Mirrorless Still Has a Significant Weight Advantage Over DSLRs

Mirrorless Still Has a Significant Weight Advantage Over DSLRs

When mirrorless cameras first started gaining popularity within the industry, brands and photographers were generally discussing the weight and size advantages. This was predominantly true until larger faster aperture lenses were brought into production and the mirrorless weight advantage was supposedly debunked.

Up until quite recently, I, like many others described the weight advantage of mirrorless cameras to be somewhat of a myth. When you start using lenses like the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, then the weight difference becomes mostly negligible. If anything, it's a disadvantage to have a tiny body and a large lens due to how front heavy the system becomes. A combination such as that is rather uncomfortable and to combat that, you need to use a battery grip; then you're back to having a large, heavy system. The alternative would be to use smaller prime lenses and this is where mirrorless holds a significant advantage over DSLR type cameras.

Mirrorless Primes Are Better Primes

Admittedly this subheading is a little incendiary, but in the words of Kevin Hart, let me explain. Chances are you've probably heard several companies talk about the ease of developing lenses for mirrorless cameras. The main reason for this is because of the shorter flange distance. This helps with allowing the optics to sit closer to the sensor and lenses can be more efficient in design. This is especially useful for wider-angle lenses such as the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM. The ability to design efficiently means that you have the opportunity to produce extremely high-quality lenses without them needing to be huge. Another reason mirrorless lenses can be more efficient in design is that they do not necessarily require lens image stabilization. Almost all current Sony cameras offer IBIS (in-body image stabilization) to some degree. The Sony a7R III, for example, offers IBIS that's been rated up to 5.5 stops which is incredibly useful. I compared IBIS from Sony to IS from Canon and found they perform at a very similar level. The huge benefit of this is that you can have your lenses stabilized without any compromises.

Optical performance is another area where many mirrorless lenses perform noticeably better than their respective DSLR counterparts. Personally, I don't think this is because they are for mirrorless cameras but probably due to new methods and technology. Essentially they're more modern lenses and modern lenses tend to perform better.

Smaller, Lighter, and Practical

There are plenty of options currently available for DSLR cameras if you need a small light lens. The most obvious choice that comes to my mind is the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8. Aside from the relatively small aperture for a prime lens, it's actually quite a good performer. Not the best prime lens I've ever used but good enough in many situations. Other than the 40mm from Canon there aren't many other practical lenses available for DSLR cameras that you can use and keep a smaller lightweight setup. Sure there are small and light prime lenses available like the EF 28mm f/1.8, however, the performance is severely lacking. Compare that to the Sony equivalent, which is the 28mm f/2.0. Sure the aperture is ever so slightly smaller, however the performance is significantly beyond that of the Canon lens. The Canon 28mm is pretty poor wide open and comparable performance can only be achieved when you stop the lens down to about f/4.0. The Sony lens is better in almost every regard and has the ability to be stabilized due to IBIS. Not only that but the Canon 28mm is more than 50 percent heavier. A Canon 5D Mark IV with the 28mm lens will weigh 1,110 grams which is more than 250 grams heavier than the Sony setup. This may not seem like a lot but it's actually more than what the Sony 28mm weighs individually.

Another Canon alternative would be the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS. This is a lens I personally own and consider it to be a great option. Even still it's a heavier, more expensive lens and one stop slower than the Sony. Sure it has IS built into the lens, however, as mentioned above, most Sony cameras now offer IBIS which performs similarly to IS.

For portraits, 85mm lenses are quite the common choice and Canon has the EF 85mm f/1.8 as their lightweight option. Unfortunately, the performance of this lens isn't anywhere near as good as the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. Wide open it's pretty soft and has lots of visible chromatic aberrations. Once again, it's only really comparable when stopped down to about f/4.0 which defeats the purpose of having a wider aperture. The Sony lens on the other hand is superb and offers fantastic image quality, making it practical to shoot wide open. It is the more expensive option although, considering it is lighter and offers much better performance, it can be argued that it is worth the extra cost. 

Finally, we have midrange focal lengths like the 50mm mark. Canon has two options available, the EF 50mm f/1.4 and the EF 50mm f/1.8. Once again, performance from these two lenses aren't anything special and they are pretty soft wide open and all the way down to about f/2.8. Sony does have an entry-level FE 50mm f/1.8, although my preferred choice is the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. Now, this lens doesn't compare well against Canon on paper because it is heavier than the EF 50mm f/1.8 and costs a lot more. The difference is that if you're happy to pay that extra amount you end up with a lens that is significantly better in almost every regard. This lens is one of my favorite lenses to use because it's relatively small and extremely capable. To get this level of quality with Canon you'd have to buy something like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens which is significantly heavier and larger, albeit with a wider aperture. What's important to note is that even at f/2.0 the Zeiss is actually a better performer when it comes to detail compared to the Sigma. Sure the 55mm is heavier than the EF 50mm, however when you take into account the weight and size of a camera like the 5D Mark IV then the Sony system is still overall smaller and lighter.

So What's the Point? 

It's practical to shoot with mirrorless cameras and use smaller lighter lenses because they don't compromise on image quality. This is not true for DSLR cameras because their smaller lightweight lenses are more of an afterthought. If you want the higher-end quality then you have to upgrade to the much larger heavier lenses, which is not the case with Sony. Compare the FE 85mm to the 85mm f/1.4 GM lens and you'll notice how performance wide open is very similar. The reason why you may want to upgrade is for the wider aperture and the aperture control ring. The fantastic thing about this is that I can have three small prime lenses with me in a small messenger bag with the Zhiyun WEEBILL-LAB and produce high-quality results. With the 5D Mark IV I'd have to use much larger heavier lenses for better quality and this, in turn, would mean I'd have to use a larger gimbal and bigger backpack and so on. That slight difference in weight and size has a significant impact on the overall weight and size of your setup and the kind of accessories you will need.

Sony made sure they worked hard developing high quality, small, lightweight prime lenses early on. This now means we have much more flexibility with Sony mirrorless cameras than we do with many DSLR type systems. Essentially you can have a small, lightweight setup with Sony when required but also use the much larger heavier glass when you need that little bit extra. For this reason, the weight advantage of mirrorless cameras has not been debunked. 

Lead image by Reinhart Julian via Unsplash.

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Colin Robertson's picture

I see the XF 8-16 and raise you to the Sigma 12-24 f/4 (FF equivalent)—the Sigma is larger in every dimension, nearly a full pound heavier and a whopping $100 more expensive!

Jeez. That's definitely bigger. One thing I will say about the 8-16 is it hard to fault in terms of IQ.

I am trying to decide whether this article vaguely supported the main topic or mostly disproved itself. Or perhaps it is a Sony ad.

Usman Dawood's picture

If you think Sony paid me to write this article you should really read my last sony specific article.

I don’t think they’re in any mood to sponsor any articles from me anytime soon lol.

I was being snarky, which I promised that I would do less of. Sorry for being a crotchety old man. I am really pissed at my clunky, expensive Sony 4k TV that is impressively buggy and doesn't work well with the Sony soundbar.

Usman Dawood's picture

That made me chuckle lol

Keith Meinhold's picture

I think the issue of balance is more a reflection of what you are familiar with. I picked up a friends D800 after having used Sony mirrorless for many years now and it felt really heavy and uncomfortable. With mirrorless, I find with the body is incidental to a tele witghtwise and with a prime the setup is so light it, really doesn't matter. Really in time, most of us could grow accustomed to either.

Ed Sanford's picture

Mmmmmmmm.... despite the weight, pro sports photographers and news photographers (large press corps) are still lugging around large high speed DSLRs.. Does this mean that mirrorless, at this stage, is really "prosumer"?

Usman Dawood's picture

Are sports photographers and news photographers the only types of professionals?

Ed Sanford's picture

Point taken.... However, I have followed them closely and they are heavy workers (20 or 30 on NFL sidelines). It would seem to me that these pros would have started using mirror-less. Although my observations are not scientific, the only thing that I see in NFL and NBA games is DSLRs. At government press conferences and congressional hearings, the mirror flip sound is deafening. Just an observation.

Ed Sanford's picture

Follow up...... I saw one photographer with a mirrorless on the news last night. He was shooting a congressional hearing with the security council. It was really quick and he had a white telephoto lens which leads me to believe that it was a Canon

revo nevo's picture

Well other than new 50mm for eos r Canon does not have good 50mm option

Kim Galluzzo's picture

Size/Lens Weight Ratio
I agree completely with another post. I bought a Sony slr a couple of mths ago and found that the 70x300 mm lens made the small body of the camera off balance, compared too my Nikon D3300 body! IMO, the manufacturers should try and find a way too make *light* lens too offset the body balancing!

Kim Galluzzo's picture

To go with my other post - I bought the Sony Alpha6000 model

I agree _for short focal length lenses_, which is the content of the article (if not the title).

I for one however do wish that Sony would offer a better range of more practical (not so huge & heavy) but still good quality native medium telephoto and telephoto lenses - either for APS-C or full frame.

As a Sony user for travel, pet photography, nature photography and photography outside a studio in general, in my experience so far the weight advantage of Sony mirrorless systems gets a lot less clear at 70-200 and above, and perhaps the advantage reverses at that point. Yes I have tried adapted lenses, with somewhat mixed results - generally more practical to carry, but typically decent to good, but not great, AF results.

So while I'm sure that the the examples cited in the article are true, I'm not so sure that the weight advantage is true across the board for all types of photography and other classes of lenses. Just my $.02 and YMMV of course.

Usman Dawood's picture

Definitely not true for all types of lenses but I talk about how the smaller prime lenses are of much better quality making them more practical in comparison. This is not the case with DSLR their small lenses aren’t generally as good so less practical.

Yep, agree that the specific case of short(ish) primes. What I commented on (and I think others as well) is the article title. The title makes a broad and provocative claim which is different from the actual content of the article, in order to gain more attention.

Typical internet marketing I suppose and I get that,but it is going to get some negative reaction/controversy when this type of marketing is used.

Usman Dawood's picture

Why do you think it’s provocative and inaccurate.

I talk about weight advantages for mirrorless cameras in the article. I also discuss this is not the case for all lenses but that there is still a distinct advantage that mirrorless have that DSLRs don’t.

I even provided examples to back up my claims.

Because (as several readers in addition to myself have pointed out) the title of the article (and the examples) is/are only accurate for a subset of lenses/lens types.

Usman Dawood's picture

"(and the examples) is/are only accurate for a subset of lenses/lens types."

That's true for almost any lens type or almost any subject relating to lenses.

michaeljin's picture

Weight savings? Yeah. Significant weight savings? Ehhh... it depends.

Weight difference isn't that much as clickbait article states. Weight difference between d850 and a9 is 242grams. z7 and d850 weight difference is 240 grams.

Usman Dawood's picture

Literally didn’t discuss Nikon at any point. Did you even read the article?

Remember what you said, read more and write less.

Usman, be fair and honest: your title says ML and DSLR and implies all uses.
It doesn’t say Sony Canon and your specific use.

Usman is shady af. He just deflects, never answers your points directly, and acts like he doesn't know what you are talking about then claims you have low reading comprehension . Seb: my point exactly and that is why I said he should put an asterisk next to the title. While you are at it put one next to Usman's name. His title, and posts, are clickbait and not worthy of the fstopper name. Patrick and Lee, please get rid of this guy....he is ruining your brand.

Usman Dawood's picture

Yin, if you want to make a point against anything I say that's perfectly fine, even if that means you complaining to Lee and Patrick about me. Personal attacks however like calling me "shady af" are not fine and making up claims are also not fine. I never claimed that you have low reading comprehension. Stop lying Yin.

af is a photographic term and not sure why that is considered a personal attack. just look at seb's comment. i will leave it at that. you can wiggle all you want witt the truth but we are on to your tactics.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sony have the most widely used mirrorless cameras and have the largest full-frame lens line-up in mirrorless. That's the reasoning behind it. Having said that I'll grant you that point.

Oh sir, thank you for granting us that point. It's a pretty large one considering it is the clickbait title.

I am actually glad to have chosen the sony A7rii. Ultimately, the best camera is the one you carry with you the most. And with mirrorless, i dont have have to think twice of bringing it out.

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