I have to be honest; I was wondering this for a really long time and always just assumed that because my camera, a mirrorless camera, was smaller that it was inferior. So instead of sitting in this awful confusing insecurity, I put my head down and did tons of research! I really wanted to know, one, the difference between a DSLR camera and a mirrorless camera, and two, what qualifies a camera to be a “good” camera. And after tons of research, countless blog posts, and videos later, I finally got my answers! I’ll be sharing part one here (the differences) and part two (qualities of a “good” camera) in a future blog post just to make it a little bit simpler to digest, because boy can camera lingo get a bit overwhelming!
1. One has a mirror and one does not (can you guess which is which?!)
DSLRs are built with a mirror mechanism inside the camera body. The mirror reflects light that streams in through the lens, up into a prism, and on into the viewfinder for you to see. Once you’re ready to take the photo and press the shutter button, the mirror flips up, and the camera captures the image.
Mirrorless cameras do not have a mirror in them, hence the name, and light passes through the lens straight onto the image sensor, which captures the image.
DSLR cameras tend to be larger simply because they have to hold the mirror mechanism described above. Since a mirrorless camera doesn’t have this, they’re typically smaller, lightweight, and easy to carry around with you! This is the most noticeable difference between the two, but as long as both cameras that we’re comparing have the same sensor size, megapixels, and lens, there won’t be any difference in the image quality.
DSLRs have an optical viewfinder. This means you’re seeing exactly what the mirror is reflecting in real life. So when you change your settings you won’t see a difference in the viewfinder. You’ll have to take “test shots” in order to see how the changes to the settings affect the photo taken.
Mirrorless cameras have an electronic viewfinder. This is simply because they don’t have a mirror to reflect the image so you’re seeing it all electronically. A big perk of this is that you’re able to see the changes you make to your settings live, before you even take the photo!
I can’t tell you how many times I felt so crazy for never taking “test shots” and looking at other photographers like, “I don’t understand….you can literally see the changes, why waste time taking fake test shots??” Well, lol, now I know!
4. Battery Life
Because DSLR cameras are larger to hold the mirror mechanism, they have more room to hold larger batteries, meaning a longer battery life when compared to mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras also have the electronic viewfinder and an LCD screen that drains more battery, where a DSLR can shoot without the LCD screen on and uses the optical viewfinder with the mirror.
Many users throughout my research have complained of this, needing multiple batteries for their mirrorless to shoot an event, but I honestly haven’t experienced this. I always have a backup battery on hand, but have never had to use it. Even when on location at a five hour shoot. I don’t leave my camera on in between sets, so that may be a main difference if you love having it constantly on and ready to shoot at any moment.
There were several other minor differences listed throughout my research (like shooting speed, video quality, and lens options), but both cameras were so close in comparison that it was honestly a waste of time reading/watching the content. And I definitely do not want to waste your time!
At the end of the day, both cameras are wonderful options compared to standard point and shoot ones. I own both, but my DSLR is older and I know my mirrorless camera so, so well. I love that it’s lightweight and can come with me anywhere (so great for vacations!) and I absolutely LOVE that I can immediately see the changes I’ve made on my viewfinder without having to take test shots! Turns out that awful insecurity, really didn’t have any validation, especially since mirrorless cameras have so many wonderful benefits and shoot equally as well!
I hope this helped clear up some of the major differences between DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras! Let me know if you have any questions below and which one you prefer shooting with!