Entering the photography industry is always a challenge as there are so many questions you must answer before you begin. What type of photographer do you want to be? Portrait photography? Landscape? Urban? Fine Art? The best way to discover your niche is to first express yourself through countless hours of practice. One of the biggest questions in today’s market revolves around the choice of what gear you would like to use. With the advances in mirrorless technology the divide in quality between mirrorless and DSLR cameras has quickly become a blurred line.
Traditionally, DSLR cameras range from beginner to professional in price and quality. The DSLR camera offers a step up from the basic point and shoot camera you received in middle school on Christmas from your parents before your first vacation.
DSLR cameras operate using the reflection of mirrors, the light is sent through the lens and bounces off a reflex mirror into a prism, the light is then reflected and converted into what you see through the viewfinder. When you press the shutter button, the mirror swings up and allows the light through the shutter and into the image sensor which produces the final image. The two largest brands in DSLR manufacturing would be Canon and Nikon, and while this does not mean they are the only brands, they are the best known brands around the world.
The mirrorless camera has eliminated the mirror from the equation, which means it allows light straight through the lens and onto the image sensor. The camera captures this image and displays it on the rearview screen. Some cameras take this a step further, adding a second screen in the viewfinder to show a live preview image before taking the shot. Mirrorless cameras have only recently risen to the competitive level of DSLRs, and since this is a new market there are fewer brands competing with each other. The largest mirrorless camera brands include Sony and Fujifilm, with Nikon slowly entering the market.
Things To Consider When Choosing Your Camera:
- Size and Weight
Traditionally, the DSLR camera has to fit more components into the camera body, including a mirror and prism to capture the light. The mirrorless camera bodies eliminate the purpose of a mirror or prism so they are generally more compact, lighter in weight and allow for more space in your camera bag for other lenses, external flash, tripod and so much more.
- Lenses and Accessories
As is made possible through years of manufacturing, the DSLR camera lens and accessory market is endless with gear from beginner to professional, knock-off to the biggest brand names. This is not to say you can’t find a lens to get the job done with your mirrorless setup, especially as the market and demand for mirrorless products rises, so will the selection of products.
- Image Quality
The most important factor in image quality is through the image sensor and how many megapixels (MP) are captured within each image. Both the mirrorless camera system and a DSLR come in multiple sensor sizes; the most popular amongst professional photographers is a full-frame camera. Although both camera setups also come in a smaller sensor size of APS-C, the mirrorless camera family has even smaller cameras and sensors to choose from, so it just depends on what you as a photographer are looking for in size or quality. Similarly you could compare the amount of megapixels found in an image, the popular Sony A7R IV mirrorless body allows for you to capture 61MP, which is almost 11MP higher than the leading DSLR.
DSLR cameras are not constantly allowing light through the lens and into the image sensor, which means that the viewfinder in a DSLR is a live view of the subject. The mirror reflects the light into a prism which converts into an optical view in the viewfinder. The mirrorless cameras are constantly allowing light into the image sensor which means the camera will either display the final image on the rear LCD or will show the final image in the electronic viewfinder on top of the camera.
Generally, DSLR cameras have been the king of autofocus in past years, but this has come to change as the autofocus and lowlight focusing capabilities of mirrorless cameras continue to become more and more advanced. Most DSLR cameras use phase-detection autofocusing which is located underneath the mirror and allows for fast autofocus when the user is taking photos through the viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras don’t have that mirror and are usually using contrast-detection autofocus. This can be slightly slower but very comparable to a DSLR shooting in LCD live view mode.
- User Experience
Even the entry-level DSLR has the option to manually control every bit of the camera when taking an image. Mirrorless cameras are very similar in this, usually matching their features completely, allowing for full control over exposure, focus, and shutter. Although most beginner-level DSLR and mirrorless tend to hide their manual features under a blanket of automated settings.
DSLR has been the standard option for entry-level videographers who need a video setup that can easily be traveled with and is cost efficient. The DSLR was the stepping stone for offering a high definition video quality, but mirrorless cameras have come a long way and are now offering 4K video quality in almost all models.
The mirrorless cameras have certainly upped their game in the sense of how many frames are captured per second (fps). DSLR cameras used to have the advantage in this category, but recently with the rise of mirrorless cameras the tides have slowly started to shift, mainly due to the fact that mirrorless cameras have less moving parts and are being optimized to processes 4K video quality. Mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix G9 shoots still images at 20fps and 4K video at 60fps, which compared to the Canon 5D Mark III has a continuous shooting speed of 6fps.
Your camera’s battery life will vary depending on how heavily you are using it, but most DSLR batteries can hold a charge for up to 2000 shots. Mirrorless has a disadvantage here, as it can only shoot up to 400 shots before losing its charge due to the rear LCD constantly being on, as well an Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) which is also constantly draining the battery. This can easily be worked around by carrying multiple batteries or a portable charger, it just depends on the type of photography you are doing and how much gear you’d like to be carrying.
For a beginner photographer the DSLR is still the best option for price and features provided. You can find entry-level mirrorless cameras for similar pricing but you will be losing a few features, one of which being a viewfinder. Once you move past the entry-level models the differences in price and features become less apparent as you can find great options for both with minimal difference in price.
Considering the rise in popularity and advancement in mirrorless cameras, the once leading DSLR has been contested in a new way. Creating this unclear divide in capabilities between the two models allows for more debate in which to choose when buying a new camera setup. If you are an enthusiast or professional photographer it is tough to make the jump without selling all your gear. As a beginner, the biggest deciding factor can be cost efficiency, possibly buying used gear. Despite all this debate, the biggest decision that comes out of mirrorless vs. DSLR is still this: What are you going to shoot?