If you’ve been lost on the differences between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, you’re in luck because today we are breaking it all down for you. We cover the pros and cons, why you should think about making the switch over to mirrorless, and our personal experiences using both types of cameras. This is a topic asked about all the time, so hopefully this post will lay out everything you need to know in one place.
For more gear recommendations, you can download my free camera gear guide here.
Let’s get started!
What is the main difference between DSLR and mirrorless cameras?
This article on Tech Radar breaks down a lot of technical specs and was a great resource we found for more detail on this topic. They explain, “The key is in the names. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, which works by the light hitting a mirror angled at 45 degrees. That light goes straight up into an optical viewfinder which allows you to see precisely what the lens is looking at. This is a true optical path, with no digital processing in the middle.”
Basically, a mirrorless camera is like a phone camera where a DSLR has an actual mirror in it. While full frame mirrorless professional cameras are way high quality than your iPhone camera, the concept is similar, just with better technology.
The comparison as a whole is really comes down to a difference between old technology and new technology. Over the last few years, there’s been a boom in the growth of mirrorless technology and the ability to compete for the first time with DSLRs. Mirrorless is the pioneer technology and it’s come a long way.
Many of our specific pros and cons that we list below come back to one main thing: the use of the mirror in the DSLRs. The mirror has to flip and has a mechanical featured needed for each photo taken. Mirrorless cameras are a direct view. What you see through the viewfinder is what you get when the image is read by the sensor.
Let’s break down the features and factors at play.
Size: DSLRs are bigger and mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter.
Because of the mechanical components in a DSLR, it takes up more space and adds weight to the camera body. When you change over to a mirrorless, you’ll wind up with a much smaller and compact camera. If you’re like me and have small hands, this makes a huge difference during a long 8-10 hour wedding day. Mirrorless feels so much better in my hands. The small difference in size adds up and is felt by the end of a long day of shooting.
Autofocus Speed: Both have good autofocus, but there are features only available on mirrorless.
Let’s not knock DSLRs, because they can have excellent autofocus, but what I’ve noticed is that my mirrorlesss camera’s special features have been game-changing. Specifically, the eye autofocus tracks my subjects’ eyes so it follows my client and offers a quick, stress free shooting process.
When the mirror flips inside of a DSLR, it loses the autofocus. Mirrorless cameras have a truly continual autofocus and never loses track of where you’re at. Instead of having moments where the focus doesn’t quite catch, like I used to have with my DSLR, the process is so smooth and effortless.
Image stabilization: The steadiness of a mirrorless is unmatched.
This is really important for videographers, but isn’t as big of a factor for photographers. Image stabilization is how well your camera handles movement and shaking. For videographers, the mirrorless camera helps soak up movement because there is more room inside the camera for image stabilization components because of the lack of mirror.
Quality: There’s no noticeable difference.
Both types of cameras take great quality photos. Don’t get caught up in megapixels. It’s about sensor sizes, which vary widely in both DSLR or mirrorless. This article explains this the history of how mirrorless cameras have continually upgraded their sensor sizes to be able to compete with DSLRs. You can’t go wrong on a full frame with either type of camera!
Image Speed: Mirrorless has a clean advantage.
The mirror having to flip really affects the speed of your shutter versus a digital sensor. Mirrorless can take quicker photos and if you shoot weddings of anything faster paced, it’s really nice to have a faster shutter. The shutter is also quieter, which is a great factor for events as well when you’re trying to stay on the down low and not be distracting.
In a comparison of top of the line cameras, DSLR can shoot up to 16 frames per second vs up to 30 frames per second for a regular mirrorless and up to 60 frames per second for the highest end cameras. This is where mirrorless cameras blow DSLRs out of the water.
You do still have to be careful in burst mode as far as focus goes and certain types of light like flourescents. This however can be easily addressed in culling. Overall, on my mirrorless, I get really fast images and never feel like my shutter is lagging.
Battery Life: DSLRs are better, but mirrorless is improving.
Quick stats: a DSLR can go for about 600-800 shots per battery on average. They can go up to 2,000 shots per charge, which is really impressive. Mirrorless cameras are around 300-400 shots per charge on average and can go up towards 700.
This statistic may be a bit outdated because it’s not what we’ve seen in our experience. In a typical 8-10 hour wedding with 2,000-2,500 photos, Charlie goes through only 1 or 2 batteries. 1,200-1,500 shots per battery are what we’re seeing out in the field. We go through around 4 ½ batteries per wedding day total between two shooters while documenting about 5,000 images.
With a mirrorless camera, you have extra digital components like your viewfinder and shutter than are going to drain the battery continually.
Battery life may be a deal-breaker for you, but it isn’t for me. I don’t mind going through several batteries on a wedding day and have extra batteries on hand. The sacrifice is worth it to me because of the other comparisons. I’m okay with the extra need to charge batteries. Plus, the battery life is only getting better as the technology improves!
Price: DSLRs are lower cost than mirrorless.
DSLRs are more affordable than mirrorless cameras because of the technology differences. The market is more saturated with DSLR cameras so you can get a higher-end camera with more bang for your buck. We understand not everyone has thousands of dollars to drop on the newest camera. Again, I have a free camera gear guide available to you with specific types of camera bodies and my recommendations. I cover Canon, Nikon, and Sony in the guide so whatever system you shoot with, it’ll help you make a great decision.
The cost of lenses is also a factor. Mirrorless lenses are more expensive, but there are also more options than there were even 2-3 years ago. While you can get an adapter that makes traditional lenses work on mirrorless bodies, we don’t recommend going that route. We advise selling your old DLSR gear if you make the switch and jump fully on board with the mirrorless system.
At the end of the day, we are big mirrorless fans!
We’ll give it to you straight, we are mirrorless shooters and love our Sonys. The industry as a whole is moving towards mirrorless cameras. A lot of brands have started making new mirrorless cameras and aren’t making any more new DSLRs.
Now is the time to go mirrorless, even with the effort that goes into replacing your other gear. If you aren’t quite ready to make the leap, try renting or borrowing a mirrorless camera and testing it out!
Know that if you go DSLR now, that’s fine, but know you may have to switch down the road. Making the switch now is the best route you could take, especially as someone starting. Don’t be afraid to invest in your business. Especially in the first year or two of business, you’re probably going to need to reinvest a lot of the money you make into gear, education, and other business expenses.
Our specific recommendations:
We love our Sony AZ 3 and Sony A9. Both are great full-frame camera bodies that have served us and our clients really well. If you’re looking for a camera with the best bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with the Sony AZ3. If you shoot on other systems, you should research the Cannon R5 and R6 or the Nikon Z6, which are both great options.
For a complete gear guide and look into everything I shoot with, go download my free camera gear guide here. I’ll walk you through all the best gear for starting out and beyond!