You’ve taken some pictures, you’ve shot some video, now you want to step your game up. You’ve kind of looked at the true DSLR cameras, but what about those fancy, new mirrorless cameras? Well, right of the bat, the biggest visual clue when identifying a mirrorless vs DSLR camera is the size difference. Something important to keep in mind if you care about portability. DSLR systems are a lot bigger because they use the same design for the most part as a traditional 35mm film camera that you parents (or yourself) might have used.
There is a dedicated area inside the body where a mirror reflects the light to the viewfinder. This mirror then flips up when you press the shutter, exposing the image onto the sensor. This setup is considered robust by many because it has worked for a long time, but it also adds to the weight and the size of the camera. Now compare that to mirrorless systems. They are lighter, smaller and in some ways more versatile. There is no need for a dedicated space inside the body because the system is inherently mirrorless. In this scenario, the light passes through the lens and directly onto the sensor.
Now you might be thinking: if there is no mirror, then how does the viewfinder work? On a mirrorless system, the viewfinder is electronic and displays the image directly from the sensor, compared to a traditional optical viewfinder of the DSLR. There are benefits to this. For instance, more information can be displayed, such as visual tools to help exposure focus and more, which are especially helpful for those who like to shoot video. But although electronic viewfinders are improving rapidly, they are still not perfect and they are susceptible to things like lag or pixelation, which is why many still prefer seeing the real thing with the optical viewfinder with a DSLR, rather than seeing a simulated image on a screen of a mirrorless camera.
But outside the viewfinders, another important consideration is lenses. Different lenses provide many different types of functionality, almost to the point where they are like apps for your phone, if you want to look at it that way. For now, history is on the side with DSLRs. There are a plethora of lenses to buy, but mirrorless systems offer incredibly small and light lenses, which are further cutdowns on bulk.
So now that we know the physical differences, then you might be thinking: who should be buying what? If you are into sports photography, then you should pay particular interest to mirrorless systems. Advancements in the field are making these systems excellent for continuous shooting as mirrorless systems don’t have a mirror that needs to constantly move up and down, making them able to operate more quickly. Mirrorless systems are also catching up to DSLRs with autofocus speed as they used to be fairly notorious for being slower. However, DSLRs offer more for your money on the lower end of the price spectrum, as they usually offer a more feature-complete camera, which is not necessarily the case for mirrorless systems. Mirrorless cameras tend to be more compact but miss out on features, such as a viewfinder, leaving you to rely on the screen on the back of the camera at the lower price bracket.
But whatever you want to go with, camera technology is evolving incredibly fast and more advanced features are trickling down on both lower price ranges and smaller camera bodies. So maybe it will soon again make sense for more people to carry around both a smartphone and a separate camera around.