What Is the Difference Between Mirrorless and DSLR?

Piper O'Shanassy21 Mar 2022

In terms of shooting high-quality photographs, most go for either a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras both employ interchangeable lenses that could be switched out as required. Both devices can take very high-quality photos and, generally, both devices provide some manual and automated control.

There is an ongoing argument between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras have won the argument in one sense, considering how very few new DSLRs are being manufactured. Whereas professional photographers used to invariably buy a DSLR, they're now more likely to choose mirrorless, and companies have followed suit. As a matter of fact, neither Canon nor Nikon has introduced a new DSLR in almost two years, with Pentax appearing to be the only major manufacturer remaining devoted to the medium.

However, the DSLR isn't entirely extinct. Several earlier models are still offered and thus should be considered. New ones may yet be released by Nikon and Canon, and will very surely be released by Pentax. Second-hand devices are also worth considering, particularly as rates drop. Therefore the DSLR versus mirrorless camera argument is far from over.

Which Is Better DSLR or Mirrorless?

When mirrorless cameras initially appeared on the market in 2009, they were viewed as a possible competitor to the giant DSLR, which was widely regarded as the king of photography at the time. A heated discussion soon erupted in the camera industry, pitting mirrorless cameras against DSLRs. So which is better? The debate continues today.  With the current advancements in camera technology, both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras continue to evolve and get better over time.

Main Distinctions between a DSLR and a Mirrorless Camera

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras differ in structure and design, but not in sensors, picture quality, technology, and many other aspects. A Nikon D850 DSLR will provide the same picture quality as a Nikon Z7 II, which has virtually the same sensor, except for a few more current image processing advancements.

The distinctions are on the exterior, in terms of physical design, and on the inside, in terms of 4K video recording. Personal taste is a big issue that must not be overlooked. Ultimately, the decision between mirrorless and DSLR will largely come down to personal preference.

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras provide a different shooting experience, and although mirrorless cameras have an advantage with their cutting-edge technology, DSLRs have classic physical characteristics such as optical viewfinders and old-fashioned attributes such as battery life.

Technical Differences between a DSLR and a Mirrorless Camera

Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) and mirrorless cameras are both interchangeable lens cameras with enhanced shooting features. There are several models available for each, ranging from those geared at entry-level photography hobbyists to those intended for photography experts. Both cameras often have large sensors, enabling them to catch more information and allow more light than a regular digital camera. How image previews are shown differs significantly between the two: 

  • DSLR cameras have a reflex mirror that reflects light upwards into the optical viewfinder. 
  • Whereas light enters the picture sensor directly with mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders that provide the same picture preview as the LCD screen.

Physical Build The compactness and lightness of a mirrorless camera over a DSLR are two of its primary selling factors. However, this isn't always a good thing since most mirrorless lenses have the same weight as DSLR lenses. This means if you use a good amount of thick and heavy lenses, the larger and heavier of the two cameras might probably be the better choice since balancing the combo of a lightweight camera and a heavy lens would be much more difficult. DSLR cameras are often bulkier than mirrorless cameras since they include a mirror and its enclosure, a pentaprism, a secondary autofocus mirror, and other autofocus system components.

Autofocus DSLRs used to have an edge in terms of autofocus because they employ a system called phase detection, which swiftly measures the convergence of two light beams. Mirrorless cameras were limited to a system known as contrast detection, which uses the picture sensor for detecting the highest contrast, which corresponds to focus. When opposed to phase-detection, contrast detection is much slower, particularly in low light situations. Those differences are now obsolete, however. Almost all mirrorless cameras now include phase- and contrast-detection sensors. DSLRs may imitate mirrorless cameras by lifting the mirror and displaying a live picture preview. Most cheaper DSLRs, however, are sluggish to focus in this mode because they lack hybrid on-chip phase-detection sensors and must rely on slower contrast detection to focus.

Lenses It was so much easier to swap out lenses in DSLRs for a long time since you could always find a suitable lens. In contrast, there used to be no native lens mounts or adapters for mirrorless cameras. But new native adapters which allow DSLR lenses to attach quite flawlessly to your mirrorless have become available in the last few years. This enables you to reuse many of your older lenses on your mirrorless camera with far more accuracy and stability than ever. Moreover, lenses designed specifically for mirrorless cameras are becoming available, as well as improved adapters.

Why Is Mirrorless Better Than DSLR?

Mirrorless cameras don't have a reflex mirror. There is no optical viewfinder and the image sensor is constantly exposed to light. It displays an image preview on the electronic viewfinder, which is typically an LCD screen on the rear of the camera.

Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras

  • Lightweight, small, and compact
  • Since they have fewer moving parts, they are quieter than other cameras
  • No camera shaking since the mirror does not flicker.
  • Video mode that is dependable
  • The electronic viewfinder can be utilized in video mode, whereas the DSLR viewfinder cannot. Furthermore, high resolution is integrated into most mirrorless cameras, even if they are low-end in terms of quality

  As camera technology advances, the DSLR versus mirrorless debate becomes increasingly personal. Although DSLR cameras were the leading choice for years, mirrorless cameras have achieved such remarkable advances that both photography pros and amateurs swear by them. But in the end, it all comes down to your personal preference. For newbie hobbyists, mirrorless may be the winner. It's less overwhelming than a DSLR because of its easier controls, compact structure, and simple touch screen technology. However, this comes at the expense of having access to limited lenses and accessories. If you're a pro or even a beginner that's not easily intimated by technology,  and prefer a wider selection of lenses, substantially superior optical viewfinders, and significantly longer battery life, a DSLR is the way to go.

Piper O'Shanassy

Piper O'Shanassy

Piper grew up with a love of animals, which quickly turned into a love of photographing them. She shares her tips and tricks on photography, and hopes she can help you shortcut your expansion of a passion.

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