Top camera brands have been making waves lately with their newest Mirrorless cameras offering features that have been making wedding and professional portrait photographers give them a serious second glance. Let’s compare Mirrorless Vs. DSLR and see what the hype is all about.
So, I spent the afternoon diving into my own research.
Is the future Mirrorless?
First, Let’s define DSLR. This stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. Before Digital Photography, the film cameras were just “SLR” standing for Single Lens Reflex.
A DSLR uses a mirror and a prism to bounce what you’re seeing into the view finder, known as an optical viewfinder. (We’ll get into that later.) When the shutter is triggered, the mirror lifts, your view is blocked as the sensor (or film) is exposed, and your image is captured.
In a Mirrorless camera, there is no mirror between your lens and the sensor/film. No Lifting mirror with the shutter.
Your phone camera? That is a mirrorless camera. Most point and shoots are mirrorless cameras.
In the past, mirrorless cameras just didn’t offer all of the features of DSLR’s. Not because mirrorless wasn’t capable, it just wasn’t available. Over the last five years, that gap has been closing in big ways.
The first big difference, is the size. Because of what’s been on the market the last 20 years, people associate quality with size when it comes to cameras. Even the simple act of adding a giant battery pack to an already large DSLR is something many photographers do just to feel more legit. (humor inserted but in all honesty…tell me I’m wrong. haha)
Many photographers are concerned with the consumer market not recognizing a top of the line mirrorless camera, as compact as they are, as something that produces just as impressive results as a DSLR.
Professional Mirrorless cameras with nearly the same exact features are half the size and a fraction of the weight of DSLR’s. DSLR’s have to be bigger to house the prism and mirror box.
In the past, professionals would pick DSLR’s because of their resistance to the elements. Now, New Mirrorless camera bodies have just as much weather proofing as the average DSLR and are becoming heftier to withstand harsher shooting environments or a substantial amount of shooting over time.
Another major concern was the amount of buttons on a Mirrorless vs DSLR. Professionals need buttons, wheels, joysticks to navigate their camera setting quickly in live shooting situations during once in a life time memories or photo opportunities…well, Mirrorless has caught up in that department recently as well.
My biggest concern was the lens department in Mirrorless Vs. DSLR Cameras.
Attaching a giant lens to a dainty camera body. As a wedding photographer, I find myself attaching a 70-200 to my camera body often. That’s not a small lens. The balance and weight distribution between a tiny body and a giant lens would be weird…but as stated before, these bodies are getting larger and wider.
There were also much fewer professional quality lenses available for Mirrorless cameras. Most lenses required an adapter to be functional with a mirrorless camera….and rumor on the street was these adapters weren’t that great.
Now, the adapters have improved and more glass is being produced specifically for these mirrorless cameras, allowing one of their best features to be fully accessed.
Now here’s the kicker that makes allot of professionals listen up.
When using lenses made for your mirrorless camera, the lens is much much closer to the sensor than in a DSLR. The lens doesn’t have to be pushed back to accommodate the mirror box. Because the lens is closer to the film/sensor, it results in a sharper image. Combine that with in camera body image stabilization (not available on ANY DSLR’s), and your number of in-focus, usable images go WAY up.
Okay, now last big complaint. In the past, and still, DSLR’s have a much more impressive battery life when shooting still images. Because DSLR’s are using that mirror prism system to see what they’re capturing through the viewfinder, that requires next to no battery life. It isn’t until that shutter is fired and the mirror lifts, that power is used by the sensor. In a Mirrorless camera, it’s constantly using power for your viewfinder and your sensor is always exposed/ready to capture.
However, in video, a DSLR converts to mirrorless to expose the sensor for capturing video. In the video department, there does not seem to be much argument in DSLR Vs. Mirrorless anymore. Try clicking your DSLR into video mode. You can no longer see through the viewfinder as the mirror has been lifted and is blocking your view. Now, you’re just using a DSLR as a mirrorless camera….and the battery life is no longer impressive in comparison. This, (and in camera image stabilization) is one big reason why a ton of videographers made the switch to mirrorless before still image photographers.
Mirrorless cameras are quickly making improvements to their battery life, but as of now, for still image photographers, DSLR’s take the cake in this department (could be wrong on this due to recent releases but pretty sure this one is still true.) Especially, for wedding photographers. However, if you have a fanny pack full of batteries, this issue could be resolved.
Imagine shooting a wedding on all 16gb cards. That’s probably about how often you’d need to switch out your battery with a mirrorless camera at a wedding.
Oh, boy. Here’s another huge one. electronic vs. optical viewfinder.
If a photographer makes the switch without learning the pros and cons and just assumes one to be like the other, they will be sorely disappointed. A DSLR user to Mirrorless could be lead to get their exposure settings all wrong. A Mirrorless to DSLR user, may be frustrated with how many features they just lost. Let’s explain…
On a mirrorless camera, you can have a live view of clipped highlights and your histogram rather than having to wait until after an image is captured to read a histogram on an image.
Because your viewfinder is electronic on a mirrorless camera, what you see through the viewfinder may mislead you. The image you see may be brighter or darker than reality because you get a live view of what you are capturing vs an optical replica of what you’re seeing when you pull your face away from the camera with a DSLR.
Allot of DSLR users make this mistake as well, but because they are only using the image on the back of their camera as setting reference without reading a histogram or light sensor. Imagine if what you were using to take your images was a constant feed from the back of your camera.
You may be more easily mislead if you were, essentially, always looking at the back of your camera vs your light sensor and charts before snapping an image. An electronic viewfinder user, must adjust to refer to their charts more regularly. Impressively, the makers of these cameras have made it VERY easy for you to do so.
Personally, I like that. It forces you to be more technical while capturing your images and may result in less culling. From my perspective, mirrorless cameras are better for beginners not so great for the middle ground and then become better for Intermediate to advanced shooters. DSLR’s being the better option for entry level professional work/learning to shoot in manual.
Quick Pro to Mirrorless: Completely silent shooting. As a wedding photographer who cringes just a little every time I fire my shutter at the sound possibly being a distraction, this is a huge pro. Yes, I use “Silent continuous shooting” but we all know that’s not actually silent.
The idea of being able to shoot completely silent? That’s super appealing to my company and wedding guests. If you’re a photojournalist, this is amazing news. How many times has a guest/subject looked up at you after firing your shutter because they heard it? You probably don’t even realize how often that sound gave you away. Imagine having a shutter just as stealthy as you are in capturing moments-in-action. This is huge.
Mirrorless also has in body image stabilization….I’m starting to get frustrated as I write this article because at this point, I definitely believe the future is mirrorless. When I started this article, I really was not sure!
Let’s talk focus points. Mirrorless has the ability to move your focus point over 90% of the image frame….top of the line DSLR’s only have that flexibility in about 60% of the frame.
Pro to DSLR: Because the mirror is there, your sensor is more protected while changing lenses. This means changing lenses at the beach or in uncontrolled environments is MUCH safer with a DSLR. According to my research, there is ONE Mirrorless camera, by Canon, that drops the shutter when the camera is turned off, protecting the sensor. If a sensor is damaged, the camera is basically garbage. Changing lenses out and about with the average high end mirrorless camera, is cause for concern until more lines integrate what Canon did with the EOSR in dropping that shutter.
Over time, it looks like This Studio will be going mirrorless over the next few years. Consider my mind blown.
Mirrorless Vs. DSLR
If you’d like to watch a video version of this article, check out Jared Polin with Fro Knows Photo in THIS very well done video. He has everything there. I watched the video and processed the things that were being said in this article combined with things I picked up in person at WPPI 2020.