Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras Can Live Next To Each Other

Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras Can Live Next To Each Other

The DSLR has been called a dinosaur on the brink of extinction. It has been called old-fashioned, or even outdated technology. It is all because of the mirrorless cameras that hit the market a few years ago now. Let’s have a look at the differences between the two and find out if both systems can live next to each other.

Technology is making huge leaps. It is all because of the chips that are getting smaller, faster, and more energy efficient. It is making things possible that would have sounded as science fiction in the old original Star Trek series. Technology has made our cameras advanced computers capable of amazing things.

We got a screen on the back of our camera to view the photo we took a second before. It is possible to judge the result and change settings if needed to acquire a perfect photo. Although the consumer compact cameras already used these screens as a sort of viewfinder, the traditional DSLR camera kept using a mirror and pentaprism to see the image as projected by the lens. It was no surprise to eventually see a small screen appear inside the viewfinder, making the mirror and pentaprism no longer necessary. The modern mirrorless camera was born.

The modern Nikon Z 7 mirrorless camera. It is not large, not small, not heavy weighted and not light weighted either. It is near perfect. But is it better than its DSLR sisters and brothers?

The modern Nikon Z 7 mirrorless camera. It is not large, not small, not heavy weighted and not light weighted either. It is near perfect. But is it better than its DSLR sisters and brothers?

We are at a moment where the mirrorless system has reached maturity, I think. Electronic view finders are almost as good as the real thing, and will probably getting even better in the next years. Cameras can be smaller and lighter because there is no longer a mirror and pentaprism inside. It does not make the photography equipment smaller, though, because the sensor sizes still require the same large lenses.

Now we have reached the point where there are two different types of camera. We have the traditional digital single lens reflex camera, the DSLR, and the new interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. Both have the possibility to change lenses, use flash guns, and share all the same benefits. The only difference is having a mirror and pentaprism, or not.

Or is it? Lets have a look to a few differences.

1. A Mirrorless Camera Can Be Much Smaller Than a DSLR

The Panasonic DC-S1 mirrorless camera is a very large and heavy full frame camera. It resembles a DSLR, although it has no mirror inside.

The Panasonic DC-S1 mirrorless camera is a very large and heavy full frame camera. It resembles a DSLR, although it has no mirror inside.

Although it does not applies to all mirrorless cameras, it is possible to make a mirrorless camera very small. The mirror and pentaprism take up a lot of space. Removing it allows the body to be much smaller, and lighter. The absence of a mirror make it also possible to place the lens closer to the sensor.

Although the camera body does not need the traditional DSLR look, many mirrorless cameras resemble the design of a DSLR. While some manufacturers miniaturize the mirrorless, making it as small as possible, some keep the size relatively large, resembling the full size DSLR. I find the extremely small camera bodies not that comfortable, but opinions differ.

2. A Mirrorless Camera Is Not Necessarily Less Complex

A small micro 4/3 mirrorless camera from Panasonic next to a Canon DSLR. Although the sensor size is a bit smaller, it shows how small a mirrorless camera can be. There are also mirrorless cameras with a full frame sensor that resemble the size of the Pan

A small micro 4/3 mirrorless camera from Panasonic next to a Canon DSLR. Although the sensor size is a bit smaller, it shows how small a mirrorless camera can be. There are also mirrorless cameras with a full frame sensor that resemble the size of the Panasonic Lumix

Even with the absence of a complex mirror, a mirrorless camera is not necessary less complex. The complexity is just very different. Indeed, a mirrorless has fewer moving components, which probably is much easier to build. But the complexity is more software related. The sensor is used constantly and not only has to register the light when a photo is taken, it also is used for focusing and measuring exposure.

Also the electronic viewfinder needs to have very high refresh rates to imitate a optical viewfinder as much as possible. And the image on the screen needs to amplify enough for it to be able to see in dark environments.

3. A Dedicated Autofocus Sensor inside the DSLR

Two high speed cameras next to each other. Both are for action photography and perform very well.

Two high speed cameras next to each other. Both are for action photography and perform very well.

Every DSLR has a dedicated autofocus sensor hidden underneath the mirror. This dedicated sensor makes it possible to optimize it for just one purpose. The autofocus can be made very fast, responsive, and flexible. It is perfect for fast action and tracking objects and DSLR still outperform the mirrorless autofocus systems at this time.

Nevertheless, the mirrorless autofocus systems have other benefits. It is much easier to use the complete sensor for measuring focus distance. It also is possible to recognize faces or even eyes. For this, some mirrorless camera performances are amazing and perhaps better than the DSLR systems. I am sure the next few years mirrorless technologies will advance to match action and tracking objects like a DSLR. 

4. Electronic Viewfinder Shortcomings

A mirrorless camera lacks a optical viewfinder. You might have the WYSIWYG experience, but the optical viewfinder has its benefits.

A mirrorless camera lacks a optical viewfinder. You might have the WYSIWYG experience, but the optical viewfinder has its benefits.

The absence of a mirror and pentaprism makes it necessary to use a digital screen for a viewfinder. The pixel density of these small screens have to be very high to have a good resolution. These screens are becoming better by the year and almost resemble the details you can have with an optical viewfinder.

Refresh rate can be a problem of electronic viewfinders. Especially with fast moving objects, and tracking objects, the refresh rate may be not enough to imitate a real optical system. Also modern LED lights may flicker a lot when these are working with almost the same frequency.

I have found the electronic viewfinders being less usable with night photography. Looking through the viewfinder make you lose your night sight in dark environments because the screens always emit light. Depending on the camera it may also be difficult to generate a usable viewing image on the screen.

5. A Mirrorless Camera Always Has To Be Activated

You cannot look through the viewfinder of a mirrorless camera without switching on the camera.

You cannot look through the viewfinder of a mirrorless camera without switching on the camera.

When using a DSLR you can always look through the camera to see the things you want to photograph. You may just want to look for a composition, or use it in another way. For this, you don’t have to switch on the camera.

With a mirrorless camera you always need to switch on the camera, even if you just want to take a look at a possible composition. Over the years I personally have found this to be one of bigger disadvantages, although you will get used to it. If I had a choice, I rather have an optical viewfinder.

Which is Better?

These are just five obvious differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera. But regardless of the differences, both types of cameras are very capable machines, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. I believe it is foolish to bash one system over the other because in the right hands both systems produce the same qualitative photo. In other words, both have a right of existence, and can live next to each other without a problem.

The Canon EOS 5D mark IV DSLR next to the Leica SL mirrorless camera.

The Canon EOS 5D mark IV DSLR next to the Leica SL mirrorless camera.

I have photographed extensively with both DSLR and mirrorless cameras. I used Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Leica, and Hasselblad. I have seen the differences, similarities, and experienced how both DSLR and mirrorless cameras perform in real life situations. Based on my experience I can advise everyone to use the system you like the most without worrying about the other camera system. Never forget, the camera is just the tool. Nothing else.

What kind of camera system do you use? It is mirrorless or  DSLR, and it there a reason why you are using that camera system at this moment? Please leave your answer in the comments below.

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88 Comments

Spy Black's picture

Once you start using mirrorless, you'll probably use DSLRs less, and may even decide to dump them altogether. My DSLRs have been relegated to the studio, anything else is mirrorless. All future camera purchases will be mirrorless for me. The DSLR is over.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I use mirrorless as well as DSLR and I prefer the DSLR. So what you are saying is personal, not a rule as you might suggest

Spy Black's picture

Yes, I suppose I should have added that it's how I feel about it, inasmuch as the writing's on the wall.

Timothy Roper's picture

Yeah, a few years ago I bought a Lumix G7 just to check out morrorless, and I have ended up using it a lot more than I figured I would (more than just photos for Ebay, etc). It really does come down to weight and bulk. But for serious stuff I still like my L glass, and although I've only tested an EOS R, once you use an adapter, things aren't so small and light anymore. So for FF I'll be sticking with a DSLR (for now), and continue to use MFT for mirrorless.

The Photographer's picture

Not me. My friend buys everything and I came over and pickrd up the z6/7 to play with and I not only got turned off, I got disgusted. To each his own. Once you use single digit bodies, holding a mirrorless feels like a toy. Im certain when the flagship z will come along, ill look at that direction if it can offer me something I must have to stay competitive that my dslr cant do. As of now, there isnt. It will be quite a few years. I love the lens gear I use and signa arrnt making z mount and that ftz is slow as molasses with certain lenses and the af is not mature yet in the z

Nando Harmsen's picture

You should try the Panasonic S1 or S1R. Those are mirrorless cameras that feel like a serious camera. And I found the S1 to be almost perfect.
I think about the feel of a camera has nothing to do with having a mirror or not, but about the design. Although a lot of manufacturers think mirrorless has to be small and tiny. Sony is a good example, although these cameras are really good, their design is really bad. At least, that is my opinion. And in line of what you think, I gues.

The Photographer's picture

They look like competent cameras. The price is too high for what im willing to spend. And I never biy a first gen anything. As much as I dont like small cameras snd hate sony even more, the a7iii is great all arounder that ticks most of my wants vs all the others. Price/performance/features. They can also be had used for little. A good first vid camera for weddings till I desire something better

Dustin Wood's picture

Bought the Canon RP last year to "replace" my Canon 6D. I'm not fully on the mirrorless bandwagon. Many of the things mentioned here are the reasons I'm not completely sold on it. Most of my issues have to do with the electronic viewfinder.

It's pretty low-res. Details can be lost or really hard to see. The quality of the colors is not accurate. The image looks flat in bright instances. If you're shooting occasionally throughout a period, but need to quickly take a photo, it takes a few moments for the screen to wake back up when you're ready shooting, sometimes missing the subject because all you see is a black screen. I HAD to turn off preview after a photo. There's currently not a way to ONLY show previews on the back screen. They kept popping up inside of the viewfinder, and was really throwing me off. But you cannot take a photo and then instantly look at the back screen. You have to hit the play button. When looking at photos on the back screen, or adjusting the menu, there's been several times where I get too close to the sensor and it turns off the back screen and send the image into the viewfinder.

While, I really think mirrorless can be great, I still prefer the SLR's. And really, the only reason I can see to go mirrorless is to have less moving parts, but I've been shooting with an SLR since 2000, have gone through 1 SLR, and 3 DSLR's and have yet to have had any issues with the mechanical movements.

So, to each their own. There was just too many issues for me to LOVE mirrorless. And honestly, I've actually shot more on film in 2019 than I did with my brand new Canon RP.

But the one thing that the RP wins over the 6D is the body. It feels much better. But only when using the body extension. WIthout it, it's too small.

Nando Harmsen's picture

That is a good one... replay in the EVF. It should be possible to turn that thing off indeed.

Timothy Roper's picture

I consider being able to look at images using the EVF one of the biggest advantages of mirrorless. I love being able to block out all light and really look at an image. On the other hand, as you mention, the getting too close to the evf when doing other things is a huge downside of mirrorless. It's endlessly frustrating. Nothing's perfect I guess.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Indeed. Nothing is perfect, and opinions differ. That is why it should be customizable, so it could fit everyone's need.

Eric Salas's picture

That camera was designed to rape Canon users of their money and not even scratch the surface of what mirrorless can be. The RP was released and forgotten in the same week.

Buy a mirrorless camera designed to use all the technology and software advancements mirrorless is becoming known for and you’ll be more for moving forward.

Use the AF on a high end mirrorless and you’ll see the light.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I agree, the RP was a strange move from Canon. But I saw the same moves form other brands. Like the A9 and A9 II from Sony.
Well... as long as people continu to "upgrade" their already perfectly working machine for minor improvements they probably won't ever use, manufacturers keep on doing this. It is all about making money.

Eric Salas's picture

The A9ii was an upgrade of more than a few things that customers said they wanted. It wasn’t marketed as a completely new camera, hence the “ii”

But the RP wasn’t an upgrade of anything. It was a lower performing model that was mirrorless for no reason from a company that was promoting it as “ground breaking” <- Not my words, that’s what Canon said.

That’s the point I was making. Buy a mirrorless camera that actually makes use of being mirrorless.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I don't think I understand what you mean in your last sentence. A ML camera that makes use of being ML? Can you explain?

Eric Salas's picture

Mirrorless AF from edge to edge.

Completely silent shooting.

Ability to adapt all the Canon lenses I have (all my EF ones) and the vintage collection I bought after I made the switch.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Adapting lenses is not a reason for switching to mirroless.
The other two are.
For my curiosity; did you miss the AF from edge to edge, or is it nice to have? And when do you need completely silent shooting?

Eric Salas's picture

It is a reason to switch when you take into account you can adapt lenses from multiple platforms not just the one you’re switching from.
The ability to switch from an E to EF to whatever you want is absolutely an advantage.
My Sony doesn’t miss unless I am using it incorrectly or expect too much for the situation. Everything has limitations.
When I shoot weddings I shoot silent.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Ah yes. I understand.

Dustin Wood's picture

Yeah. I should have held off. I got it the within the first week of it coming out. Played with it at the store. Took some sample photos to compare to my 6D, and then ended up purchasing based on the hype. I should have waited to see what they announce this year. Because the negative far outdo the positives.

I've got a decent selection of lenses. All EF mounts. I do like what I've been seeing in the store for the new R mounts, but damn they are large and expensive. The R-system will definitely not be for entry level shooters.

I would go to Sony, but have too much invested in Canon right now. But if I would have caught that Prime Day sale/error last year, switching wouldn't have been an issue.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Tell me, Dustin, what do you expect to gain from switching to mirrorless? Is there a specific reason for that?

Dustin Wood's picture

Not sure. I thought it was supposed to be this whole new revolution of the next generation of cameras. But after owning one now, I really don't see any benefit over a traditional SLR. At least for the way I use it. I can however see the benefit for larger glass as the sensor has been brought forward. That part will be cool. But I'm not quite up to having the funds to get the new R lenses yet.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Thanks for sharing.
I am afraid the media did try to believe us it was a revolution.

Eric Salas's picture

I had over 5k in lenses from Canon and I adapt them. There’s no reason not to.
Yes, it may focus slower with an adapter but the adapter I use is the MC-11 and costs 100 bucks. It’s a small price to pay compared to paying for RF Mount lenses that cost an insane amount of money unless you want a kit lens.

Dustin Wood's picture

yes. i have the adapter too. Just saying that if this is the new standard of their focus of lenses, im nowhere near ready to switch. It'll also be hard for anyone just starting out to go straight to the R-mount lenses too.

Eric Salas's picture

In your case it’s the body that is the limiting factor. They crippled the RP to the extreme.
I haven’t used the EF to R adapter because I switched to Sony.

Rk K's picture

I'm sorry, but they will just die. As soon as canon also figures how to do proper mirrorless af.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Perhaps. But didn't they say that also about LP's, and, cassettes, and those things?

Przemek Lodej's picture

Tell it to the folks shooting film...jeeez. It's just a tool.

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