If I were writing this article a few years ago, there wouldn’t really be any competition between high-end DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras. DSLR cameras were so far ahead that buying a mirrorless would mean compromising on several factors including image size and quality. There was also the issue around the optical viewfinder versus a digital one in a mirrorless camera (more on this later). But these days the story is very different. So which should you buy? Our guide will help you decide.
What is a DSLR camera?
Before we talk about which is the right camera for you, it’s important to understand the differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. A DSLR camera is a digital single-lens reflex camera. The way in which a DSLR works is that light enters the camera and reflects into the optical viewfinder via a mirror inside the camera body. So when you look through the viewfinder, you are seeing a real-life view of the scene in front of the camera. In other words, an actual reflection (this is the main difference between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera). Then when you press the shutter release button to take a photo, the mirror flips up which allows the light to hit the camera’s sensor and create the image.
When the mirror swings up, your view in the optical viewfinder goes dark momentarily until the mirror flips down again. The benefits of having a mirror in the camera are that you get to see an actual real-life view of the scene. It also gives an extra layer of protection for your sensor against dust and debris.
What is a mirrorless camera?
A mirrorless camera works in exactly the same way as a DSLR in that light enters the camera and creates an image by hitting the camera’s sensor. But the major difference between mirrorless cameras and DSLRs is the lack of a mirror in the former. Because there is no mirror you can’t see a reflection of the scene in front of you. So, what you see instead is a digital version of the scene. This is why a mirrorless camera viewfinder is known as a “digital viewfinder”. In essence, it is the same as if you were looking at the LCD screen on the back of your DSLR in “live view” mode.
What’s the big deal about a mirror?
You may be thinking what the whole point of a mirrorless camera is if it simply lacks the mirror of a DSLR. Well, there are a few big advantages to having no mirror in a camera. For one, because there is no mirror, the camera body can be smaller and lighter in weight than a high-end DSLR. But also from a photography point of view, without the need for a mirror to have to mechanically flip-up, mirrorless cameras allow for far more frames per second than DSLRs. In fact, DSLR cameras are no longer able to compete with high-end mirrorless cameras on that front.
Optical vs. digital viewfinder
The biggest impact of a lack of mirror to a photographer is what they see in the viewfinder. As mentioned above, without a mirror you will see a digital version of the scene in front of the camera. Again, a few years ago this was one of the biggest drawbacks of mirrorless cameras as there was a slight lag between what was happening in front of the camera and what the photographer was seeing in the viewfinder. So, for example for a wildlife or sports photographer, this would be hugely detrimental as it might mean missing the perfect moment with even a minute delay. However, the recent years this has pretty much been eliminated from top of the range mirrorless cameras. Having said that, sport and wildlife photographers still do prefer the optical viewfinders of DSLRs.
So, which should I buy?
As a Canon DSLR shooter myself, it is getting increasingly more difficult to see the benefits of DSLR cameras over mirrorless. DLSRs are bigger, heavier and in most instances more expensive than an equivalent quality DSLR. Personally, I still do prefer the optical viewfinder of DSLRs but that is just because it is something that I’m used to. At the moment mirrorless cameras still don’t have the breadth of lenses and accessories available for them. But, then you have to ask yourself how many lenses do you actually need? The reality is that the market is moving increasingly towards mirrorless cameras. There are far more models of mirrorless cameras being released these days and far fewer DSLRs. But don’t worry, I believe that there is a long way to go before DSLRs are completely phased out.
So, to answer the question above as to which you should buy, it will ultimately come down to your budget, the type of photography that you do and what you are comfortable with.
Mirrorless cameras are here to stay and are probably the future of digital photography. As the technology improves more and more functions will be added which will make mirrorless cameras an even more attractive proposition versus DSLRs. Hopefully, this article will help you decide which is right for you.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.