Mirrorless vs DSLR – A (Still) Ongoing Contest

The mirrorless vs DSLR debate is still a hot topic among photography enthusiasts and professionals alike, and it is starting to resemble the tradition vs technology debate in various other walks of life. The arguments are there for every camp, manufacturers are starting to take sides more staunchly, and (as is the case with every controversy) objectivity is in short supply.

We have laid out the mirrorless vs DSLR arguments, spread across several sections, yet we still find the pronouncing of a verdict a daunting task. Read our exposition so you can make up your own mind.


Mirrorless vs DSLR – The Question of Proportion

Everybody knows that DSLR’s are the weightier of the two and that mirrorless cameras are far easier to manipulate, however, that does not tell the whole story as there are far more implications to the differences in size and weight.

The actual size of the body of a mirrorless device can be misleading because if one takes into account the lenses available for them, they are just as bulky as those of a DSLR. Furthermore, things are not going to change in the future, because the technology of lens building is not projected to go through revolutionary changes. When discussing lenses, full-frame mirrorless cameras do not possess a significant advantage over their DSLR counterparts, with only APS-C devices providing significant size and weight advantages. Yet, the handicap in quality of the APS-C mirrorless cameras does not tilt the balance in favor of the mirrorless cameras in this section.

The same is true when considering the paltry offer of lenses for APS-C’s, therefore making a choice purely on the size and weight argument does not actually make that much sense as simple specification comparisons would entail. No outright winner here.

mirrorless vs dslr size

Autofocus System

From a technological point of view, DSLR’s are can be staunchly placed in the traditional optics category. And while in the past the phase detection method of autofocus used by the DSLR’s had better practical results than the mirrorless’s technique of contrast detection, over the past few years things have improved tremendously, with the important investments the companies have put into the development of sensors.

Nowadays, the sensors of mirrorless devices use contrast detection and phase detection, delivering amazingly quick autofocus. Furthermore, DSLR’s have a limited amount of focus points, while the continuous evolution of electronic sensors may render this limitation obsolete in mirrorless systems in the not-very-distant future.

If we are to consider this parameter at present, then realistic differences are negligible, yet the possibility of advancement for the mirrorless cameras is theoretically unlimited, thus we will give the slight edge to the mirrorless systems on this one.

mirrorless vs dslr autofocus

Image Preview

DSLR cameras preview the image in real time thanks to the optical viewfinder, a process which can be actually resumed by the old cliché “what you see is what you get”. Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, used to only offer the possibility of previewing the image on-screen, a technique that often spelled inaccuracy, especially in demanding situations. Presently, almost all mirrorless devices are equipped with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that mimics the functionality of the optical viewfinder.

The DSLR’s optical viewfinder directly reflects light into the eye, which means that the previewed image will always be as true to the final product as is possible, irrespective of lighting conditions. And while there have been important developments in electronic viewfinder technology over the past several years, mirrorless cameras still find themselves lacking in previewing fidelity when lighting conditions are less than ideal.

Considering these factors, we’ll have to give DSLR’s a modicum of advantage when discussing image previewing. Furthermore, if we are to speculate on the future, the DSLR’s are bound to indefinitely maintain the upper hand here, because the laws of optics are not bound to change according to the whims of camera manufacturers and marketers.

Image Quality and Stabilization

The methods of achieving image stabilization are quite simple – in the case of DSLR’s, built-in movement sensors detect the level and direction of the shakiness and adjust parts of the lens system in the opposing direction, while the mirrorless cameras perform the same technique of adjustment by just slightly tweaking with the sensor.

In the quality department, differences between the two types of devices work along the same lines as is the case with image stabilization. With the advent of full-frame mirrorless cameras, similar lenses are now available for both types, consequently, we are at a stalemate.

In the image stabilization and image quality categories, we must declare a draw.

mirrorless vs dslr image quality

Shooting Speed

Better technology does not always entail better quality, however, it almost always means a speedier process. The presence of the mirror in its constitution means that DSLR’s will always be limited when it comes to shooting speed. And while the differences are not that pregnant at the moment, the gulf between the two types of devices will certainly widen in the not-too-distant future.

Nowadays, there are still some mirrorless devices that use mechanical shutters (like the DSLR’s), yet advances in electronic shutter technology will definitely mean quicker frames per second in the future, with totally silent shooting. The physical limitations of the DSLR’s mean that mirrorless cameras are a categorical winner here.

Video Capabilities

For the interpretation of evidence regarding video capabilities, we must return to the aforementioned methods of autofocus. The method of contrast detection used by DSLR’s in video shooting is much less accurate and has a tendency of producing blurry clips.

On the other hand, the phase detection capability of the mirrorless devices means that they are much more adept at shooting video. The incorporation of 4K video technology is also a relevant argument in this debate – 4K is to be found in lots of mirrorless cameras (sometimes irrespective of price), while only high-end DSLR’s come with this technology.

The advantages of the mirrorless cameras at this level is somewhat compensated by the better battery longevity of the DSLR’s and performance in low lighting conditions, overall nevertheless, we still go with the mirrorless cameras on this one.

Accessories Arsenal

This used to be a no-contest area because the tradition of the DSLR’s meant that the number of lens choices was practically endless, irrespective of profile, price or manufacturer. The sheer novelty of the mirrorless systems meant that time worked against them in the accessories department.

That being said, the continuous proliferation of full-frame mirrorless cameras at affordable prices means that the accessories market for mirrorless devices is experiencing a constant expansion, with the DSLR’s seeing their significant lead cut short in this department. Nevertheless, DSLR’s still hold a slight edge.

mirrorless vs dslr lenses

As it is here to be seen, the mirrorless vs DSRL contest is a close one. At present, there are no areas where one hold a definite advantage over the other, and newer mirrorless releases make even a crude pricing comparison difficult. It is evolving into a contest of fractions that should be left to each individual’s judgment.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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