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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117 Comments

Previous comments

Brand loyalty and gear acquisition syndrome over photography makes this happen.

hmmmm. seriously, get over it. i have fuji xt10 and xt1, nikon j1, nikon d600 and d800, sony hx80, iphone x max. every camera has its pro and cons. i use the xt10/xt1 35mm 1.4/56mm 1.2 for daytime ourdoor portrait work when i need to travel light. the d600 stays at the studio with the 24-70, or only when i need to shoot my daughter's concert in dark settings with the 70-200 2.8. the d800 is permanently attached to my tam 15-30 2.8 for astrophotography. when i need to shoot distant video outside and need travel light, i get the sony hx80 with it's super zoom. iphone is for sharing quick social images to update my friends and family. j1 with the ft1 adapter and 70-200 is for when i need the extra reach for wildlife.

marc gabor's picture

People just like to fight. Ego is the enemy.

I recently switched from Nikon DSLR to Sony Mirrorless. I love the mirrorless platform, the fact that you can work in your composition right there in your camera by picking adjustments and see changes happening right there life in your viewfinder does not have comparison with any thing in the DSLR world. I still adapting to the new AF which seems a lot better and sometime slower. Another main difference is that you can currently adapt almost any lens and use it in your Sony mirrorless. That give you access to really old German and Russian manual lenses at a fraction of the cost of same new quality lenses. Manual focus in a Sony mirrorless is the best I have seen.

But the bottom line to me is that a camera is a tool and what makes a big difference is how well you mastered that tool and the options available to you on that tool. The end result coming from a DSLR or a Mirrorless can't be detected after post edition and that's what counts to me. The rest is a discussion about how comfortable you feel using your camera.

And the other big question when choosing your platform is how much can you afford.

I have read many many articles and reviews on mirrorless....and have borrowed friends XT-3's and loved them...and often look at my 5DMk2 as a dinosaur....yet...I have recently put serious thought into going back to my roots and re-buying the camera that made me most happy and shot my favorite images. Pentax 6X7. Manual focus. Shutter and aperture. Hand held meter. Auto...NOTHING.

Mark Wyatt's picture

SLR. We don't NEED no stinkin' "D" (though we like it like Mikey). That is a classic.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'd looooove to play with that thing.

Eric Peterson's picture

This is an easy one. People tend to hate change and are threatened by it. They have also invested a lot of money into their equipment. They also tie their identity up in their choice of gear. It reminds me of the last 2 times this has happened in my career. 1st Auto focus all the old timers freaked out said it would never last, Nikon lagged behind and Canon dusted them. 2nd Digital same as above. I was with Canon until last year and had a lot of gear, I could see the future was going to be mirrorless. I waited and waited and finally Canon puts out the RF... WTF..... I sold all my gear for a pretty good price a year ago and switched to Sony. Is it perfect..NO... Its growing on me and the same gear I sold a year ago has dropped in value... a lot. Canon will release their last pro body and a couple consumer bodies and likely no more lenses for EF. So go ahead and keep it all and I will chuckle at your cute videos in a couple years about all the Cheap L glass you can buy and adapt to your new R mounts.... I really do like my A9 and A7rii and I sometimes miss my Canon gear. But no looking back.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

The RF mount is awesome what is wrong with it in your view? Great lenses and the cameras are getting better and better with the firmware Canon has been putting out. I have both the R and RP... no major complaints. Either one of them are leaps and bounds better than my 6D II was.

Ryan Davis's picture

If you want to hump a full complement of lenses up a mountainside, you might find that wide RF mount has some disadvantages.

Eric Peterson's picture

That's an easy answer for me. I shoot a lot of weddings, concerts and indoor performances. The silent shutter and low light and eye auto focus on the A9 is game changing. Absolutely astonishing and very useful for me. The low light (noise) performance no rolling shutter in silent mode and dual card slots are required for me. Also, the native lens selection is far better. I don't want one more thing to deal with, converter for old lenses. I use to love my Canons and believe eventually they will catch up to Sony but I didn't want to wait a few more years. Lastly, the cameras are way lighter and over several hours of shooting it makes a noticeable difference.

Alec Kinnear's picture

The Nikon Z6 has a quiet enough mechanical shutter that one can shoot in most places without resorting to silent shutter. Game changer over the A7 III which is really clackety-clack like a rifle shot. If going Sony, go A9, that's for sure though as the silent shutter feature is finally usable. That's a lot of coin though for a low resolution body (not that there's anything wrong with 20 or 24 MP. Pixels have not looked this good (Z6) since the original Canon 5D (12 MP).

Rick Pappas's picture

I love my Canon 5DM3. When it breaks, I'll love the mirrorless camera that will replace it. Yaaaaawwnnn.....

Rod Bruno's picture

The day my D810 dies and it becomes more expensive to fix it rather than getting a mirrorless, I will switch....or mirrorless can make my photography significantly better...I will switch...until there...NO.

When going over my event shots, there's times I wonder if a mirrorless would have gotten the shot that I missed? Things like missing focus, maybe auto eye-AF would've been quicker, or I was too limited with only 52 phase detect points. Indoor to outdoor exposure. Did my meter measure the scene wrong that I missed on the first shot? Where an EVF would've told me right away that the highlights are too bright or the shadows too dark without having to chimp on the 2nd shot.

Shooting with an old D300, there's a lot of "what ifs" that make me want to lean mirrorless. The right tool for the job, and sometimes that tool is a specialized one. My hesitation is glass. Because going mirrorless means either getting an adapter or converting the whole ecosystem.

Alec Kinnear's picture

The Nikon Z6 is absolutely bulletproof with Nikon F glass and the FTZ adapter. You don't need new glass. Buy yourself the 50mm f1.8 S just for fun at $300 on sale to have a taste of the Z glass you can buy later.

It is a shame that an article on civility is necessary for something as trivial as camera technology. Social media has become the artillery of social interaction. It allows you to injure from afar without the troubling interference of conscience.

Photography is an art. Ansel Adams produced some of the most spectacular images the world has ever seen using only the crude photographic equipment of the time. Technology may keep raising the bar as to what are good and what are great photos, but the gap between good and great will always exist. Great is sometimes the result of blind luck, but it is most often the result of vision and hard work. It is seldom the product of "better" technology. If it were, great photographs could be created by anyone with the cash to buy the latest and "greatest" camera.

In art, there is no right or wrong. The best tool is the one you know how to use to produce the result you intend. I commend the author for reminding us that we would benefit more from considering differing opinions and applying them to our particular objectives, than condemning varying views.

Mark Wyatt's picture

"Ansel Adams produced some of the most spectacular images the world has ever seen using only the crude photographic equipment of the time."

Not sure I would call his view camera equipment crude. Same equipment is still in use today and cannot be beat- even by digital.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Ansel Adams photos are not that great. You can go online and find a million photos better than anything by Ansel Adams. Anyone with common sense would know that taking pictures like Ansel Adams did is a waste of effort... unless you just like that sort of thing. But call a spade a spade. Don't pretend there is some magic in an old photo when it's really just nice... for an old photo.

Will Murray's picture

@kenessyphoto on IG...

Moving on.

Mark Wyatt's picture

What do you define as "better"? Technically more perfect (sharper, fewer abberations, more post processing)? I suspect that you can go online and find better images (especially technically better) than those produced by Renoir or Raphael, but their images do not cease being great.

If not digital, I bet a lot of those better images were still produced on a view camera.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Better in every possible way imaginable.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Ansel Adams was an incredible gearhead who wrote an entire book called "The Camera" (rather dull stuff for other gearheads) and followed it up with another full length book called "The Negative" and then finally "The Print". Photography geek Ansel Adams makes fstoppers look like normal human beings.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Of course mirrorless is better. The truth is the mirror was always a hack. Now that technology has progressed this hack is no longer necessary.

Having a mirror creates more problems than it solves. The biggest problems it creates are various limitations in focus accuracy. It also limits the sensitivity of the AF points.

With mirrorless these issues are long gone. No more micro focus adjustments. No more limitations to f-stop. IE no more loss of focus accuracy or focus points when using an extender. No more limitations in the accuracy of focal points at the edge of the frame. No more limitations in tracking subjects that move across the frame.

Focusing with mirrorless is more consistent, faster, more accurate, and vastly more flexible because the focus happens using the clear full resolution image produced by the lens.

In theory mirrorless cameras should also be cheaper to produce which should translate to more profit for the companies making them, less problems for consumers, and potentially lower prices overall.

The big issue that people have of course is OVF vs EVF. I think technology advancements will make most of these concerns irrelevant. I personally find manual focusing with my EOS R pretty easy for subjects that are up close. But the really nice thing is being able to focus peak and get perfect focus with a manual lens.

All in all I don't understand the resistance to mirrorless being offered up by people.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Mirrorless have the same advantages that rangefinders had over analog SLR in terms of optics (mainly for wide angle lenses). Not having to account for the mirror extra distance to the film plane) and not needing to add retro-focus means simpler, better quality optics with fewer compromises.

Mirrorless is the future, but DSLRs will persist for a long time (in the used market) because they can still produce excellent results.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

at the moment for the beginner, mirror-less is way to expensive. Nikon have the D3000, D5000,D7000 ranges to choose from , all way cheaper than the Z range. Until those get rerplac3ed with mirror-less equivalents they will always have a place.

Julien Jarry's picture

Please no more.

I really think it cannot be made more simple.

MIRRORLESS — is the direction the market is heading.

The “problems” with ML used to include substantial lag between what you might be looking at on the internal video-viewfinder screen and real-time. Or that the viewfinder wouldn't be bright enough in most full-sun situations. Or that its brightness would be “out of whack” compared to looking at the reflected-in-a-mirror image that DSLR's have always had.

Some of those issues remain, especially the third one.
It is particularly hard to address … to have an image covering a million-to-one absolute range.
But I've little doubt that it'll eventually be “done right”.

Then there's the battery-life thing. Simply, the mirror in a DSLR 'lights up' the viewfinder “just fine”, with no input power whatsoever. None. So, even tho' it takes additional burst power to lift the mirror out of the way in order to shoot a shot, over the longer term (minutes-to-days), the mirror is an energy king. I've gone on 2 week vacations with only a second set of batteries for my D90, and only had to use the 2nd one on the last day of shooting. … Can NOT do that with an ILM camera.

The other 'gotcha' is more of a legacy-vs-newbie thing … If you already have older lenses, you'll need to purchase at least a barrel-conversion thingy for the newer ones. Very old lenses might not be useful no matter what. But as a newbie, who cares? Your pocketbook is the sole limit on what new fun stuff you can buy!

DSLR — has its issues too.

• № 1 Noisy — for sure. Its only a matter of time before the Press Corps will be required to use no-clicky mirrorless cameras.

• № 2 Heavier — generally (tho' not always!) the shells are bigger, the stuff-inside heavier, the lenses “longer”, thus heavier. Dunno. This is a pretty important one.

• № 3 More dust potential

• № 4 Less resilient to drop-bang torments. All those little springs and gears…

• № 5 Needs somewhat more professional tweaking over the LONG haul.

• № 6 Lower cycle time, shot-to-shot. Mirrorless definitely is eating everyone's lunch here.

• № 7 Constrained HSL (hue saturation luminance) dynamics due to 'industry' expectation.

№ 7 is probably the least talked about, yet one of the most important 'things to watch' that will define how Mirrorless competes … not with DSLRs … but with SmartPhones. I'm serious!

My brother (D750 + Samsung Smartphone), and I (D90 + iPhone) went on a 3 day weekend-to-have-fun-photographing. When we finished it off, we exchanged all our shots, then proceeded — independently — to back-end photo process them. Photoshop, other tools.

Grinding away, not talking, we had a conversation a couple days later.

BOTH of us had come to the same conclusion: it is remarkable how much better the smart-phone shots were in challenging (and vexingly 'ordinary') lighting situations compared to the DSLRs. Even when the DSLRs were on their best auto-behavior, the shots just … paled (except for resolution and geometric acuity) compared to the SmartPhone shots. oh… after photoshopping, the DSLR shots could be “pulled and tugged” into being not just comparable, but often superior to the SmartPhone shots. But it took WORK!

I think this is where the ILM mirrorless cammera will have their hardest competition, and not being held to the same ancient linearity constraints as the DSLRs, they will adopt much wider and more accomodating hue-saturation-luminance models, far better 'white temperature' auto-adjustment, and so forth. For just about all naturally-and-artificially lit scenes. JUST like the smartphones are improving.

And then … it'll become obvious.

If you are a PHOTOGRAPHER, you will use both smartphone and ILM cameras. They each have their place. Small, spontaneous, the smartphone always, always wins. But excellence in geometric acuity, much better optical resolution and all the 'big box' attention to photographically useful features … that would nominally frustrate the 'mom-and-pop-and-kids' users of SmartPhones, will excel.

Just Saying,
GoatGuy ✓

Campbell Sinclair's picture

I use my Note 8 a lot to take photos of my 2 year old , they are unpredictable so you need a camera on you always.

always point fingers!!!! <-------

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