If you are undecided between whether to buy a DSLR or a Mirrorless, then you are really not alone. The digital camera segment has seen a lot of changes in the last few years and much of it can be attributed to the mirrorless phenomenon. This article isn’t just a Mirrorless vs. DSLR debate. It is more of a buying guide for you.
The digital SLR is the undisputed king of the full-frame 35mm format camera segment, or so it was till about a few years back. Just as it threatened the erstwhile king before it, the 35mm film SLR, and dethroned it to become the most dominant camera of the day, it is now threatened by yet another camera system – the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.
Mirrorless cameras have been around for some time. They are neither new nor are they fledgling. Mirrorless systems have been appreciated, admired and adopted the world over. Serious professional shooters have adopted them as their second camera and in some cases their only camera of choice. It is quite evident that they are here to stay.
If you are here reading this you are probably interested in buying one for yourself. But before you do make that buying decision, there are some things that you ought to know.
There is a reason DSLRs have ruled the photography world for the past two decades. They are versatile systems. These cameras can shoot stills and record videos with awesome sound quality, sometimes with the help of an external stereo microphone. Basically, what a mirrorless camera system can do or promises to do so can a DSLR, if not better.
Plus, you have the largest collection of lenses for any camera system at your disposal. DSLR systems have been the most popular camera systems for a while now. Manufacturers have produced a large number of lenses for their proprietary mount systems. Not to mention the large number of third party lenses, as well as adapters that make some lenses compatible across mounts. Though mirrorless systems do not yet offer a similar diversity in terms of lens choices, things are improving fast.
Traditional SLR manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, realizing that mirrorless systems are quietly stealing the thunder of DSLR systems, have been focusing at this segment of the market. Plus, most proprietary camera systems have adapters that make their standard DSLR mount lenses compatible with mirrorless systems.
Bulk and Weight
Weight isn’t a factor. Bulk, however, is. In one of my earlier articles on this website I described how the earliest proponents of the mirrorless system had claimed bulk and weight to be two important USPs that worked against DSLRs. DSLRs will always be on the disadvantage when it comes to bulk. The flapping mirror that makes a DSLR a DSLR can’t be done away with. That means there’s got to be room inside a DSLR for the mirror to move. That means DSLRs such as the full-frame D810A or the 5D Mark III can’t be shrunk down.
Weight on the other hand does not matter. This is because when we compare mirrorless and DSLRs stripped down to just their respective bodies there will be a difference. Chiefly the absence of the mirror, encasing for the extra space for the mirror to move, shorter flange distance that makes it possible to design lenses that are smaller does add to the weight advantage factor. However, as of now, when we add their respective lenses, batteries, memory cards and filters the difference is marginal.
The Popular Choice
One thing that has been disconcerting, at least for the large bandwagon of DSLR users and traditional DSLR manufacturing companies, is the steady demand for mirrorless systems. There are a few reasons for that. The segment that mirrorless systems have been gaining ground are the smaller sensor powered camera segment. This segment, if we look objectively, do not have really good lenses that consumers can use for better imagery. In most cases DSLR manufacturers reserve their best lenses for the larger full-frame segment. There has hardly been any good quality lens launch in the past few years for the APS-C DSLR segment. Users who want a light weight DSLR are often hard-pressed due to the lack of good optics. I am not saying the options are zip, but they are certainly very limited.
On the other hand there is now a great alternative in the form of mirrorless systems. A lion’s share of the mirrorless segment is full of APS-C sensor powered cameras. These cameras are much lighter than their DSLR counterparts and certainly a lot lighter than the full-frame DSLRs. Amateur photographers who look for a smaller (read: small in bulk and weight) camera with full manual options and great lens choices obviously find the mirrorless system to be a much better proposition than DSLRs. Plus, mirrorless manufacturers are now coming up with excellent high quality lenses which are optimized for their mirrorless offerings. This is a sign that they have realized the only way to compensate for dwindling DSLR sales is to promote the mirrorless technology.
A Smaller Frame Isn’t Always Ergonomically the Best
Just because you have a smaller frame does not mean that the camera is going to be ergonomically the best. Ergonomics is a subjective matter. What is perfect for one may not be perfect for another. A smaller frame is ideal for photographers with small hands. The buttons and dials easily fall into place.
Cameras like the Sony A7II, when compared with a Nikon D4 (both being full-frame systems) seem like wrestlers from two different weight categories competing against each other. The D4 is ideally suitable for photographers with larger hands. You would not be shooting hand-held with a D4 for extended periods of time but having the buttons fall into place does kind of give a good feeling. The Sony A7 II often feels like a malnourished DSLR (no disrespect meant) compared to its DSLR brethren.
Mirrorless cameras are not discreet. No way. They may be silent because there are no flapping mirrors inside. But that’s just about all the discreetness there is to them. When mirrorless cameras first came onto the market manufacturers made this a USP. These days lenses comparable to their DSLR cousins do not at all fit the discreet tag. No way can you tuck a Sony A7R II mounted with an 18-105mm f/4 G OSS lens inside your coat pocket.
Mirrorless vs. DSLRs: Final Word
Overall, the choice to opt for mirrorless seems to be more due to the better lens quality for smaller APS-C sensor powered systems. When it comes to full-frame systems DSLRs are still the undisputed champs. Going forward APS-C DSLRs will have a tough time holding on to their share. Sales of crop sensor DSLRs are dwindling fast. Even though manufacturers are trying desperately, eventually they will have to sacrifice one for the other. Hate them or like them mirrorless cameras are here to stay and will find dedicated takers. Having said that photographers who are used to the reliability of an optical viewfinder, rugged built quality and tradition of SLRs will prefer flapping mirrors over mirrorless.