Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras: Advantages and Disadvantages
Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras: Advantages and Disadvantages
There are many different types of cameras these days, two of the more popular camera types are Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and DSLR cameras. Many people look at these two types of cameras as competitors with the expectation that the newer mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will someday replace the traditional DLSRs. It is my opinion, that they both have their advantages and disadvantages and that they can complement each other very well.
To explain my opinion I will first briefly describe the two cameras types and explain their differences and some of the advantages each has over the other and how they can complement each other.
What is a DSLR Camera
DLSRs have a built-in mirror or reflex mechanism, so the image you see bounces up to an optical viewfinder so that you can compose the photo. When you look through the optical viewfinder, the image you see comes directly through the lens. A mirror is used to redirect the image up to the optical viewfinder instead of passing it directly through the glass and to the sensor. When you press the shutter button, the mirror moves up allowing the image to hit the sensor.
Advantages of the DSLR Camera
Advantages of the DSLR include quicker response time (turning on or waking up), lag-free optical viewfinder (as opposed to looking at an electronic viewfinder), greater lens selection (due to more years being manufactured) and longer battery life (due to typically larger batteries and fewer electronics).
Disadvantages of the DSLR Camera
Disadvantages of the DSLR include more substantial size, more weight, and arguably less leading-edge features or technology. Though DSLRs are highly advanced electronic devices, the prevailing view among the general public is that they lack the more flashy bells and whistle of mirrorless cameras, such as focusing aids and in body image stabilization (IBIS).
What is a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC), are commonly referred to only as a “mirrorless camera.” Instead of having a mirror, or reflex mechanism, to bounce the image up to an optical viewfinder, Mirrorless cameras have an LCD or electronic viewfinder to compose the photo.
Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras
Advantages of the Mirrorless camera are the smaller size, less weight and enhanced properties of the electronic viewfinder, such as seeing what the camera will capture and other advances systems such as focus aids and IBIS.
Disadvantages of Mirrorless Cameras
Disadvantages of the Mirrorless camera tend to be the smaller size, shorter battery life, slower reactions (turning on or waking up) and visible lag in the viewfinder.
You may have noticed that I mentioned smaller size as both an advantage and disadvantage; I will explain how both can be a bit later.
The advantages and disadvantages that exist between these two types of cameras are so numerous that it would take much more than the allotted space for this blog post sufficiently cover. So, instead, I will only cover the size issue and show how this can be used to the photographer’s advantage if both systems are used together.
Some people argue that the most significant strength of mirrorless cameras is the smaller size and less weight, however when you compare similar cameras (intended use and/or equivalent sensor size), the size difference becomes less relevant.
Factors that influence camera size
Three main factors contribute to the size of a camera, the flange distance, the size of the sensor and the size of the lens.
Looking at this photo of a DSLR camera and a Mirrorless camera we see that the flange distance of the DSLR is much larger than that of the Mirrorless camera due to having to account for the mirror and the pentaprism, which is used to orient the view in the optical viewfinder correctly. Removal of these components allows the manufacturer to make a smaller and lighter camera. Not only is the camera narrower but also it is less tall with the electronic viewfinder instead of the DSLRs optical viewfinder and pentaprism.
The second area where Mirrorless cameras have traditionally been built smaller is the size of the sensor. [Show sensor size photo] This photo illustrates the different sensor sizes. The majority of Mirrorless cameras today use an M4/3 sensor; many others use even smaller sensors whereas the best Mirrorless cameras use the APS-C or Full Frame sensors, similar to what is found in a DSLR. With the release of the Fuji GFX 50s and the Hasselblad XD1-50c Medium Format cameras, we see that mirrorless cameras can also be larger than full-frame cameras. However, these cameras are more expensive than the cameras being discussed in this post.
Assuming everything else is equal, the size of the sensor determines the quality of the photo. The best image quality is typically found in cameras with Full Frame sensors. This is due to the larger photos cells used in the sensor. These larger photocells generally are better at collecting light. Think of photocells as a bucket. The larger the bucket, the more water/light it can hold. This enables the resulting image to have less noise or grain, better dynamic range, which is the ability to capture highlights and shadows accurately, and have shallower depth of field, which is needed to render photos where the subject is sharp, and the background is soft. A camera with a large sensor has a shallower depth of field, so less is in focus whereas a camera with a smaller sensor has a greater depth of field, so more is in focus.
The other characteristic of a lens that contributes to its size is the speed of the glass. A professional lens will have a large f-stop which means the aperture can be opened large to allow a higher amount of light in. In a dimly lit room, you need to have the ability to open the lens wide to let as much light in as possible. This same principle applies for both DSLR cameras and Mirrorless cameras. So, if a DSLR and a Mirrorless camera both have the same size sensor and you want to have the same speed lens, the lens will be the same size and weight. So the camera may be slightly lighter and smaller, but when coupled with a professional lens, which tends to be larger, there is not much difference in weight.
Using Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras Together
I said in the beginning that the two systems complement each other well. That would be when a Mirrorless camera with a smaller sensor is used alongside a DLSR with a full frame sensor. The smaller sensor Mirrorless camera increase the reach of your lenses.
How Can a Smaller Sensor Increase Reach
Back in the days of film most professional and enthusiast photographers were used to 35mm film. For example, we knew that a 28mm lens gave a wide-angle view and a 300mm telephoto lens offered a much narrower angle of view that brought far-away subjects much closer. With Mirrorless cameras often using sensors that are smaller than the film it can be harder to get a feel for the angle or field of view.
In the case of a Nikon 1 V1 with its 10-30mm lens, it has a 35mm equivalent of 27-81mm, which would be roughly the same field of view on my Nikon D810 with this 28-105mm lens. Where this gets really interesting is when we put a 70-200mm FF lens on the CX sensor it has a 35mm equivalent of 190-540mm, which is very handy for bird photography. I don’t have any bird photos from the two cameras, but you can get the idea from these two images.
I mentioned earlier that the smaller size of the Mirrorless camera can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage. That comes becomes evident when you try to hold it with a longer lens. However, with proper camera holding techniques, such as supporting the camera with your left hand beneath the lens, handling the camera is not that difficult. It is all in what you get used to.
So, you can clearly see that there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of cameras, but they do not need to be used exclusively and can complement each other very well. A photographer can use the two systems together, using them at different times depending on the need, such as when best quality or shallow depth of field is desired a photographer may choose to use a Full Frame camera if lightness or reach is desired then the best choice may be to use a smaller Mirrorless camera.