Mirrorless vs dSLR Camera Buyer’s Guide

Mirrorless vs dSLR camera buyer's guide by Shotkit
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The Mirrorless vs dSLR camera debate has been a fierce one ever since the introduction of mirrorless cameras, and now in 2017, the battle is still raging on!

In the past, the mirrorless vs dSLR debate could be summed up by answering 2 questions: Want a smaller camera body? Get a Mirrorless camera. Want better image quality? Get a dSLR camera.

However in 2017, this simple categorisation is much less relevant, with the boundaries between mirrorless cameras and dSLRs becoming more and more blurred with the release of every new camera.

Whilst in the past there was a distinct lack of mirrorless cameras for professional photographers, in 2017 it’s no longer a surprise to see a mirrorless camera in the bag of a wedding, landscape, portrait, sports… indeed, any genre of professional photographer out there.

As a side note, this mirrorless vs dSLR post is for photographers, not videographers. Many mirrorless cameras provide great options for video shooting, but I won’t go into them here.

Mirrorless vs dSLR – Which is Best?

mirrorless vs dslr cameras - which is better?
Using mirrorless in conjunction with dSLR seems to be a popular compromise – the hybrid camera gear of portrait photographer Robert Gallagher

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – you won’t be able to tell whether a photo was taken with a mirrorless or a dSLR camera.

Just like when you eat a delicious meal at a restaurant, you can’t tell if the sauce was heated on the stove or in the microwave, the outcome will be the same, despite the tools used being entirely different.

However, what is certain is that mirrorless cameras are the future… but does this mean that dSLR cameras are dead? Far from it.

Tesla has introduced electric cars to the masses, but does this mean that in 10 years all the cars on the road will be electric? I doubt it.

I’ll return to the electric/fuel car analogy again, but before we start the mirrorless vs dSLR fight, we need to define what these 2 camera types actually are.

What is a dSLR camera?

mirrorless vs dslr - a Shotkit camera buyer's guide
The dSLR camera gear of With Love and Embers featuring Canon 5d Mark IV and Mark III bodies

A digital single-lens reflex camera (dSLR) combines the optics of an SLR camera with a digital sensor.

The ‘reflex’ refers to a design whereby light travels through the lens to a mirror, whose movement projects the image to either the viewfinder (to your eye) or the image sensor.

When taking an image, the mirror will quickly swing up and light will travel to the sensor for it to be recorded digitally. This movement happens so fast that the view through the viewfinder remains virtually uninterrupted.

If you want the more in depth definition of what a dSLR camera is, Wikipedia can bore you to sleep here ;-)

What is a Mirrorless camera?

Fuji mirrorless camera gear
The sexy and simple Fuji mirrorless camera gear of Nordica featuring two Fuji X-Pro2 bodies.

A mirrorless camera doesn’t have a moving mirror to project the image to the viewfinder. Instead, it uses an image sensor to provide an image to an electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Since there’s no need for the somewhat archaic reflex design, mirrorless camera can be smaller, lighter and mechanically simpler.

Here’s a post about the best mirrorless cameras, but the question we’re tackling today is whether mirrorless cameras are better than dSLR cameras… so let’s get on with the fight!

Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 1 | Size

mirrorless vs dslr size comparison with a Nikon dslr and a Sony mirrorless camera
A Nikon d750 dSLR camera compared to a Sony a7II mirrorless camera, as used by Jay Carrario in this review.

Let’s get this one out of the way first since it’s still the number one reason that photographers consider a mirrorless camera over a dSLR.

Whether you use your camera once a month or every day, the allure of a smaller, lighter body is a strong one.

If we were to compare the smallest mirrorless camera with the smallest dSLR camera, sure, mirrorless would win with a knock-out in the first round.

If you want the smallest, lightest camera with better image quality than your mobile phone or compact camera, a mirrorless camera is the answer.

However, ‘size’ is actually a double-edged sword. Smaller/lighter doesn’t always mean better, which many users who swapped from a dSLR to a mirrorless body and back again will tell you.

Ergonomic preferences are subjective, but for most photographers’ hands, the larger body of a dSLR is more pleasurable to hold.

Filling your hand with the camera grip provides a stable, comfortable and more balanced base than simply gripping with your fingers, which is the case with most smaller bodied mirrorless cameras.

There are some exceptions with the larger full-frame mirrorless bodies, but in general, mirrorless camera bodies are less comfortable to hold for long periods.

This issue is exacerbated when you add long or heavy lenses to small mirrorless cameras, which usually makes the camera set-up unbalanced and more tiring to hold.

Sony a7rII mirrorless camera gear of a surf photographer
The waterproof mirrorless camera gear of surf photographer Rambo Estrada featuring a Sony a7rII. Even with the grip, can you imagine trying to use it with those huge lenses?!

It’s popular for some Sony mirrorless camera owners to use adapters which allow them to attach their Canon lenses. The image quality might be amazing, but the experience of holding a small mirrorless body with a heavy Canon lens attached to it is very tiring and frustrating.

At the end of the day, size/weight is a tough round. Many photographers will tell you how their lightweight mirrorless camera changed their life by saving their backs, whilst an equal number will tell you how they’re perfectly happy with a bigger body if it means it’s more pleasurable to use.

PEN-F with J.B. Camera Designs Pro Wood Grip Wood Grip
The Olympus PEN-F mirrorless camera can be made easier to hold with a grip such as this attractive J.B. Camera Designs Pro Wood Grip.

Whether smaller does mean better is entirely subjective, but for most people, lighter is better.

The ideal for me would be the light-weight of a mirrorless camera, but in the size of a nice big flagship dSLR body. Basically a 500g Nikon D5!

As this doesn’t exist yet, this round has to go to the mirrorless camera, but dSLR is still well and truly in the fight!

Round 1 Winner: Mirrorless

There’s no denying it – mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter, which can be beneficial for traveling photographers or those with aching bodies!

Recommended Mirrorless Cameras for Size

There are many mirrorless cameras that are small and light to choose from, but the one that really has the best image quality:size ratio is the Fujifilm XT-20. Make sure you pair it with a lightweight Fuji lens – choose from one of these best Fuji lenses.

If you want a mirrorless camera with a dSLR-like grip that’s comfortable to hold for longer periods, we’d recommend the Sony A77II, or if you can afford it, the full frame Sony a99II.

If you’re looking for a micro four thirds sensor camera with a good grip, the Panasonic GH4 (reviewed here) and the newly released Panasonic GH5 are excellent choices for both photo and video work.

Panasonic GH4 mirrorless camera vs dSLR cameras
The Panasonic GH4 micro four thirds sensor mirrorless camera has a rugged body similar to a dSLR

Another way to improve the grip of your mirrorless camera is by adding a grip. In some cases (such as with this battery grip for the Fuji XT-2), the grip can actually add new features to the camera too.

There are many more affordable grips for mirrorless cameras here, which can help make your experience of holding the smaller mirrorless bodies much more pleasurable.


Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 2 | Image Quality

Olympus OM-D EM-1 sample photo
Travel photographer Vittore Buzzi uses an Olympus OM-D E-M1 micro four third sensor mirrorless cameras for his world-class travel photography. The image quality is as good as any dSLR.

This round is another tough one – it’s important that we’re comparing apples with apples here.

Image quality isn’t a question of the type of camera body (i.e. mirrorless or dSLR), but rather, a combination of the image sensor, the camera’s processor and the lens.

Since we’re just speaking about the camera bodies, we’ll be focusing on the image sensor and processor.

We’ll also ignore Micro 4/3 sensors, Medium Format sensors and all the other sensor sizes, and instead concentrate on crop sensor vs full frame (see the definitions here).

The debate about whether crop or full frame sensor is best is a long and tedious one, but the short answer can be summed up like this:

A full frame sensor gives you more options than a crop sensor – more depth of field, more width, more dynamic range and more noise control.

Whether you need any of these things depends on what you want to use your camera for, but most professional photographers will want as much creative/technical capability from their camera as possible, hence a preference for full frame sensor cameras.

More and more landscape photographers such as James Grant are switching to Sony full frame mirrorless cameras which offer excellent image quality in lightweight bodies. This photo was taken with the Sony a7r and a Sony Zeiss lens.
More and more landscape photographers such as James Grant are switching to Sony full frame mirrorless cameras which offer excellent image quality in lightweight bodies. This photo was taken with the Sony a7r and a Sony Zeiss lens.

So back to comparing apples with apples – if we want to compare mirrorless cameras with dSLR cameras, we need to compare the same sensor sizes.

To further add to the confusion, all crop sensors are not the same, nor are all full frame sensors. The way an image is rendered, whether it’s a RAW file or a JPEG, is controlled by the camera’s processor.

As you can see, it’s very hard to compare the image quality of mirrorless cameras with dSLR cameras since there are so many variables. Whether you there’s a mirror or not inside your crop or full frame sensor camera isn’t really relevant.

Each camera manufacturer (and each model produced by that manufacturer) may have different processors and sensors, so the only way to tell which is the best for you is to read reviews and test the cameras yourself.

Round 2 Winner: DRAW

Both types of camera offer equivalent sensors and image processors, meaning in the right hands, both can take great photos!

Recommended Mirrorless Cameras for Image Quality

Fuji rules the roost when it comes to excellent image quality in crop sensor mirrorless cameras. They’re so confident in fact that they chose to skip full frame completely, moving from crop sensor to medium format with the amazing Fujifilm GFX.

If you have the money and want the absolute best image quality from any mirrorless camera in 2017, invest in the Fujifilm GFX

The incredible image quality of the medium format Fuji GFX 50s
Even though the medium format mirrorless Fuji GFX 50s camera used here by Adrian C. Murray has great image quality, it’s unlikely whether the average person would be able to notice any difference.

As for my crop sensor picks, the Fuji XT-20 is great value and has very similar same image quality as its more expensive big brother the Fujifilm XT-2 (check out this Fuji XT-2 review).

If you’re not interested in an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera but still want excellent image quality, I recommend the Fujifilm X100F (check out this Fuji X100F review).

Street-photography-with-the-Fujifilm-X100F
The amount of highlight/shadow detail in the files of the Fujifilm X100F mirrorless camera is incredible for a crop sensor, and gives latitude when post processing files as seen in this image by Jonas Rask.

If you need a full frame sensor, the Sony range of mirrorless cameras are excellent. The Sony a7r II is the best of the lot, but the original Sony a7 is currently the cheapest full frame mirrorless camera available today, and its image quality is great too.

Although the micro 4/3 sensor has less capability than larger sensors, it still can produce great image quality. My favourite micro 4/3 camera of them all is the Olympus OM-D EM 5 Mark II (reviewed here).


Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 3 | Autofocus

Street photographer Dominik Woerner relies on the fast autofocus of the Sony a7, even when used in conjunction of Canon FD- lenses via an adapter made by quenoX.
Street photographer Dominik Woerner relies on the fast autofocus of the Sony a7 mirrorless camera, even when used in conjunction of Canon FD- lenses via a Quenox lens adapter.

If I’d written this post a couple of years ago, dSLR would have been the clear winner of this round.

However, comparing the autofocus of mirrorless cameras vs dSLR cameras in 2017 yields very different results.

A camera’s autofocus uses two main types of technology – phase detection and/or contrast detection.

Phase detection divides the incoming light into pairs of images and compares them, where contrast detection measures the intensity difference between contrasting areas of the image.

Phase detection is a much faster and more accurate way to achieve focus, especially in low light (since there is a lack of contrast).

Mirrorless cameras used to only use the inferior contrast detection, but this is no longer the case.

Now in 2017, many models of mirrorless and dSLR camera use a hybrid combination of both phase and constrast detection to provide excellent autofocus in most conditions.

Mirrorless cameras such as the Fujifilm XT-2 have such reliable autofocus in fact that they can even be used professionally for motorsports – arguably the ultimate test of AF performance.

The Fuji mirrorless camera gear of motorsports photographer Andrew Hall
The Fuji mirrorless camera gear of motorsports photographer Andrew Hall, who uses a mirrorless crop sensor Fujifilm XT-2 as his workhorse camera.

Unless you’re willing to pay big bucks for flagship dSLR bodies such as the Canon 1D Mark II or the Nikon D5 which offer frankly breathtaking autofocus capabilities, mirrorless cameras are now more or less on par with the dSLR in the AF arena.

One area of AF where mirrorless cameras are actually better than dSLR cameras is in face-detection.

Allowing the camera to highlight and focus on faces in your EVF can be the fastest way to take a photo, but not everyone wants the camera to make this decision of course.

Round 3 Winner: DRAW

Both types of camera can offer the best technology to acquire focus, meaning missed shots are largely a thing of the past.

Recommended Mirrorless Cameras for Autofocus

In general, the more you spend on a mirrorless camera, the better the AF performance will be. Whilst I’d call the AF on most sub $1000 mirrorless cameras merely adequate, it’s more pricey cameras such as the Fujifilm XT-2 where the AF really starts to impress.

Mirrorless cameras vs dSLR cameras
I took the micro four third sensor Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II mirrorless camera on a family tour of Europe. I found it to be a great travel camera with incredible autofocus performance. See more of my photos here.

One exception is the above Olympus OM-D EM5 Mark II, which has one of the best AF performance I’ve seen in an affordable mirrorless camera body. Also worthy of a mention in this category are the Panasonic Lumix G80 and Sony Alpha A6300.

As for full frame cameras, anything in the Sony alpha range has capable AF too.


Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 4 | Lenses

The crazy lens collection of Emin Kuliyev, who chooses to shoot with a mirrorless Sony a7rII and a whole host of lenses meant for dSLR cameras.
The crazy camera gear of wedding photographer Emin Kuliyev, who uses a Sony a7rII mirrorless camera and a selection of lenses normally used with dSLR cameras.

Since mirrorless cameras are a relatively new technology, the selection of lenses currently available in 2017 is rather limited.

Mirrorless camera manufacturers like Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Panasonic and Samsung have far fewer proprietary lenses for their crop sensor bodies, meaning far fewer options for photographers.

Choosing a dSLR camera on the other hand gives you access to a wide range of lenses from both own-brand and 3rd party manufacturers, allowing the flexibility to buy not only the exact lens for the job, but also a lens to match your budget.

If for example you wanted a fast 85mm equivalent portrait lens for your Fuji mirrorless camera, you really only have the Fuji XF56mm f/1.2 – one of the best Fuji lenses, but one that costs around $1,000.

With a Nikon dSLR on the other hand, you could choose from the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G for around $470, or even spend around $1,200 and get the impressive Sigma 85mm /1.4 Art lens.

Obviously a f/1.2 lens on a crop sensor mirrorless camera vs a f/1.8 or f/1.4 lens on a full sensor dSLR isn’t really a fair comparison, but with hundreds of lenses available for dSLRs vs the handful available for mirrorless cameras, you get the idea.

As mentioned before, some mirrorless camera users purchase adapters (like these ones from Metabones) so they can use their Canon M mount (dSLR) lenses on their Sony Mirrorless bodies, for example.

The Sony A7II mirrorless camera with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 lens meant for a Leica rangefinder camera, as reviewed by Jay Carrasio.
The Sony A7II mirrorless camera with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 lens meant for a Leica rangefinder camera, as reviewed by Jay Carrasio.

This can open the doors to creativity via a plethora of lens options, but it may also open a can of worms regarding confusing peripherals, slower AF performance and poor usability too.

Mixing mirrorless camera bodies with dSLR lenses is a bandaid solution, but it can work for some photographers (check out this example of Leica lenses being used creatively with a Sony mirrorless body).

In the near future, we’ll hopefully see the likes of Canon and Nikon release a mirrorless camera body for use with their existing (dSLR) lenses, and then the game will truly be changed.

Even though there are far more lens options for micro four third sensor mirrorless cameras, there’s still only one clear winner in this round…

Round 4 Winner: dSLR

Whilst mirrorless body manufacturers do offer excellent lenses, the selection is far smaller when compared to the lenses available to dSLR users.

Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 5 | Viewfinders

Automobile photographer Andrew Link uses a Sony a7R mirrorless camera with a Metabones IV adapter to mount Canon L series lenses.
Automobile photographer Andrew Link uses a Sony a7R mirrorless camera Canon L series lenses (mounted with a Metabones IV adapter).

All dSLR cameras come with an optical viewfinder (OVF) since it’s an integral part of their ‘reflex’ design.

This means that when you look through the viewfinder of a dSLR, you see the image that will be captured when you press the shutter button.

What you don’t see with a dSLR viewfinder however is how the exposure of the image will look.

The ability to preview your exposure before taking your shot is a huge advantage of the mirrorless camera system and its electronic viewfinder (EVF).

If you’ve ever used the Live View function on a dSLR camera, you’ll know how live exposure previewing works. Being able to see your exposure on your camera’s live view allows you to adjust your camera settings to get the exact exposure you want, before taking the photo.

mirrorless cameras vs dslrs - a fuji xpro2 example
In scenes with high contrast such as this street photo by York Place Studios, the ability to preview exposure through the EVF of the Fuji X-Pro2 mirrorless camera is extremely useful.

This means you no longer need to ‘chimp’ to get the exposure you want, i.e. take a shot, look at the back of the camera, adjust settings, take another shot, look at the back…etc etc.

Exposure previewing saves time during shooting and editing, and also encourages you to keep your camera lifted to your eye (where it belongs, if you don’t want to miss shots!)

It’s also an invaluable tool for newcomers to photography, who can see in real-time what adjustments to shutter speed, ISO and aperture can make to their photo’s exposure.

In addition to displaying exposure, mirrorless camera EVFs can display a lot more information than an OVF.

Live histograms, focus peaking, focus zooming, highlight clipping and many other features provide real-time feedback of information that could be critical to your shot.

Portrait photographer Romeo Bravo takes advantage of features such as focus peaking and highlight clipping, exclusive to mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro 2.
Portrait photographer Romeo Bravo takes advantage of features such as focus peaking and highlight clipping, exclusive to mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro 2.

So clearly, having a mirrorless camera with an EVF is a great thing… but there are some drawbacks.

The EVF of many mirrorless cameras leave a lot to be desired. Even flagship mirrorless cameras with their advanced EVF technology struggle when the movement becomes fast, or when light levels fall, resulting in a grainy, jerky or blurred EVF image.

Even when EVF technologies improve, there simply won’t be a faster/more reliable way to see the scene in front of you than by simply looking through an OVF. This is because mirrorless cameras need to convert the scene into a digital image for the EVF, whilst with an OVF, the image is ‘already there’.

Fuji XT1 wedding photography
‘Through the lens’… the beautiful Fuji X-T1 mirrorless camera gear of wedding photographer Javier Abad.
[If you’re loving these Shotkit camera gear photos, be sure to check out this awesome video on photography equipment.]

Many dSLR users leave their cameras switched on all day, giving them the ability to lift the camera to their eye and capture their shot in seconds.

With a mirrorless camera however, whilst in theory this may be possible, the EVF would drain the camera’s battery if left on all day, and may also cause excessive strain on the camera’s electronics.

The issues of reliability, longevity and battery life all tie in to the EVF, but I’ll tackle them in subsequent rounds. For now though, it’s clear that the EVF of the mirrorless camera is somewhat of a mixed blessing.

Whilst the ability to preview exposure is certainly a game-changer, and enough for many dSLR users to switch to mirrorless, it’s also paradoxically a deal-breaker when it doesn’t function as expected.

Round 5 Winner: DRAW

If you need all the bells and whistles of an EVF, get a mirrorless camera. If you want simplicity and reliability, get a dSLR.

Recommended Mirrorless Cameras

Some mirrorless cameras possess the ability to switch from an EVF to an OVF to a hybrid EVF/OVF at the switch of a button, giving you the best of both worlds.

Two such mirrorless cameras are the fixed lens Fujifilm X100F (reviewed here) and the interchangeable lens Fujifilm X-Pro 2 (review here).

If all you want is the best EVF on a mirrorless camera, look no further than the Fujifilm XT-2 (review here).

If your budget can’t stretch that far, the Panasonic LUMIX GX85 is another mirrorless camera praised for its excellent EVF.


Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 6 | Inconspicuousness

Street photographer Mike Kepka relies on the inconspicuousness of his Sony A7II and Sony A7sII mirrorless cameras to capture candid moments like these.
Street photographer Mike Kepka relies on the inconspicuousness of his Sony A7II and Sony A7sII mirrorless cameras to capture candid moments like these.

Is that even a word?! What I mean here is, the ability to take photos of a subject whilst remaining unnoticed.

Without wanting to drag this round out unnecessarily, mirrorless cameras and their ability to take a photo virtually inaudibly are the clear winner . With no mechanical parts to move, a camera with no mirror means silent operation.

From wedding photographers who want to shoot hundreds of images unnoticed in a quiet church, to the street photographers who simply want to get a shot of a passerby without being punched in the face, mirrorless cameras can be a godsend!

Some photographers think that due to the small size and general ‘friendly’ appearance of most mirrorless cameras, they can be used more effectively to capture a natural photo of a subject (when compared to a big, bulky mean-looking dSLR pointed from your face!)

Whether having a small, ‘friendly’ camera is applicable to those who want to project an image of professionalism is another (fiercely-debated) argument entirely, but for most, small in this case is best.

The minimalist camera gear of wedding photographer Ian Weldon.
The minimalist camera gear of wedding photographer Ian Weldon who uses a compact Fujifilm X-Pro1 + Fujinon 18mm f/2 combination to get up close to his subjects whilst trying to remain unnoticed.

However, the question must be asked…

Is no noise, or rather no shutter noise in a mirrorless camera always a good thing?

Returning to my car analogy, driving a Tesla can be a boring experience. Sure, it’s as fast as a Ferrari, but the lack of engine noise makes driving lifeless and sterile.

It feels like the car is doing all the work, and you’re just pointing it in the right direction.

Similarly, with a mirrorless camera, many photographers actually miss the sound of a real shutter. That satisfying click that reassures you that you’ve taken a photo is an addictive, and in my opinion, a necessary noise.

Mirrorless camera and dlsr camera usage
Wedding photographer Gabe McClintock uses a mirrorless Leica M rangefinder for his boudoir work: “The size and discreetness of the Leica gear helps my clients feel more comfortable then if i were to be using a bunch of gear and big camera.”

It could also be argued that when the subject hears the click of your shutter, they feel momentary relief that the photo has been taken, and can indeed relax a little. Compare this to a silent mirrorless camera which is pointed constantly at a subject who can’t tell if you’re taking a movie, trying to focus, or just having a perve!!

However, it’s safe to say that the majority of photographers would welcome the smaller, more silent and more inconspicuous mirrorless camera with open arms.

Round 6 Winner: Mirrorless

Being able to take a photo without the mirror’s ‘click’ can be useful if you wish to remain unnoticed. Having a small camera can help with this goal too.

Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 7 | Reliability

Out of all the cameras reviewed by Steve Huff, he chooses the Leica M mirrorless rangefinder camera for its combination of image quality and reliability.
Out of all the cameras reviewed by Steve Huff, he chooses the Leica M mirrorless rangefinder camera for its combination of image quality, handling and reliability.

The reliability of a camera is an essential consideration for a professional wedding photographer like myself.

These are the factors that I consider most important when weighing up whether a fresh-faced mirrorless camera can really replace my old-faithful dSLR:

  • Battery Duration

The dSLR lands a punch right in the face of the mirrorless camera here! Having to power an EVF clearly takes its strain on a battery, meaning you can only expect a measly few-hundred shots per charge from any mirrorless camera.

Most wedding photographers who use mirrorless cameras take along 10 or more batteries to last them the day – the camera may be lighter, but the camera bag may not be!

Fuj X-E2 wedding photographer
Wedding photographer Fabio Camandona takes a minimum of 6 batteries to use with his Fujifilm X-E2, a mirrorless camera which costs less than $700!

Even the most expensive mirrorless camera on the market in 2017 (the Leica M at around $5,000!) can only manage a few hundred shots per charge. In comparison, the bargain priced Nikon D3400 ($389.95!) can manage over a thousand.

Until battery duration improves on mirrorless cameras, here are some ways you can get the most out of your batteries.

  • Mirror Life Expectancy

Usually in a camera it’s the shutter life expectancy that’s quoted by manufacturers. However, sooner or later the mirror can malfunction too.

Obviously, as a mirrorless camera doesn’t have a mirror, it has one less moving part that can go wrong. Easy win.

  • Robustness

This is a tough one. As no one’s done a highly-scientific ‘drop a dSLR and a mirrorless camera onto the floor’ test, it’s hard to do an accurate comparison!

Even though a dSLR could be considered more fragile since it has delicate, moving mechanical parts, personally I’d be more worried about the electronics of a mirrorless camera failing through normal use.

If your mirror jams on your dSLR, you may be able to use your finger to ‘fish it out’. I’ve heard of several Nikon D750 users who have successfully done this.

However, if the electronics on the EVF of your mirrorless camera stuffs up…. you’re screwed!

In the Tesla analogy, no charging station = no bueno…

At least if your petrol-engine car has an empty tank you can push it to the nearest gas station!

In terms of the actual build of the camera body, both mirrorless and dSLR cameras offer weather proof designs which can withstand the elements and moderate impact. Here’s how I put the weather proofing on the Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera to the test:

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did in the video above to test the weather proofing on your Fuji X-T2, but clearly the build is very impressive!

N.B. Only certain lenses in the Fuji lens lineup are weather proof, the Fuji 23mm f/2WR being one of them. Look for the lenses with ‘WR’ (weather resistant) after their name.

Round 7 Winner: dSLR

With all the technology packed into a mirrorless camera, there’s a lot more that can go wrong which can’t be fixed ‘on the fly’. And those mirrorless batteries suck… literally!

Recommended Mirrorless Cameras with Long Battery Life

The Panasonic GH4 (reviewed here) and Panasonic GH5 in particular are two mirrorless cameras with longer than average battery life (approx. 530 shots per charge).


Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 8 | Depth of Field

Not all portriat photographers rely on depth of field for subject separation, such as in this photo taken with a crop sensor mirrorless Fujifilm X100S by Bill Gekas.
Not all portriat photographers rely on shallow depth of field for subject separation, such as in this photo taken with a crop sensor mirrorless Fujifilm X100S by Bill Gekas.

Whilst ‘depth of field’ is a term that many newcomers to photography may not know, most people desire that ‘blurred background look’.

If there’s one thing that sets a ‘proper’ camera apart from a smart phone camera, it’s the ability to produce real bokeh (as opposed to the fake bokeh of the iPhone 7 Plus).

Being able to produce shallow depth of field (which contributes to bokeh) is dependent on the size of the sensor in the camera, and the size of the aperture and focal length of the lens.

Since mirrorless cameras and dSLR cameras offer both long lenses and lenses with large apertures, let’s remove these two variables from the equation. This leaves us with sensor size.

As I mentioned before, it’s important that we compare apples to apples. There’s no point comparing a Fuji XT-2 with a Canon 6D for example, since one has a crop sensor and one has a full frame.

I don’t care what any Fuji fanboy says – a larger sensor will always be more capable than a smaller one!

Notice I said ‘capable’, not “better” or “worse”. Basically, a bigger sensor offers more than a smaller one.

Shallow depth of field isn't as relevant for landscape photographers such as Scott Davenport, who used a Sony a7R mirrorless camera and a Sony FE telephoto lens for this long exposure shot.
Shallow depth of field isn’t as relevant for landscape photographers such as Scott Davenport, who used a Sony a7R mirrorless camera and a Sony FE telephoto lens for this long exposure shot.

So, back to the original question – does a full frame sensor in a mirrorless camera such as the Sony a7II offer the same depth of field capabilities as a full frame sensor in a similarly priced dSLR camera like the Nikon D750? (D750 review here.)

Well, yes it does.

So why the confusion?

Most of the argument around depth of field and mirrorless vs dSLR cameras revolves around Fujifilm, the most popular manufacturer of crop sensor mirrorless cameras, and Nikon or Canon with their dSLRs of similar price (which usually means entry level full frame cameras).

When all other variables are constant, a larger sensor will always be able to yield a greater depth of field than a smaller one… whether the camera has a mirror or not is irrelevant.

Ignoring the medium format Fujifilm GFX, all Fuji mirrorless cameras have crop sensors, hence the comparison being flawed.

Round 8 Winner: DRAW

It’s not the camera body, but rather a combination of sensor size, aperture and focal length that determine DOF. Choose a camera that offers the sensor size you need to achieve your goals, then use the right lens to maximise DOF.

Mirrorless vs dSLR | Round 9 | Features

A single 'still' frame taken from the 4k video footage of the Sony A7R II by Emin Kuliyev.
A single ‘still’ frame taken from the 4k video footage of the Sony A7R II mirrorless camera by Emin Kuliyev, who frequently uses the camera in this way to extend the creative options available in his wedding photography.

OK Mr dSLR, prepare to get your a$$ whooped by Mr Mirrorless in this round…!

No matter how much you resist the switch from dSLR to mirrorless camera, you have to admit it:

The mirrorless new-kid-on-the-block offers unrivaled features when compared to the dinosaur that is the ageing dSLR.

Whether these features are necessary to you as a photographer is another story, but let’s look at what technology is most significant in mirrorless cameras.

  • Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is allows photographers to shoot handheld at much slower shutter speeds than previously possible.

This means you are able to use lower ISOs and smaller apertures, which can help in challenging lighting conditions. It’s also very useful for video, as demonstrated by the mirrorless Sony a7S II camera here:

Whilst some expensive dSLR lenses offer image stabilization (IS), allowing you to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds, many mirrorless cameras offer IS which is built into the camera body, effectively turning any lens into a stabilized lens.

In-camera IS works by shifting the image sensor to compensate for camera movement. This is great for shorter focal length lenses (where camera movement is more pronounced), but not so good for telephoto lenses (where even tiny camera movements can result in blurred images). Ironically, this is exactly where IS is most needed.

In-camera IS is a nice feature, but certainly not a game-changer. If you absolutely need the steadiest shot when shooting from long range, a stabilized lens on a dSLR may still be the best (albeit most expensive) solution.

  • Focus Peaking

The majority of photographers won’t care about focus peaking, which highlights the areas that are in focus via the EVF.

However, for those who live or die via manual focus, it’s a big reason to use a mirrorless camera.

In this day and age, you’ve got to ask yourself why photographers prefer manual focus over autofocus. AF in 2017 is usually excellent, so why not leave focus up to your camera?

Even the best dSLRs can struggle with heavily backlit scenes such as this, but with the focus peaking on the Sony A7RII, Jay Cassario can manually focus a Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4 to achieve an infocus shot with unique lens flare.
Even the best dSLRs can struggle with heavily back-lit scenes such as this, but with the focus peaking feature on the mirrorless Sony A7RII, Jay Cassario can manually focus a Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4 to achieve an infocus shot with unique lens flare.

There are some cases where AF still struggles, (such as heavily backlit shots), or perhaps you’re using a lens that doesn’t support AF (e.g. a tilt-shift lens). However, for most photographers this represents a very small percentage of their work.

Being able to clearly see when a shot is definitely in focus via focus peaking is a neat feature, (especially for those with poor eyesight), but it’s probably not a reason to switch to a mirrorless camera.

  • Touch Screen

Several budget-priced and pro-grade dSLRs now offer touch screen controls, but only the (very expensive) Canon 5D Mark IV offers the ability to focus and shoot quickly via the touch screen.

The capability to move the AF cursor and take a photo by touching the screen is hugely underrated, especially for street photographers or those who want a completely candid shot of their subject.

Using the unique touch-to-focus&shoot feature on the Olympus OM-D EM-5 mirrorless camera, Ross Harvey was able to capture this moment.
Using the unique touch-to-shoot feature on the Olympus OM-D EM-5 mirrorless camera, street photographer Ross Harvey was able to capture this moment.

Several moderately priced mirrorless cameras such as the excellent Olympus OM-D EM 5 Mark II offer this functionality, but it may be some time before a moderately priced dSLR will be able to.

  • Shutter Speed

Whilst most dSLR and mirrorless cameras can handle shutter speeds of 1/4000th of a second or faster, some mirrorless cameras have a secret weapon – the leaf shutter.

The leaf shutter in a Fuji X100T mirrorless camera for example provides flash sync at all shutter speeds.

This feature may only appeal to a certain subset of photographer, but for those who rely on shooting at large apertures in broad daylight, this capability really is attractive.

Bill Gekas uses small Yongnuo YN560ii speedlights in conjunction with a crop sensor Fujifilm X100s mirrorless camera and its unique leaf shutter to control the ambient light for dramatic portraits even in midday sun.
Bill Gekas uses small Yongnuo YN560ii speedlights in conjunction with a crop sensor Fujifilm X100s mirrorless camera and its unique leaf shutter to control the ambient light for dramatic portraits even in midday sun.

Being able to use your flash up to 1/4000 means that you can achieve shallow depth of field whilst using the shutter speed to control ambient light, allowing you to overpower the sun to create dramatic portraits, even with small flash units.

With a dSLR, you need to use ND filters and powerful strobes to achieve a similar effect under strong daylight conditions.

Here’s a video which shows the huge advantage of the leaf shutter to commercial portrait photographers who in the past had to rely on big, expensive photography setups for daylight balanced flash photography.

The same leaf shutter functionality in the Fuji X100F used in the video is also available on the original Fuji X100, which is still available here for under $500!

  • Firmware Updates

Every time Apple or Android releases an update to your phone, it’s fun, right? Kinda like having a new phone in your pocket, all for free.

Well, imagine being able to download a free, update for your camera which gives you some useful new features you never had before.

Welcome to the futuristic world of mirrorless cameras!

The range of Fuji X series mirrorless cameras offer firmware upgrades that add new features or improve existing ones.
The range of Fuji X series mirrorless cameras include regular firmware upgrades that add new features or improve existing ones.

As an example, the October 2016 firmware update for the popular Fuji X-Pro 2 mirrorless camera brought about an increase to the number of focus points, improved phase detection AF, improved AF tracking in AF-C mode, improved optical image stabilisation, and even more useful new features.

Compare that to your Canon dSLR which essentially contains old technology on the day you buy it, and the allure of mirrorless cameras becomes clearer.

Round 9 Winner: Mirrorless

Mirrorless cameras make dSLRs look like dinosaurs when it comes to technology. If you want a camera that is future-proof, invest in mirrorless.

Mirrorless vs dSLR Camera Buyer’s Guide| Conclusion

It's impossible to tell whether a photo such as this one by Ivan Pedretti was taken with a mirrorless camera or a dSLR camera.
It’s impossible to tell whether a photo such as this one by Ivan Pedretti was taken with a mirrorless camera or a dSLR camera. In fact a Sony a7 mirrorless camera was used which is available for around $1,100 here.

So to continue this boxing analogy, the current defender of the best camera title, the ageing dSLR, has gone 9 exhausting rounds with Mirrorless, the fit young newcomer, and the score sits at 3:2 to mirrorless!

Although it’s hard to call it a clear win for mirrorless cameras over dSLRs, no one can dispute the fact that:

Mirrorless cameras are the most technologically advanced form of camera available to consumers today.

Whether or not you need this technology is for you to decide, but investing in a mirrorless camera system is the most ‘future-proof’ option for the majority of photographers.

Many photographers love the technology inherent in mirrorless cameras that makes the photo-taking process easier.

Features like exposure previewing via the EVF can save time both during a photoshoot, and during post processing (since you’ve probably taken less shots to get the desired outcome).

Whether you actually need the superior technology of mirrorless cameras or not, it’s hard to argue when a photographer just needs the lightest camera with the great image quality.

At around $1,500, the mirrorless Sony a7II for example is the same price as an entry level full frame dSLR such as the Nikon D610 (reviewed here), but offers superior technology, and is less than half the weight too.

Both are full frame sensor cameras which offer excellent image quality, but it’s hard to dispute the fact that you’re getting a lot more for your money with the Sony mirrorless camera.

Here’s a video which discusses the photographer’s experiences in transitioning from a dSLR to a Sony mirrorless camera:

It’s clear that those who’ve drank the ‘mirrorless koolaid’ will never go back to a dSLR! However, despite all this love by photographers for the very latest technologies…

In a world full of silent electric Tesla supercars, there’ll always be demand for a noisy Porsche!

Both may get you from A to B, but I know which one I’d prefer to drive… and it doesn’t have a 17″ LCD dashboard monitor!

So, mirrorless vs dSLR – it’s a win for the mirrorless camera on paper, but dSLR is far from being dead.

When choosing your next camera, just decide what features and functionality are important to you, and invest in that camera, whether it contains a mirror or not!

Whatever camera you own, there’s an amazing photo waiting to be taken, so just get out there and shoot!

I hope you enjoyed this post on the mirrorless vs dslr camera debate. Let me know in the comments below whether you’re using a mirrorless camera or not, and your reasons behind your choice.

Disclaimer: Shotkit has no affiliation with any of the manufacturers mentioned in this Mirrorless vs dSLR Camera Buyer’s Guide post. The link to some of the products mentioned include affiliate tracking.

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  • I can not work with a machine which gives me electronic built images to make a shot. I prefer watch through the glasses reflected on a mirror. And my Nikon is heavy but I can feel and hear when the “click” starts and finishes every time a shoot a picture, even by long exposures. I may agree with some professional wedding photographers that shoot a part of the works with a smaller camera, which is more discrete and not that bulky for the subjects….. but I do not shoot weddings. I won’t even try to think to switch to mirrorless cameras. Can you imagine a mirrorless Fuji on a tripod at sunset by a windy day?…. No it’s not for me.

  • Hi,
    Thank you for the interesting article. I was already sold on mirrorless cameras before I read your article, but even so, your buyer’s guide seems a little biased, even to me. One category I feel you missed that might even the score is shooting video. I am a visual effects artist, and I’ve worked with some filmmakers that use dslr cameras, like the Canon 5D MkII or 7D. I don’t know of any that are using mirrorless. I will probably never buy a DSLR since I’ve enjoyed shooting with my Olympus Micro 4/3 camera’s so much, but I would not recommend any of the mirrorless cameras I’ve tried so far to any filmmakers. That may change if I try one of the Sony Alphas or the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII, but I haven’t gotten my hands on either of those yet. In any case, my score would be a draw, 3 to 3.

  • I have the Canon Mark 5D III and the Mark 6D with the various lenses, quite a few are the L, and the Canon flashes. But I wanted something smaller that I could use with my family. I tried the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Digital Camera during a weeks vacation in OC, NJ. Loved it! Might still get it as a point and shoot. But I got the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, mainly because I got a great deal on it used(it was practically new), and from the reviews, it has very fast autofocus. And it does! When I shot the Women’s March in D.C., it was a joy to carry that with 2 lenses, and one flash. My only gripe is battery power, but it wasn’t too bad, I just overpacked because I wasn’t sure what to expect that day. I would like to see how the new OM-D E-M1 MkII does in comparison.

  • Excellent article, thanks for taking the time and energy to put it all together for us. Any thoughts on frames per second comparisons?
    cheers

    • Thanks Boris. Well, both dSLRs and mirrorless can capture over 10 frames per second which in most situations is more than enough. If you need much more than this and don’t want to pay the big bucks for flagship dSLR bodies, mirrorless is the way to go.

  • I love my Fuji X-Pro 1 . I use prime lenses. I would possibly sell my Nikon D610 tomorrow but the slight shutter lag on the Fuji is what makes me pick up the DSLR most of the time. I don’t know if the X-Pro 2 has improved in this region .

  • […] If you own a mirrorless camera as small as the Sony a6000, it seems silly to put an enormous lens on it. Paired with this dinky 35mm lens, the camera will be a pleasure to shoot, and still fit into a jacket pocket – something DSLR camera owners can only dream of (see my mirrorless vs DSLR buyer’s guide). […]

  • Hi Iam food blogger now I have sony A6300. Iam thinking upgrading to sony 7rIII. I mostly photograph food. Do you think is a good idea?

    • Without knowing a bit more info, it’s hard to say Cristty. As long as your lighting is good, either camera can do the job perfectly well.