DSLR Versus Mirrorless Cameras: Which Is the Right Choice for You?

If you are looking to buy a new camera and not sure if you should go with a DSLR or mirrorless camera or possibly even making a switch away from DSLR to mirrorless, it's important to know what advantages each system has to better fit your needs.

While mirrorless camera systems are much newer than DSLR systems, it doesn't necessarily mean they're the best choice for everyone. In this video, David Flores with B&H shares the differences between each system and highlights the advantages they have over each other to help assist you in making the correct decision for yourself and your needs. Today, mirrorless cameras seem to be the popular answer among many photographers. While many are happy with this path, not all experiences have been optimal, resulting in some photographers going back to DSLRs. I would say that mirrorless cameras are increasingly getting better at narrowing the gap of disadvantages between their counterparts. With either option, you will be able to create beautiful results, and in the end, the answer is user preference. 

Which type of camera system are you currently using and what are some of the key factors of you choosing that platform?

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user-189304's picture

I'll take you up on that.

A "professional" who is happy to shit on someone while you believe that person is using flimsy low end gear, but once it becomes clear that you made an idiot of yourself you folded.

A "professional" who fails to realize that all gear involves compromise.

You may indeed be making your livelihood from photography, but there is nothing "professional" about your conduct. You're a complete disgrace, and representative of all that is wrong with photography forums.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I use a Canon 5D and Olympus E-M1 Mark II. They're both great for different reasons, there's room in the world for both.

Jon Kellett's picture

At the end of the day, it's about the right tool for the job.

I recently purchased a mirrorless (Panasonic) and took it out to a dusk/night street photography meetup. For that kind of shoot, it's a better choice than my DSLR because I didn't need a tripod and I blended in more. Also, by bracing against a lamp post I was able to get a crystal clear shot with a shutter speed of 3.2 seconds. My best braced shot with an DSLR was under a second and hand held .3 @ ~50mm.

The Panasonic wouldn't be the best tool for studio work though. Perhaps Sony may be better than CaNikon for studio, but it's another ecosystem.

As for battery life - A valid argument until this year or late last. Any current model from Panasonic or Sony (don't know about the others) will last just as long as your average DSLR, but with the bonus of being able to run (and charge) from USB.

Michael Jin's picture

The practical reasons I can think of to choose a DSLR over mirrorless camera if you're buying into a system today:

1. You need tons of battery life (like TONS).
2. You don't have a lot of money so having a big used gear market with tons of affordable options is important.
3. You plan to take your camera out into inclement weather.
4. You have big hands and most mirrorless cameras don't fit them well ergonomically.
5. You are going to regularly be using large, super-telephoto lenses which are either not available or just don't balance all that well on most current mirrorless cameras.
6. Reliable and quick professional servicing options is particularly important to you.

---------------------

The practical reasons I can think of to choose a mirrorless camera over a DSLR if you're buying into a system today:

Pretty much everything else.

user-156929's picture

"Pretty much everything else" makes it sound like a multitude of reasons. It's not, depending on the type of photography you engage in.

Michael Jin's picture

Well, if someone brand new with no prior investment in any photographic equipment at all came up to you and asked what camera system they should start buying into, would you recommend a DSLR system?

Unless they had some very specific use scenario that warranted it, I certainly wouldn't recommend a DSLR simply because I think it would be a horrible investment for somebody to start buying into a DSLR system today since it's a technology that's likely to start being phased out as R&D dollars gets allocated away from it by all of the major manufacturers.

This isn't to say that certain people don't have a preference for DSLR's, but there are also rangefinder loyalists out there and that didn't stop the major manufacturers from ceasing production of those types of cameras either. It makes no sense for these companies to keep up R&D on two separate technologies that serve the same exact function and compete for the same exact market. I think we all know which direction the market is heading at this point.

DSLR or mirrorless, in the end, you can't tell which was used when you look at the final product so all of the debate is going to be focused on the user experience. It seems to me that on that front, there's far more reasons that one might want to choose a mirrorless camera than a DSLR. Once manufacturers start producing mirrorless cameras that have good ergnomics, weathersealing, and are rugged enough to take some hits, the only thing really left is going to be the few people who just hate EVF for whatever reason.

user-156929's picture

That makes a lot of sense for that scenario. I didn't think about that; rather an existing photographer considering moving to mirrorless or not. When someone asks me what to get, after establishing their wants and needs, I always offer the possibility of mirrorless even though I wouldn't have one. I agree with there being no difference in output, assuming those genres where they're equally capable. I'm not sure I'd characterize someone's preference for an OVF as hate for an EVF. I do think, however, that EVFs take something away from the experience that no amount of technology can make up for. I'm also certain they add to the experience for some people.

Michael Jin's picture

Yeah, for most people who are already invested in a system, I don't see the difference as so great that it makes sense to take the hit and switch. Presumably, if you have enough investment in a DSLR system that the thought of switching gives you pause, you probably know how to use the equipment well enough to capture what you want (otherwise, I don't think you would be that heavily invested). The existence of mirrorless cameras doesn't make DSLR's any less capable than they were before so most current DSLR shooters will probably be just fine and I highly doubt that a switch to mirrorless will make a meaningful difference in your ability as a photographer if you already have the fundamentals down.

As far as the OVF vs. EVF thing, I phrased it poorly, but yeah... Sometimes it's just a preference thing. The last time I really spend any amount of time with an EVF was borrowing an older Sony from a friend a while back and I remember not really liking it. There was just something weird about the experience. I chalked it up to unfamiliarity, though and I imagine that they've probably improved since then and are getting better with each generation. The only times I really find myself wanting one is in really dark situations, but I don't find myself in too many of those so it's fine for me.

It will be interesting to see how the market looks when it's time to replace the D850 I just bought. Will Nikon still be making DSLR's or DSLR lenses in 5 years or so? Who knows? Honestly, I wouldn't really mind them going the Leica route and sticking to a niche market as a smaller company focusing on DSLR's similar to how Leica focuses on rangefinders, but I'm sure there will be many who disagree with this (probably including Nikon shareholders). Before they completely abandon mirrors, though, I would love it if they ended it all with a film body that was able to use all of their DSLR lenses. One can always dream, right?

user-156929's picture

I agree with everything and especially your last paragraph. I don't think there's anything wrong with them becoming a niche company or at least carrying a niche line. But I'm not convinced they'll abandon mirrors. I know a lot of younger people (a lot of people are younger than me) embrace technology but, you're right, there IS something weird about EVFs. There are photos of everything out there. Taking your own photos is as worthy a goal as having the end result. Sometimes I use the LCD on my camera when I need to achieve critical focus but it always feels wrong.

I dream all the time! :-)

"3. You plan to take your camera out into inclement weather."

This is why I have yet to switch. I have been thinking about still jumping into mirrorless as a second camera system.

Jon Kellett's picture

Not wanting to sound like a fanboi but... Panasonic's weather sealing is pretty decent now. Their training videos show a guy watering the camera with a hose and using the buttons. I think that was overkill, but it was an official Panasonic video.

The kit lenses aren't a scratch on the Leica glass, but they're not bad for weather sealing. I'd put the kit lenses as similar to Canon's 24-105 F4 for weather sealing and the Leica lenses as closer to Canon's 70-200 F2.8.

As for the body - Allegedly better sealing than Canon's crop-sensor cameras, but not sure how it'd stack against a 5D. Sorry I can't compare to Nikon, as I've not used their gear.

Put it this way, I'm more likely to take my Panasonic into the rain that I am my Canon crop-sensor. Both will get a rain cover if the rain gets too heavy, but I'm not going to baby either of them.

Of course, Pentax is probably more weather sealed than anything CaNikon have... Or so the fanbois say ;-)

If I were a betting man, I would bet that the maker of this video is a die-hard D-slr fan. Talking about AF systems, maybe they should have mentioned how limited the af is in most d-slrs, even in high-end d-slrs the af system offers far less points and far less coverage.
Have you ever looked through the OVF of the cheaper cameras. It is like looking through a straw at the world. While the top-end d-slrs may have excellent viewfinder with very expensive prisms. Most OVFs of the cheaper cameras don't use a prism and are rather dark.

It is not a well-balanced video.

user-156929's picture

If not, it's by far the exception. Most of these kinds of videos are skewed toward mirrorless.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

Funny how mirrorless users always have to compare entry level dSLR or 5-10 years old top dSLR in order to confort themselves.
Do mirrorless know dSLR improve themselves too ?
Nikon D500, D850 and D5 are nowhere bad at autofocus.
Canon is a little bit behind, but nothing to rave about.

Oh ? you love buying a new camera every years, because previous iteration was finaly not so top notch as marketed ?
Sorry, but for the moment, EVF are still ugly and apart focus highligh, the experience is horrible.
How can you bear the live stream that do not match the native OLED panel resolution ?
All are so picky with DR, IBIS or other tricks, but the fancy and awkwards different video streams seen in EVF is a no go for me.
Ever got an eye to a FHD stream in a FHD cinecam EVF ? you'll never go back to theses photocamera EVF before SONY manage to get the same resolution for live view stream as the EVF panel.

Jon Kellett's picture

Regarding AF performance - dSLRs are still theoretically way ahead of most mirrorless cameras there. Obviously there are exceptions, a couple of Sonys come to mind, but most mirrorless use DFD or contrast detect - Not a scratch on phase detect for speed or reliability.

The problem is this: Does it really matter if one system locks on 1/500th of a second faster? Especially since once the first lock is achieved, it's software engineering that'll win the race.

Where dSLRs are still behind, and will probably remain, is in focus point coverage. The mirrorless I purchased (G85) was an older model, but wow - The focus point coverage blows a Canon 7D Mk II away.

I think that there's room for both at the moment, but that the future is mirrorless for an increasing number of roles. Just my opinion.

Personally, I don't care what anybody shoots. As long as they are happy.

Doug Stringham's picture

The biggest problem with mirrorless is heat. They have terrible heat management. A sensor that is turned on gets hot. And heat = noise. Also, shooting in a hot environment with mirrorless puts me at risk of having the camera shutdown for overheating. This has happened on more than one occasion.

Not in the latest versions.

Doug Stringham's picture

Yes.... even in the latest versions. They do not have the heatsinks that adequately remove the heat from the sensor. Why do you think that RED, Alexa, Canon Cinema cams, BlackMagic Ursa cams all have such large bodies compared to DSLR and mirrorless cams? They have fans as well as very large heatsinks to keep the sensor at a relatively constant temperature. Heat is one of the enemies of digital imagery.

Sure. These are dedicated video camera but in a totally different price range.

Kirk Darling's picture

Like several have mentioned, at the present time switching my system to mirrorless would not give me any new capability that would make me any more money.

I was in a position in government to determine 'way back in the early 80s that digital imaging would overcome film.
I knew it was just a matter of time before the technology available to the government would trickle down to civilian use.

But having been a Canon shooter since 1975-- I didn't get into digital myself until the Canon 10D and didn't go completely digital until the Canon 5D. When I went to the 5D, it actually paid for itself within 60 days just in being able to offer huge prints with a camera I could easily use on any job (as . It just wasn't going to pay off the cost of conversion until then.

For me, mirrorless cameras are the same thing. I totally expect DSLRs to become more obsolete than vinyl albums and film (not even a cult favorite of hipsters). I expect that the next time I'll need--need--to upgrade my current cameras, Canon will have made the transition and I'll buy their mirrorless full-frame professional camera as a matter of the normal progression of technology.

Unless someone comes up with a technology that is better in enough ways to show immediate additional profit in numerous ways.

That is a good point. Unless you are going to shoot far more video in 4k. About the Canon mirrorless, you'll just have to wait and see if it is good. Canon has a tendency to give the least what they can give.

Jon Kellett's picture

It was Canon's incremental updates that resulted in my not upgrading for a cycle or two. It was that arrogance (or simply not understanding the market) that made me look afield. I was actually looking at trading everything in and going for a D850 (wow, what a camera!) earlier this year.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

Everyone's always talking about the weight advantage...really there isn't much of one. A Sony with a 70-200 or 24-70 on it isn't that much less than a DSLR with a similar lens. Also, IMHO, I don't like the "look" of Sony images. Maybe more low light superior than my 5D MkIV, but I really like the results of the images I get from that camera.

That being said, I own a Fuji, and when I want to travel light I use it with primes or sometimes a Minolta MD lens. I wouldn't use it on a shoot I was getting paid for, but it's completely fine, and actually enjoyable to use shooting friends and family. Also the smaller size works well for street style shooting as well.

Jon Kellett's picture

The thing is that mirrorless is a very diverse range of options.

When I was trying to choose between Sony and Panasonic, I had the same criticisms. Plus cost. Sony G Master lenses are damn expensive!

To go to a Sony A7 III, 24-105F4 + 70-200F2.8 would have resulted in a heavier kit that what I normally run with. If I went for a Panasonic G9 and equivalent lenses (well, the 70-200 equiv is actually f2.8-f4 from memory) the kit would weigh 43% of my current setup.

For landscapes, the G9 has a high res mode that takes it up to 80MP with caveats. For everything else I shoot, 20MP is ok. Not great, but acceptable.

I chose to move slowly to Panasonic because I'm doing more street and travel photography and the incredible size advantage made sense. Also, I can get a grip if I want and bring the body up to mid-size SLR dimensions.

Come on, DSLRs also have and LCD and you can use use them as a Mirrorless. And when the LCD and the EVF are not suitable (Beaches at noon, for example) we can use the optical viewfinder. Same for sports and TTL Flash where the optical viewfinder is much more precise (reliable) thanks to its metering system.

user-156929's picture

Why wouldn't an EVF be suitable in such situations?

In what sense, much more precise?

Michael Jin's picture

If you're using an LCD screen on a DSLR to shoot without a tripod, you're probably compromising the stability of your shooting stance. The exception would be if you're using some sort of LCD loupe that lets you put your eye up to the LCD to create that connection point with your camera.

Unclear as to why you think that an optical viewfinder would be more precise as far as metering is concerned.

Also, Mirrorless cannot do Sports and Birds because they do not have the proper lens lineup

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