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Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras

Should you make the move to mirrorless or stick to a tried-and-true DSLR?

Mirrorless vs DSLR Cameras

When shopping for a new camera the options seem nearly endless, but when it comes time to choose between mirrorless vs DSLR, which is best for you?

We discuss the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision.

The Breakdown

In the debate between mirrorless vs DSLR cameras, you may be wondering what exactly the difference is. Let’s start at the top.

What Is a DSLR Camera?

DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex. When you take a photo, light passes through your lens, which hits a mirror that is located inside of your camera body. The light then reflects up into an optical viewfinder. When looking thought the viewfinder you can see the exact subject the lens is pointed at with zero digital processing involved. When the shutter is pressed, the mirror moves, exposing the sensor to capture your photo.

What Is a Mirrorless Camera?

A mirrorless digital camera is less complicated because – shocker – it does not have mirror. When the light enters through the lens it lands directly on the sensor. When that occurs, the image is instantly processed, and you receive a digital live view on an electronic viewfinder. When the shutter is released, the camera records the image instantly from the sensor.

For reference, your likely already own a mirrorless camera – your phone. But if you are looking for more than what your phone or a standard-point-and-shoot camera can do, most of the big players in the camera game – Nikon, Canon, etc. – now offer comparable mirrorless options alongside their DSLR lineups.

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Weighing Your Options  

DSLR Pros

    • The optical viewfinder on the DSLR has proven to be more reliable. DSLRs outperform in both low light and situations that require multiple fast-paced shots (think wildlife photography).
    • Availability of lenses and accessories. While companies are developing new lens options every day for mirrorless systems, DSLRs still have an infinite selection of lenses, giving DSLR shooters an advantage.

DSLR Cons

    • Unlike its lightweight compact competitor, DSLRs tend be heavier and bulkier.
    • Less video capabilities.

Mirrorless Pros

    • Although smaller and generally more compact than a DSLR, mirrorless cameras pack a lot of punch. Being quieter and lightweight makes them much more travel friendly.
    • The video capabilities on a mirrorless digital camera are superior to those on a DSLR, especially for autofocusing.
    • The ability to capture images faster, as its not limited by the speed of the mirror. The lack of a mirror also makes cleaning the sensor much easier.

Mirrorless Cons

    • The electronic viewfinder on the mirrorless camera, while oftentimes an advantage of owning a mirrorless, is where you can also run into some issues, between the occasional processor lag and its performance in low-light situations.
    • One of the major disadvantages to owning a mirrorless camera is the availability of lenses and accessories. While adapters are available, it can sometimes affect the functionality of the lens.
    • Mirrorless cameras, including entry-level systems, tend to be more expensive.
    • Shorter battery life is another area where mirrorless cameras fall short.

Mirrorless vs DSLR

The Choice Is Yours

So, how do you decide?

There are many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras on the market today to choose from. In July 2020, Tech Radar named the Nikon Z6 the all-around best mirrorless camera, while the Sony Alpha a7 III was listed as the most popular. Although both cameras get good reviews, they are both priced well over a thousand dollars.

If cost is a factor in your decision, a DSLR might be the better choice for you. The Nikon D3500, albeit an older model, is a great entry level DSLR. Tech Radar also recommends the Nikon D5600, Nikon D850, Canon 90D and Canon EOS Rebel  SL3, for their many capabilities.

The gap between DSLR and mirrorless cameras is rapidly closing. While the future seems to be headed towards mirrorless, DSLR cameras still have their loyalist. Base your decision on your personal preferences, photography needs and most importantly, your budget.

Still need help finding the right camera? Here are more camera buying tips for beginners.

Kayla Mandeville is a Massachusetts-based photographer. You can follow her on Instagram at @k__elizabeth.

When you make a purchase through a third-party link, AAA Northeast could receive revenue.

Views expressed are the opinion of the writer and do not reflect the views of AAA Northeast.

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