliver excellent results in good light. A DSLR is a good option if you mostly shoot in challenging conditions such as low light.
So, is DSLR better than mirrorless in terms of image preview? Both types of cameras provide equally good image preview in good light but DSLR edges out mirrorless in harsh environments.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Image Stabilization
Handheld photos tend to be blurry, especially if you have shaky hands. The effect can magnify manifold the more you zoom in or use a long shutter speed. Both mirrorless and DSLR have some kind of system, known as image stabilization, to compensate for shakes. The sensor measures the camera’s movement and slightly shifts the image sensor or the lens in the opposite direction of the camera’s shake.
Most mirrorless and almost all DSLR counter camera shakes in two directions that are vertical or horizontal by moving the lens. Some mirrorless cameras keep shakes at bay by moving both the sensor and lens along with these two directions or axes.
However, both these methods produce results with nominal differences. Sensor stabilization offers the added advantage of working well with all the lenses, even for lenses without their own image stabilization. Nevertheless, most modern cameras can create sharp pictures by easily compensating for a small amount of camera shakes. However, they cannot deal with larger movements on their own but there are a few exceptions.
High-end mirrorless cameras such as Canon EOS R6, Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark III, and Sony a7 iii have built-in 5-axis image stabilization. Cameras like Canon EOS R5 have 8-axis in-body image stabilization as well. It is hard to find this feature in DSLR cameras except for perhaps the Pentax K series. These cameras compensate for camera movement on five-axis that are vertical, horizontal, roll (rotating), yaw (turning side to side), and pitch (tilting up and down).
5-axis image stabilization also comes in extremely handy when shooting while you are moving. It is superior to other image stabilization methods in general. It also creates beautiful and steady videos when you are shooting handheld.
So, are mirrorless cameras better than DSLRs in terms of image stabilization? Mirrorless bodies with 5-axis image stabilization have a definitive edge over DSLR but they are also quite expensive. However, both types use the traditional in-lens image stabilization in their entry-level models.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Image Quality
Both types of cameras have similar resolutions and take excellent pictures with a similar amount of noise. Older mirrorless cameras failed to capture enough light to create high quality images because of their small sensors. However, things have significantly changed now. Modern mirrorless cameras have larger sensors such as Canon EOS R5 with 45 megapixels sensor. Similarly, some models even have the same APS-C sensors you normally find in DSLR cameras.
Manufacturers have also found a way to suppress noise and create more sensitive chips even with smaller sensors. Some full-frame cameras such as the Sony A7 series have the same 35mm sensors that are a standard in high-end DSLR cameras. Apart from Sony, Nikon and Canon also produce full-frame mirrorless cameras on a large scale.
It is hard to decide which type of camera takes better pictures. The image quality is almost the same considering both types have similar image processors and sensors.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Video Quality
Mirrorless cameras have on-chip face-detection sensors. Therefore, they generally create better videos than DSLRs. Most DSLR models still cannot copy mirrorless cameras or raise mirrors while shooting videos. Therefore, they use the contrast-detection focus method that is less accurate and slower than phase detection. It makes it difficult for a camera to find the right focus, resulting in blurry videos, especially in the center.
However, Canon introduced DSLRs with on-chip phase detection a few years ago. These models include Canon EOS Rebel T7i and Canon EOS 80D. Some higher-end Nikon DSLRs also feature this technology. Almost all the latest mirrorless and DSLR cameras, both beginner and advanced, also have 4K video resolution with twice the resolution of Full HD and almost four times that of HD. Extremely expensive cameras such as Canon EOS R5 even have 8K video resolution.
Filmmakers, videographers, and vloggers prefer mirrorless cameras for their superior autofocus and considerably better video quality.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Continuous Shooting Speed
Both mirrorless and DSLR cameras have very fast shutter speeds. They can take beautiful images at a very fast rate. However, mirrorless cameras have an edge here except for some premium DSLR models. Lack of a mirror means they can take dozens of images in one go. They can still use the mechanical shutter to produce stunning images even though they don’t have a mirror. Alternatively, they can use an electronic shutter to shoot more silently and quickly. Mirrorless cameras can have continuous shooting speeds of above 20fps.
Mirrorless cameras are faster compared to DSLRs courtesy of their simple design. They can take way more images per second and thus, are perfect for sports, action, and wildlife photography as well.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Battery Life
Traditionally mirrorless cameras have lower battery life compared to DSLRs. They have to show the preview live on the electronic viewfinder or an LDC screen, both of which consume a lot of power.
However, companies are now releasing mirrorless models with improved battery lives. For example, the Sony a6000 could only take 360 images per charge. However, the Sony a6100 uses the same battery but can take 420 images after every charge.
But – they are still no match for DSLR cameras. Even beginner DSLRs like Nikon D3500 can take more than 1500 images per charge. Therefore, it is better to buy a spare battery as well if you are thinking to buy a mirrorless camera.
You cannot shoot without an electronic viewfinder or the LCD in the case of DSLR. Therefore, DSLRs have a considerably longer battery life than mirrorless cameras.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Lens Compatibility
DLSRs have been in business much longer than mirrorless cameras. Therefore, they are compatible with a wide range of lenses, both from OEM and third-party manufacturers. Similarly, they can work with cheapest to most expensive as well as beginner to professional lenses. DSLRs also offer a greater choice of accessories like flashes because they have been in the industry for decades.
Newer mirrorless cameras don’t have much choice when it comes to lenses. They are compatible with a small number of lenses. However, more and more mirrorless lenses are being made and the selection is only going to grow.
You can use adapters to make DSLR lenses work with mirrorless cameras. But – there is a caveat here. The lens should be made by the same camera manufacturer. For example, you can only use a Canon DSLR lens with a Canon mirrorless camera. Even this comes at a price such as you have to compromise on autofocus or content with disabled or slowed functions.
DSLRs clearly win as they are compatible with a wide variety of lenses and accessories. However, more and more mirrorless lenses are being introduced and the gap will be abridged very soon.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Build Quality
It is advisable to buy a camera with weatherproofing and excellent build quality if you love to shoot outdoors. Beginner cameras from both types have plastic bodies. They are ideal for everyday casual use but cannot withstand continuous tossing, harsh weather conditions, or extended sojourns in the wilderness.
The midrange cameras from either type usually have aluminum or magnesium alloy construction that can deal with jams and crashes. For example, Canon EOS 80D and Sony a6100 have aluminum and magnesium alloy bodies respectively.
High-end cameras also have weather sealing as well as excellent build quality to keep out moisture, dust, rain, and all other foreign objects. Mirrorless cameras such as Canon EOS R3 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III have excellent weather sealing properties. However, you can only find these features or full weather sealing in the most expensive DSLR cameras such as Nikon D780.
Even cheap mirrorless cameras offer robust bodies and some type of protection against elements at a lower price. On the other hand, only the high-end DSLRs have weather sealing for harsh conditions. But – both mirrorless and DSLRs have reinforced models to endure tough conditions.
Mirrorless vs DSLR Camera: Final Verdict
So, is mirrorless better than DSLR? Mirrorless cameras are compact, lighter, faster, and a better option for video recording. But – they work with fewer accessories and lenses compared to DSLRs. DSLR cameras also have better battery life and better optical viewfinders.
Beginners should choose mirrorless cameras for their simple construction, easier controls, and smaller size. Similarly, most mirrorless cameras also have touchscreens. Therefore, using them is similar to using a smartphone.
You should also consider user experience while deciding a winner or choosing a camera. Some photographers find it more assuring to carry a heavy and solid DSLR camera. Others love to look straight through the lens which is not possible with a mirrorless camera, especially in the case of cameras without an electronic viewfinder.
Finally, choosing a DSLR or mirrorless camera entirely depends on our preference, budget, and shooting style. It is better to try both types of cameras before making the final decision. You should go for the camera that feels right and comfortable in your hand and fulfills your requirements, irrespective of its type. Rest assured, you can take stunning photographs using both mirrorless and DSLR cameras.