Mirrorless or DSLR? Why so Furious?

Mirrorless or DSLR? Why so Furious?

It seems as if the world of photography is currently turning all around this topic: Is the time of DSLR over? On the web, people get into heated discussions about this issue. Should you join in?

A Hot Topic

A few weeks ago, I published an article about different stages of growing photographers. It might not have been my best one, but the reason why it has been criticized really struck me. I wrote a little innocent sentence in the description of (stereo)typical photography beginners:

You bought an entry-level DSLR, because you don’t know what mirrorless is, yet.

Instead of comments about the content of the article, this almost meaningless sentence was the most discussed issue. It might be dependent on culture, but in the two countries in which I stayed the most during the last years (India and Germany), the term “mirrorless” is yet known by a small group of experts. DSLR is what laymen tend to call any camera which is not a smartphone or action cam.

Articles which discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems are everywhere on the world wide web. In Facebook groups of photographers, you will usually find a meme of a popcorn-eating people in the comments, whenever someone posted something in favor or against any system. You can be sure that you’ll soon witness a dirty battle, insults, and furious dialogues. Some people just lean back and enjoy the show, while others join the battle. It may happen in the form of positive criticism, but too often it will end in destructive online behavior, which would make the authors' moms very sad and disappointed.

In this situation, the sensor stabilization of my mirrorless camera allowed me to shoot a 1/4 sec. exposure without a tripod. My DSLR would not forgive me those little shakes that happen when you stand on slippery stones.

Where’s the Threat?

I shoot with both systems on different occasions. At the last wedding I shot, I thought: “Well, sometimes I wish the shutter of my DSLR was more silent.” On a recent road-trip with friends, I was surprised how quickly the battery of my mirrorless died, compared to my DSLR. That’s it. I would not consider either of them better or worse. There are just few occasions where I feel the difference. Mostly, it’s just the sensor and body size.

You might think differently. Maybe you’ve got really good reasons to choose one over the other. That’s fine and I guess one of the most money-saving skills of a photographer is to know exactly which gear you need. Why fight over it with others? Is there a real threat? Of course, you won’t get new lenses, if the end of DSLR was near, whoever does believe that. But aren’t there enough already? If you love your system and people invest into new ones, you might be lucky getting a bargain on their second-hand gear.

Switching Will Always Be Possible

There is no problem in switching from one system to the other, yet. It’s literally just a mirror. Use your DSLR in live-view and you almost got a mirrorless (don’t get angry, it’s just a joke). Real differences in cameras are their designs, features, and performance. It’s not about mirrorless versus DSLR in general. Every model has its specific advantages and disadvantages. If you gifted a Nikon D850 to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 user, I guess the reply wouldn’t be: “No, sorry. Mirrorless is better.” Maybe it would rather be: “Sorry, I travel a lot, so this camera is too heavy for me. I’ll sell it and buy a plane ticket.”, or "Hell, that's an amazing camera."

Adjustment is another factor, why some people prefer one system over the other. That’s an old debate, too. Give born Nikon-users a Canon DSLR and they will need some time to adjust. It’s not impossible, though. If you switch from a Nikon DSLR to a Nikon mirrorless, there will be no big issue. There might be a surprised yell when the digital viewfinder turns on (“heck, what’s that?”). At least that's what happened to me, when I encountered a mirrorless for the first time. Some might like the new experience, others won’t.

Of course, it’s nice to share your experience and opinion, but is it worth getting angry? Remember your first lesson in photography? The photographer makes the image.

If I planned to shoot at night, I'd never even think about my Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless camera.

Photograph and Let Photograph

I don’t want to call people out and of course, it’s an interesting debate which system suits to whom and if there is a future for DSLR users. Yet, I wonder if it is worth all the fight? Shouldn’t we all respect each other and simply choose the gear which we prefer? After all, photography is more than just pressing the buttons of a specific body with a specific lens adapted to it.

As everywhere on the web, we tend to forget that we deal with human beings on the other side of the wire. Even if we have a debate about the issue and make a considerable point, do we need to become arrogant? Why do so many of us see those discussions as a platform to make one’s mark? Listening could help us learn something from others. We could see that mirrorless fulfills our desires. Or maybe the experience of others could also prevent us from making investments we don’t need to make. We can’t know if our situation and our taste fits to others. That’s why we can make suggestions but shouldn’t devaluate other photographer’s opinions.

We all know the saying "The best camera is the one that's with you." In this case, I wish it was my full frame DSLR, because of its wider dynamic range. Yet, it was to heavy to carry it all day and this shot wasn't planned but just happened.

Don’t Get Sucked Into the Fight

Luckily, on Fstoppers, most comments and members are quite moderate, but watch out for some photography groups on Facebook or other platforms. Cyber bullying can escalate quickly, and people can become quite personal. It’s hard, but simply don’t react to them. Be aware that there are trolls and other frustrated people out there who simply aim at bringing you down. Aggression is a downwards spiral with no winners.

If someone makes a suggestion, keep in mind that their position might be different from yours. Check their portfolio and evaluate if you are on the same level. Do you trust his or her opinion? If so, you can ask for details. If not, you can still say "thank you". You won’t win a price for having the last word about a camera system. It’s not about being right, it’s about learning something. And we should enjoy this together, no matter which system or brand we use.

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Waleed Alzuhair's picture

As a long time Canon EOS DSLR user, I was concerned with the amount of EF lenses that I’ve collected through the years. But with the EF to RF adapter, I decided to progress to the EOS R.. Wow, I was really impressed with the AF accuracy.. Everything is as sharp as it can be without any need for microadjustments.

EL PIC's picture

Also a long term Canon User but have no AF inaccuracy .. what are you talking about ?? What conditions ??

Dave Haynie's picture

All DSLR systems technically may need calibration, because the AF sensor is not identically at the same flange focal distance as the sensor. Ignored on consumer models more likely to stick with f/3.5 kit lenses. But uncalibrated, you can get front/back focus, where the AF plane is just a bit in front or behind the image sensor.

All mirrorless systems use on-image-sensor AF and do not have this issue.

EL PIC's picture

Nice Try .. but you are too young to fool old dogs. In short .. there were focusing problems with first issues of the Canon 1D and 1 DS when used in AI Servo 11 years ago. A Canon exec brought out Micro lens calibration to cover face save the mass factory return numbers and to put the burden on consumers. He got a nice promotion out of it and Canon silently fixed the manufacturing problem with firmware.
The original invention of lens micro cal years earlier was to offset extreme thermal shifts in Arctic and Desert. This was intended to be adjusted only when in the field of those extreme temp conditions and reset back when in normal temps.
It was a smart diversion and well played by Canon.
People forget and invent false scenarios in photo all the time.
Now some native have false illusions that this should be done routinely.

Brent Rivers's picture

yep, most of the time trying to get a "good copy" of a lens and hoping it mated well with the body are very well documented. Micro adjustments are necessary on most all DSLR's. My nikons suffered immensely until I spent the time getting them dialed in. I didn't realize how soft my images were. But my client base knew, and overnight with the Sony system switch, it was like the day after I got lasik surgery. I didn't realize what I had been missing.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Well... I'm an old dog, and I agree that calibration is almost always required with DSLRs and it can be a real pain. Often 2 points to calibrate with zoom lenses and a hope this will track in a linear fashion between - and with 11 lenses and 4 bodies... this takes a while.

Not forgetting that things drift over time so I end up checking at least every 12 months.

And then there are the "known quirks" of some wide aperture primes where the calibration can change slightly with the choice of F stop.

Manufacturing tolerances can sometimes find us with bodies at one end of the scale and a lens at the other, which brings unacceptable issues. I have my lenses and bodies "zero'd" by Canon when new, but even then I find their in-house tolerances not quite perfect and I need to fine tune myself.

I love having an optical viewfinder, but the promise of never having to calibrate ever again, and knowing that my focus will be decided by the same sensor that takes the image - that will eventually swing me to mirrorless when Canon brings us a 2-slot, pro version.

As a time served broadcast cameraman, the issue of extreme temp conditions certainly finds adjustment in the field with broadcast zoom lenses, and a manually adjustable back-focus knob on the lens makes it quick and easy.

Waleed Alzuhair's picture

My main lenses are the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II and the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4. Those lenses require microadjustments to fine tune the front/back focus. However, on the EOS R body, the AF issue does not exist because it does not have a separate AF sensor like DSLRs.

No other lens I use needed AF microadjustment, just those two.

James Mauro's picture

I have Canon 5DMIII and 5DMIV DSLR's with nearly all the lenses I need (not all that I want :-) ). I recently acquired a Canon EOS R and I am very impressed. I do a lot of headshots and architectural photography. I am finding the EOS R really great for the headshot work due to the AF feature that automatically focuses on the closest eye. For the most part it works great, although I will admit that sometimes it does not find the eye and I manually locate it, which is very easy. I have the control ring adapter and it makes my EF/L lenses work the same as the RF 20-70 that was delivered with the camera. For architectural photography I may start using the EOS R a bit more. For real estate photography, I still use the DSLR simply because I do not need a 30MP photo. All I need for that work is a 10 MP photo at the most. The EOS R uses the same, or similar variant, of the Canon DIGIC 8 sensor, so the image quality is very similar. I did notice that the EOS R Raw image is now a CR3, whereas the 5D series produces a CR2 image file. I am not ready to mothball my DSLR's, but I am very impressed with the EOS R mirrorless and the new RF lenses. There are a couple of features that I particularly like, among others. When you remove the lens, a protect shield automatically covers the sensor, preventing dust from getting in. And after you take a picture, while looking through the viewfinder you see the photo you just captured. It takes a little getting used to, but I find it very useful, and a neat feature.

Dillan K's picture

I completely agree with what you've said, but then, my last camera was an original 5D. The EOS R has an auto focus system which is much, much better.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

is a tool not more not less

Brent Rivers's picture

like a hammer and a nail gun. yep, tools.

Lee Christiansen's picture

You hammer nails with your camera... gosh - multi-functioning... :)

Henry-Louis Guillaume's picture

I'm bored of this fight between mirror less or DSLR ... personnaly I work with D810 and Z7 and use both practically the same maner except that the Z7 have IBIS system that permit to shoot in low light situation without a flash ... and for my pleasure I have a Fuji X-T2 beacause it is fun to play with. Choose the right camera for your work or try to take the best advantage of what you've got. Just choose what you love to work with.

Deleted Account's picture

It probably has something to do with the fact that a significant proportion of people who inhabit these photographic sites aren't really photographers; rather, they argue about gear, in an empty attempt for self-validation.

Dave Haynie's picture

People often go to the internet to argue, sure.

But it's pretty well documented that some people form an emotional attachment to expensive things. You had to pick one system from among them all, you spent thousands on it, and that choice becomes part of some folks' self image. We've had Nikon vs Canon, Fird vs Chevy, MacOS vs Windows, even SLR vs Rangefinder, film vs digital, etc. as arguing points for years, long before mirrorless was a thing.

jim blair's picture

I put a lot of blame on the Youtuber's who think photography is about specs and hype Sony like it's the only camera that can take pictures correctly. It's all about likes, views, clickbait links.

Venson Stein's picture

Computer hobbyists and vidiots.

Brent Rivers's picture

Canon and Nikon are feeling the pressures on the bottom line. No longer are the days of long product cycles with incremental improvements, stringing the pro base along with promises. Sony recognized this, and started listening to their user base, addressing issues head on. And with each new release major improvements in function (still lagging in form) have happened. I hadn't realized how limited I had been using Nikon for 17 years.

Patrick Gallagher's picture

It’s not the camera. It’s the photograph.

Venson Stein's picture

Precisely- 80% of them are computer hobbyists and vidiots. Serious stills shooters- perhaps 20% and that is being way generous.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

There may be a number of different reasons why people still buy entry level DSLR's and availability on the market is one of them. However one very popular scenario IMO is the one where salesperson did not push customer in certain direction. If we assume that entry level DSLR's are bough by entry level photographers, the truth is those people often have very little idea/knowledge what they are buying. Some of them just want "serious camera" (actual term I've heard). So if it is big and has interchangeable lenses is is considered "serious". Needless to say, majority of those buyers will always stay shooting in the "green mode", will never take full advantage of all features and will most likely not expand their system beyond second lens (telephoto zoom) and a dedicated lamp. For a person like this it makes absolutely no difference whenever they use DSLR or a mirrorless. The only party it really makes a difference to is the manufacturer :)

Mark Wyatt's picture

Heck, I am still using 60+ year old film cameras (with state of the art photographic film). Good tools continue having value.

Brent Rivers's picture

So you're seeing and using new films with increased dynamic range and resolution? wow, that's amazing. Sounds like an emerging market..

C Fisher's picture

Two words - tiny dicks 🤣

Brent Rivers's picture

because dicks for you are a thing right? just on the brain all the time.

C Fisher's picture

As much as gaping assholes are on yours my dear

Brent Rivers's picture

am I your dear? so sweet.

EL PIC's picture

Many Photographers have a First Grade Mentality these days. Seems to be this century’s byproduct - did not exist previously.
It is now fashionable to disagree and fuss.
Welcome to the 21st Century .. there may be no more Centuries for confrontation, human disagreement, fighting and self promotion.
The photo controversy and confusion are created by the manufacturers, Gearheads, and social media for purposes of camera sale profiteering and are reflection of this society.
Welcome to the 21st Century ... Just take Pictures!!

Brent Daniel's picture

Here, here! Well said...

Kaushik Biswas's picture

I have had people ask me I want to buy a Camera - by which they mean, anything that has a interchangeable lens. Because so far they were shooting with their phones. Do they know what DSLR or Mirrorless is? No. Their greatest concern is will it zoom? Because I want to take nice of photos of my son when he plays in the school team and so on. Now, if I were to explain them the nuances of DSLR and mirrorless they will probably think I am being a snob. So I simply ask them what they need most, and how far ahead they want to change or invest in the system. If it is a once in a lifetime thing, which most of them do, then a reliable Canon or Nikon is the best choice.
And then there are ones who i meet at camera clubs, newbies just starting out. To them I have to explain, ask them to research, check the specs and then start at the bottom of a system or try to buy used. These guys want to learn and so have to be told; and they learn quickly. Different strokes for different folks.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

Im sick of the crap from photography channels with vested interests in mirrorless such as Jarod Polin - Fro Knows Photos who continually post that you are not a good photographer unless you use mirrorless. Its the biggest bunch of crap ever.
It confuses people new to cameras for starters. Sony mirrorless cameras are expensive and the Nikon Z6 is not cheap either. For beginners wanting to dip their toe into photography then you can get a Nikon 3000 series for a reasonable price.
I use a Nikon D4. Its great for outdoor use , its rugged , has a huge battery. Im not interested in the Z series yet.

A P's picture

Polin actually said this? Or more along the lines of mirrorless is the future?

"you are not a good photographer unless you use mirrorless."

If he did say that, yes, shame on him.

Scott Nichols's picture

No, he's never said that.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

if he didn't say it he bloody well implied it. That's my impression.

tony cao's picture

have you seen his photos? he's not a pr photographer, he's a photography gear reviewer based on specs. like dpreview, chris nicolls doesnt call himself a pro photographer, and i respect him for that.

Brent Rivers's picture

Polin and other early digital and late film year users are figuring out the brand loyalty to Canikon has left them chasing expensive bodies with incremental improvements. Once they use the Sony platform, they realize how much farther along the technology is. It's not about mirrors. Even the Northrops have had to concede to it.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

Yeah but Sony , Nikon and Canon mirror less offerings are expensive and they do not include the adapter for older lenses. For beginners there are better choices.

Nick Gibbins's picture

I'm actually of the conviction that mirrorless cameras are mostly a gimmick. I'll prove it.. you google the world's best photographers and virtually none of them used mirrorless cameras, infact mirrorless only encourages laziness because you no longer have to even see what your shutter speed is just make sure your EVF looks right!

Instead of the benfits, cameras manufacturers need to keep producing a profit, so they introduce a new line of cameras and thousands of dollars worth of new lenses hyping their new product to produce better images when that's always been possible since medium and large format days!

Timothy Roper's picture

That first photo reminds me, I have to clean the sensor on my MFT mirrorless--again.

Anthony Cook's picture

Excellent article Nils. I reminded myself of the switch to digital, but holding out for the quality of film first... I fell in to the trap of listening to other professionals or just pixel-squinters. But once the tool is in your hands, especially one that is supposed to represent aspects of your life, memory and creativity, then that tool had better be every bit as well as described by its makers or fans. So I can see why people get upset if something falls short, but you're right, no need for anger. Let's learn more and feed the knowledge to the camera companies who care!

Blake Aghili's picture

Most mirror-less cameras although their bodies are lighter and smaller than DSLRs, but their lenses are the same size or even heavier which defeats the purpose of being light weight .. Leica M series range finder cameras were the only system I found that don't compromise on IQ and their lenses fit it my pocket! ..

Brent Rivers's picture

you really don't get it do you. they didn't remove the mirror just to save weight. that was an unintended consequence. A silly reason to switch to a mirrorless system.

Stefan Smith's picture

Its all horses for courses
I prefer DSLR over mirrorless
I like a bigger camera to hang onto and i prefer to see the world with my own eyes rather than at an evf.

Brent Rivers's picture

hey it's cool, no worries on understanding the real differences. I drug my feet too hanging on to some rationale that made absolutely no logical sense.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

Same. Im out in the field all day shooting horses and I like something big to grip and it can take the knocks in the field too. That's why I like my D4. I havnt seen a pro action shooter yet dumping their D4/D5 for a Z7 ??

Bernard Languillier's picture

Coming from a D850 with the best primes available, I am very impressed by Z glass. I was shooting in Kyoto this weekend with the 85mm f1.8 S and 24mm f1.8 S and boy, these are basically perfect lenses. Sharp as hell, with super pure colors and a bokeh to die for. Overall such a lovely look.

I don't really case what DSLR users think about those, but I personally find it increasingly hard to use by GFX100 and fabulous GF glass because the Nikon lenses are even better. And that's just the f1.8 primes and zooms. I can't start to imagine how good the f1.2 primes are going to be, but I wonder whether I'll really need those.

I was always happy about the D850 AF, but it's true that the Z7 is even more accurate and reliable on static subjects. It basically is perfect every single time.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Literally every lens released in the past 5 years is tack sharp, no distortion, no flare, great color rendition, etc. This is even more true for prime lenses. Simulations of new designs that took weeks in the past now take minutes with computer software at disposal. For a company entrenched in the optics business it is basically impossible to produce a bad lens today.
Now every new lens coming out in the next years will be of course "better" because manufacturers need to desperately sell them. It does not mater if it is for Z mount, F mount or XYZ mount. They will be always marketed as "better" even if their specs are incrementally better to the point nobody can notice.
But the truth is virtually every lens you need was already manufactured some time ago.
I took a look at your flickr account and there is an immense number of great photos you took and in all honesty I don't believe they could be better if you have used "better" gear. Keep up the good work.

Bernard Languillier's picture

Thanks for the kind words. I have always been using the best available at the time, beside many images were captured as pano stitches starting 12-13 years ago. ;) But even though I agree with your statement that there are no poor or even very few average lenses these days, there is still a pretty clear difference btwn good and great lenses, in particular when bokeh plays an important part in the look of an image.

To what extend this contributes to the quality of an image is of course open to debate and there will be no universally true answer. As an example, I find the grinding patterns in the OOF highlights of some recent great lenses (Otus 85mm f1.4, Canon 28-70mm f2.0,...) to have the potential some otherwise great images. Other won't care about this. I sold my Otus 85mm f1.4 because of this and find the 85mm f1.8 S to be a great replacement at a much cheaper price point.

I guess it all depends on the degree of attention you pay to such details and of personnal taste.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

"I guess it all depends on the degree of attention you pay to such details and of personal taste." Very true and a one question photographers should be always asking themselves is what are there viewers paying attention to.

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