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
Brent Rivers's picture

Most new shooters haven't even scratched the surface of what a camera phone can do with raw capture and manual controls. But the handwriting is on the wall. Removing the mirror allowing the creator to better see what will be captured in real time will win out. The iphone and all the have followed can be thanked for that. Eventually, grandpa dies and wont' be buying the D10 at 12K. New buyers will want the ability to create, not guess and crunch numbers. They'll want to see what they're about to capture...no mirror allows for this. And it's a dollars and cents thing. Solid state will be and is cheaper to produce over mechanical whizzy wigs.

David Love's picture

Two articles on this in one week? This topic bored me so much that I started looking at Editor picks on here and was wondering how many pics chosen in the last year were from mirrored or mirrorless? Which brand here has the most Editor picks?

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

I started photography as a hobby in 2018 with A6500 camera and later got the A7M3, and honestly as a beginner, without any experience, even I could see that the DSLRs were aging and dying just as their owners... lol

Jason Connel's picture

Shoot I'm just old enough to remember the same debates with digital vs film. How many pros are making a living with film now? What happened to the ones that refused to switch? Thats right 99.8% OF THEM AREN'T shooting anymore. (edited for those who want to argue as the author stated... funny how they are proving the author's point)

As photographers we must always embrace the new to stay relevant. My personal equipment has always been Canon but this year I switched to Sony. But with my employers I've used just about every camera system out there. Why? Answer those two questions above. I think in the future it will be Canon and Sony as the top dogs. I need to learn video now. Canon just continues to embrace the old way of doing business by only including certain features with certain models Sony doesn't play that.

I agree with the author on this. I've seen some pretty ugly comments. Especially so on the Sony articles. Those comments where there before I switched. But the more research I did. The more Sony made sense for me.

Will Murray's picture

There are pros who market film as a value add or point of difference; this being most notable in weddings. Likewise, there are a significant number of pros still shooting on D700s, D3s and D4s (and I imagine the Canon equivalent).

Given that capital expenditure in business is about nothing more than cost-benefit, I would suggest your premise is flawed from the point of view that it is incomplete.

Jason Connel's picture

Obviously, I meant in the larger scale. Yes, there are some film shooting going on, but its not "everyone" like it was before.

Will Murray's picture

That's not what you said.

Jason Connel's picture

Fixed it. Even if you wanted to take what I said literal its still basically correct. Arguing over less than 1% is dumb. Its the same reason that Kodak doesn't exist anymore. Didn't embrace the future.

I was trying to keep my comments short. I wasn't here to write an article. I was here to make a clear quick point. You two are making the author's point for him.

How many of my fellow professional shooters, 8 of them, in this studio using film? None. How many film cameras did I see at PhotoPlus? One. How many rolls of film did I see? None. How much sheet film did I see? None. How much halide paper did I see? None. Out of all the pros I know personally, meaning their phone number is in my phone, how many use film? One... Occasionally.

Will Murray's picture

Rather than getting upset when you publish a statement that is imprecise and then others assume you mean what you wrote, how about you just get it right in the first place.

You have just expended a lot of energy because you are embarrassed and now have to protest you are not a moron.

And to be clear, objecting to your blanket statement is hardly making the author's point; you know, given that the author's point was not "people will slap you for making blanket statements which are obviously wrong".

Kodak doesn't exist anymore? You might want to fix that one, too. They still sell film and chemicals, and this year even introduced a new version of Ektachrome, E100, which is very, very good. And of course they still make their Vision3 stocks for the many movies still shot on film. It's fine if you don't know or care what's going on in the film world (nobody's saying you should), but why talk about it if you don't?

Just to get you started learning about the actual state of pro photography today (rather than just ill-informed assumptions), here are a few I know of shooting film: Harley Weir, Tim Walker, Luo Yang, Emily Soto, Paolo Roversi and Jamie Hawkesworth. All big names, and all just off the top of my head. There are many more names I can't remember right now.

Jason Connel's picture

Yes, I know there are people. I know this. But its not the market it was. You want to throw down over less than 1%? Hold on let me go make some popcorn.

Blake Aghili's picture

Oh I didn't know Jamie Hawkesworth, I had seen some of his YouTube videos about Leica and RZ67 , didn't know who he is ... cool ...

Campbell Sinclair's picture

refuse to switch from film ? there are many photographers till using film.

In real life it doesn't matter. No one in my local photo club cares if someone uses a dSLR or a MILC. Just choice whatever fits your needs.

It's the so called influencers (the likes of Tony Northrup and Jared Polin) who try to start polarization between users of dSLR and MILC. All for the views.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Agreed completely. For the next 5-10 years, both will be just fine. In 5-10 years, the DSLRs may become classics, and new sensor technology will be out, likely mainly in mirrorless (or maybe cell phones only, who knows). I am shooting mirrorless (Fujifilm XT-2), but I am still shooting film also.

Anyone in your local camera club shooting film?

Campbell Sinclair's picture

People rely too much on you-tubers like Polin who have their own vested interests. My advice is go to a reputable camera store and talk with the experts.

Keith Meinhold's picture

If I still had to cary my big heavy DSLR around, I would not be in the hobby today. For others the benefits of a DSLR outweigh those considerations.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless vs.Smartphone. All have their strengths and weaknesses. Use the one that does the job you want it to do.

Canon and Nikon once did great business selling consumer cameras that looked like big pro cameras but performed nowhere near that. The advent of the smartphone is killing that marketing strategy.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

Smartphones killed the compact thats it. Even the Nikon D3000 range will still blow a smartphone out of the water. A tiny pinhead sensor will never compete with a DX sensor behind proper glass.. I once tried to edit a smart phone raw DNG on light room. The results were awful. smartphones have their place for FB and Instagram,

I really wish the title of this article was "DSLR or mirrorless, Why are you so furious" It would've sort of rhymed.

Blake Aghili's picture

Everything has its place and usage. Make an image on 8x10 film and scan it with a drum scan ... not even PhaseOne's IQ4 can match it ...

Simon Carter's picture

Q Why so furious?

A Because FStoppers incites anger by constantly posts one-vs-the-other articles.

... I'd only just popped in to see if whether the site had moved on yet ...

Mutley Dastardly's picture

What is the statement in the title?

The writer predicted what 'd be inside the comments.

There is always a best camera for everyone in every situation. In some cases it'll be the mirrorless - in other cases you may long for the older DSLR-technology - and even in other cases you want 8x10 film, or make your own analog plates. It's sometimes a technical issue - but in most cases what you as a photographer want or need. That's subjective not an objective measurable thing. That's what the title states. And right it is.

The example in the article - in my personal case 'd be a nightmare - don't ever give me a Nikon - not because the Nikon is bad - not at all - but because i simply cannot adapt to it being so different (i can use it, but it's always trial and error, we don't like each-other i assume). I'll succeed with the Fuji, Sony, Canon, Pentax... - with the Nikon i'll struggle (and i know it does because at work i have to work with that kind of DSLR).

This fact doesn't make the example in the article bad - that'd be a wrong statement coming from me. I don't like to use a photo-camera for video - just the format of the body doesn't suit that purpose. The same goes for taking pictures with a smartphone/tablet. I don't like the way it feels - i do think it's even difficult due to the changed way of holding that thin thing. That's personal taste. Maybe i could fix this by 3D-printing something that makes the smartphone look like a DSLR/system-camera (well that probably already exists in China).

Yesterday i talked to someone who moved from Minolta 7000 -> canon digital -> Sony FE-mount. He didn't expect he 'd like the Sony. He tried it at the store - and was sold onto the system.

That's personal taste. We should accept that this evolves. There is no need to point to each other - enjoy your choice - and when you know that you made the right choice for you - be happy with it.

Sam David's picture

Gee -- something rationale and balanced on this issue. How novel! Well done.

Ed Sanford's picture

I watched the shutterbugs at the end of the World Series last night. To my eye, there was not a single mirrorless out there... FWIW

Colin Shawhan's picture

As with music or many other art forms, it is the artist who makes the difference. We all know who Robert Johnson is, despite the fact his recording set-up was comparable to a Sesame Street Cassette Recorder I played with as a toddler. Didn't matter, it was Robert Johnson!

Might it be compared to the battle between.. cities/countries on who has the.. tallest tower? Honestly, due to finances I've shot on cheap sh*t pretty much exclusively, and learned to take some decent photos, even on a Galaxy 5. As someone coming into the market (not photography, I've been doing it for 25+ years) I figure screw DSLR. Why invest in tech that seems to be on its way out?

And I'll be honest again: many of my shots are still taken with a Galaxy 7 Edge. Why not a fancy camera? Because it's not there. The kid or dog is doing something cute, and if you can envision the finished product on-screen (crop by moving the phone) and take light into consideration, 12 MPx Galaxy shots are fine. Ideal? No, but life doesn't wait for you to have your gear, or have enough cash to buy any!

Edit: Here's where people might reply (or not) thinking, "Why do we care, you have junk anyway?" Because I'm relatively poor. How about we just put a "Cannot ride unless you're this wealthy" sign above the Artist Roller Coaster. I think we'd be pretty disappointed in the results.

Will Murray's picture

Sorry to burst your bubble, but I have never heard of Robert Johnson.