A brief guide to DSLR and Mirrorless cameras
Before the advent of digital cameras we used film cameras, and whilst you could buy compact point and shoot cameras, an SLR (Single lens reflex) camera was the choice for the photography enthusiast or professional photographer. Film cameras have now been largely replaced by digital SLR cameras (DSLR) that also offer interchangeable lenses and a internal mirror that reflects the light into the top of the camera and out through the viewfinder, the advantage of this system is you when you look through the viewfinder on the rear of the camera you are actually seeing through the lens. When the shutter button is pressed the mirror is flipped upwards and out of the way so the light can then reach the sensor which is located behind the mirror.
Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests do away with the mirror and the mechanical parts required to move the mirror that are found in the DSLR cameras, instead the light passes through the lens directly to the camera sensor and the image is displayed either on the LCD screen or via an electronic viewfinder. So without the need for the mirror or the mechanical parts, a mirrorless camera can be a lot smaller and lighter, so size is therefore one of the key differences between a DSLR and mirrorless camera.
Olympus and Panasonic were the first companies to really embrace the mirrorless system but it has since been adopted by Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and especially Sony with their highly popular range of Alpha cameras.
So now let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of both camera types.
DSLR – the advantages
DSLR cameras were based on a the already tried and tested film SLR camera that both professional and amateur photographers have been using for years. The transition from film to digital was therefore easier as the cameras felt familiar. A bonus is that some of the lenses on the film SLR cameras can be used on the latest DSLR cameras, although manual focus may be required.
Larger sensor – DSLR cameras are larger and often therefore house larger sensors than many of the smaller mirrorless cameras, a larger sensor will give you better resolution and generally perform better in low light.
Faster accurate autofocus – DSLR’s are renowned for having fast autofocus, which is a huge advantage when wanting to take photos of sports, wildlife, action photography or just trying to get a great photo of the kids on sports day.
Range of lenses and accessories – DSLR cameras have been around for a while so there is a great range of lenses on offer, from cheap lenses like the ever popular nifty fifty to large telephotos, wide angle lenses, macro and more.
More buttons – Although DSLR cameras are larger this does mean more space for buttons, this is usually a good thing enabling easier and quicker access to some of the camera main features.
DSLR – the disadvantages
Size and weight – DSLR cameras are generally larger and heavier than mirrorless cameras, this can mean that sometimes they get left at home, that said there are some very nice lightweight DSLR’s on the market like the popular Nikon D3400.
Noise – Although not a huge disadvantage, it has to be said that DSLR cameras are louder than the mirrorless cameras mostly due to the moving parts, this may be something to consider when taking photos in a quiet place or somewhere where a noisy camera may be distracting to others.
Mirrorless – the advantages
The obvious difference and advantage of a mirrorless camera is the smaller size and that they are considerably lighter than the larger DSLR. This makes them ideal for travelling as they can easily fit into a small shoulder bag or handbag.
Inconspicuous – the smaller camera and lens combination means that you don’t stick out as much as the person with the DSLR camera, this can be great when taking photos at an event or function and are also particularly popular for street photography.
Quieter – With no mirror or mechanical parts in the mirrorless cameras there is virtually no noise, in fact some mirrorless cameras have silent modes so you can take photos with out bothering anyone nearby.
In camera image stabilisation – Image stabilisation is designed to help counteract movements like hand shake, with the DSLR cameras this is a feature in the lens and usually costs more money, however with most of the mirrorless cameras it is a feature already built into the camera body. Depending on the camera this may be called Optical stabilization, Image stabilization or Steady Shot.
Mirrorless – the disadvantages
Electronic viewfinder – The electronic viewfinder built into some of the mirrorless cameras does not perform well in low light making it difficult to compose the photo. Some mirrorless cameras do not even have a viewfinder so instead you have to rely on the LCD which can be particularly hard to see when shooting in bright conditions.
Shorter battery life – The batteries in a mirrorless cameras are smaller so you often get a shorter battery life, of course carrying a spare battery is the solution and is something we would recommend anyway.
Less buttons – The smaller more compact body generally means less buttons on the camera which can be a disadvantage as you have to go through a menu system to make changes whereas a larger DSLR may have a dedicated button for the same feature allowing much quicker access.
Less choice in lenses – Because DSLR cameras have been around for some time there are more lens options, this of course is changing as mirrorless cameras become more popular.
So which is best for you?
Well this is hard question to answer because everyones needs will be different, DSLR cameras have some great features and certainly offer great value for money but if the weight puts you off then a mirrorless camera may be the way forward. If you are keen on sports and taking photos of moving subjects than a DSLR will often offer better, faster focusing. The most important thing is to buy a camera that suits the type of photography you wish to pursue but is also a camera that you can grow with as you improve your photography skills.