(Last Updated On: June 17, 2019)

For years now, traditional DSLR cameras have been the camera of choice for both amateur and professional photographers. Recent developments in technology are resulting the rising popularity of mirrorless cameras and a subtle shift away from traditional DSLR technology. Mirrorless technology has been around for about 10 years now. Until recently, mirrorless cameras have been associated with less expensive point-and-shoot, or pocket sized cameras. However, recent advancements in mirrorless technology are showing these cameras to be a viable alternative to the traditional DSLR camera.

Shift from DSLR to Mirrorless

One of the reasons for the shift are the numerous benefits mirrorless cameras provide. Mirrorless cameras combine many of the features found in a traditional DSLR with the convenience and portability of a point-and-shoot. The overall benefit to most photographers is a camera that is lighter in weight (in comparison to a DSLR), smaller in size, and equally as powerful as a DSLR camera.


The Difference Between a Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras

So which system is best for you? To answer that question you must first look at the features and differences of both systems so you can decide which camera is best for you. 

DSLR Cameras

Nikon D3300 Digital SLR Camera smallA DSLR is a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. In order for a DSLR camera to expose a picture, there is a mirror that sits in front of the sensor that has to flip up and out of the way to expose the image. Before the image is taken, you’re able to preview the image in your viewfinder when light passes through the lens and reflects off the mirror in front of the senor. Light reflects off the mirror and up to a prism that produces what you see in the optical viewfinder.

So when you push the shutter button to take a photo, the mirror has to flip up in order to allow light to hit the sensor and produce the image. After the image has been taken, the mirror returns to it’s original position in front of the sensor. The technology used to produce what you see in the optical viewfinder is nothing new. Film cameras used the same process.

So What is a Mirrorless Cameras?

Sony Alpha a7 III mirrorless cameraA mirrorless camera is very similar to the DSLR with one major difference. It does not have a mirror sitting in front of the sensor to send an image preview up to an optical viewfinder.  A DSLR camera uses the mirror to reflect light up into the optical viewfinder. A mirrorless camera doesn’t use a mirror (hence the mirrorless name), so light can pass through the lens and end up on the image sensor.

Without light being reflected on to the Optical Viewfinder (OVF), mirrorless cameras use an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) to project what the imaging sensor sees. A good example of a mirrorless camera is the camera on your smartphone.Without the mirror mechanism and the optical viewfinder, mirrorless cameras are lighter and more compact than DSLR cameras (which is a major selling point). Mirrorless cameras are becoming increasingly popular for travel because they are light, easy to carry, and they produce excellent images.  

DSLR Live View Functions like Mirrorless

If you have ever used Live View on a DSLR camera to preview an image on the rear LCD display screen before hitting the shutter? When you press the Live View button, you probably noticed a clicking sound from your camera. What you’re hearing is the mirror flipping up and locking into place so the image can pass through the lens and directly to the sensor. This is pretty much how a mirrorless camera works.

Mirrorless vs DSLR Body Size

The body size of mirrorless cameras is almost always smaller and easier to carry than your traditional DSLR cameras. DSLR’s are larger to accommodate the mirror mechanism and prism. Mirrorless cameras have less internal moving parts, so you end up with a smaller and lighter camera body. Another great feature you’ll love are less buttons and dials on the outside of the camera since most settings are adjusted in the menu.

Mirrorless Camera Lenses

Sony FE 85mm f1.8 Mirrorless Mirrorless Cameras LensWhen it comes to lenses, there are two types of mirrorless cameras; single built-in lens cameras and interchangeable lenses. Your choice of lenses for mirrorless cameras Lenses for mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLR lenses. 

DSLR cameras have more lenses to choose from, but they tend to be slightly larger. Lenses for mirrorless are smaller and lighter, make them the ideal lens for travel, but you will have smaller selection of lenses to choose from compared to DSLR. Remember, some lenses on mirrorless cameras are built in and are not interchangeable.

Another issue you’ll encounter is shorter batter life compared with DSLR cameras. The sensor is always on receiving power which means it’s going to choose through it much quicker meaning less shots but with that being said on either end that you go make sure you have extra batteries just in case you run out of power.

Mirrorless Camera Viewfinders

Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless CamerasOne of the major features that differentiates mirrorless cameras are the viewfinders. Mirrorless cameras have two types of viewfinders; optical and electronic. Electronic Viewfinders (EVF’s) allow you to preview an image and see things the naked eye may not be able to see. Night vision is one example. The primary advantage of electronic viewfinders is being able to preview an image in real time. As you make changes to settings, you can see the impact of your changes in real time through the viewfinder.

You can also preview the image immediately after you take it without removing your eye from the camera. The EVF is extremely helpful if you’re using manual focusing because you’re able to magnify the image so you can check focusing.

Camera animationIn traditional DSLR cameras, light bounces off the mirror, goes through a prism, and is displayed in the viewfinder.  Mirrorless cameras don’t use a mirror to display the image you see in the viewfinder. Some mirrorless cameras don’t even have an optical viewfinder, which means you have to look at LCD screen in the back of the camera to preview an image.  Some people The reason I love them is because you get to see a preview of the image you’re about to take so you know is your exposure right or is it wrong is it off or on the DSLR side you just see the light that’s coming through you don’t see if your exposure is going to be right or wrong.

Mirrorless Sensor Size

Now let’s talk about sensor size. You’re going to find mirrorless cameras have pretty much the same sensor sizes as DSLR cameras. They have both full frame and APS-C cropped sensors. Larger sensors are more expensive, but they produce better quality images.



Auto Focus

One of the most important features of any camera is auto focus performance. DSLR cameras are are better than mirrorless cameras when it comes to tracking moving subjects and shooting in low-light situations. Mirrorless cameras do a respectable job tracking moving subjects, but they are not as good in low-light situations. DSLR are better when using auto focus while shooting video. However, with mirrorless cameras, you tend to get better focus tracking when using auto focus. DSLR cameras are not really designed to perform well when using tracking.

Mirrorless cameras clearly outshine DSLR cameras when shooting in silent mode. This is because in a DSLR, the mirror moving up and away from the sensor is going to be much louder than the so-called silent shutter mode of a DSLR camera.

Image Stabilization

Another great feature of mirrorless cameras is image stabilization. In DSLR cameras you will only find image stabilization in the lenses (which tend to be more expensive). Mirrorless cameras offer image stabilization in the lens and in the actual camera.

Popular Mirrorless Digital Cameras

Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera

  • 24 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-25600 (expandable to 51200)
  • Hybrid AF with 179-point focal plane phase-detection
  • Up to 11 FPS continuous shooting
  • 3-inch tilting LCD with 921,000 dots
  • OLED electronic viewfinder with 100% coverage and 1.4 million dots
PANASONIC LUMIX G85 4K Mirrorless Camera

PANASONIC LUMIX G85 4K Mirrorless Camera

  • 16 Megapixels
  • Micro Four Thirds Photo Sensor
  • Electronic Viewfinder
  • True-to-life photo image quality
  • 5-axis body stabilization
  • 4K Video recording at 30p/24p 100 Mbps
  • Weather sealed splash proof and dustproof

Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera

  • 24.3MP CMOS APS-C Sensor
  • 5.0Fps Live-view shooting
  • 3.0″ tilting Touchscreen Panel
  • 4K Video
  • Af-c Custom Settings for Moving Subjects
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II 4K Mirrorless Camera

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II 4K Mirrorless Camera

  • 20.4 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor
  • TruePic VIII Dual Quad Core Image Processor
  • 60 frames per second S-AF
  • 121-Point Dual Fast Phase Detection Auto Focusing

Mirrorless vs DSLR Final Thoughts

Ultimately, you can’t really go wrong with either system. Both DSLR and mirrorless are very capable of producing stunning photographs. Your choice  boils down to what you’re going to shoot and if you have the need for a smaller and lighter camera.

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