Taking the next step in photography usually means getting a nicer camera than the one that’s in your smartphone or a pocket-sized point-and-shoot. Now back in the day if you’re really serious this meant getting a DSLR the big fat camera that looks all professional more features larger image sensors and the ability to change out lenses to best match what you’re doing telephoto wide-angle the ever awesome prime lenses for portraits or low-light.
Now in the past few years mirrorless cameras have started to really rival DSLRs. What the difference is between the two really are and clear up some myths about mirrorless cameras and why one might be a better match for your needs.
Difference between DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. In an old-school DSLR after the light passes through the lens it hits a mirror inside the camera that bounces the light through a prism and into the viewfinder you use to frame the shot and focus now. In many modern cameras only part of that light goes to the OVF or optical viewfinder while part of it hits a separate autofocus sensor. When you want to take a picture things get really interesting, you hit the shutter button and that whole mirror assembly flips up. That’s that distinctive taking a picture sound that DSLRs make. Light hits the camera sensor or film directly and the viewfinder blacks until the exposure is finished.
Basically you’ll see approximately the exact same light level as you experience. So if it’s dark, you’ll have a dark viewfinder. And it can be difficult to set up a shot in dark situations.
In a mirrorless camera there’s no mirror and no optical viewfinder. Instead the light passes straight through the lens to the sensor which handles autofocus. And passes the digital image to either the electronic viewfinder or to the big screen. Since there’s no mirror mechanism inside, the camera can be smaller and still deliver the same quality.
Myths of DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras
DSLRs have larger sensors than mirrorless cameras, True or False?
False, when mirrorless cameras came out years ago, the best full-frame centers could only be found larger heavier old-school DSLR bodies. Not anymore, Sony’s awesome Alfa line packs one of the best full-frame sensors available into an interchangeable lens camera.
Mirrorless cameras deliver less battery life, true or false?
True, when you reduce size, you reduce the amount of space you have for batteries. In the case of a mirrorless because the idea is to create a much smaller camera body you’ll often find as much as 50% less battery time. Top-end mirrorless cameras come with two batteries.
Some mirrorless manufacturers like Sony actually let you use your smart phone charger to charge the batteries. Which again provides benefits for portability.
Mirrorless autofocus is inferior, true or false?
This is another hotly debated topic that’s been raging on internet forum. The key difference is that DSLR auto focusing directs light using a mirror to a dedicated AF sensor or autofocus sensor for quick focus locks. Where in mirrorless the light passes directly to a sensor that processes both imaging and autofocus. Mirrorless cameras have caught up with technologies. Like Sony’s fast hybrid autofocus system. Which incorporates both contrast detection and phase detection autofocus on the same sensor. And in some cases have faster autofocus speeds and could focus in lower light than a DSLR.
Mirrorless cameras don’t have great lenses, true or false?
False, Difference varies between cameras and brand. But the adapters can be precisely calibrated. So each lens can render an image clearly. Wide-angle lenses might have some color shift issues in the corners. You’ll have to test your lenses and see how they look.
A bigger camera is a better camera, true or false?
False, the distance from the lens mount to the sensor is larger for DSLRs. Because they have to stuff the mechanical mirror assembly between the lens and the sensor. Mirrorless cameras can be smaller, lighter and easier to carry. Because they don’t have to pack that moving mirror.
Are you wondering why so many serious photographers are all up in arms about Mirrorless cameras?
- Look better than DSLR autofocus performance
- Third party lenses
- Silent shutter
- Focus peaking, that allows the camera to outline the edges of whatever is currently in focus with a colored border. Makes it easy for the photographer to use manual focus and ensure a great shot.
- They’re lighter, they’re more portable. That’s incredibly helpful for drones and underwater photography.
- They’re smaller and more compact.
When you boil it down spectra spec the lines are now blurred between DSLR cameras and Mirrorless cameras.