Digital SLR Cameras vs Mirrorless Cameras

If you are shopping around for a new photography device, you may be comparing digital SLR cameras vs mirrorless cameras. The best digital cameras, after all, typically ship in one of these two designs. Keep reading to learn more about each camera type and whether or not they are a good fit for your needs.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • DSLR cameras use a mirror to reflect light to an image sensor, while a mirrorless camera lets light pass through immediately to an image sensor.
  • The difference in image quality between the two is negligible, though DSLRs get much better battery life.
  • Mirrorless cameras are better for continuous shooting, allowing for much faster frames per second metrics.

Differences Between DSLR Cameras and Mirrorless Cameras

DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex camera and operates by directing light through a lens to a mirror placed at a 45-degree angle, which sends light to the image sensor. Mirrorless cams, as the name suggests, lack the mirrors found in DSLR cameras. Instead, light passes through the lens and directly to the image sensor. This key difference in design choice spirals out to a multitude of other differences between the two types of cameras. Though the differences between the two are not as stark as when comparing a DSLR vs a compact digital camera.

Here are more common differences between DSLR cameras and mirrorless designs.

Battery Life

When comparing digital SLR cameras, you will notice that they have fantastic battery life. As a matter of fact, your average DSLR can shoot 1,000 or more photos per charge. Mirrorless designs, on the other hand, shoot around 400 to 500 per charge. Why the large discrepancy? DSLRs typically include larger batteries than mirrorless cameras. Additionally, mirrorless cameras need additional power for an electronic viewfinder, as an optical viewfinder does not draw power.

Insider Tip

Purchase a lens adapter if you want to increase the number of lenses available for mirrorless designs.

Lenses

DSLRs have been around a long time, so there are plenty of lenses to choose from to suit nearly any photographic style. Mirrorless cameras allow for fewer interchangeable lenses, but they have been making up the difference in recent years thanks to a surge in popularity. Additionally, many mirrorless cameras can use DSLR lenses so long as you have purchased and installed the correct adapter.

Viewfinders

Generally speaking, DSLR cameras feature an optical viewfinder while mirrorless cameras feature an electronic viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are analog, meaning they do not draw power, and you are essentially looking at a reflected version of the actual image as it passes through the sensor. Mirrorless cameras lack that functionality, so the electronic viewfinder allows you to see what is essentially a digital reproduction of the image as it passes through the image sensor. Older mirrorless designs included subpar electronic viewfinders, but in recent years the visual fidelity between the two viewfinder designs has evened out. Still, DSLRs may have a slight edge in this regard.

Autofocus

DSLRs are known for having efficient and fast autofocus systems designed with professionals in mind. Mirrorless cameras are no slouch when it comes to autofocus and with mid-grade models, you would likely not notice a difference. However, high-grade DSLR autofocus systems will outperform most autofocus systems found in mirrorless cameras. Of course, the tech behind mirrorless cameras is constantly evolving.

Continuous Shooting

Mirrorless cameras are generally faster when it comes to continuous shooting, as the light has a shorter distance to travel to the image sensor. Even budget-friendly mirrorless models feature ultra-fast burst shooting modes that tend to outpace even high-end DSLRs. Digital SLR cameras typically max out at around 16 frames per second, while mirrorless models regularly hit 20fps and even 30fps.

Image Quality

There is no intrinsic difference when it comes to image quality between full-frame DSLRs and mirrorless systems. Why is that? They both tend to feature the same types of image sensors in the same sizes. DSLR cameras may have a slight edge when it comes to raw megapixels, but megapixel density is not the only metric by which image quality is measured.

Price

DSLRs are slightly cheaper than mirrorless models, especially when you are getting in at the ground floor with an entry-level mirrorless camera or purchasing a medium-grade camera. The price difference large disappears when you get into professional-grade models.

F.A.Q.S

How to extend battery life for DSLR or mirrorless designs?

If you are looking to boost battery power for video recording and other tasks, think about purchasing an external battery pack.


What are smartphones when compared to today’s modern DSLRs?

Smartphone cameras are advancing every year, but they still lag behind modern DSLRs in some regards, making DSLRs the go-to choice for professional photographers.


Is there still a role for digital cameras?

Yes. Smartphones are great, but a traditional DSLR camera offers plenty of advanced features, including an electronic shutter button, increased depth of field, a wide selection of lenses, and more.



STAT: “The first mirrorless camera commercially marketed was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, released in Japan in October 2008. It was also the first camera of the Micro Four Thirds system, developed exclusively for the mirrorless ILC system.” (source)

Lawrence Bonk

Lawrence Bonk is a copywriter with a decade of experience in the tech space, with columns appearing in Engadget, Huffington Post and CBS, among others. He has a cat named Cinnamon.

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