So you want to get into photography and are looking at Beachcamera.com for a camera to get you started. Do you buy a DSLR camera or a mirrorless camera? You can get great photos with either, but each has its pros and cons. We’ve compiled a list of those to help you make the decision that’s best for your photography needs.
What is a DSLR Camera?
DSLRs use the same design as the 35mm film cameras from the past. A mirror inside the camera body reflects the light coming in through the lens up to a prism, and into the viewfinder for you to preview your shot. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up, a shutter opens and the light falls onto the image sensor, which captures the final image. One example of a DSLR camera is the Nikon D3400 DSLR from Beachcamera.com.
What is a Mirrorless Camera?
In a mirrorless camera, light passes through the lens and right onto the image sensor, which captures a preview of the image to display on the rear screen. Some models also offer a second screen inside an electronic viewfinder that you can put your eye up to. The Sony Alpha a6300 from Beachcamera.com is a top mirrorless camera pick.
Size and Weight
DSLR cameras are somewhat larger, as they need to fit in a mirror and a prism. A mirrorless camera body is smaller than a DSLR, with simpler construction. This allows you to carry a mirrorless camera more easily and fit more gear into your camera bag.
As for autofocus and low-light shooting, DSLRs have generally reigned supreme, but this has begun to change with some mirrorless low-light cameras like the Sony a7R III. Mirrorless autofocus systems have improved greatly also, with cameras like the Canon M6 now with unparalleled autofocus speeds. However, DSLRs still remain superior for autofocusing on fast-moving objects, such as photographing sports or wildlife.
Sony a7R III
With a DSLR, the 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 that simulates the optical viewfinder. When you’re shooting outside in good light, the preview on the screen of a mirrorless camera will look close to the final image. But in situations, such as in low light or with fast-moving subjects, the preview will suffer, becoming dull or grainy. A DSLR, by contrast, is better in low light. So, if you are shooting mostly in good light, both types will perform well. If you are often shooting in low light or other challenging conditions, a DSLR will be easier to shoot with.
Higher-end mirrorless cameras are generally better suited for video shooting. DSLRs can’t use phase detection with the mirror up while recording video, so they have to use the slower, less accurate, contrast-detection focus method. This leads to the familiar blurry look in the middle of a video when the camera starts hunting for the right focus. However, some newer SLRs are adding phase detection on the sensor, such as the Nikon D850. Increasingly, mirrorless cameras, such as the Panasonic LUMIX GH5S , can capture 4K, or Ultra HD, video with four times the resolution of HD footage. With superior autofocus in most models, mirrorless cameras provide the best results for most filmmakers.
Both camera types can shoot at very fast shutter speeds and capture a lot of images quickly. With the exception of high-end DSLRs, mirrorless cameras have an edge. The lack of a mirror makes it easier to take image after image. The simpler mechanics of mirrorless cameras allow them to shoot more photos per second, at higher shutter speeds.
Generally, DSLRs offer longer battery life because they have the ability to shoot without using the LCD screen or EVF, which use a lot of power. However, both types will have similar battery lives if you use the LCD screens to preview and view captured images a lot. All DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with removable batteries, so you can carry a spare.
Lenses & Accessories
Choosing a DSLR gives you access to a number of lenses from many manufacturers. Mirrorless models are more restricted, offering access to a small number of lenses from the camera maker, though the selection is growing. This gap between the two types is narrowing as more mirrorless lenses become available.
Mirrorless cameras have the advantage of usually being lighter, more compact, faster and better for video; but that comes at the cost of access to fewer lenses and accessories. DSLRs have the advantage in lens selection and an optical viewfinder that works better in low light, but they are more complex and bulkier. Today’s mirrorless and DSLR cameras both display just how far digital camera technology has come, as both carry the ability to produce outstanding image quality with stunning performance and convenience.