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DSLR or Mirrorless Camera: Which One is Best for Beginners?

November 14th 2012 1:51 PM

Five to six years ago, if you were looking for a camera that had excellent image quality, the choice was simple: Buy a DSLR. If you want portability, then a compact point & shoot was the way to go.

Since then, the rise of mirrorless cameras has shown that there is a strong market for a relatively compact, interchangeable-lens camera system that can deliver the image quality of their larger DSLR counterparts. From the small-sensor mirrorless cameras like the Pentax Q and Nikon 1 series to the larger APS-C mirrorless cameras like Sony NEX and Fuji X-Pro 1, every major camera company now has at least one version of a mirrorless camera.

So the question is which type of camera is best for beginners, DSLR or mirrorless? DigitalRev has a very good article that explains the pros and cons of both types of camera systems. It is worth the read, especially if you are stepping up from a compact camera to a camera that offers an interchangeable-lens system and larger sensor.

DigitalRev also released a video earlier in the year about DSLR and mirrorless cameras

My take on the two types of camera system is that mirrorless camera systems, particularly with the micro 4/3 system and the NEX system, are becoming so competitive with entry level-DSLR cameras. Other than a slightly lower price and a larger selection of lenses, there is no real reason to buy an entry-level DSLR camera over a mirrorless camera. The only exception is if you are shooting a lot of moving subjects like in sports photography. In this case, the phase-detect AF is still superior to the contrast-detect AF of mirrorless cameras. Nevertheless, the performance gap between two is shrinking quickly.

The Micro 4/3 system, in particular, is the most mature mirrorless system to date. Not only are there a lot of micro 4/3 cameras with great single AF performance, but their image quality are about on-par with entry to mid-range DSLRs. Additionally, the micro 4/3 lens lineup has become comprehensive enough that the majority of photographers can usually find the right lens for them. There are entry-level zoom and telephoto lenses as well as high-end prime and constant aperture zoom lenses available.

Additionally, the relatively small size of mirrorless cameras and lenses means that photographers are more likely to carry them around with them more often. I believe that

Earlier in the year, we released a post about the future of DSLR and mirrorless. It is also a good read if you are contemplating between the two camera systems.

So readers, do you own a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or both? What is your reason in owning one over the other? If you own both a DSLR and a mirrorless camera, which is your primary camera and why?


Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

Comments [7]

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    DSLR is still king, but the kingdom is growing smaller

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  2. Robert Weitz

    I bought an Nex-5N and and extended warrantee. I am really gentle with my gear and it quit after 1 year. It gave me a prompt that it would not recognize the lens. I returned it and Sony did not honor the warrantee because ” the camera was worth less than the fix” and they wrote that in fine print. I have a ton of Sony gear and have sworn to never buy Sony anything again.

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  3. ZachH

    I have a Nikon D3s with a good stable of high quality lenses.  I was sick and tired of lugging it all over the face of the earth.  I got REALLY excited by the Olympus OM-D and was able to pick one up over the summer.  It’s not perfect, no camera is for everything, but it is so damn close that my D3s never gets used, just sits in its suitcase with like $15,000 USD worth of FF gear that cries every night for me to pick it up.  I’ve done a bunch of paid gigs with the OM-D, and nobody’s complained about the quality, in fact, I did a shoot with two toddlers and the mom was so happy with the images she doubled my fee without me asking.  If it can track two quick moving tykes like that, it can handle almost anything.  I actually think the files are better to work with than the D3s, skin tones are more natural, noise is easier to handle (yes, I said that, the OM-D beats my D3s for low light work), and there feels like there is a lot more latitude in the RAW files than the D3s, I can retain detail a lot better.  

    I don’t shoot sports though…  or birds in flight… so I’m not a total reviewer, but for everything I need it to do, it’s stellar.  

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  4. awad saad


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  5. Shades Zone

    For today, DSLR definitely has an upper hand. Otherwise, mirrorless cameras have been gaining solid grownd lately.

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  6. Erik Tande

    I went mirrorless because of the video.  I was going to get a T3i or 60D, then I found the hacked GH1 and GH2 and was blown away by the video.   And smaller is better for me, video gear is heavy!   I love being able to switch from video to grabbing production stills with the flip of a switch.  There are times when I miss not having a full frame sensor, but I can always work around that.

    Here are some of my favorite stills I shot mirrorless, and my most recent Halloween video:

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  7. Pavlos Pavlidis

     I had a Nikon D80 and I sold it to get a NEX-5. I have to say I really like the nex although it has its flaw and most importantly I miss the viewfinder. For beginners I think it’s better to have a dslr simply because using a mirrorless camera in live mode you don’t pay as much attention to the settings, you can just fiddle with them until what you see on your screen is correctly exposed. Whereas with the dslr I had to pay attention to the settings and it has helped me a lot understanding the fundamental elements of photography and it made it easy for me to use any camera I get in my hands.

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