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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119 Comments

Previous comments
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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ??

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.

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.

Eric Robinson's picture

This discussion reminds me of a broken pencil.......pointless.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Your comment reminded me of a broken pencil?

Eric Robinson's picture

Your comment reminds me of something utterly lacking in originality.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

That is exactly what I thought about your original comment!

Eric Robinson's picture

So are you telling me you can tell the difference between a photo taken with a camera that has a mirror and one that doesn’t?

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Yeah. The mirrorless pictures will all look better. Silly question!

Eric Robinson's picture

So there is no point to this whole discussion?

It's simple - DSLR
For me as an amateur, hobyst photographer, entry model with great crop sensor (D3400), is a no-brainer.
I use my camera in "A" mode most of the time, and doing some light correction in Lightroom. Final results are absolutely stunning for me, and I really enjoy going through my photos again and again.
DSLR's are cheaper, much cheaper (mirrorless entry models with EVF are almost double the price), and I have realized that photography really makes a massive difference once you start using different lenses.
And for DSLR's, a vast ammount of good, used lenses are literally sold everywhere.
And the best part - you can get them really, really, almost dirty cheap.
For mirrorless, you can forget about that, even used, they are pricey.
Entry level DSLR combined with also "entry" lenses - prime lens 50 or 35 mm, and one decent all-around lens like 18-130, are all I will ever need in my life (casual, 2-3 times per month photographer).
And for me as a casual photographer, story ends here. Final costs are the only, and only criteria. Plus, I also like DSLR handling much more, due to my large hands.
Advanced options, rugged body, full frame, FPS burst capability, video recording,...etc, are nothing I need and will never use, since photography for me is a hobby, neither tool, job, or my income source.
And in that game, DSLR still have no match, not even close one.
Regards :)

Rich Smith's picture

This is such a pointless "debate" at this point. Unless someone else is willing to buy my camera bodies for me, I'll decide what I spend my money on, based on my own wants/needs/reasoning. Get over it; change happens, this is just like when digital took over, and when cars started going electric, the industry WILL move to where consumers take it, regardless of what existing DSLR/Mirrorless owners opinions are.

Like someone else said, the camera is just a tool. I'd be more interested in a topic around the pros and cons of all the latest photo editing software, such as Capture One, Lumina, Lightroom, Alienskin etc... afterall, the camera captures the photograph, then you (might) make the images in software.

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

Photography is a hobby for me, one of many, so I try to not spend too much (but the right amount).
I have a Nikon D600, it can produce very good images, and its price was very low (due to the bad reputation, but cleaning the sensor once a month is ok for me).
As long as the Z6 (or sony a7 III) cost will be too high, I'll stay with my D600.
I have so much to learn before thinking of moving into mirrorless systems so it doesn't matter anyway.

Matthew Horner's picture

People are loyal to a brand and after spending their money do not want to feel like the brand they have isn't validated or that there might be something better. However it's totally internal, no one other than yourself cares if you have a dslr or a mirrorless camera but the angry comments we see from site to site from people who wish to defend their purchasing decisions make good fodder for articles to generate clicks. Even I am here clicking on it. No one can tell from looking at a photo which type of camera was used, and this makes the consumer market a free for all for pricing things sky high with new models coming out.

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