The DSLR vs Mirrorless Debate!

There is a debate in the community regarding the importance of mirrorless cameras (henceforth ML) in the market. The debate has gone from huge and hot to rather limited to people trying to prove a point in the past four years.

I consider ML cameras to be an incomplete system, meaning I find many flaws with it while at the same time recognize the sheer depth of their strong points.

Let’s Explore Some Of The Aspects Of DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras In Further Detail!

Viewfinder and display:

Canon PowerShot A710 IS.

My first relevant camera, the one I started being creative with, was a 2006-7 Canon Powershot with an electronic viewfinder – EVF.

After a while I began to notice my eyesight was temporarily blurry after each use; that I could actually see the LED grid lines inside the viewfinder screen may have had something to do with it.

I have not often used an EVF since, so I may be unfamiliar with any improvements made in this area, but even when EVF try to mimc the infinity-focus you are still looking onto a screen inside the camera and your eyes (or mine) don’t relax as well.

Most consumer cameras favor direct display to a viewfinder, and I feel that is the idea with ML; the EVF is more of an additional convenience.

While consumers do use it like that, a professional eventually learns that holding your camera half a meter in front of you does not offer the stability and precision you require, especially in bright light. Still, it makes shooting against the sun a whole less painful.

Sony a6000 Mirrorless.

One of the great things that a ML camera provides is realtime representation of your final shot exactly as it will be taken; those of us who still use non-automatic lenses will know that through the viewfinder you will only see the effect of the F number down to the amount that your eyes are at, then you take the picture and hope DOF fits your imagination.

ML shows you the scene along with noise, any loss of detail, picture information like histogram or waveform on the fly and best of all, that is its native state; DSLRs offer similar functionality but they are not meant for it – they overheat, can’t focus effectively, and their batteries are often not adapted to this kind of use which can eventually lead to damage.

Prominence:

One of the stranger things I heard in the debates pertained to the camera sizes, but not in its physical effect (see below), but as a form of discretion. As a performance arts photographer you find that under no circumstances should you bother the audience, which becomes a problem when you can’t turn off the display screen.

Of course, this is still better than interrupting a suspenseful piano concert with something that sounds like two parrots having a sword fight. This all makes sense, until someone says that it is because you wish to be invisible at a wedding.

Let me say that I absolutely agree that an ability to disappear is very important at such an event, but it hardly comes down to the camera itself, especially since a lens of solid performance for a full frame sensor will always have to be physically large, and while you may not have a brick in front of your face you still have a tube.

Moreover, as I said in a previous article having professional-looking equipment does make you look more professional, which in turn makes others people take you more seriously and it makes your job easier.

Focus:

Lumix gh4 Mirroless camera.

On the topic of focusing, it is said that MLs are not very good at it with their low speed and unreliability, and for the professional that is pretty much the case most of the time, but having said that, due to technical reasons DSLRs fare no better.

The short of it is that while DSLR is dependent on incoming light to determine focus (unless it has an assist-beam) the mirrorless calculates its focus based on contrasts in an ISO boosted image. Granted it has its drawbacks like sensor noise interfering with focusing, but it also means that it can pick up data from areas that DSLRs could not.

From the reasons I mentioned before I’d prefer to rely on a mirrorless camera for video; unless you have a specialized rig for recording video with a DSLR along with VDSLR lenses and follow focus rings you will be in a world of pain compared to the mirrorless.

This is meant in general, simply because the ML is completely native to displaying a live feed of the recording scene and no specs change from the focusing capabilities right down to battery life.

A DSLR will use its battery much more quickly – mine survives about 30 minutes of recording on a battery that takes about 800 pictures.

There are two things that mirrorless cameras really has going for it. Size and weight!

While the differences may seem subtle in some cases they play a substantial role in the right situation – suppose you have to run around a forest trying to record a team of survival trainees for a few days.

You will start feeling every excess ounce eventually, and the ML will save you quite a few – granted that you don’t have to replace that weight with an abundance of spare batteries or third party lenses, which happen to be a selling point for MLs. But in general you could put together a solid rig for a fraction of the weight.

Batteries:

Sony a7r Mirrorless.

While Sony and other manufacturers may try to downplay the impact of short battery life, consider – how many photos do you take per project?

My supposition is that you, like most in the digital age fall under the spray-and-pray practice.

You could have reserve batteries but that will take space away from any other equipment you could have brought or simply add weight, not to mention the 5-8 seconds of coverage you lose each time you change a battery (try doing that at a wedding).

This might seem strange due to the fact that ML have no moving mechanics that would require a lot of power, but at the same time it doesn’t have anything to do with smaller batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are unbelievably powerful, but a DSLR will use power selectively as it needs to; “meter, meter, autofocus, move shutter, record, encode, write to card.” The ML does all of these steps but the writing just by displaying the scene on its two screens. There is no way around it – the ML will always use more power (per second) than the DSLR.

I realize this post seems biased, and it is to an extent. After all, I made a conscious switch from mirrorless to DSLR. I believe I did so for my own reasons which may not necessarily be yours, and that the information I consider beneficial on both sides has been adequately represented.

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