Mirrorless vs. DSLR camera

Mirrorless vs. DSLR camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon Cameras, DSLR Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR

There was a time in the camera industry when upgrading from amateur photography to more serious genre required upgrading of machine as well. You needed to switch from compact camera to a DSLR. There wasn’t any class of cameras connect these two opposite ends of spectrum in photography. A compact camera was small, inexpensive, without much of creative control and with a single fixed lens for all purposes. A DSLR camera was all powerful, bigger, faster and capable of using different lenses based on requirements. Compact camera as an equipment was never accepted for serious photography. Then, came a new type of cameras which tried to fill the gap between a ‘point and shoot’ and a DSLR camera. These cameras were called Bridge Cameras. They were similar to that of smaller DSLRs in size but didn’t have optical viewfinders and interchangeable lenses. They provided almost all features of DSLRs other than ISO sensitivity due to their small sensor sizes. But these cameras were not capable of offering the option of using different lenses for different situations. Also smaller sensor sizes meant images quality was not as good as that of a DSLR.

In last few years a new breed of camera has created a lot of noise and has filled some gap between a point and shoot and a DSLR camera. These Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILC) also known as electronic viewfinder with interchangeable lens (EVIL) cameras are being used as a substitute of a DSLR in some cases. These mirrorless cameras have gained sizeable market share in camera industry in a very short span of time and are performing well. These cameras are like DSLR cameras in terms of functionality with option of using interchangeable-lenses but are similar to compact cameras in terms of size.

Fujifilm X-A1, Mirrorless Camera, MILC

Fujifilm X-A1: A Mirrorless Camera (Review)

Differences between DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

A mirrorless camera comes equipped with features similar to a DSLR. However there are few fundamental differences in terms of features between a DSLR and a MILC. Some of those differences are mentioned below:

  • DSLR cameras are equipped with a mirror. This mirror mounted right in front of the camera sensor reflects the incident light towards the optical viewfinder (OVF). Photographer views the frame through this optical viewfinder which is captured on click of the shutter button. This view is also called through the lens (TTL). On click of the shutter button the mirror flips out and the light reaches to camera sensor where the frame gets captured.

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, do not have a mirror. They come equipped with an electronic viewfinder (EVF). In electronic viewfinder, an image is projected electronically on camera viewfinder which is captured by the sensor.

  • DSLR cameras come with APS-C as well as full frame sensors. Mirrorless cameras are mostly available with Micro Four Third sensors (Olympus and Panasonic) and APS-C sensors (Sony NEX, Canon EOS M) with crop factors similar to entry level DSLRs.
  • Mirrorless cameras have smaller flange focal distance (FFD) when compared to a DSLR because of absence of mirror and pentaprism. FFD is the distance between mounting flange of lens and image plane of camera which reduces in mirrorless cameras as the space occupied by mirror is completely removed. Reduced value of FFD allows relatively closer placing of camera lens from the sensor and results in less complex, lighter and smaller lens sizes.
  • In mirrorless cameras when the shutter button is pressed, shutter activation doesn’t produce any sound because of absence of a moving mirror.
  • DSLR cameras are available with phase-based auto focus system whereas most of the mirrorless cameras come with contrast detection auto focus. Contrast detection AF is considered relatively slower than the phase-based AF. But recently these mirrorless cameras have come up with a similar Autofocus speed as that of DSLRs. Still, continuous focus capability of a DSLR is much better than that of a mirrorless camera and a DSLR is certainly a better option for sports and other action sequences.
  • One of the most discussed feature while comparing DSLRs with Mirrorless cameras is the size. A mirrorless camera is smaller, lighter and easier to grip with hands when compared to a DSLR. Also the native lenses of MILCs are smaller in size and reduce your equipment weight to a great extent. MILCs are also very easy to carry around and can be less cumbersome while hiking, trekking or while traveling on foot.
  • DSLR cameras have relatively smaller shutter lag than a mirrorless camera and it allows a photographer to capture action scenes with more accuracy. Mirrorless camera manufacturers are working to reduce this time and a few cameras have  succeeded on this also. Still most of them have a long way to go.
  • Mirrorless cameras have been introduced in the camera market very recently and availability of the lenses and other accessories for these cameras cannot be compared with that of DSLRs. Also native lenses for EVIL camera are more expensive than similar DSLR camera lenses. Of late most of the camera companies have started  offering lens mounts which can be used to mount existing DSLR lenses on your mirrorless cameras. In compromise, you might have to lose the AF capability as well as aperture priority capabilities in some cases. Canon EOS M can be equipped with an adapter which accepts EF-S mount lenses as well as EF lenses and similarly Nikon 1 series also offers an adapter for its F mount lenses.
  • Image quality of a MILC is similar to APS-C sensor DSLRs but inferior to full frame DSLRs. Full frame DSLR cameras are able to produce better bokeh due to relatively larger sensor size.

Nikon D800, Nikon Cameras, DSLR Cameras

Nikon D800: A DSLR from Nikon

To sum up we can say that it’s difficult to think MILC as a replacement of DSLR. DSLRs are ruling the professional camera market for quite some time whereas MILCs are at very nascent stage of their development. There are not enough lenses and accessories available for mirrorless cameras and they are not as versatile as DSLRs. They have certain advantage in terms of size otherwise replacing a DSLR with a MILC doesn’t seem viable.

Sony Alpha 7, Mirrorless Camera, MILC

Sony Alpha 7: First Full Frame MILC (Review)

Companies like Sony, Olympus and Panasonic are investing a lot in mirrorless camera development but the market leaders of DSLRs i.e. Canon and Nikon do not seem to treat MILC as a game changer technology yet. If you are planning to upgrade from a point and shoot camera to something more robust which gives you more creative control, a mirrorless camera can be an option to look into.