DSLR vs. Mirrorless cameras, which is better? Do serious professionals still use DSLRs? Maybe not! In this article, we’ll review the long-standing debate of DSLR vs Mirrorless cameras. Spoiler alert: mirrorless technology has come a long way in recent years!
The DSLR vs mirrorless debate introduces many important questions about the future of photography. The general trend is that manufacturers like Sony, Canon, Nikon, and Olympus, brands that used to make DSLRs with optical viewfinders, have made a strong transition towards mirrorless cameras. In fact, all of the most notable releases in 2021 and 2022 are mirrorless cameras.
The vast majority of lenses made by Canon and Nikon in the last two-plus years have been mostly mirrorless lenses, too!. With all of this latest technology, research, and marketing power all focused on mirrorless, where does that leave DSLRs? Here’s what we’ll cover:
- DSLR vs Mirrorless Video
- Size Comparison
- Price Comparison
- Viewfinder Comparison
- Autofocus Comparison
- Options for Mirrorless DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras
Watch The DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras Video
Pye Jirsa and Joe Cha went head to head to discuss the pros and cons of each, and debate which is better. Check out our discussion in the video below. Pye is using the Canon DSLR system and I use the Sony Full Frame mirrorless cameras. This is an interesting look back in time, because Pye has, in fact, tested out Sony full-frame mirrorless, however, he eventually switched to Canon’s new RF full-frame mirrorless system!
This video is a few years old now; can you spot some of the key points that may have changed since then? (Mirrorless battery life, autofocus, anything else?)
DSLR vs Mirrorless: Size
On paper, it’s clear that the mirrorless cameras and lenses win, but in practice, it’s a different story. It’s amazing to have a professional camera outfit that weighs less than my Chipotle burrito, but when the buttons are so close together on that compact mirrorless body, it’s easy to accidentally adjust settings. In other words, especially if you have large hands, there is actually an advantage to having a “decent-sized” camera.
I’ve been shooting with these mirrorless cameras for a while now and I still have the occasional mishap. With that being said, the size is actually dependent on your intended use for the camera. For consumers, the smaller outfit is definitely a huge advantage, for everything from travel and epic adventures to everyday casual use, however, for professionals that convenience of compactness may come at the cost of ease-of-use.
Winner: Draw if you are a working professional, Mirrorless if you are a beginner or need portability
This is an area where the DSLR vs Mirrorless debate has almost never had a clear winner. Simply put, cameras are still expensive! Especially if we try to achieve a little bit of “apples to apples” in our comparison by only considering full-frame cameras, it’s often a draw.
- Entry/Mid Level Full Frame:
- High Megapixel Full Frame:
- High-Speed Flagship:
If we looked at the lenses that are available for both DSLR and mirrorless cameras, here’s what you’d see: Across the board, there are some very affordable options, especially from third parties, but also, the high-end flagship options from the name brands are all very, very expensive. Mirrorless vs DSLR almost doesn’t matter; if you want the top-shelf lenses, you’re always going to pay a lot for the latest and greatest optical performance, and right now that just happens to be mirrorless quite often.
However, there is good news! Today, there are more impressive affordable lenses available, even for full-frame cameras, now more than ever before. Especially for Sony mirrorless, if you are willing to consider third-party options from Rokinon AKA Samyang; the range of budget-friendly, high-quality lenses is just impressive. (Yes, there were a lot of low-budget lenses for DSLRs, however, they were often very terrible quality!)
Viewfinder: Electric Viewfinder (EVF) vs Optical Viewfinder
I absolutely love the EVF in my mirrorless cameras. It’s amazing being able to see the exact exposure and color that I’m going to get before I even press the shutter!
Also, in bright, sunny conditions, it’s rather convenient to be able to see the playback inside the viewfinder. It’s a great setup and my face never leaves the viewfinder, which is great for important events.
The downside is that all electronic displays are just that: an electronic display, meaning what you see has technically “already happened”. Thankfully, viewfinder lag times have improved immensely over the years, and for most types of photography today it simply isn’t a problem. However, DSLR viewfinders will always have an advantage in that what you’re looking at through the optical viewfinder is actually what is happening right at that instant. For truly high-speed subjects, this may always give you an edge.
Also, optical viewfinders in DSLRs have the inherent feature of “always on”, in fact, you can raise a DSLR to your eye even while the camera is off, and still be able to frame a shot! You just always know that if you raise the camera to your eye, you’ll see your subject.
Mirrorless viewfinders, in addition to having a (now very slight) lag time, also have a sensor that detects whether or not your eye is even looking through the viewfinder. This isn’t a problem most of the time, however, if your EVF presence sensor gets a little dirty, you may find yourself raising the camera to your eye and simply not having the EVF turn/switch on! At critical moments, this could present a problem.
Winner: DSLR for some, Mirrorless for most
DSLR vs Mirrorless: Autofocus
This is one of the biggest areas of debate, because mirrorless cameras have always had more autofocus points, and those points were spread out all over the viewfinder, but they weren’t very reliable, to be honest.
Oppositely, DSLRs had stronger autofocus points that were much more reliable, (cross-type, phase-detect AF points are what you want!) However, these DSLR AF systems all had their focus points clustered in the center of the frame, due to optical and physical constraints.
In the last couple of years, however, mirrorless AF points have become much more reliable. Simply put, the earliest mirrorless cameras had terrible autofocus, and DSLRs were far superior. But, starting with notable mirrorless cameras as the Sony A9, mirrorless autofocus began to progress by leaps and bounds, especially in terms of face and eye detection and tracking.
Today, mirrorless cameras are now better in terms of autofocus for virtually all types of casual and most serious, professional applications, due to the fact that they can focus anywhere in the viewfinder, and detect, lock onto, and track, faces, eyes, and even wildlife and action sports objects. Yes, even in “abysmal” low light conditions!
It wouldn’t be fair to the DSLR to not mention that until very recently, though, the highest-level flagship cameras for high-speed action sports and wildlife were still DSLR cameras. (The Canon 1DX III and the Nikon D6, that is) Now, although we do have the Canon EOS R3, the Nikon Z9, and the Sony A1, it is still true that many professionals who are photographing high-speed racing sports, action sports, Olympic Games, and wildlife, are almost all still very big fans of DSLR autofocus technology.
Also, it’s not just about autofocus, but related to high-speed subjects: optical viewfinders allow a DSLR user to track high-speed moving subjects more easily than with an electronic viewfinder, making the overall experience favorable for DSLR users.
Winner: Mirrorless in many conditions, DSLR in some
DSLR vs Mirrorless Lenses
Although a DSLR camera will typically have more native lenses to choose from, mirrorless systems are gaining more and more lenses every day. In fact, if you count Sigma, Tamron, and Rokinon Samyang, Sony’s e-Mount mirrorless platform may now have the most current-generation lenses on the market today! Indeed, a lot has changed in the last 5 years.
Furthermore, any mirrorless camera will always have far more adaptable lenses. Just on Sony’s E-mount alone, I’ve mounted everything including native E and FE lenses, A-Mount lenses (Sony, Zeiss, and Konica Minolta), Leica, Voigtlander, Canon EF, Nikon F, and Exakta (have you ever even heard of that one?!) lenses on my mirrorless body.
With the advantages of a shallow flange distance and an EVF (electronic viewfinder) with “marching ants” (focus assist), mounting and even manual focusing with virtually any lens is now possible.
Last but not least, thanks to that shorter flange distance, new optical formulas are now becoming possible that were never before seen on DSLR platforms. Lenses as enormous and exotic as the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2, to the ultra-portable yet still professional-grade Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8, (pictured above) …are all huge winners that, as I mentioned before, hit all the price ranges in exciting new ways.
Options on DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras
I find that the DSLR will have more physical ports and ways to hook into, and a mirrorless will have more digital options (like apps you can install). If there’s a particularly difficult shot you want to capture, more than likely the DSLR or Mirrorless camera you’re using has a way to capture it.
For the most up-to-date recommendations, see the following articles:
- The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Pros
- The Best DSLR Cameras for Beginners
- The Best DSLR Cameras for Pros
If you need a camera body with fast and reliable autofocus, an optical viewfinder, and don’t mind the size, then a DSLR is for you. If you want a lightweight camera body with an EVF and can take your time in low light situation, then the mirrorless is a better option. The DSLR vs Mirrorless debate has been going on for years and we barely scratched the surface covering these topics, so let us know which you prefer and why in the comments!