Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless cameras have been taking over the photography scene for quite a few years now, and they're widely heralded as the next step in photographic innovation. But there are quite a few reasons why they're not the game-changer we were expecting.

I'm all for adopting new technology to help make my life as a photographer easier, faster, or to improve the quality of my work. However, I find it difficult to accept the mirrorless movement as this huge step forward in camera evolution. There are several things that need to be addressed in order for me to acknowledge its prerequisite of being "essential for my kit bag." So I've decided to compile a few of my main gripes with them and explain a little about why I'm not so sure it's the wonder pill for photographers that it's meant to be.

Viewfinder Woes

Call me a traditionalist, but I love an optical viewfinder. Looking through a portal into the physical world free of distortion and other optically hindering stumbling blocks is something that I take great pleasure in, so much so that when comparing my Nikon F100 to the Nikon D750 I had for years, I was rather disappointed. The F100 had a larger field of view, and it was considerably bigger (at least to my eyes). It felt like I had a real connection with the world in front of me. However, my point is that I could live with it.

EVF viewfinder

The biggest display on the device is a rear LCD screen, but pop your eye into a mirrorless viewfinder and you'll find... another mini-screen!

Take that a step further with the latest mirrorless cameras, and I struggle to remain tolerant. Not only do I now have to peer into a small box with another screen in it, but now my access to the world is limited by frame rate, color gamut, brightness, and resolution. If I open both eyes (as you should if you're a pro, check out my other post on that), then my view of the world feels imbalanced. The only consolation is that because I'm peering into an electronic viewfinder, I can now ramp up the exposure brightness when shooting in low light, which helps me see (and focus) in the dark.

It Means New Lens Collections

Are you ready to sell all your old kit and lenses and start afresh? Because that's what you'll want to do to take advantage of what mirrorless brings. Let me clarify. There are many of you out there right now about to head to the comments and tell me that there are lens adapters; yes, I know! But it rather negates the advantage of mirrorless systems. However, mirrorless systems outperform their DSLR brothers and sisters due to improved flange distance and high-quality engineering in the lenses.

Mirrorless and DSLR lens comparison

Mirrorless cameras and their lenses are comparatively smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, and often have higher quality optical characteristics

So, yes, you can use a lens adapter with your older DSLR lenses, and that should work perfectly fine, but you're keeping the same old larger lenses and now introducing an adapter, which almost negates the point of having a smaller body in the first place. Plus, the newer mirrorless lenses have special features such as customizable rings on the lens to adjust specific camera settings.

Overheating Issues

Hot warning sticker on camera

Maybe there's a reason that warning labels exist on some of the mirrorless cameras?

Unfortunately, because of the smaller form factor that comes with the mirrorless cameras, they are more prone to overheating, that is, getting so hot during operation that they need to be turned off and/or cooled down before using again. True, this only affects certain models and under specific operations (such as 8K video recording), but it's still enough to put me off. Did my DSLR ever overheat? No. Did my film SLR ever overheat? No. For me, I'd like to feel the flexibility of being able to shoot as much as I want, wherever I want, without limitation.

As Limited as a DSLR

I outlined in a recent post that although mirrorless cameras are the next step in the "proper camera" lineage, we will have to wait for the improved integration of these cameras into our everyday lives. For example, their connectivity to our existing devices is sub-par for now. Why do I need to download an app, get it to sync with my camera, have it lose connection a few times (in my experience), and then have to edit on my phone before uploading to my favorite social media? I think it would be far better to do some editing on the camera itself that integrates with my Lightroom catalog and then automatically share it via the camera to social media, rather than having to introduce another step and get it to my phone, tablet, or laptop.

Mirrorless camera body

I'd like to see a vast improvement in connectivity and sharing with the ability to edit using Lightroom-style features and share with my

In this respect, my mirrorless camera is about as useful as the DSLR, which can do pretty much the same thing. I appreciate that camera manufacturers are trying to introduce new apps and integration software, but I think the communication between camera manufacturers and software manufacturers needs to be stronger and that connection between platforms much more smoothly developed to make it a paradigm shift for the user.

When Will I Upgrade All My Kit?

Mirrorless cameras are great, useful, and serve to be the next step in camera evolution in terms of size and weight, and there are plenty of cameras out there that have exciting new features that DSLR cameras will probably never have. The almost-standard five stops of in-body image stabilization is awesome for doing all kinds of things, such as shooting in low-light conditions and shooting handheld video with smooth, dolly-like tracking. But are they the "holy grail" that many people appear to be purporting? Should you swap all your gear and buy into this system just because it's the latest iteration of the technological generation? Well, I personally don't think so. It'll take a little bit more to convince me that it's the game-changing step that others have us believe it is.

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166 Comments

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Francisco Hernandez's picture

Yes sit it is. I switched from my Canon 6D to my Sony a6500 in 2017 specifically because of the great eye-AF.

Adam Tams's picture

I couldn’t disagree more. All that front focusing back focusing gone. Body stabilisation. Not walking around holding a tank. Just loads better

Ken James's picture

Hey guys, this DSLR v. Mirrorless cameras comments really wind up some posters.

Me, I think you should buy what you like to use and you feel comfort using. I love DSLRs and my buddy likes Mirrorless. He has made the break for some of the reasons quoted here, but the main factor was that he needed to but a new unit. Bear in mind that we were both nearing 80 yrs and now only take photos for pleasure.

Back in May, I posted that I was selling all my gear, Canon EOS 80D, 4 lenses, tripods etc. as it was getting to heavy for my old bones to lug around. I bought a marvelous little compact Canon G1X Mkiii which has the APS-C sensor. However, after 6 months I miss the 80D so much, I bit the bullet and bought a Canon 90D with what I intend to be my only lens 😏 the EF-S 18-135 USM.

Why another DSLR? Not because they are better or worse than anything else, but that's what I like using. That's what I have been using, film then digital, since the 1980's. Thank you, manufacturers for giving me the choice.

Grrrrrrrrrowl, (That's the noise of a Dinosaur making his thoughts known)

Venson Stein's picture

Easy, shoot on two systems. Get the benefits of both systems. Best of both worlds. I shoot a Nikon D810 and a Fuji-XT2 as my main rigs.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I do like the idea and thought about it. I have managed Canon, Mamiya, Nikon and two types of Sinar view cameras in the past, but for me today, I want only one brand if I can. Adaptors would be okay to use my older lenses, but I don't know how fast they attach and remove.

PrettyGreen Parrot's picture

Biggest problem for mirrorless? If you're over 50 you need to wear your reading glasses to see the screen properly without holding the camera at arms' length & risking motion artefact.

Second biggest problem? Small camera, small battery, and big screen means puny battery life.

Having said that, my M100 with 22mm lens easily fits in a coat pocket whereas my 500D with 50mm lens doesn't. Swings and roundabouts.

Katharine Alexander's picture

As someone who shoots both on mirrorless and dslr type bodies (a Sony slt a99) this article is a bunch of nonsense. Do you have any idea how useful being able to synch your camera to your phone is? I can send my photos to my PHONE or tablet or computer, edit in LR mobile and send out a Gallery for proofing without ever having to get back to my desktop at home. I can use a modern mirrorless lens or an adapted, lightweight prime vintage film lens. I can use an older optically gorgeous slt/dslr lens. The versatility and functionality of mirrorless is just amazing.

Michael Clark's picture

Do you have any idea that there are also DSLRs that can sync with phones, tablets, and other mobile devices just as well?

Mike G's picture

I do unit photography and the silent operation along with the full frame low light performance is invaluable for me. No more clunky sound blimp to deal with is a blessing and features like face tracking and IBIS are extremely helpful.

Sam Tang's picture

This reads like my senior citizen neighbor explaining to me that his ‘73 Datsun B210 is better than my Cayenne because his Datsun has a 4-speed manual transmission.

I love manuals too but...

Michael Clark's picture

I wish I still had my old '77 Datsun 280Z. Funnest car to drive I've ever owned.

Sam Sims's picture

The problem with photography sites/video channels is at some point, with the need to keep producing regular articles, they run out of really meaningful things to say and end up with articles like this. I’d wager the vast majority of photographers are perfectly happy with the move to mirrorless, with their many benefits over DSLR’s and haven’t looked back.

There are so many benefits to mirrorless I’m surprised this was even considered for an article. There’s no way I want to go back to lens calibration, lack of many video features, bulky cameras, poor LCD autofocus and noisy mirrors. The fact Canon are now concentrating fully on their mirrorless system speaks volumes and shows where the future lies.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

My only issue is that there are litterally zero stats showing how much the video part of today's cameras is used by owners. Yes some do but I suspect an extreme large majority plays with it a few times only to use their phones for 99.9% of the video they may - possibly - take on a random and sudden need. The issue becomes what it is from these articles only because an extremely large percentage of the few video features regular users show up. In the end I see video on mirror less and Dslr as a manufacturers attempt to compete with phones rather that a feature needed by most photographers and by most I mean higher percentile part in the 90s. I am glad video are supported on still cameras to a certain degree, but when I see that the R5 sells apprently well despite the unability of using 4k and 8k in a practical way, it becomes very evident that there is an obvious unneeded amount of technology manufaturers are now filling their cameras with.

Sam Sims's picture

When video was introduced to DSLR’s via the 5DII, it was never seen as anything serious and just a way to entice people into buying that camera. It certainly worked. Of course camera companies are claiming their cameras offer professional video but judging by a lot of videos on social media shot with ILC’s, very few people need all the video features we see in these cameras. I doubt the camera companies care how they’re used just so long as they keep offering features to entice people into a purchase. I still think it’s good that mirrorless cameras do offer better video features than DSLR’s though for the few who do take video seriously.

Btw, my mirrorless camera is stuffed full of features I never use. Unfortunately, unless I earn enough money to own a Leica (no chance!) I will never own a camera that isn’t loaded with tonnes of feature I’ll never use.

Nick Viton's picture

(video was not introduced to DSLR's via the 5DII)

Sam Sims's picture

Ok, just looked it up, it was the D90 that first introduced video, my bad. The 5DII certainly was the camera where people started to take video seriously. Besides, other than my factual inaccuracy, the gist of my comment still stands.

Ben Bookhultz's picture

This is a fine opinion article. The merits of mirror less are worth discussing. I've grappled with these issues and others when planning to upgrade. The FF cameras are no lighter than my d7200. When you smack a nice 24-105 F4 on them they get heavy and a lot of that weight is at the front. Not great for handling. The Fuji X-S10 with a 16-80mm F4 is interesting, but not worth changing my lens set for.

stuartcarver's picture

You talk as if weight is the only feature of a camera system?

Ben Bookhultz's picture

Size and weight are pretty important for everyday use - less hinderance, more likely to carry it around. I didn't want to write an essay. I'd like FF pixel quality, but my current camera sensor has 14.6 base iso DR and shoots 6fps with decent tracking. I don't need more than 24mp and am not into video. I'm also interested in the Z6, but not sure if it is worth it for my uses.

stuartcarver's picture

Read my comment at the top, 2 massive reasons why a Mirrorless camera offers advantages over DSLR.. and you shouldn’t be using a DSLR in the first place if you have concerns about size and weight, you are essentially complaining about a system that might weigh the same as the stuff you already own, why are you using that then?

Ben Bookhultz's picture

I bought into a system with my first ILC like most people, not knowing what would come in the future or what features would be most important to me. I have a tiny d3400 and a full featured d7200, both cameras together were $1000. Exposure in view finder and focus peaking are nice features. But I rarely have metering issues with my cameras and I can always chimp in difficult light. As much as I'd like a new gadget, the newer systems need fleshing out before I upgrade.

stuartcarver's picture

I have a D5300 too, I rarely use it these days tbh. The Fuji is worlds away in features and ergonomics (for me personally) so I just find I don’t ever take it out.

Might have a street wander with the 35mm attached once we can head out again, I like that lens.

If I ever moved away from Fuji I’d go Z7 all day long, but I have no intention of doing that.

Rich Bind's picture

To think the first mirrorless 35mm cameras all rangefinders from Leica Contax Nikon Canon and Minolta. One could day the twin-lens Rolleiflex was the preferred choice of the seasoned professional photographer. As for the future of DSLR 35mm camera that seems obvious to most people. But then most people are often wrong. We may regret the passing of the DSLR? ;

Lawrence Huber's picture

You forget that mirrorless is NOT only about small.
Also you forgot that Canon allows you to have that special control ring on the old lenses just like the RF lenses. Now Nikon leaves you out on this issue but do not put Canon into that loss category. That is a Nikon failing.
Also observing lemses so far DSLR and mirrorless seem to be the same except for a few by Canon, for example the superb, compact and light 70-200mm f2.8, In fact most Sony lenses are larger and heavier.

stuartcarver's picture

Canon fanboy yeah?

John Harambasic's picture

Same pro/con arguments we've read for years and years now. Hard to believe the DSLR-vs-Mirrorless articles never seen to go out of style....

Barry Wilson's picture

I have no intention of spending another dime on an ILC or lens of any kind (I own both DSLRs and MILCs - using mostly adapted pre-1990 lenses) till my equipment breaks. In my preferred image display media at normal viewing sizes I can see no improvement in IQ using new equipment versus the old stuff and phones. I think the majority of the market is telling the manufacturers the same.

Susan Egan's picture

Indeed this article is clickbait. The only real disadvantage to mirrorless, the likelihood that dust will get on the sensor, wasn’t even mentioned.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Over 20 years, I cannot tell you how many dslrs I have purchased that came with free dust on the sensor right off the box.

Rob Gatson's picture

Because it’s largely irrelevant. Canon started the trend with closing the shutter when the cameras off, then Sony updated their firmware to do it, then with the R5/6 it’s an option. I leave it on, some think it’s easier to clean a sensor than to repair a damaged shutter. The best option is to just leave a lens on that you use most of the time.

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