Mirrorless v DSLR Cameras For Beginners
Understanding the differences between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, can be tricky so we put this article together to help tackle the confusion. It is always so interesting to learn about the history and evolution that our technology has undergone. If you have any questions, don't forget to ask in the comments section below!
If you scroll down there's a video to accompany this article, but you'll learn far more if you both read and watch (plus we tend to put more little golden nuggets in our text articles). Scientific studies have been done on this - really! It's called multi modal learning.
Evolution - SLR to DSLR to Mirrorless
Although the DSLR and mirrorless cameras are fairly similar in appearance, the inner workings of these cameras are rather different.
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.
The DSLR evolved from the SLR - the (non digital) Single Lens Reflex: the DSLR having a digital sensor in the back, whereas its predecessor, the SLR, has a celluloid film.
Both the SLR and the DSLR have a reflex mirror mechanism reflecting the light from the lens directly into the view finder. This means that when you are looking through the view finder of an SLR or DSLR you are in effect actually looking through the lens. When an image is taken with the SLR or DSLR the mirror "flips up" to get out of the way of the light hitting either the digital sensor, or the celluloid film to create the image.
The mirrorless camera does not have a mirror – the light travels directly through the lens into the sensor. It is then processed digitally before it is sent to a digital view finder.
Main differences between DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras
The Reflex Mirror
The most obvious difference we have already touched on is that the Mirrorless camera has done away with the reflex mirror which is present in both SLR and DSLR.
That means that to see through the view finder of a mirrorless camera, the power has to be on - which could be seen as a disadvantage. This is because it must be processed by the sensor before it is passed tot he digital view finder. The advantage here is that the image you see is what you will get from the mirrorless camera (exposure etc.) simply because it has been through the processor.
Mirrorless cameras and their corresponding lenses are significantly lighter than their DSLR counterparts, mostly due to the internal mechanics like the reflex mirror having been removed.
Mirrorless cameras were once majorly outperformed by the DSLR in terms of focussing capabilities. Now mirrorless utilises hybrid focussing, in additional to computational focussing encompassing the whole of the sensor, (not being limited to specific focus points like the DSLR). This is a game changer. The mirrorless cameras of the future will surely far surpass the DSLR. At the high end they have already done so.
Mirrorless has greater opportunities for upgrading firmware as it doesn’t have solely mechanical parts. It's in essance a computer with a lens attached to the front - so you can upgrade it's software just like you do on your PC, Laptop, Tablet or Mobile/Cell 'phone.
When you consider that such updates can extend to thinks like it's focussing algorithms, you see that this is massive.
Historically with the DSLR image stabalisation was built into the lens. The mirrorless camera has moved that into the camera itself. This means you don't have to buy a seperate image stabalisation system with every mirrorless lens. This has the advantage of creating cheaper lenses for the mirrorless camera.
Mirrorless cameras are much thinner due to the reduction in mechanical parts which are present in DSLR technology. You don't need a clunky reflex mirror in front of the sensor. This means that if you try to put a DSLR lens onto a Mirrorless camera it would try to focus behind the sensor - expecting the sensor to be further back.
You can however fit a DSLR lens to a Mirrorless camera if you use a converter. Depending on the lens the camera and the converter, it is possible to get the electronics of the camera talking tot he lens - e.g. autofocus. But not always.
The battery life for a mirrorless camera tends to be is shorter than a DSLR. This is because batteries tend to be smaller, in the mirrorless, in addition tot he fact that the sensor is processing information all the time. With the DSLR the sensor only processes/records when an image is taken and the mirror flips up - thus using less battery.
Depending on who you talk to this is either a huge problem, or hardly a problem at all now. If you shoot mirrorless we suggest investing in an extra battery or two.
Arguably the mirrorless is a stronger video camera, since it's design lends itself well to that purpose.
The DSLR is in effect acting like a mirrorless when shooting video - by definition the mirror has to be up and out of the way to constantly record what is in front of the camera. That is not to say that the DSLR cannot shoot good video - it can. It's just that it's in effect in a sort of mirrorless mode when it does so.
Since it is the quality of the sensor that determines image quality rather than the type of camera it would be just plain wrong to say either mirrorless or a DSLR was superior.
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The future of the DSLR
Mirrorless technology will far surpass that of the DSLR. It's an inevitability. I say "will", not "has" for a reason:
All research and development budgets have now gone towards creating and developing mirrorless technology. Canon has even gone as far as to say on 28 December 2021 that the development and production of its flagship DSLR's would be wound down "within a few years". Then ensued many click bait articles declaring the DSLR dead. All missed the fact that this article canon referred to "flagship DSLR" and "a few years".
Evolution takes time, and that's what we are in. New technology is expensive because of all the money that has to be spend on research and development. What starts off in the most expensive new models, slowly filters down to the other end of the market but it takes time.
The Mirrorless models right at the top pf the market - say £5k worth of camera like the Nikon Z9 could easily be said to have surpassed most DSLRs. The story at the other end of the market is somewhat different. There is a premium to be paid for new mirrorless technology. That in many cases makes the DSLR far better value for money.
When you consider the massive second hand DSLR market which for obvious reasons is just not present for the mirrorless camera, DSLR technology is still far friendlier on the wallet.
As value for money starts to swing and Mirrorless technology starts to compete more fiercely on value for money, demand for both new and second hand DSLR's will start to fall.
It's inevitable - just like the transition we saw from SLR to DSLR in the 1990's to early 2000's. The mirrorless will inherit its crown.
Here's the video we teased!
Here's the video we teased you with, all the way from our YouTube channel.
Are you ready to learn more?
If so we really think you’ll enjoy our online photography course: Photography FUNdamentals, there is something for everyone and you will be able to learn so much about photography.
We have a whole modules dedicated to camera craft and composition and more, which apply equally to Mirrorless and DSLR cameras alike. It’s an online photography course with a difference. We try and make photography for beginners fun and easy to understand. You’ll find easy to follow graphics, cheat sheets, exercises an online learning community and so much more.
If you would like more information and help with photography and learning about how to use mirrorless and DSLR cameras for beginners, please click here to find out more!