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 ??

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.

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.

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... :)

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.

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.

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.

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.

John Adams's picture

Interesting, you sound like a "vidiot" yourself because "serious" shooters don't spend time online trash-talking, like you do.

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...

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