How is one to choose between Mirrorless and DSLR? This debate is very similar to a debate 10-15 years ago, regarding film vs digital for the future of photography and video. Entire companies that went out of business clinging to romantic notions and ignoring the facts. The future tends to favor progress and affordability.
However does that mean that you should ditch your DSLR today in favor of a Mirrorless camera like the Sony A7 R Mark II? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
Understanding the differences between Mirrorless Cameras and DSLR Cameras.
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns
DSLR Cameras work much like older traditional film cameras with interchangeable lenses. When you click the shutter, light enters the lens and is bounced of a mirror through a special prism and redirected to the viewfinder for you to see. When this happens the mirror flips up and hits the image sensor on the camera. This is nothing new and is essentially how old film cameras have worked since the early days of the 20th century.
Mirrorless Cameras leverage advancements in technology. They no longer require a mirror to do the exact same thing, hence the term “Mirrorless”. Your smartphone is a great example of a Mirrorless Camera you’re already using.
Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns
- Pricing. Mirrorless Cameras are usually half the price of DSLR Cameras. The Sony A7 II is $1700 and the more advanced Canon 5D Mark III is $3000. The saving can be applied to professional lenses.
- Weight. The weight of Mirrorless Cameras tend to be considerably lighter than their DSLR counterparts, usually weighing half or 2/3 as much. This can be an important consideration when shooting for long periods of time.
- Focus Peaking. Focus Peaking is one of the most important advancements that Mirrorless Cameras offer, especially for sports photography. Focus Peaking highlights the edges of a subject in focus. Even at F/1.2 on a Mirrorless camera you will know exactly what is in focus when you hit the shutter button. Traditional DSLR Cameras struggle with this at F/2.8 in most cases.
- Video Capabilities. Sony and Panasonic have tremendous video capabilities that DSLR Cameras are not currently able to match, including 4K video and silent Auto Focus and Continuous Focus for video. Canon and Nikon Auto Focusing tends to be too noisy for video within their DSLR lineup.
- WiFi and NFC. While many discount this feature as a gimmick it has many practical applications. Being able to leverage WiFi and NFC helps overcome limitations in photography and video for many shooters with disabilities. For the average user it may be beneficial to use the larger screen of a smartphone or tablet to compose shots and make sure they are in focus.
- Lens Range. Something many photographers overlook is that the Sony Mirrorless system has adapters that will allow you to use the lenses from your existing camera system (except Leica M) giving you an unparalleled range of lens options.
- Electronic View Finder. With an electronic view finder, you can see exactly what the camera’s sensor sees. Your view is never obstructed when shooting. With a DSLR, your view is momentarily blocked.
- Overall Image Quality. Sony who is the leading Mirrorless Camera maker provides the image sensors for Nikon and other camera manufacturers. Sony image sensors tend to have superior dynamic range and ISO capabilities.
Advantages of DSLR Cameras
Photo by Peter Massas
- Ergonomics. Native DSLR shooters find that one of the barriers to moving to a Mirrorless Camera System is that the button layouts and other ergonomics are awkward and make it difficult for them to shoot on by comparison.
- Battery Life. Part of the larger size of DSLR Cameras often means they have more battery power, allowing for longer periods of shooting. The other issue with power is the fact that the Electronic Viewfinder is constantly being powered unlike in a DSLR camera.
- True Depth of Field. Most Mirrorless Cameras are using Micro Four Thirds or APS-C/Cropped Sensors. Full Framed Sensors have “True Depth of Field”, and the difference between images shot on an F/1.8 lens with a Full Frame camera are noticeably different than when shot on a smaller sensor. With the Sony System there currently are not many wide aperture lenses available.
- Durability and Build Quality. The life of a camera is based on shutter actuation, which can also mean that sensor lifetime is also an issue. Mirrorless Cameras are constantly powering the sensor when on, not just during shutter releases. This could affect their longevity. The build quality of many of the Sony System Mirrorless Cameras are robust, but they do not necessarily have the weather sealing and durability of cameras like the Nikon D4S.
- Dual Card Slots. Currently Mirrorless Cameras do not have dual card slots, which for video shooters and wedding photographers is essential. Dual card slots not only allow for more shooting but also for redundancy in being able to immediately copy your files as they are being shot to a second card.
- Accessories. Currently the Mirrorless market has not matured yet and does not have a fraction of the range of accessories available, when compared to DSLR cameras.
- Faster Autofocus via Optical Viewfinder. The OVF vs EVF debate is a central issue when comparing Mirrorless to DSLR Cameras. When shooting sports, you need the ability to focus quickly and not miss the action. The Optical Viewfinder allows for much faster Auto Focusing.
- Perception. If you’re a professional photographer or you’re aspiring to be, sometimes marketing optics matter. Looking like you have a larger professional camera can make a difference to clients who don’t understand camera technology. If they can’t see a noticeable difference between your camera and theirs, they may challenge your credentials or price despite your body of work.
So Which Should You Choose: A DSLR or Mirrorless Camera?
Ultimately this question comes down entirely to what you intend to use the camera for. If you’re going to be shooting video and are interested in progressing to 4K video in the near future, a Mirrorless Camera like the Sony A7 R Mark II is a good investment for you.
If you’re sport or wedding photographer, then something like the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D810 or the Nikon D4S is probably better suited to your situation of shooting all day. There is also a faster Auto Focusing via the OVF.
If you intend to do a lot of traveling, or don’t want to lug around a heavy camera, a Mirrorless Camera offers a lot of benefits based on its lightweight body and ability to take advantage of WiFi and NFC.
Photo By Roberto Blake
When choosing a camera, it’s not always about the technology but the intent behind your shooting and what you are personally comfortable with as a shooter. If you need to make a major commitment to a camera and you want to get familiar with it, you should always try it before you buy it.