DSLR or Mirrorless? This is one of the questions that I regularly see being asked on many photography forums by people who are either new to photography or are looking to buy their first “serious” camera. Both systems are highly capable of producing great results but each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Mirror, No mirror and Transparent Mirror?
Traditionally, DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras have a mirror in front of the imaging sensor that reflects the light coming through the lens upwards and into the OVF (Optical Viewfinder) which is used to compose pictures. Once the shutter button is pressed all the way down, the mirror moves up, exposing the sensor and then the sensor captures the light to create an image that is then written to a memory card. Once the image is captured the mirror drops down back to its place and camera is ready to take next picture. Although this process includes few steps, they happen within a fraction of second.
On the other hand, as the name implies mirrorless cameras do not have mirror in front of the imaging sensor and all the light is directly captured by the imaging sensor and then that image is projected to the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). When shutter button is pressed all the way down, shutter comes down in front of the sensor to capture the image.
Apart from DSLR and Mirrorless camera system there is a third kind as well which is called SLT (Single Lens Translucent). This is a proprietary designation that Sony uses for some of its cameras. This technology is a hybrid of mirrorless and traditional DSLR design. The difference is that instead of moving mirror to reflect the light to the OVF, there is thin semi-transparent fix mirror that houses the phase-detect AF points and 1/3rd of the light entering through the lens is sent directly to the imagining sensor which projects the image to the EVF. Unlike the traditional DSLR, when a picture is taken with SLT cameras, mirror does not move.
The advantage of this system is that you get full time Live View while still taking advantage of faster phase detect AF system. On the down side, the 1/3rd light that is lost due to translucent mirror takes away some of the low light (high ISO) performance compared to their DSLR piers.
To mirror or not to mirror?
The answer to this question depends on what the person plans on using the camera for. Both systems have their advantage and disadvantages and it is for the user to decide what he/she values more.
Following is simple table that highlight advantages of both systems.
|Size advantage||√||Mirrorless cameras are smaller than traditional cameras because they do not require extra space to house a mirror and because of that they are smaller than DSLRs.|
|Weight advantage||√||Since mirrroless offers many sensor sizes and camera sizes, this gives mirrorless an advantage because they can be as small and light as a Point and Shoot camera (Nikon 1 system) or as heavy as regular DSLR (Sony A7 II).|
|Auto Focus (Single)||√||√||Originally mirroless systems only used contrast detect AF (CDAF) instead of phase detect AF (PDAF) of traditional DSLR and because of that they were slower to acquire focus but with the invention of on-sensor PDAF and advancement in CDAF, mirrorless systems have become just as fast focusing as traditional DSRLs.|
|Auto Focus (Continuous)||√||Even though mirrorless have reached the same level of AF in single point AF, they still lack behind DSLRs when it comes to continuous focus and subject tracking.|
|Native lens||√||Mirrorless systems like Micro Four Third (m4/3) have great collection of lenses that include everything from Macro to Telephoto but they still lack the third party lens manufacturer support and because of that their lens collection still falls short when compared to Nikon or Canon.|
|Lens Adaptability||√||One of the biggest advantage of mirrorless system is that any system lens can be used on it with the help of cheap adapters.
Want you use your Leica, Canon, Nikon or Contax lenses? Then mirrorless is the way to go.
|Accessories Availability||√||Although mirrorless cameras have the basic accessories covered they still lack the third party support for cheap accessories that DSLRs especially Nikon and Canon enjoy.|
|Battery Life||√||Due to less electronic components and generally beefier batteries DSLR have a clear advantage over mirrorless cameras when it comes to battery life.|
|Price||√||√||Due to the tech involved usually mirrorless systems are generally more expensive than their DSLR counterparts but then again, they offer more goodies that can make any tech savvy person happy.|
|Newbie friendly?||√||This might be a personal opinion but I find mirrorless system more newbie friendly due to their WYSIWYG EVF that shows how the picture would look like even before pressing the shutter.|
|Sensor Options||√||Unlike DSLRs that commonly offer only two sensor options APS-C and Full Frame mirrorless system have a wide variety of options that include:
– 1/2.3 sensor
– 1” sensor
|Availability||√||At least in USA, mirrorless system are not as commonly available in B&M stores as traditional DSLR. If you walk in to any big box store, you will find rows of entry level DSLR any probably one or mirrorless cameras and even worse lens selection.|
So which one should I buy?
As mentioned earlier, the decision to buy a DSLR or a mirrorless system depends entirely on one’s needs, usage and what features one consider to be important. Either one is just a tool that one can use to take snapshots or create masterpieces. As the saying goes…”it’s not the camera, it’s the man behind it”
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