DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras – Which is Better

There was a time in the recent past when someone with a DSLR was considered a professional photographer or at least someone who is serious about photography. DSLRs have been such a popular thing frequently seen in the hands of professionals and amateurs too.

Whether it is visiting a new place or at birthdays, get-togethers, parties or marriages, you will encounter at least one person with a DSLR hanging around their neck.

Then suddenly camera companies over the world have come with an innovative competition to the DSLR – the Mirror-less Camera. The mirror-less camera isn’t just different from the DSLR in the way it looks and works, it also comes with a number of other functional differences.

So, how are mirror-less cameras different from DSLRs and more importantly, which is better? Let us evaluate DSLR vs mirror-less cameras, taking into consideration some of the basic parameters in photography.

How is a DSLR camera different from a mirror-less camera? 

#1 Functioning

The main difference between the DSLR and the mirror-less cameras is how they work. Basically, a DSLR works on the original principle of photography; when you shot a picture, light first enters a lens which then falls on a mirror strategically placed inside.

The mirror reflects the light which is then passed through a prism which can be seen the photographer through the viewfinder.

Once, the photographer clicks the shutter, the mirror is displaced, and the light from the lens falls on the image sensor, which then saves the image in a digital format. This is basically how a DSLR works.

Now the mirror-less camera works in a totally different manner. Basically, it is mirror-less, which means the designers has removed mirrors from its setup.

So, now the light that passes through the lens directly falls onto the image sensor, and the photographer is able to “see” by looking on the screen provided (there is no viewfinder).

In some advanced models, the viewfinder is available, which is just a small screen arranged inside an aperture in which the photographer can view the image.

Obviously, people, who have been using the DSLR all their lives can have a hard time getting used to viewing images on the screen rather than through the viewfinder. But though it might take some time getting used to this method this setup comes with two advantages.

  • The size: Since the entire mirror setup is completely removed, mirror-less cameras are much sleeker and less bulky compared to DSLRs. The improvement in the size and shape of the mirror-less cameras over the DSLRs is comparable to flat-screen TVs vs the old cathode ray tube ones. Removing all the excess components and directing the light from the lens directly to the image sensor makes the mirror-less cameras almost flat backed.
  • The end-result: Basically, the construction of the mirror-less cameras is such that photographers get to observe the image as it is on the image sensor. Hence, the image that is provided on the screen is very much what the end result is with the mirror-less cameras.

The Verdict: From the design, size, weight and end-result point of view, it seems that the mirror-less cameras are better as compared to the DSLR.

#2 Speed of Capturing Images

When looking at the DSLR and the mirror-less cameras, it is obvious that they are different in how they capture the image. The DSLR basically has to remove the mirror out of the way to focus the image onto the sensor after which the image can be captured and saved.

When it comes to the mirror-less cameras, the image is directly focused on the sensor right from the word go. Hence, all the photographer has to do is click the shutter, and the image is saved.

The difference is obviously an advantage when taking continuous shots; where the DSLR needs time to adjust it mirror for each shot, the mirror-less cameras can get shooting faster, at the click of a button.

The Verdict: In the case of continuous shots, the mirror-less cameras have the edge when it comes to the speed of capturing the images.

#3 Ability to Auto-focus

When it comes to autofocus too, the DSLR and the mirror-less cameras work in totally different ways. The DSLR works on something called phase detection; the camera quickly detects and compares the subject of the photograph from various angles so that it can focus from the best angle.

Conversely, mirror-less cameras work on something called contrast detection; here, as the lens is moved over the image, the camera measure the contrast at various points and zeros in on the image that has the best contrast.

Though this method is effective and can result in better images, it is much slower compared to phase detection.

The Verdict: Speed is the key when it comes to autofocus, and hence, DSLRs are much better at autofocus thanks to their phase detection autofocus method.

Thus, DSLRs have the edge over mirror-less cameras currently. But then mirror-less cameras are at their inception, and more research and innovation is being put in to provide better and feature-rich models.

So, this edge that DSLRs have over the mirror-less cameras might be temporary as there already are prototypes and high-end models that come with camera sensors with integrated phase detection autofocus.

#4 Battery Life

Good battery life is always one of the most important parameters factored in when purchasing a new device, and this is where the DSLR completely knocks it out of the park. Looking at the most conventional models, DSLRs are almost two times better when it comes to average battery life.

If we consider the number of images captured on a single charge, for a conventional DSLR it is around 650 images (for the least costly ones) while for a normal mirror-less camera it is around 350-400 images. There are some high-end DSLR that can provide up to 1550 images on a single charge.

There are many reasons why mirror-less cameras lag behind when it comes to battery life. The main reason is how they work and their build. Basically, mirror-less cameras use up so much power because of their LCD screens.

To work with a mirror-less camera, the photographer has to use the LCD screen constantly, and this requires a lot of battery power. Additionally, most mirror-less cameras have built-in image stabilisers, which are also quite power-hungry.

And finally, the main selling point of mirror-less cameras currently is that they are smaller and more compact compared to DSLRs. Hence, to realise a compact size, designers tend more towards smaller battery sizes, which means lesser basic power capability.

The Verdict: Thus, when it comes to battery life DSLRs have a definite edge over mirror-less cameras, and it takes a lot of innovation for mirror-less cameras to get on-par to the level DSLRs are currently.

#5 Lenses Situation

This is another factor where the DSLRs have a definite edge over the mirror-less cameras. Basically, DSLRs have been around for a number of decades now, and hence the range of lenses that are available with almost all models and brands of DSLRs is unbeatable.

Apart from what the parent companies offer on their models, there are a number of third-party vendors who provide advanced versions when it comes to DSLR lenses.

Being the new kid on the block, mirror-less cameras have a long road to tread before they can be considered on-par with the DSLRs when it comes to the variety and range of lenses available.

Additionally, another problem with mirror-less cameras is their compact size isn’t compatible with the huge size of the lenses. The bulk of the DSLR counter-acts the bulk of the advanced lenses, and hence there is no fear of handling issues.

The same cannot be said about the mirror-less cameras. Additionally, since the size of the image sensor plays a large role in determining the size of the lenses compatible with the camera, there are also doubts whether designers can come up with better and bigger lenses for mirrorless cameras.

The Verdict: Thus, when it comes to the range and variety of lenses available DSLR is the clear winner, and there is a doubt that a lot of research and innovation is required with the lenses for mirrorless cameras.

Final Thoughts on DSLR vs. Mirror-less Cameras

Thus, when it comes to DSLR vs. mirror-less cameras, both have their own advantages and drawbacks. Mirror-less cameras are certainly the latest, and a lot of design elements have been tweaked to provide for better user experience.

But when it comes to DSLRs, it has been around in the market for a number of years, and it is the truly tried and tested model.

Additionally, designers have been working on bettering it for a number of decades now whereas mirror-less cameras are kind of new and people might need time to get them on-par to where DSLRs are right now. So, take a look at the various aspects of both and decide what your next camera is going to be!

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