DSLR vs Mirrorless for Astrophotography

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Updated November 9, 2022

When selecting the best digital camera, know there are no wrong answers. It all depends on your specific needs. So, while you’ll hear an endless stream of debate over the best DSLR cameras compared to mirrorless systems, at the end of the day, you need to research how each type benefits your needs. And speaking of the end of the day, below, we’re going to compare DSLRs vs Mirrorless for astrophotography.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Both DSLR and mirrorless systems are outstanding for professional or amateur astrophotographers.
  • DSLRs have a more comprehensive range of lens options but are bulkier because of their larger frame and weightier components.
  • Mirrorless cameras let users see their spec adjustments on the electronic viewfinder but are pricier than DSLR cameras.

And if nighttime photo-snapping isn’t your thing, no worries. We have another article comparing DSLR and Mirrorless cameras for wildlife photography.

Insider Tip

If you know you prefer a DSLR camera but also want the advantage of an electronic viewfinder, many DSLRs also come with an LCD screen on top of their optical viewfinders.

Differences Between Mirrorless vs DSLR for Astrophotography

The mirrorless vs DSLR can get divisive. But many newbies need to understand how these two camera designs differ. Yes, they both take photos, but the way light passes through each camera type to create an image is different.

DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex. This term signifies that the camera houses a mirror and prism within the camera body. When light enters the lens, it bounces off a mirror, goes through a prism, and appears in the optical viewfinder for the photographer to see exactly what’s seen through the lens. Then, when the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up and reveals a digital sensor, which records the image.

Mirrorless cameras eschew the mirror and prism. Instead, the sensor is exposed to the light, and the viewer looks through a separate viewfinder or screen.

Additionally, each type of camera comes with various features and attachments that affect the overall image.

So the question remains: Is there a clear winner between these camera types regarding astrophotography? Most will say that DSLR cameras take the prize, but each has advantages to consider before buying.

For more analysis of camera types, we have guides on rangefinders vs DSLRs. And for a look into how sensors affect image quality, we compare full-frame cameras vs regular DSLRs.

Viewfinder

Because capturing stellar photos of the night skies requires users to adjust settings, many prefer a mirrorless camera because the electronic viewfinder shows how the image will look with all the added features and adjustments. Also, a mirrorless camera’s live view is brighter than a DSLR, which allows the photographer to see more of the night sky.

On the other hand, the DSLR viewfinder shows a precise lens view, which has advantages when focusing on the image.

Ultimately, the preferred viewfinder depends on the photographer’s preferences, and a winner is hard to determine.

Stability

The main drawback to DSLRs is that because they have a larger frame that houses the mirror and prism, they are clunkier and heavier. Additionally, DSLR lenses are larger, which can destabilize focus, especially if you’re shooting without a tripod. Mirrorless cameras are much lighter, meaning that there is less shakiness. Mirrorless lenses are also smaller, which creates an ideal scenario for photographing planetary images.

Warning

Most camera manufacturers design cameras so that only brand-specific lenses are attachable. However, there are adapters available that can overcome these design limitations.

Lens Options

DSLRs have been around longer than mirrorless cameras, meaning manufacturers have had much longer to create lenses. As a result, DSLRs have a vast selection of lenses to choose from. Mirrorless cameras also come with a large selection of lenses, but it’s much smaller compared to DSLRs. And if you want to use a DSLR lens on a mirrorless model, you need to buy an adapter.

Affordability

Because mirrorless cameras are still an emerging photographic technology, purchasing a quality mirrorless camera is often more expensive than a DSLR. However, camera price is hard to judge because they will sometimes be cheaper.

STAT: A study that counted the entries for astronomy photographs of the year concluded that around 70% of shortlisted images are taken with DSLR cameras. (source)

On average, a mirrorless camera will fall in the $700-$1,200 range. Of course, DSLRs aren’t that much cheaper, but entry-level options can range from $400 to $500. Although, when it gets to the priciest options, either can cost as much as a small house ($50,000-$100,000).

DSLR vs Mirrorless for Astrophotography FAQs

Are full-frame sensors better for taking pictures of the night skies?

A larger sensor and pixel size increase a camera's low and high light performance and the field of view. Both of these aspects make full-frame sensors better for deep-sky astrophotography.

What are some of the best astrophotography camera models?

Some models, like the Canon EOS, have a body designed explicitly as an Astro-specific camera.

What are wide-angle lenses?

Wide-angle lenses are classified as lenses with a smaller focal length than a camera's sensor. As a result, they help deliver a sharper focus by increasing the camera's depth of field.
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