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DSLR or Mirrorless Camera - Which Is Best For You?

October 28, 2015 by Marie Joabar

We’re often asked if mirrorless cameras (sometimes referred to as ILC- Interchangeable Lens Cameras) are as good as DSLR cameras. The answer of course depends on which mirrorless and which DSLR. A better question might be which is best for you and the answer to that depends on what you photograph and how you need your camera to perform for you. Lets take a closer look at some important considerations when deciding between a mirrorless or DSLR camera.


The most obvious advantage of the mirrorless cameras is the size and weight of the camera body. Not having a prism, a mirror and the mechanical parts to move the mirror makes them much smaller and lightweight.


All DSLRs have viewfinders which allow you to compose your shot “through the lens.” This is extremely handy when shooting outdoors on a bright sunny day when the glare on the LCD blocks our view of it. The entry level mirrorless cameras do not have viewfinders while many of the mid and pro models have an electronic viewfinder. Although handy in bright sunlight, the electronic display can lag as you or your subject move. Most cameras with a viewfinder (DSLRs and mirrorless cameras) offer the option to use the LCD screen instead of the viewfinder (on DSLRs, look for the “Live View” mode, on mirrorless cameras look for the button or menu setting giving you the option to choose). This will use a little more battery power but many people prefer to compose this way.


Mirrorless cameras can be helpful especially to those learning photography as they display how the image will look before you press the shutter button. For example, you can see if your image will have a color cast, or if it will be too light or too dark before you take the picture. This allows you to make any necessary adjustments before shooting. This is not the case with DSLRs; you have your meter reading but no visual of what you are capturing until after you shoot.


With the exception of the Sony a7 series, the sensor size of most mirrorless camera brands is the same size as most entry and mid level DSLRs; approximately 24mm, although some are 21mm and 28mm. You could compare the full frame Sony mirrorless cameras to the full frame DSLRs. A few mirrorless camera brands have a slightly smaller sensor (such as Olympus and Panasonic) called four thirds (4:3) or micro four thirds. Nikon and Canon ILC cameras have even smaller sensors but they're still larger than the Point and Shoot cameras which have the smallest.


The focusing systems in most DSLRs feature phase detection technology which is superior to contrast detection found in the mirrorless cameras. Without getting too technical that simply means it has multiple sensors for each focus point which helps the camera focus faster and more accurately; very important for sports, fast action wildlife or other fast paced shooting scenarios. However that doesn’t mean the mirrorless cameras can’t focus well. When comparing both types of cameras in the live view mode, many can exceed the DSLRs because; 1. When using a DSLR in “live view” or video mode, the camera has to use the slower contrast detection focusing system. 2. Many mirrorless cameras offer a hybrid system of both phase and contrast detection. It’s worth noting that some Canon DSLRs (70D, 7D Mark II and the Rebel T6s &T6i) are using phase detection in live view. Also, the Sony a7 series mirrorless cameras use phase detection except the a7S.


Just about every camera on the market offers video but many mirrorless cameras excel in this department offering high resolution 4K video not currently offered on most consumer level DSLRs.


Consider the accessories you need for what you photograph and make sure they are available for the camera you choose. This includes lenses. Most mirrorless camera brands offer a good selection of general lenses but if you need specialty lenses, check the availability. Also consider options for external flash units, remote firing, and any other accessories you find helpful for what you shoot.


Battery life on the mirrorless cameras is far behind that of the DSLRs. Most last about 300-400 shots where on a DSLR, it can last two to three times that long. The fix? Buy and carry two as a minimum backup, three or four might be better depending on how you shoot. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to which is type of camera is better but we hope this article helps you decide which is better for you. Consider your most important needs and see which type of camera offers you the best solutions. Leading the pack in quality and technology in the mirrorless camera lineup is a small handful of cameras such as the full frame sensor Sony a7 series cameras (a7II, a7R, a7RII and the a7S) and the Fuji Xt1 (with a 24mm size sensor). These models are not any less expensive than some of the high end DSLRs but in time we may see the advanced technology they offer trickle down to the more affordable mirrorless cameras and maybe even the entry and mid level DSLRs.