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Mirrorless vs DSLR: Which Is Right for You?

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mirrorless vs DSLR cameras side by side

Less is more, some like to say. How is it best, though, when it comes to the ideal photo device? In our mirrorless vs DSLR comparison, we will explore what compact system cameras and digital SLRs have in common, as well as what sets them apart.

mirrorless vs DSLR cameras side by side
Mirrorless vs DSLR Comparison

Mirrorless vs DSLR: What Would You Choose?

Before diving deeper into the mirrorless vs DSLR comparison lets take a look at what the mirrorless technology is all about.

Mirrorless Technology Explained

Mirrorless cameras are also known as compact system cameras. Dubbed as 3rd generation photo devices too, they aim to offer the functionality of a digital SLR camera and the size of a point and shoot. In recent years, sales trends show that smaller but super performative photo devices have gained a bigger market share.

Mirrorless Cameras: Main Characteristics

  • Compactness: this is probably the best-loved attribute in a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. That is why they are called CSCs – compact system cameras. They are small, lightweight, and fit any bag.
  • Versatility: mirrorless cameras promise high-end DSLR-like features and controls and the truth is that best mirrorless cameras sport a similar technology when it comes to image quality and stabilization. With their new hybrid autofocus systems, they are starting to minimize the autofocus speed advantage seen in DSLRs.

Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras: Similar Features

Mirrorless cameras are perfect for those who want DSLResque features in smaller devices. Let’s see what makes them so versatile and why they are ideal alternatives to DSLRs.

Some say that MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable cameras) are like DSLRs only without the mirror system. The reality is that they are almost as customizable as digital SLRs.

  • Image quality: in terms of quality, CSCs perform well, almost as excellent as DSLRs. But let’s draw a line here. A mirrorless camera cannot compete with a full frame advanced SLR. It can outsmart an entry level DLSR, but it is, at its best, an alternative to an expert digital SLR camera.
  • Performance: depending on how skilled a photographer is, mirrorless cameras can be as versatile as digital SLRs. Expert, pro mirrorless cameras have cutting-edge technology like DIGIC 6 processing engines, CMOS AF systems and Wi-fi connectivity, as well as advanced video recording capabilities (e.g. Olympus OM-D E-M5 II). They perform well in low light conditions too, with native ISOs that go up 25,600 (extendable to 51,200).
  • Menu features & controls: MILCs and DSLR have similar functions. The majority of CSCs have a full Manual Mode, as well as A (Aperture), P (Program), and S (Shutter Speed) modes (recommended for beginners). They don’t have as many button controls as compared to DSLRs, but they support advanced operations.
  • Price/performance ratio: if CSCs are smaller, that does not mean they are cheaper than DSLRs. You may pay more than $1,500 for a professional CSC. For instance, a Sony A7 II costs now $1,698.

Speaking of options, let’s see what renowned DSLR manufacturers have to offer when it comes to compact system cameras.

  • Best Canon Mirrorless DSLR-style Camera: Canon EOS M3 – fast and powerful as a DSLR.
  • Nikon Mirrorless DSLR-style Camera: Nikon 1 J5 – a very capable, retro-inspired CSC.

Mirrorless vs DSLR technology

DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras: Main Differences

It seems that there is no winner in the DSLR vs mirrorless comparison when it comes to quality and performance. However, there are a few notable differences between the two that can influence a buyer’s choice.

Lens selection: let’s consider first the lens offer. If at the moment you can find anything you may want to try out for DSLRs, from wide angle to fisheye lens, 3rd generation camera owners do not enjoy such a large lens selection. That means that a professional or a “serious” photographer is likely to always go for a DSLR. There is the unbeatable advantage of choosing from a wide range of lens selection (entry level, expert, advanced, zoom, prime etc) as well as prices. Among mirrorless cameras, the Sony A-line has the better lens offer, followed by Olympus and Panasonic.

Design, Size & Usability: next, let’s talk about their design a bit. Obviously, MILCs bring the benefit of not dealing with a back pain after a long day of photo shooting. DSLRs are considerably heavier and less portable, but ideal for those who want a solid, roughly built device. Also, their size differs greatly for a good reason: CSCs lack the mirror and pentaprism in a DSLR.

Performance: we have to admit it – generally, DSLRs are better equipped when it comes to AF systems and ISO range extensions. Also, an optical viewfinder can make the difference when it comes to best manual focus and image accuracy. Some mirrorless come with an electronic viewfinder, but this is not as versatile as an optical one.

Mirrorless vs DSLR: Verdict

Mirrorless cameras are not meant to replace DSLRs entirely, but they make for excellent alternatives either for a secondary camera (if you are a pro), or a device you can use on a daily basis for similarly accurate results.

If you are an enthusiast photographer not planning to invest in photo equipment and extra accessories, I would definitely choose a mirrorless camera. CSCs are the best choice for casual photography purposes.

On the other hand, if you consider taking a step further towards a pro-level or wish to enjoy a more diverse selection of lenses and the advantages of an optic viewfinder, then I would recommend getting yourself a digital SLR camera. In the studio or on the field, MILCs will hardly replace DSLRs. But who knows? Some tech advancements are so fast paced that it would not be wise to give tongue to any definitive statement.

Recommended Read:

If you are looking for a mirrorless camera, make sure you check our top picks for this year. The selection is based on the prestigious TIPA Awards endorsements in over 40 categories of photo, video, and imaging products. There is one for every budget and experience level, from entry-level to professional.

If you are more into DSLR products, don’t miss our guide on how to choose the best digital SLR camera in 2015.

Photo Credits: 1, 2.



Don Phillips

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