Which Should You Choose: DSLR or Mirrorless?

Which Should You Choose: DSLR or Mirrorless?

Mirrorless cameras have now been on the market for a few years, and though initially, they weren't for some, have they now reached a level where you should ditch your DSLR to go mirrorless?

Whether you're looking to upgrade your camera or buy one for the first time, there's never been so much choice when it comes to camera types on the market. Point and shoots have largely been replaced by smartphones (except in the vlogging sphere), and bridge cameras still have their value among specific demographics, but the newest conundrum is whether you should buy a DSLR or go mirrorless?

Canon 5D Mark IV camera body

The Canon 5D Mark IV is one of the most popular full frame DSLRs in Canon's lineup and indeed out of any DSLR on the market today. It shoots 30.4MP stills photographs and captures 4K, similar to many of the newer mirrorless cameras launched by Canon and other manufacturers.

DSLRs have been around since the advent of digital photography and took over from their analog SLR counterparts in almost every area. Initially, things were slow, with low-resolution stills and poor dynamic range, but since then, the DSLR has become the powerhouse of most camera manufacturers and the line of cameras they tip as their flagships.

But what about mirrorless cameras? Initially, the cameras took time for photographers to adapt to, with electronic viewfinders, issues with certain features, and incompatibility with their own brand or third-party accessories. But increasingly so, mirrorless cameras are seeming like the better option.

Advantages of Buying a DSLR

  • There are so many more brands and models of DSLR that you can pick one up at any price point. This means you can swap and change systems inexpensively.
  • They've been around much longer, so consistent feedback from professionals and amateurs have helped camera manufacturers evolve the pedigrees of the cameras.
  • Optical viewfinders give a more realistic view of the scene.
  • Second-hand cameras can be very inexpensive.
  • Many more third-party accessories compatible with DSLRs.
Two Nikon lenses side by side

To keep in line with the lightweight mirrorless design, some lenses have also dropped the weight and come in smaller packages. Surprisingly, they retain incredible sharpness despite this shedding of size and actually look to be improving on the original DSLR counterparts in terms of optical clarity.

Advantages of Buying a Mirrorless

  • Often smaller and lighter than a DSLR of equivalent specification.
  • In-body image stabilization in some mirrorless cameras means sharper shooting in low light and smoother video footage when shooting handheld.
  • Larger mount size means camera manufacturers can be more precise with optics and decrease lens size and weight.
  • Electronic viewfinder, if of sufficient quality, can make it easier for photographers to compose in low light or at night.
Fujifilm X-T4 camera body

In-body image stabilization helps massively when it comes to shooting handheld video footage to trying to capture subjects in low light while avoiding camera shake blur. The Fujifilm X-T4 has 5-axis IBIS to keep things smooth and steady.

And the Downside of Choosing Sides?

The main disadvantage of picking a DSLR over mirrorless is that it's bigger, bulkier, and heavier, and that means taking things on long journeys or traveling with DSLRs, especially if you have a high-end model, which will break your back much faster. Fatigue plays a huge role in the kind of images you can create, because if you're not physically on location, then you've missed the shot. 

DSLRs are also harder to use at night, when composing through the optical viewfinder is almost completely impossible because you can't see anything. Instead, you can use the rear LCD screen to compose, but this is a major drain on the battery. Of course, extra batteries can be brought along, but you're adding extra weight again.

Sony a7S III camerajavascript:void(0)

The new Sony a7S III is a lightweight mirrorless camera that shoots 12 MP stills and 4K 120p video footage. It weighs just over 600 g and is only five inches wide, smaller enough to slip into even the tiniest of camera bags.

For all their benefits, mirrorless cameras also have some drawbacks. There are fewer lenses specifically designed for mirrorless cameras, than there are for DSLRs. With mount adapters that allow users to pair the new mirrorless bodies with older lenses originally designed for DSLRs, the devices become bulky and a little ungainly, which defeats the purpose of getting a slim, sleek camera designed to weigh less and take up less room in the camera bag. Also, customers have to factor in the extra cost for the adapter.

Now, my approach to categorizing the two types of camera is by no means scientific or exhaustive. I'm aware of resolution, bit depth, flange distances, and all the other technical specifications there are with comparing two different camera types. And yes, I'm fully aware that the models you choose within each system are as diverse to choose between as switching from DSLR to mirrorless. But I think my approach to choosing between the two systems will be like many other customer's views, based on the main advantages and disadvantages of the two camera types and which best suit their needs on a day-to-day basis.

Which Type Will I Go For?

I've shot DSLRs since the Nikon D90 (the world's first video-shooting DSLR) came out, but have dabbled with all kinds of cameras over the years. I must say, I'm impressed with the latest mirrorless cameras and much prefer the smaller form factor and ease of use in low-light situations thanks to the EVF. Then again, I do miss my traditional optical viewfinder.

On the whole, though, in my opinion, it's mirrorless all the way. The advantages that come with the mirrorless systems far outweigh the disadvantages that I would prefer weren't there, and I've climbed enough snowy mountains and trekked across enough hot plains to know that I want my kit as light as possible. If I can skim just a few hundred grams off the total weight for my camera bag, then I can fit another lens in, pocket a flashgun, or just make it easier on my shoulders when carrying it through the airport and onto the plane when traveling.

I just hope the camera manufacturers can keep up with the extra demands customers will have for the cameras, including extreme connectivity and the ability to share images through to editing software and social media with the speed and ease of a smartphone.

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Pieter Batenburg's picture

Well, I went to mirrorless aps-c a long time ago for a couple of very simple reasons: the weight and form factor (I suffer from arthrosis and the weight of the bag hurts my joints after some time) and the EVF which allows me to review pictures directly without chimping.
But to each its own.

Steve Powell's picture

DSLR user for many years, but thinking of renting a mirrorless camera.

Alex Reiff's picture

I shoot a DSLR now, but I'll probably jump to mirrorless next time I upgrade. Mostly because I can adapt my current lenses, and get access to some of the insane lenses they're coming out with now.

Michael Krueger's picture

I would still buy a new Nikon DSLR but that's because I'm already heavily invested in F mount glass and enjoy using my D5600 and D750.

I don't think I'd recomend anyone starting out to get a DSLR unless they got it dirt cheap on the used market, not that I dislike DSLR it's just we all know their lens mounts are all being phased out. Why invest in a dead platform?

Karim Hosein's picture

Not all of them! ;-)

Robert Edwardes's picture

Why are we treating DSLR and Mirrorless like Digital and Film. At the end of the day they use the same tech with different view finders, but due to most larger companies commitment to Mirrorless is getting most the new tech. The only advantage of DSLR in a technical sense is a OVF won't have rolling shutter when shooting moving things, but know one seems to talk about it when a new Mirrorless comes out so i doubt there is a problem.

Steven Dente's picture

What does an OVF have to do with rolling shutter? Rolling shutter is an artifact of slow sensor scan speeds when in electronic shutter mode. It is unrelated to the viewfinder.

When in mechanical shutter both DSLRs and mirrorless behave the same. No rolling shutter, and motion blur controlled by shutter speed.

The differences in OVF vs EVF is with blackout, and slide show effects. Blackout in OVF is caused by the shutter, and the mirror. Blackout in EVF is caused by the shutter when in mechanical mode. The sideshow effect in EVF is caused by scan speed of the sensor, and how quickly the EVF can be updated.

Michael Clark's picture

Mechanical focal plane shutters also demonstrate rolling shutter effects, particularly at very short exposure times ("high shutter speeds"), just not to the same extent that electronic shutters do.

Robert Nurse's picture

After renting an EOS R a couple of times and liking the experience, I've decided to move to mirrorless with the R5. The only nagging thing I've noticed so far is the need to turn the camera on just to scope out a scene through the finder where DSLR's don't require this. It's not a major issue. It'll just be something to get used to. The upsides are plenty:

- Better eye and face AF
- I get a better idea of what the results will look like in the viewfinder
- I find I'm more efficient behind the camera: getting a lot more keepers
- Substantially more AF points: recomposing at or near wide open is far less problematic

I've found that moving to mirrorless is akin to changing brands in some respects: if you're going all out, you're getting a new body and glass.

Will B's picture

I have just gone mirrorless too. And I agree with all your points. The autofocus is far more accurate than my dslr and recomposing is so easy now. The only thing I would disagree on is about the “going all out with a new body and glass.” I have stuck with canon and all my lenses work perfectly thanks to the RF-EF adaptor

William Connor's picture

I switched to mirrorless with my last camera purchase. I would have preferred a DSLR overall but Sony just doesn't support their DSLR line well at all. Their DSLR lineup was the perfect match for how I like to shoot.

I ended up going with Fujifilm and I am happy with the decision. For the record, I switched from a Nikon D750 to the XT-4.

Mike Robinson's picture

One of each, both NIKON. D850, and Z6 primarily for Video and time-lapse.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Instead of the Z6 I use a Z7.

Tom Clemens's picture

I am 67 years old.
I have arthritis and a bad back.
I shoot with a Canon ID Mark IV.
I have a 100-400 mm L and a 70-200 2.8 L. That I can hand hold and get a sharp picture
I have never heard such whining over the weight of a camera.
I am supposed to chuck all my gear and invest thousands and thousands of dollars for stuff I already have?
All because it's a little over 3 ounces lighter.
At my age I not usually inside clubs , where there is low light.
So I really don't need a camera that can shot a 57,255,657,689,090,987,654 ISO.
I like looking through a view finder.
Try looking at a little screen with progressive glasses.
If it's not standing stock still, by the time you get dialed in the shot is long gone.
What counts is will my shot be thousands of dollars better?
For most hobbyist photographers, probably not.
Can I put two identical prints side by side, and be able to tell which one was shot with a mirrorless or which one is shot with a DSLR?
I suggest if 3 ounces throws you off your game,
hit the gym.
the membership fees are probably less than what you would pay for a new camera

Alex Reiff's picture

I'm not sure where you're getting 3 ounces from. I did a quick check, and a 1DmkIV with a 70-200 f/2.8 weighs 6.6lbs, vs an Eos R with an equivalent RF lens which comes in at 3.8 pounds. 3 pounds still might not sound like much, but if you're carrying gear and shooting for hours (or if you're trying to stay under the weight limit for a carry on), that becomes significant.

Iosif Kallai's picture

A 67 year old men tells you that the weight it's not so important , he can handle it but you still found time to complain about it. Go to the gym and move some weights. 6.6 pounds , my 3 year old nephew can move 6.6 pounds.

Alex Reiff's picture

Ha. I've deadlifted 420lbs and yoke walked 540. Don't talk to me about not being able to move the weight. My point was about fatigue. Tom gave zero indication as to how long he's going out shooting. Maybe he just takes one photo and then goes home. When you're lifting a camera hundreds of times, it's a different story. Regardless of how strong you are, taking that much weight off is definitely going to make you feel better when you're 4 hours in.

Iosif Kallai's picture

That's less than 200 kg .

Leith Phillips's picture

I completely agree Tom. I'm 67 and have chronic bursitis in both shoulders but I'm fit and have no problem using my Nikon DSLR equipment. Like many photographers I have too much gear, so I'm being more careful in how I pack my bag. I was carrying a 20kg bag and I'm now cutting that down to 10kg. You just have to make hard decisions on equipment choice based on what you're going to shoot. However, old habits die hard and if I know I'm going to a shoot with easy access, I'll take a full bag with wheels! For the record, I bought a Sony A7R a few years ago when I was shooting with Canon equipment and tried using that glass with a Metabones adapter. Too often, I noticed edge smearing and an odd "plastic" look, and got rid of the Sony rather than buy native lenses. However, I liked the sensor so much I switched to Nikon. If I eventually go mirrorless, it will probably be Nikon because I have a large F mount lens collection.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

When I switched to mirrorles with more or less the same kit, my bag was 2,5 kgs lighter.

Ron Williams's picture

Same age, and I agree. Fatigue is only a factor if I work out. I still have Killimanjaro on my to-do list. Staying in shape means I will even be hiking and shooting in my 70s. I will stick with my DSLRs (Nikon), though the new Zs look interesting.

Michelle Maani's picture

Whining? I almost lost the use of my thumb because of the weight of a DSLR +100-400 lens. It was either continue with that or not be able to use my left hand for photography at all. You are probably a male with only mild arthritic problems. When your hand spasms, let me know. I have pretty much given up wildlife photography. Weight is a huge issue/

Raj Moolayil's picture

Well said sir !! It looks like people are trying to find out some reason to switch to mirtorless by wasting money. When you have already a good FF gear with all glasses why you want to sell ? Rather for low light you can opt for low cost Mirrorless " if you want to experience mirroroess ". And save the money !!!

Jerome Brill's picture

The benefits of mirrorless now outweigh the drawbacks. The answer to the question is simple if you don't have a camera or you're looking to finally upgrade. EVF has replaced the need to have a mechanical mirror flip up and down. Way way back they asked one question, how can we see what the camera sees in this compact design? They solved that problem. Although the problem wasn't about clarity, it was about composition. We've come used to looking through these optics and it's certainly nice to not have a drop in quality over real life. I think EVF's are good and now you get to see the final exposure. That's a win win. You can still complain about ergonomics. Although that's not necessarily indicative of mirrorless. Sony specifically has used it in it's marketing to say mirrorless was smaller. They could have easily used design cues from their A9 series but they wanted something techy and fresh. Will they do more than just make the grip bigger? Who knows. DSLR's had a good run though. They are still running and can still be used. Now that Canon and Nikon are in the game your options will be less and less though. Just depends if you're going to wait until it's cheap enough.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

I disagree with the point that you see the final exposure in your EVF, not when you’re shooting landscapes and expose to preserve the highlights ( your shadows will be really dark and you can’t see detail in them through your evf) or bracket shots. The image you see in the evf is a jpeg preview based on the chosen picture style. When shooting concerts and set your exposure for the lit stage, you can’t see a thing through the evf when looking at the artist that’s temporarily out of the spotlights.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Since each one has its own specific benefits, I use both, mostly D850 for sports and wildlife and Z7 for landscape. The advantage of being in the Nikon system (or Canon), is that you have both options simultaneously. The D850 and Z7 are also quite similar in handling and controls placement. This is a benefit that you rarely hear posters mention.

Drazen Cavar's picture

This article is written as if Olympus and m43 cameras don't exist at all, they have incredibly developed assortment of lenses, they are very light, and Olympus image stabilization is much better than anything else in the market.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

How so? Aren't they mirrorless?

Drazen Cavar's picture

Yes, they are, and the author states that bad trait of mirrorless is weak lens assortment. Olympus lens assortment is arguably the best in the entire market, mirrorless plus DSLR.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Maybe if you didn't paraphrase and sensationalize so much, you wouldn't be so upset. He never said "bad trait" or "weak assortment".

Btw, isn't Olympus in trouble? So much for their assortment of the best lens in the "entire market".

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