Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras: What is the Difference?

Are you finding it difficult to choose between a mirrorless and DSLR camera? Let’s weigh the pros and cons of both types of cameras and find out which is more suitable for you.

When it comes to comparing mirrorless or DSLR Cameras, there is no clear winner. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages – and it all boils down to your taste and photography style.
A decade ago, the difference between mirrorless and DSLR cameras was quite apparent. DSLR cameras were the go-to choice for professionals and serious enthusiasts. Today, mirrorless cameras have not only caught up but can even outperform DSLRs in many aspects.
Due to its compact size, many experts predict mirrorless cameras to overshadow DSLRs in the future. But it’s still too early to say anything, considering that the optical viewfinder, spectacular battery life, and lens compatibility of the DSLR cameras continue to appeal to a large number of serious photographers.
Let’s dive deeper into the differences between mirrorless and DSLR cameras and help you make the informed choice.

H1 The Technical Difference

A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera works with a mirror system. The light falls through the lens onto several mirrors so that you can see an image in the viewfinder. A mirrorless camera, as the name implies, does not have this mirror system. It delivers the image on the electronic viewfinder directly from the sensor. 

H2 Optical Viewfinder vs Electronic Viewfinder

A large number of serious photographers prefer DSLRs for their optical viewfinder. Sports and wildlife photographers, in particular, attach great importance to the ‘real’ image in the viewfinder. 
The line-by-line reading of the sensor with an electronic shutter can distort the subject. This effect is also known as ‘rolling shutter’ and is a problem on some models of mirrorless cameras while shooting both photos and videos.
However, the EVF has its own advantages. Due to the design, the viewfinder of a DSLR does not show the entire image section of the photo. So there is more to be seen in the final image than in the viewfinder. The EVF, however, always shows the entire image section.
If you like to work with a shallow depth of field, you will quickly fall in love with the EVF. In contrast to the conventional optical viewfinder, it shows the focus distribution live in the viewfinder even with very open apertures. This is a great advantage in practice, especially with bright lenses with apertures 2.8 or below.

H2 Shutter Sound

When you press the shutter release button on an SLR camera, the mirror flips up. After the photo is taken, the mirror folds down again. This is what makes the characteristic click sound of a single-lens reflex camera. This click can be annoying, especially in situations such as a church wedding. Likewise, in macro photography, tiny creatures can run away due to the disturbing sound.
Almost all modern mirrorless cameras offer an electronic lock in addition to the mechanical lock. The latter allows you to take pictures silently – just like you are used to from your smartphone.

H2 Shooting Videos

Video recording is now inextricably linked with photography and is therefore increasingly part of the requirements of a modern digital camera. The mirrorless camera is well suited for video recording since both focus and exposure are always measured and mapped live on the sensor. 
The mirrorless system quickly established itself as the standard for all content creators. Brands such as Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Sony, in particular, recognised the trend early on and adapted their portfolio to the hybrid user group.
However, we have to emphasise that some high-end DSLRs such as the 5D Mark IV are catching up with great strides as they equip their SLR cameras with dual pixel autofocus.

H2 Frame Rate and Blackouts

With DSLRs, the mirror has to flip up and down for every photo – so when you press the shutter button, you have a “blackout” for a few milliseconds. This is also the reason why mirrorless cameras are usually faster when it comes to continuous shooting. While a Canon EOS 800D SLR camera can shoot a maximum of 6 images per second, a Sony Alpha 6000 mirrorless camera captures up to 11 images per second. Is that relevant for you when choosing?
It depends on what you’re photographing. If you’re a landscape photographer, it’s relatively less important. But it does play a role in professional action and sports photography because even fractions of a second are decisive in capturing the perfect moment.

H2 Battery Life

Since the sensor is active all the time in a DSLM, it requires significantly more energy. It means you can take fewer photos on one charge. In contrast, DSLR cameras can take more than twice as many pictures on average with the same battery charge, since the sensor is only active for a fraction of a second – only when you take the picture.

H2 Image Quality

Both types of cameras have similar sensors, so the image quality is the same.

H2 Autofocus – Which System is Faster?

Up until a few years ago, the faster ‘phase detection’ autofocus was the biggest advantage of DSLR cameras. It uses an auxiliary mirror that transmits the light to an additional sensor. 
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras depend on sensor-based autofocus systems which analyse the difference in contrast between pixels and focus accordingly. This process is time-intensive and doesn’t work perfectly with moving subjects.
However, the difference in autofocusing speed is less apparent in the latest mirrorless cameras such as Sony A9 and A9 II. It is now technically possible to build phase autofocus directly into the imasge sensor and not to outsource it to an independent sensor as was previously the case. 

H2 Weight and Size

Due to the mirror system, DSLRs, in general, are bulkier than their mirrorless counterparts.

H1 Value for Money

Both mirrorless and DSLR cameras with a similar range of functions don’t usually have considerable price differences. What is not clear at first glance, however, is that the lenses for mirrorless cameras are sometimes significantly more expensive than for DSLRs. In most cases, a combination of a camera and several lenses would cost less than a similar mirrorless setup.
H2 The Choice of Lenses and Accessories
DSLRs have been around for a very long time, while system cameras have only existed for a few years. That is why the selection of lenses and accessories for mirrorless cameras is relatively limited.

H2 Pros and Cons

H5 Advantages of a mirrorless camera H5 Advantages of a DSLR camera
✔ Quieter shutter ✔ A wider and cheaper selection of lenses and accessories
✔ More frames per second ✔ Longer battery life
✔ Compact body ✔ Faster autofocus
✔ Better video capabilities ✔ ‘Real feel’ of the subject in optical viewfinder
✔ High-resolution, full coverage in the electronic viewfinder ✔ Better ergonomics and durability
✔ Continuous focus tracking

H3 Conclusion

In the top-of-the-line models of both DSLR and mirrorless cameras, the differences seem to fade away, and companies are focusing more on hybrid cameras, picking the good bits from both.
DSLR cameras have an impressive legacy, and the mirrorless cameras are futuristic. And while we all have a personal preference, what matters is what you want, considering all the pros and cons.

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