Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless Camera

As a beginner or a photographer looking to buy a decent camera gear, you often wonder what camera to buy, the difference between DSLR and mirrorless camera. You are looking for a quality camera to start your photography life with.

Thanks to an ever-improving photography market there has always been innovations in the photography industry. Once there were analog cameras, from there we moved to point and shoot, then to SLRs and now to DSLRs.
Once it was easy for a photographer to make a choice, you just have to consider what Digital camera fits your budget and is suitable for your photography level.

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DSLR Vs Mirrorless Camera:

Well, unfortunately, that is not the case now, the photography world is now dominated with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Of the mirrorless cameras, some are full-frame, others are APS-C crop sensor. There is a new trend now, which is better between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera.

First of all, it is important we get a basic understanding of what the two means before giving our verdict of which is better. We will also give you a history rundown of how each started. I believe this will help my readers and viewers better comprehend the two especially for those looking to buy a camera soonest.

Related: Becoming a Photographer.

On the general note, I will say none of the two is better than the other. It is mostly about what suits you and your style. DSLRs are excellent cameras, at the same time mirrorless cameras are also excellent. This article provides a well-written difference between DSLR and mirrorless camera.

DSLR Cameras:

A DSLR also known as digital single lens reflex camera uses a single lens reflex together with an image sensor to capture an image. It uses a mirror system, a mirror inside the camera throws back light that falls on it or is reflected on it from a lens on the camera to a prism and viewfinder.

Thanks to the viewfinder, you have the opportunity to preview and better compose your shot and correct it. You can then capture the image by pressing the shutter release button which opens the shutter/door for the light to fall onto the image sensor with the mirror flipping up to allow light to pass through and capture the image.

Usually, the lens used is a single lens hence the name SLR. This makes the image on the viewfinder to be the same with the final image captured on the sensor. This is different from a single lens reflex (SLR) as there is a viewfinder for a direct optical view through the lens, unlike the SLR where you only see the image after it has been captured and displayed on the screen. Also, SLR sensors are usually made with plastic and gelatin materials.

Examples of DSLRs are listed below as links.

You can open them up to further explore and know more about them.

A Brief History:

The history of DSLR is dated back to 1969 when Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith are credited with inventing the first digital sensor camera. Since then, there have been massive development and innovations in the world photography for DSLRs.

Mirrorless Cameras:

Now that we know how DSLRs work, we need to know what a mirrorless camera is and how it works. I believe mirrorless cameras are a result of advances and innovations in the technology and photography world. As the name sounds, mirrorless cameras have no mirror at all.

Thanks to no mirror system and optical viewfinder, mirrorless camera are smaller and often lighter than DSLRs. They are simpler and easier to operate than DSLRs. Some mirrorless camera only uses a rear screen while others feature an electronic viewfinder.

Mirrorless cameras also are known as MILC: mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, unlike a DSLR, does not use a viewfinder, rather it has a single removable lens through which light passes through and fall on the EVF instead of a mirror or optical viewfinder before the light fall on the image sensor.

Note below:

Of recent, there has been an influx in the photography world of mirrorless cameras. The mirrorless cameras seem to be taking over DSLR on an increasing frequency.

As earlier noted, there have been many formats of the mirrorless cameras, there is the APS-C crop sensor, those with Micro Four Thirds-like the Panasonic Lumix G1. There are the trending full-frame mirrorless cameras.

Before now, Sony has been the ‘Go To’ for full-frame mirrorless cameras as we have seen, but now that seems to be a thing of the past. This year there has been an influx of full-frame mirrorless cameras from different manufacturers.

The Canon EOS R was Canon’s first ever full-frame mirrorless camera. The Canon EOS R features a 30.3MP CMOS sensor. It is made to look similar to the 5D Mark IV with the same 30MP Dual Pixel CMOS and rated at a similar price with the 6D Mark II, it hoped that the Canon EOS R will provide a healthy competition among its rivals like the Sony Alpha A7 III and the recently released Nikon Z6.

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Other features of this camera include 5,655 AF points, DIGIC 8 image processor and 8fps burst shutting and 4K/30fps video among others.

Likewise, Nikon has released two full-frame mirrorless cameras. Z7 and Z6. The Z7 has a 45.7MP resolution while the Z6 has a 24.5MP resolution. Both of them features a Nikon FX-format CMOS sensor and an OLED EVF with 3,690k dots among others.

Panasonic will also be releasing the LUMIX S1R and S1. They would be able to record 4K and shoot 60fps video. They also have Panasonic’s Dual image stabilization. The LUMIX S1R features 47MP sensor and the S1 will have a 24MP sensor. It is hoped that the camera would be released in 2019.

A Brief History:

Mirrorless cameras came into play in 2008, with the first mirrorless camera coming from Panasonic. The Panasonic Lumix G1. Prior to that, there was the Epson R-D1 in the year 2004 followed by Leica M8. Since then we have seen different styles and nature of the mirrorless camera. Also in 2009, the world witness a different mirrorless camera the Ricoh GXR which had interchangeable lens units.

The Key Differences:

We would now be looking into the key differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera. What makes a DSLR a DSLR and a mirrorless camera a mirrorless camera?

#1 Size and Weight:

One major difference between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is that DSLRs are often big and bulky, bigger than mirrorless camera thanks to the mirror and prism all incorporated inside. Unlike the DSLRs, mirrorless cameras are often smaller and lighter. Hence, it is often easy to distinguish between a DSLR and mirrorless camera at some glance.

The small size of mirrorless camera has made it portable, gives it a marketing advantage over the DSLRs. Nevertheless, mirrorless cameras feature a small body with a big lens, mostly those with APS-C sensors and full-frame. Those with Micro Four Thirds sensor like the Panasonic and Olympus cameras are not affected by the small body and big lens.

Related: Canon EOS R Review

There are some exceptions to this like the Canon EOS R which features a DSLR body with large camera grips and more features present in this full-frame mirrorless camera.

#2 Lenses:

DSLRs have massive and heavy lenses especially Nikon and Canon camera lenses. These cameras are blessed with a vast array of lenses at different prices and for different functions. There are quite some mirrorless camera lenses and the number is on the increase. There are lenses from the Micro Four Thirds lenses and Fujifilm cameras in all forms; telephoto and zoom lenses.

Using a DSLR affords you the opportunity to access lots of lenses from different, unlike mirrorless cameras where you are restricted to a few lenses. Also with the help of adapters, DSLR lenses can work on mirrorless cameras that is if they are from the same manufacturer.

#3 Viewfinder and EVF:

This is the major difference between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera. Photographers have mastered the use of optical viewfinders and are having a difficult time resorting to an electronic viewfinder.

The viewfinder is a crucial part of a DSLR camera and is seen on virtually all DSLRs. It allows you to preview and better compose your shot before pressing the shutter release button.


A mirrorless camera, on the other hand, features an EVF. Some others do not, allowing you to use the LCD screen to compose and shoot. The EVF displays the image from the sensor, unlike the optical viewfinder.

Generally, the EVF performs better than the optical viewfinder as the optical viewfinder is more of a natural process while the EVF displays lot more detail and information like the histogram. Of recent, mirrorless cameras especially the higher-end ones now feature electronic viewfinder which covers all of the frames with 100% magnification.

The problem with EVFs is that they look good when you are using them to preview images in good light situations as it is the same image that comes out as the final image, but in low light situations, that is not the case. Usually, the previewed image appear dull with some grain of noise as the camera tries to slow the shutter speed to capture more light.

With a DSLR, the through-the-lens optical viewfinder shows you exactly what the camera will capture. With a mirrorless camera, you get a preview of the image on-screen. Some mirrorless cameras offer an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that simulates the optical viewfinder.

When you’re shooting outside in good light, the preview on the screen or EVF of a mirrorless camera will look close to the final image. But in situations where the camera is struggling (such as in low light or with fast-moving subjects), the preview will suffer, becoming dull, grainy and jerky. That’s because the mirrorless camera has to slow down the speed at which it captures images to grab more light but still has to show you a moving preview. A DSLR, by contrast, reflects the light into your eye, which is better than the camera sensor at low light.

#4 Autofocus:

The autofocus of DSLRs perform well especially in tracking subjects thanks to a very efficient phase detection system which makes it to quickly focus and keep track of subjects. The Live View mode is not so perfect, as the mirror will always be flipped and the AF module shifts away from light. Often it requires you switch to slower contrast AF system when you want to use the Live View mode.

Thankfully, camera manufacturers have started incorporating the Dual Pixel CMOS AF for a faster response of the autofocus in Live View mode.


Mirrorless cameras perform so well in the autofocus system using LCD screen, being able to focus and track so fast. This is because they mostly use the contrast AF system and their lens are usually made with the contrast AF system. Their Live View, however, performs better thanks to their EVF.

Mirrorless camera use contrast detection system which slows down its AF Performance a bit. Some others mirrorless cameras have now been made with a combination of the contrast AF system with a built-in phase detection in their sensors to guarantee faster AF system that focuses and keeps track of subjects much like their DSLR partners.

#5 Burst Rate:

Both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are credited with shooting faster, capturing lots of burst images. Overall mirrorless is better than the DSLRs in this area thanks in part to a simple mechanical system like the lack of a mirror system to be flipped. They are able to capture more images faster. Some of them boast a burst rate of 10fps and up to 20fps which is no match for DSLRs.

Related: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review

#6 Video Capabilities:

The mirrorless cameras also have an advantage over DSLRs as most of them a now with 4K video capture and Ultra HD. This is not far-fetched, DSLRs cannot use a phase detection system together with the mirror when recording video. Hence they resort to a much slow contrast detection system.

There is 4K video capture in some DSLRs usually the higher-end DSLRs, they are hardly seen on beginner and entry-level DSLRs. At the same time mirrorless cameras, all feature the 4K video capture in virtually all mirrorless cameras.

High-end DSLRs like D850 are coming up with exceptions as they now feature a phase detection system while recording videos. Generally, for videographers and filmmakers, mirrorless cameras with 4K and improved Live View have the best video capability.

#7 Battery Life:

The DSLR to the mirrorless camera for battery life shows that DSLRs have a longer and better battery life. This is due to the fact that they shoot without an LCD and EVF. Also, most DSLR feature large batteries.

Most DSLRs are rated up to 600 shots and above, unlike their mirrorless counterparts that have a battery life of 300 to 400 shots and mostly depend on EVF and LCD screens. Hence you need an extra battery when using the mirrorless camera to not run the risk of having your battery drain out.

#8 Image Quality:

Both the DSLR and mirrorless cameras can all take perfect and quality images as they both are equipped with good resolution and sensors. Initially, there you be a low-quality image from some mirrorless camera thanks to their small sensor. Of recent, mirrorless manufacturers have now produced small sensors that are very light sensitive with high resolution.

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We have also seen lots of sensor types with the mirrorless cameras. There are now APS-C sensors and biggest sensors (full-frame sensors) from the DSLR line now used in mirrorless cameras.

Some DSLRs have a resolution as high as 50MP while mirrorless cameras also have high resolutions up to 42MP. Overall. Both the mirrorless camera and DSLR deliver excellent and quality images.

#9 Features:

Both mirrorless cameras and DSLRs are well equipped with a vast array of features, full manual controls. These manual controls are well laid out and simple to understand. They all shoot RAW and JPEG files very well.

#10 Price:

DSLRs are often cheaper and affordable than mirrorless cameras especially the entry-level and enthusiast cameras. Mirrorless cameras often do not come cheap and if they do, they lack one or two common features and are often limited.

Related: Good Cheap DSLR Cameras For You

Generally, cameras do not come cheap. A look at the professional level DSLRs and the mirrorless cameras, shows that they are mostly in the same range and share a common ground. This is because they are made to be well-equipped with up to date features. Professional mirrorless cameras have closed the gap in professional DSLRs. Now professional photographers have started switching to professional mirrorless cameras.

#11 Handling:

DSLRs are safer and comfortable to handle as they have large grips. It allows you to shoot for long periods of times. As you know, the way you handle a camera tell much about your level of experience. As a photographer who wants to be recognized and be taken seriously, the DSLR is the best option.

Thanks to their big body, it is easier for you to be recognized as a photographer than with a mirrorless camera. Nevertheless, mirrorless camera has followed suit now, manufacturing cameras with DSLR bodies.

Finally, in a summary, these are advantages of MIrrorless cameras

  • They are small and more portable, unlike DSLRs that are big and bulkier. DSLRs are less convenient to hold for long hours.


  • Mirrorless cameras are the better option for videographers and filmmakers thanks to their common 4K feature. Although there are DSLRs with 4K video capture, some of them are limited to lower versions of video capture.


  • Their electronic viewfinders are a better option than the optical viewfinders in DSLRs as they display more information and detail than the optical viewfinder.

Although mirrorless cameras are steadily closing the gap with DSLRs, with little or no difference between DSLR and mirrorless camera. DSLRs are still noted for their good performance, better handling. It should be noted that the choice of camera should be considered over when buying a camera. Find out the camera that best suits your work and purpose, consider your budget and what a camera can deliver and go for it.

Thanks and enjoy photography. Drop your comments and opinion in the box below.

Below is a Video Review:

Author: Arinze

A Photography enthusiastic. I work with a group of other professional photographers to provide you tips on photography

About Arinze

A Photography enthusiastic. I work with a group of other professional photographers to provide you tips on photography

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