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 It has been called old-fashioned, or even outdated technology.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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83 Comments

Previous comments
Rk K's picture

It's not the same as film or even cassettes. The output is the same as that of a milc, the nostalgia factor is a lot less - the usage is largely the same as mirrorless after al, and keeping the R&D or even just the manufacturing going is far more costly. Obviously people will keep using old gear until it lasts, but manufacturing new kit? Film will definitely outlive the dslr.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I have to see how I can use my current lenses before I make the transition. I have one I want to upgrade but the rest I am not ready for. Also, something like the possible R6 could be enough for me if rumors become true. I have no rush.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I am curious about the EOS R5... hope to get it in my hand soon

Surprised no one mentions noise. Weddings and other church services, wildlife.... During at least one of the televised presidential candidate debates, only mirrorless were permitted because the mics were picking up the mirror slap.

Nando Harmsen's picture

It is something that never was a problem, and was accepted. But now silent shooting is possible, I can image it will be something that is wanted more and more

It wasn't a problem because there was no alternative. But now there is, so it could become a problem.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I never had any problem with the noise when shooting a wedding. But I could imagine it will be a problem when there is a photographer that is shooting continues.
Well. I think it is a good thing, being able to shoot silent. Although I love to have a bit of sound that can act as feedback. When I was shooting with the Sony A9 in silent mode, 20 fps, I had absolutely no usable feedback from the camera.

I guess they could use a vibrating shutter button.

> It is something that never was a problem, and was accepted

Again, you are completely ignorant and the last person who should be writing an article like this. Why the hell do you think sound blimps - costing as much as the cameras themselves - for DSLRs existed? (If you knew they existed, I mean.)

Over time, it may be mandatory but ive never had an issue with shooting some event/wedding and being required to shoot with mirrorless. It will be quite a few years till ill consider ml. Its not only cameras to consider but lenses as well. Dslr has been proven, delivers and works. Nothing ml does is something im missing or wpuld benefit with to make more money. And the z cameras are not on par with dslr af and 1 slot makes them a hell no, for now

Nando Harmsen's picture

I shot a wedding in 2018 with the Canon EOS R, next to my EOS 5D mark IV. Although I hated shooting with a single card slot I noticed mirrorless does work very well. You have to get used to the EVF, but the one thing I hated te most was the second of review in the EVF. It really bothered me.
There should be a way of turning review inside the EVF off, while keeping it on the LCD screen.
I am looking forward to the new EOS R5. I hope to get my hands on it soon for a review.

Yannig Van de Wouwer's picture

My 5D3 and 5D4 offer silent drive modes. While not being completely silent, people are much less easily distracted. Most of the time I operate my cameras in silent mode, unless I need the highest drive speed possible.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Indeed. That is the way to go.
As I mentioned earlier in some respond; I hate really silent shooting, like I used with the Sony A9 at 20 fps. There was no good feedback when shooting. A bit of sound from the camera gives a good feedback on what you're doing. And the silent drive modes of the 5D3 and 5D4 (and a lot of other cameras) are perfect. Nobody gets bothered by that.

> There was no good feedback when shooting. A bit of sound from the camera gives a good feedback on what you're doing.

If you need to hear the camera to know what you are doing, then you don't know what you are doing

> And the silent drive modes of the 5D3 and 5D4 (and a lot of other cameras) are perfect. Nobody gets bothered by that.

This is more utter bs. You're mistaking that you don't mind that much noise your applications with the idea that it is never a problem. Wild life shooters and photojournalists often need completely silent operation. So do some wedding shooters if they're taking pictures of the ceremony.

Przemek Lodej's picture

"Never forget, the camera is just the tool. Nothing else." Wow really? Saying that DSLRs are dead is like saying muscle cars are dead, vinyl records are dead, rock'n'roll is dead, and the list can go on. It's a tool to get the job done.

Nando Harmsen's picture

That is why I wonder why people keep saying that. For some it is a reason to switch over to mirrorless, which seems really foolish to me.

Yes, but does what "Seems foolish" to you matter? You're written an article on a subject you obviously know nothing about.

Everybody should use what they want. At this moment in time, mirrorless is still a rather new technology and not at the end of its development cycle while d-slrs seem to be.
It also seems to be the part of the market where most of the R&D money goes to.
But we'll see. I got used to a mirrorless rather quickly and have never looked back but to each its own. I am glad people can choose.

As far as the reference to vinyl and film goes, they are niche products and not main stream anymore.

Both has its place. DSLR will not die, but will go out of favor for many photographers.

Fuji (lacks full frame) could do something revolutionary and have a runaway hit. They could release 35mm film cameras (at least 3), with few generally used lenses. It could be 100% mechanical with many unique features for today's age and it will sell like hot cakes (who wouldn't get a well supported film camera). Maybe they should. I'd definitely buy 2.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I remember an article where Fujifilm explained they won't go full frame. I cannot remember why

Well, full frame film camera is better option

It will be very expensive since they don't have any FF lenses and there is a ton of competition on full frame

Yep, that's why they should go film

Nando Harmsen's picture

I once was thinking about film, and if I had the money and time I would go big format. Really big. ;)

Yeah, I am conteplating Hasselblad 501c with the 90mm lens. Tempted, but so far I am resisting well. I enjoy shooting with GFX-50s and I would love to jump something big.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I don't find the medium format big. Only bigger
No, something like 4x5" large format :D

Of course, large format is even bigger. But I think I'd stop with medium format big where I can develop negatives using labs around the place I live.

But yeah, large format is the biggest.

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