Serious photographers no longer have to just consider what DSLR they’ll use. Mirrorless cameras have opened up a new option, offering that high-end performance, but in a much smaller size. But can you really get DSLR-like performance in a smaller size? Which is best, DSLR, or mirrorless?
A few years ago, the answer was simple. But as mirrorless camera technology has started to catch up with their older brother, the choice is less cut-and-dry. DSLRs still have their advantages, but now mirrorless cameras have a set of advantages all their own. The decision, then, is no longer a matter of which is best, but which is best for you. Here are the pros and cons of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, to find what camera is best for your shooting style.
DSLRs: The Traditional Beast
DSLRs, with their longer history, have quite a few perks for both new enthusiasts and pros alike. Where mirrorless camera’s sensors range from 1” to full frame, DSLRs don’t even come with those smaller sensor sizes. DSLRs have either an APS-C sensor or a full frame one, and a larger sensor means a higher resolution and enhanced low light capability.
While mirrorless autofocus technology is catching up, DSLRs are still thought to have the better focusing systems. The contrast detection system on most mirrorless cameras (and also on Live View mode on DSLRs) works by trial and error, moving in and out until it reaches a sharp point. Phase detection autofocus provides much more information and focuses based on distance. This method results in a faster autofocus performance. Technological advances have allowed for a hybrid autofocus system inside high-end mirrorless models that performs just as well, but it isn’t yet universally available.
The larger body on a DSLR also allows room for more physical controls. Advanced DSLRs typically have enough controls that you can adjust nearly every shooting setting without taking your eye from the viewfinder, once you’re familiar with the camera. Larger grips also tend to be more comfortable to hold.
Many camera manufacturers charge a premium for packing big features into small bodies. A $500 DSLR tends to have better specs than a $500 mirrorless camera, though that’s not always the case.
The biggest disadvantage of a DSLR is obvious. The big size means more to carry around and more weight around your neck. You can’t take a picture if you don’t take your camera with you, and smaller cameras tend to get out of the bag more often. DSLRs have gotten quite a bit smaller in recent years, but they’re still quite a big larger than mirrorless cameras.
DSLRs also tend to be slower than mirrorless cameras in terms of burst speed. Each time a DSLR takes a picture, the mirror has to flip up to do so. Of course, mirrorless cameras don’t have that mirror, and less gear to move often means faster burst speeds. It’s relatively easy to find a mirrorless camera with a 10 fps burst speed, where DSLRs average 5 fps. You can find a 10 fps DSLR, but they’re expensive and there are fewer of them available compared to the mirrorless market.
Mirrorless Cameras: The New Kid on the Block
Mirrorless camera manufacturers have had a few years now to advance their technology, upping performance to be closer to a DSLR. While there are a lot of 1” and Micro Four Thirds sensor mirrorless cameras, there are also plenty of options with the larger APS-C sensor, and Sony has even released a handful of full frame models. Some companies even use the same sensor and processor in their mirrorless cameras as in their DSLRs.