What's the Difference Between Mirrorless Cameras and DSLRs?

Updated on May 30, 2020
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Subhadeep is a content marketer for hire. He has skills and experience to perform in-depth research and create engaging content.

DSLR vs Mirrorless
DSLR vs Mirrorless

7 Features That Separate Mirrorless From DSLR

Like any other technology, the world of digital cameras is ever-evolving. Mirrorless is the new talk of the town. But wait—what is this mirrorless camera? How is this different from the big DSLR that Uncle Bob used to carry during family events? Let's take a peek into it.

What Is a DSLR Camera?

DSLR cameras carry the same design as of the pre-digital 35 mm film roll cameras. A small mirror inside the camera body reflects the light coming through the lens and directs it to the viewfinder through a prism. The only difference from the old SLR (single-lens reflex) camera is that a digital sensor has replaced the film roll.

As you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up and allows light from the lens to reach the sensor. And voila! You get the image.

What Is a Mirrorless Camera?

Evident from the name itself, mirrorless cameras got rid of the mirror arrangement altogether. Light through the lens falls directly on the sensor. A preview of the image formed is displayed on the LCD viewfinder. It uses the ‘Live View’ feature of the camera sensor to show a real-time picture on the viewfinder.

Mirrorless Camera
Mirrorless Camera

1. Size, Weight, and Ergonomics

Mirrorless leads the game when it comes to size and weight. Although loaded with the same DSLR sensors, mirrorless cameras are way lighter than their DSLR counterparts. Both the systems come packed with similar technologies, yet mirrorless looks just a fraction of the size.

And why is that? The Mirrorless system doesn’t carry the load of a mirror and optical viewfinder arrangement. The sensor sits right behind the lens mount.

The viewfinder chamber itself is more massive on high-end DSLRs due to their pentaprism design.

The smaller form-factor of a mirrorless camera often poses a challenge to people with larger hands. Many pro-users don’t prefer smaller controls and touchscreens.

2. Viewfinders

DSLRs use prisms to redirect the light falling on the lens to the viewfinder. The optical TTL (through the lens) viewfinder allows you to look at precisely what the lens projects on the sensor. Optical viewfinders don’t need a power source, which augments the battery life of a DSLR.

Mirrorless, on the other hand, use electronic viewfinders (EVFs). The electronic design induces a minute lag when you move the camera quickly. EVFs consume power – so higher the brightness and resolution of the LCD screen higher the battery consumption.

One massive benefit of EVFs, though - whatever exposure or other camera settings you change gets instantly applied to the image you’re viewing. So, you know what you’re shooting accurately.

If you’re still fond of a viewfinder, you won’t find one with an entry-level mirrorless camera unless you spill some extra cash out of your wallet and go for the higher-end models.


3. Autofocus Speed

DSLRs use the phase-detection AF method, which is much faster than the contrast-detection AF system on a mirrorless camera.

Photographers still vouch for DSLRs when it comes to high-speed low-light photography or action photography such as sports or wildlife. Although the likes of Sony a7R III come with improved low-light autofocus systems, it’s still limited to high-end models.

4. Shooting Speed

Despite being fully electronic, mirrorless cameras still use mechanical shutters. Although electronic shutters are quiet and faster, they are capable of introducing severe distortions while shooting fast-moving subjects.

Silent shooting can be useful when you’re shooting inside a church or in the thick of wildlife. Electronic shutters are capable of shooting super-fast with wide-apertures in broad daylight. But they lack the speed while tracking moving objects.

5. Battery Life

Entry-level DSLR camera batteries boast an average of 600 shots per full charge. The majority of them even serve close to four figures.

However, mirrorless cameras are weak performers when it comes to battery life. The average lies around 300 shots per charge.

Mirrorless feed heavily on power due to its EVF and LCD consumption. Whereas DSLR LED viewfinders need a modest amount of power to keep the show on.

Battery Life
Battery Life

6. Video Quality

While shooting video, DSLRs can’t use phase-detection AF with the mirror up. They use the less accurate and slower contrast-detection AF method. It often causes them to hunt for focus while shooting in auto-focus mode.

The Mirrorless system offers superior autofocus mode for videos. They come with advanced features to capture higher-resolution 4k or Ultra HD at the same price range of a DSLR.

Video digital camera
Video digital camera

7. Lenses

Entry-level native mirrorless lenses are smaller in size when compared to those of DSLR entry-level lenses.

But the fact is – sensor size determines lens size, which remains the same on both systems. So, the best lenses are bulky and heavy irrespective of which system they belong to. As a result, the camera-lens combination with a mirrorless body is often out of balance when using high-end lenses.

Mirrorless vs DSLR lenses
Mirrorless vs DSLR lenses

Mirrorless Cameras vs. DSLRs (How to Compare and Choose)

Ever since mirrorless cameras came into fashion, its users have been dumping DSLRs across social platforms endorsing how outdated DSLRs have become. But despite being bigger, chunkier, and heavier, DSLRs still have a substantial market.

If you’re not planning to shoot sports or wildlife and are fond of a smaller form-factor and a lighter body – go for mirrorless. Video shooters tend to incline more towards the mirrorless system. Make sure to carry extra batteries, though.

DSLR fans can’t let the big boy go due to its snappy response when tracking fast-moving objects. Its users prefer the ‘naked eye’ viewfinder over the digital simulation of a mirrorless system. Professionals also prefer the solid grip and sturdy controls while carrying the body for most of the day.

For a casual user, both the systems offer outstanding image quality. It’s just that, if you’re planning to step-up your photography, give some thought.

© 2020 Subhadeep


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