DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras: Which Is Better for You?

While opting for photography, you need to choose between digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a Mirrorless camera. Both are of equal competition, but each has its pros and cons.

DSLRs use the same design as that of 35mm film cameras like, it will have mirror inside the camera body that reflects the light coming in through the lens up to a and into the viewfinder for you to preview your shot. Here are the features and capabilities of one of the most preferred intermediate-level DSLRs called Nikon D5300.

In addition to the architecture of a Mirrorless camera, some models also offer a second screen inside an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that you can put your eye to. You will even find the same feature in Sony’s Alpha a600, which has been used as another example. Here’s how the two technologies compare:

Size & Weight

Comparatively, DSLR camera has larger body as they need to fit in the mirror and prism. E.g., the body of the $850 Nikon D5300 is a slightly bulky and 3 inches deep and weighs about 1 pound, 2 ounces with 18-55mm kit lens.

However, Mirrorless camera body is smaller than a DSLR, with simpler construction. The $850 Sony a6000 has 1.9 inches thick body and weighs just over a pound with its 16-50mm kit lens. Hence, you can carry it more easily and fit more gear such as extra lenses, into a camera bag.

Autofocus Speed

DSLRs have an advantage here as its mirror mechanism directs light into dedicated autofocus sensors using phase detection technology, which measures the junction of two beams of light very fast. Unfortunately, Mirrorless cameras have point-and-shoots called contrast detection, which uses the image sensor and moves the lens back and forth to find the position in which the image shows the highest contrast, which coincides with focus. Contrast detection is slower than phase detection, especially in low light.

It is sad to know that, DSLR’s scope is going down due to the incorporation of phase-detection pixels into the image sensor on some of the Mirrorless cameras. With both phase and contrast detection, it can refine the autofocus.  E.g., Sony a6000 has 179 phase-detection points on its image sensor, while the Nikon D5300 has 39 in its separate AF sensor. So, while shopping for a Mirrorless model having fast autofocus, check for the phase detection or hybrid autofocus also.

Previewing Images

The optical viewfinder in DSLR shows exactly what the camera will capture whereas with Mirrorless camera, you can preview the image on-screen, and sometimes through an EVF, as with the Sony a6000.

While shooting in proper light, the preview in a Mirrorless camera’s EVF will look close to the final image but with low light or fast moving object, the camera fails to give a real-time preview.

Though, DSLRs copy a Mirrorless camera by raising the mirror to show a live preview of the image, most of them are slow to focus in this mode as they don’t have the hybrid on-chip phase-detection sensors and have to use slower contrast detection to focus.

Image Stabilization

Both DSLR and Mirrorless cameras provide image-stabilization systems where sensors measure camera movement and then the camera slightly shifts either part of the lens or the image sensor in a direction opposite to the shake. Few Mirrorless models shift both lens element and the sensor in a synchronized pattern.

Well, there is not much difference between these approaches as they can deal with small camera shake to produce a sharper picture, but fails for larger movements.

Image Quality

Both the camera takes high-quality pictures with similar resolutions and amounts of graininess, known as noise. Before, Mirrorless cameras’ smaller image sensors couldn’t capture much light. But now, camera manufacturers have learned to produce more profound chips so as to suppress noise. Additionally, several Mirrorless camera makers such as Samsung and Sony now use the same APS-C sensors that are in the majority of DSLRs. However, Sony A7 line of cameras uses even larger full-frame sensor type like in the best professional DSLRs.

Video Quality

Because of their on-chip focus sensors, Mirrorless cameras are used for video shooting but it cannot use phase detection with the mirror up while recording video. Therefore, they have to use contrast-detection focus method.  Some Mirrorless cameras, such as the $1700 Panasonic GH4 and $1500 Samsung NX1, can capture 4K, or Ultra HD, video with four times the resolution of HD footage. But recently, no DSLRs shoot 4K/Ultra HD video.

Speed

Both the cameras shoot at very fast shutter speeds and capture a burst of images quickly. The Sony a6000 can shoot 11 frames per second (fps), while Nikon D5300 can do only 5 fps. Most Mirrorless cameras use a mechanical shutter for better results but they also have the option of using an electronic shutter to gain higher shutter speeds and shoot silently.

Image & Video Playback

However, both camera types display images on their screens or via an HDMI output to a television. Nowadays, many DSLR and Mirrorless models include Wi-Fi for sending images to smartphones for online posting.

Battery Life

Generally, DSLRs have removable battery with longer life as they can shoot without using the LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder. The CIPA-standard battery life rating for the Nikon D5300 is 600 shots whereas the Sony a6000’s is just 360.

Lenses & Accessories

DSLR comes with excess of lenses from a number of manufacturers ranging from cheap to wildly expensive whereas, most Mirrorless models take only a small number of lenses from the camera maker.

You will get adapters to use DSLR-size lenses on a Mirrorless camera but that often comes at a price of altering the focal length and zoom characteristics and sometimes disables or slows the functions such as autofocus.

Durability

Both DSLRS and Mirrorless models have alloy bodies and are completely weatherproof, meaning that they can shrug off splashes. E.g., the Nikon 1 AW1 Mirrorless model is waterproof to an impressive depth of 49 feet.