Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Is a Mirrorless Camera and How Does It Compare to a DSLR?

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 6, 2019 • 4 min read

Mirrorless digital cameras are part of the rising trend of compact system cameras that started in the mid-2000s. Now most major camera brands, like Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Leica, and Olympus, have launched their own lines of mirrorless cameras. With hundreds of new cameras to choose from, it’s important to note the differences between mirrorless cameras and DSLRs to determine which will best suit your needs.

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What Is a Mirrorless Camera?

A mirrorless camera is a type of camera that works without a reflex mirror. Light passes through the lens directly to the digital sensor, which then displays your image on the camera’s LCD screen, allowing you to adjust settings and preview your image before its shot. While previously not considered an interchangeable-lens camera, modifications and advancements have paved the way for more mirrorless lenses, bringing this camera to the forefront of customizable photography.

How Does a Mirrorless Camera Work?

The mirrorless system is more straightforward than the DSLR. Instead of using a mirror to bounce light to the viewfinder and sensor, the sensor is instead directly exposed to light. This generates a live preview of your scene directly to the electronic viewfinder.

When the shutter button is pressed, a door slides up to cover the image sensor. The door will then slide down, exposing the sensor to light. After that, another door slides up to cover the sensor again, which stops exposure, taking the picture.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Mirrorless Camera?

The introduction of high-end mirrorless camera models is changing the game for photographers. Whether you prefer to set up a tripod or rely on the ease of a point-and-shoot camera, the benefits of a mirrorless camera cannot be overlooked:

  • More compact and lightweight: A smaller sensor means a smaller camera, making the mirrorless camera is easier to carry. Portability makes it a better choice for travel or street photography.
  • Electronic viewfinder (EVF): When the light passes through the lens of a mirrorless camera, it appears directly onto the image sensor, offering a live view which then displays on the rear LCD screen. This image preview allows you to adjust settings like exposure, brightness, saturation, and contrast before snapping your photo.
  • Image stabilization: Without the mirror mechanism inside the camera body, the camera is less prone to shaking, so image quality is clearer and more professional.
  • Silent mechanism: Fewer moving parts inside the camera system also means less noise, making it the best camera for quiet and discreet shots.
  • Higher shooting speed: With better focusing capabilities and high shutter speeds, mirrorless models make it easier for photographers to snap photos at a faster rate.
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Mirrorless Cameras Versus DSLRs: What’s the Difference?

Although camera manufacturers now offer mirrorless cameras with changeable lenses, there are still differences between them and digital single-lens reflex cameras:

  • Mirrorless cameras are more lightweight. A mirrorless camera is a compact camera, making it more lightweight and better suited to moving around. Digital SLR cameras are larger and heavier, making them more difficult to walk around all day with. Although the additional parts and attachments for a DSLR can benefit the quality of your photos, having to carry them all with you can be a drawback, especially if you’re traveling.
  • Mirrorless cameras offer real-time previews of exposure and contrast. With mirrorless cameras, you can preview exposure and contrast settings right on the screen before you take your photos. DSLRs have an optical viewfinder, which enables the photographer to literally see through the camera lens in real time. However, this also means that a DSLR camera user must take a photo and then examine it to make sure their exposure is correct.
  • Mirrorless cameras have a shorter battery life. Unlike with a DSLR camera’s optical viewfinder, a mirrorless digital camera’s electronic viewfinder requires battery power, which makes them less ideal for longer shoot days.
  • Mirrorless cameras tend to be more costly. DSLR cameras can be just as expensive as mirrorless cameras, but with the amount of accessories available, a budget DSLR will offer the entry level photographer more value than a budget mirrorless camera.
  • Mirrorless cameras offer fewer accessories. Mirrorless cameras are still up and coming in the accessories department, so they are still lacking in their selection of attachments and lens mounts, but since DSLRs have been around longer, there is a wider range of interchangeable lenses than mirrorless cameras.
  • Mirrorless cameras shoot faster. While both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can take photos at very fast shutter speeds, a mirrorless camera’s simpler internal mechanics enable it to take shoot faster than most DSLRs, particularly when it comes to continuous shooting or a burst of images.
  • Mirrorless cameras offer more image stabilization. Lack of a mirror mechanism means mirrorless cameras offer more image stabilization, and less shaky photos—and with fewer moving parts inside, you end up with a quieter, more discreet camera.
  • Mirrorless cameras have a smaller sensor size than DSLRs. This makes them less ideal for low light situations.
  • Mirrorless cameras have a less accurate autofocus system. The autofocus system of a mirrorless camera uses contrast-detection rather than phase detection, which means the camera cannot measure the distance between the lens and subject as accurately as a DSLR can. When experiencing a lack of light, the mirrorless camera will move its lens to where it can find more contrast—much like what happens when a smartphone struggles to focus and the image goes in and out of blurriness.

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