What’s a mirrorless camera and what makes it different from a DSLR?
You might find yourself wondering about the differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera, especially that these days we are hearing a lot of mirrorless cameras on the market. To help you better understand the difference, I did my research on that with the intention of clearing all the misunderstanding between both types of cameras.
So .. What is the main difference between a DSLR camera and a Mirrorless camera? You might ask.
A DSLR camera ( short for Digital Single Lens Reflex ) uses a mirror inside the camera body to reflects the light coming through the lens up to the optical viewfinder where you can see and preview your shot. Whereas in a mirrorless camera, the design is a bit different. As there is no optical viewfinder, therefore, the image sensor is being exposed to light the whole time which allows you to have a digital preview of your shot either on the LCD screen or an Electronic Viewfinder.
Why do you need to know that? because basically, the different mechanics used in both camera affect the results and the features that each type of camera can provide.
While DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have so many differences ( as I will be mentioning them later ), they both enjoy a similar feature; you can change the lenses which is a feature that differentiates them from other types of cameras such as point and shoot.
Top differences between DSLRs and Mirrorless camera
As I explained earlier, DSLRs uses a mirror inside the camera body that reflects light coming in through the lens into the optical viewfinder that it has. So, once you press the shutter button the mirror flips up allowing the shutter to open so the light hits the image sensor. And this is how the final image is being captured in a DSLR camera.
However, in a mirrorless camera, the light passes through the lens and right onto the image sensor which captures a preview of the image to display on the EVF ( electronic viewfinder ).
Mirrorless Cameras VS DSLR
When you compare a DSLR to a mirrorless camera, the first thing that you would notice is the big size and weight of the DSLR. As we said, the DSLR has a mirror mechanism which makes its body tend to be larger and heavier than a mirrorless camera.
On the other hand, a mirrorless camera is considered to be more lightweight and have a compact design. Which can be described to have a pocket- size design. However, this is not always the case, as sometimes the lens used are just as big as the DSLR.
Most of the DSLR cameras have a full frame (35mm) image sensors, with only a few mirrorless cameras that have the same sensor size. Since most of the mirrorless cameras are smaller in size, this affects the size of the image sensor as well. The sensors in the mirrorless cameras are usually APS-C (a 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor from 35mm) or Micro Four Thirds (MFT) which is half the size of 35mm (a 2x crop factor). However, the Sony A7 series managed to be the only mirrorless cameras with a full-frame image sensor.
** Notice that with a full-frame image sensor you will have sharper images with less noise in it.
DSLRs use fast and efficient ‘phase detection’ autofocus technology, quickly measures the convergence of two beams of light. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras use a technology called contrast detection which uses the image sensor to detect the highest contrast. And comparing the two technologies; contrast detection is slower than the phase detection especially in a low light situation which concludes that DSLRs are better when it comes to autofocus.
However, this is not the case anymore, because the latest production of mirrorless cameras mirrorless cameras now have what’s called a ‘hybrid’ AF systems; both phase and contrast detection sensors built into the image sensor.
When it comes to lenses and camera accessories, DSLR gives you access to a wide option of lenses ranging from cheap to expensive. The reason behind that is because DSLR cameras have a longer history than mirrorless cameras. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras have fewer options restricted in a small number of lenses offered by the camera maker. Yet, this number is gradually growing with the competition that we are witnessing in the market. Other mirrorless series cameras have a lot of third-party lenses that can be used.
Mirrorless cameras lack optical viewfinders; it uses an electronic viewfinder (or EVF, which is used in most but not all models) and it displays what the camera sensor sees on a tiny screen. DSLR Cameras have an optical viewfinder; which shows you what the camera will capture. The advantage of electronic viewfinders is that they can display a lot more information than an optical viewfinder can. And they are pretty good when shooting in a good light ( outside light) as it will display something that looks close to the final image. However, this is not the case in low light situations. A DSLR camera would perform better here.
Image and Video Quality
When it comes to image quality, both types of cameras produce high-quality images. however, this is not the case with all mirrorless cameras ( as I said before, some have low size sensors). However, with the SONY A7 series, this is not an issue anymore as they prove to be able to have a mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor that produces high-quality images.
As to videos, higher-end mirrorless cameras are generally better in video shooting than DSLRs. And that is because of the contrast detection focus method that mirrorless cameras use. ( although DSLRs have the same method it is less accurate which affects the overall quality of the video.
And let’s not forget to mention that mirrorless cameras can now capture 4K, or Ultra HD video.
DSLRs have longer battery life since they can shoot without the need of using LCD screen or EVF. Therefore it is been said that mirrorless cameras will have weaker batteries and you need to have spare batteries with you in case of long shooting sessions.
How to choose the best for you
Well, I have tried to sum up all the differences between DSLRs cameras and mirrorless ones. But understanding the technical differences may not be the only factor that you need in making your decision. You will also need to consider your budget, your need ( still photography or video) and what level of photography you are in.
If you are new to the industry and have a tight budget, it might be a good decision to start with a cheap DSLR. This way you will have more features than what a low budget mirrorless camera can offer you.
if your focus is on video shooting industry and filmmaking, don’t think twice and get yourself a high-end mirrorless camera (Check: 5 best mirrorless cameras for shooting a video).
At the end of the day, there is nothing better than hitting the nearest store and try the look and feel of both cameras to help you make your decision.