Mirrorless vs DLSR - Buying a New Camera
But what is a mirrorless camera?
A mirrorless camera is exactly what it sounds like, a camera without a mirror. A reflex mirror to be precise. When outside light passes through a lens, into the camera body it reaches an angled mirror. The mirror then reflects the light up into the viewfinder. When you take a picture the reflex mirror changes position and reflects the light towards the sensor, thus capturing a photo.
Mirrorless cameras are similar to DSLRs in many ways. Depending what you want to do with your camera, each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
Size and Weight
Since mirrorless cameras lack a physical mirror, pivoting within the body, the cameras can be produced in a considerably smaller size than a DSLR. Not only are they more compact, mirrorless cameras are often a few (sometimes a few hundred) grams lighter. That being said, even if you have an ultra lightweight, slim body, the lens will often make up the brunt of the weight.
Mirrorless cameras can use the exact same sensors as a DSLR, and then some. Their compact size allows for a sensor even smaller than the extremely common APS-C format; the Four Thirds format, currently favoured and most prevalent with Panasonic and Olympus.
In the past, DSLRs have traditionally won out in this category but within the last few years mirrorless cameras have become the ideal choice. The AF in mirrorless cameras is sensor based contrast; while DSLRs primarily use a phase detection AF, but in certain scenarios use a sensor based contrast AF, similar to those in most mirrorless cameras. The phase detection AF is located in the bottom of the camera body; this is where the problem with its system lies.
If you're using the camera in live view, or taking a video, the mirror would need to be flipped up, so the camera would default to its secondary sensor based contrast AF. As we said earlier the DSLRs secondary sensor based contrast AF is just like that of a mirrorless camera. The difference is DSLR cameras, and lenses, are built to cater to a phase detection autofocus.
Mirrorless cameras however, along with their lenses, have been built from the ground up to cater to a sensor based contrast autofocus. What does this mean? Mirrorless cameras are able to autofocus faster and more efficiently than DSLRs in almost all scenarios.
This isn't often a dealbreaker at the consumer level, but it's worth noting the types of shots you intend to take. What type of lenses will you need? DSLR cameras offer a seemingly endless amount of lenses, especially Canon or Nikon. Mirrorless cameras are fairly new, and in turn have considerably less variety. We expect to see many more lenses and models in the near future; mirrorless cameras are definitely here to stay.
This comes down to the difference between an optical viewfinder and a digital viewfinder. Since mirrorless cameras don't have a mirror to reflect the light back up into the viewfinder, they instead display the live view from the always-on sensor. DSLRs on the other hand, have optical viewfinders; the light is physically reflected from the lens into the viewfinder.
Although the optical viewfinder is quite accurate, the preview shown in the viewfinder of the mirrorless camera appears exactly as the picture would when it's taken, since it's already rendered in realtime by the camera. Being able to watch the the rendering update as you adjust settings like shutter speed or aperture, can be a great way for a beginner to quickly familiarize themselves with the exposure triangle.
We've talked about the importance of continuous shooting before, and can't stress it enough. If you plan on taking sports photos, or anything fast moving, it's definitely something to pay attention to.
Sometimes simpler is better. Mirrorless cameras have less moving parts, relying more on their sensor and processor. While many entry level DSLRs top out at 6 or 7 FPS (frames per second), an entry level mirrorless camera can provide 15 or 20+ without breaking a sweat.
Providing a more accurate and focused live preview, often boasting 4K shooting modes, mirrorless cameras reign champion against DSLRs. 4K capturing has become common on even entry level mirrorless cameras, but would require spending quite a bit more for the same capabilities with a DSLR.
Both types of cameras are often feature rich, and quite comparable. On the lower end of the pricing spectrum, it could be argued that DSLRs initially provide more features, especially in terms of a viewfinder. Although a viewfinder certainly isn't necessary, getting comfortable shooting on a sunny day without one can be a challenge.
This is where DSLRs beat out their mirrorless counterparts almost every time. DSLRs often afford twice the amount of photos that can be taken per charge. When it comes to mirrorless cameras, spare batteries are your best friend.
Sometimes it Just Comes Down to Price
Price is always a factor. You'll always be trading off different features or specs for something or other. If you're willing to invest a bit of your hard earned dollars, mirrorless cameras can be a fantastic option, really offering the best of both worlds in terms of specs.
If you're looking for a less expensive option, lower end DSLRs tend to provide more bang for your buck than mirrorless cameras. Since mirrorless cameras offer a live view on an LCD, the viewfinder is often the first feature to be excluded on less expensive models.