Ditch That DSLR Camera! Why Hobbyists and Travelers Need to Go Mirrorless
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For so long it has been thought that anyone who is serious about photography 10 Podcasts Every Photography Enthusiast Needs to Hear 10 Podcasts Every Photography Enthusiast Needs to Hear If you're a photography enthusiast, you need to check out these 10 podcasts. Your skills will improve in no time. Read More needs a DSLR. But that’s no longer true. The latest mirrorless cameras match — and even surpass — DSLRs in almost every important way.

From their smaller size, to their features, to their all round performance, mirrorless cameras are the perfect DSLR alternative. Whether you’re a hobbyist, a keen travel shooter, new to photography, or even a pro, it’s time to switch.

The Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

Without getting into the technicalities, a DSLR has a mirror in front of the camera sensor that bounces light (via a prism) through the viewfinder. When you press the shutter button, the mirror lifts upwards to expose the sensor, and captures the image.

how dslr camera works
Image Credit: Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons

A mirrorless camera has no mirror. Light enters through the lens and hits the always-exposed sensor. What you see through the viewfinder or rear screen is a direct read out from the sensor, and an exact representation of the image you’ll capture when you press the shutter button.

Technically, any camera that doesn’t have a mirror could be described as mirrorless. However, the term generally refers to cameras with larger sensors Here's How Digital SLR Sensor Crop Affects Your Lenses Here's How Digital SLR Sensor Crop Affects Your Lenses Most of us own cameras with small cropped sensors, which artificially increase focal lengths on full frame lenses. Here's what you need to know. Read More : micro four thirds and upwards.

They normally also support interchangeable lenses Buying a Camera Lens? Use These Lens Simulators First to Test Them Out Buying a Camera Lens? Use These Lens Simulators First to Test Them Out Canon and Nikon both have online lens simulators that can help you find the exact lens you need. Read More , although not exclusively, as cameras like the Fuji X100 series are mirrorless cameras with fixed lenses.

1. Size

I still remember the moment I decided to go mirrorless. It was after a day spent trudging around a rainy Barcelona with a Nikon D90 and 16-85mm lens around my neck. I loved the camera/lens combo, but it was really starting to suck the joy out of both photography and travel Quick Image Editing Tips You Can Use to Take Better Travel Photos Quick Image Editing Tips You Can Use to Take Better Travel Photos Read More . I knew I needed to downsize to something smaller and less unwieldy, but I didn’t want to compromise on quality. Mirrorless was the obvious answer.

The website camerasize.com enables you to compare the relative sizes of almost every popular camera, with lenses attached. The image below shows a modern, enthusiast-level DSLR, the Canon 80D, alongside one of the larger mirrorless cameras, the FujiFilm X-T2, and one of the smaller ones, the Sony a6300 (Amazon US, CA, UK). All three cameras have similarly-sized sensors and are mounted with kit lenses.

camera size comparison

There’s no comparison. The mirrorless options have a considerably smaller footprint than the DSLR. They’re lighter, too. The Sony kit weighs in at just 1.14 lbs (520g), compared to 1.8 lbs (817g) for the Fuji and 2.06 lbs (935g) for the Canon.

Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Camera Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with APS-C, Auto Focus & 4K Video - ILCE 6300L Body with 3” LCD Screen & 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens - E Mount Compatible - Black Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Camera Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with APS-C, Auto Focus & 4K Video - ILCE 6300L Body with 3” LCD Screen & 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens - E Mount Compatible - Black Buy Now At Amazon Too low to display

Few mirrorless cameras are truly pocketable, except for a large coat pocket, maybe. But the size and weight benefits cannot be underestimated. The easier a camera is to carry, the more likely you are to take it with you wherever you go.

2. More Convenient Shooting

The smaller size of most mirrorless cameras doesn’t just make them more portable. It offers benefits in use as well.

DSLRs are far less discreet, and — rightly or wrongly — people often think of them as being more professional looking. If you’re traveling somewhere and doing some street shooting Why Mirrorless Cameras Are Great for Street, Candid, and Shy Photographers Why Mirrorless Cameras Are Great for Street, Candid, and Shy Photographers Mirrorless cameras suit certain styles of photography more than others -- particularly when it comes to candid shots, street photography, and conquering that self-conscious feeling you get with a digital SLR strapped to your face. Read More , people will notice you with your DSLR. And they’ll wonder why you’re pointing your camera at them.

Small mirrorless cameras look far less threatening and allow you to merge into the background a lot easier. On most models, you can flip the screen up and shoot from the hip as well.

There’s another way mirrorless cameras are more discreet: they’re quieter. Without a mirror to flip up and down each time a shot is taken they’re less intrusive in hushed surroundings.

A few models, like the Fuji X100 series or the Sony RX1, use a different shutter design altogether. It’s called a leaf shutter, and it’s almost completely silent.

3. Innovation

If you have any interest in cameras and camera technology, mirrorless is the only place to be these days.

While the DSLR giants of Canon and Nikon release solid, reliable, and thoroughly unexciting updates to their models, the mirrorless world is a hive of non-stop innovation.

sony a9 camera

Recently, we’ve seen pro-level cameras like the medium format Fuji GFX 50S and the full-frame Sony A9 capable of crazy fast 20 FPS shooting. But the innovations have occurred just as quickly in enthusiast cameras:

mona lisa tourist photographers
Image Credit: Bryan Allison via Flickr

Some of these of these have since found their way into DSLRs, but mirrorless got there first and made the features mainstream.

Mirrorless cameras are more software driven than DSLRs. This might be one of the reasons why innovations are easier to deliver. It also might explain why they often get more and bigger firmware updates, upgrading and adding new features to older cameras.

4. Performance

The long-standing argument against mirrorless cameras was that their performance was inferior to the DSLR. Focusing was slow, image quality was worse, battery life poor, and the ergonomics didn’t lend themselves to prolonged shooting.

Okay, it’s still true about battery life 10 Mistakes That Are Draining Your DSLR Camera Battery Life 10 Mistakes That Are Draining Your DSLR Camera Battery Life Tired of a short-lasting camera battery? It might be that you're making a few costly mistakes. Here are a few tips for squeezing more juice out of your DSLR battery life. Read More . The typical DSLR shoots 2-3 times more photos than a mirrorless camera before it needs recharging.

The rest? No.

Focus speed has improved a lot in the last few generations, to the point where it now surpasses that of popular DSLRs. The Sony a6500 claims the fastest auto-focus speed, packing 425 phase detection auto-focus points across the sensor, compared to 51 points on the Nikon D7500, for example.

Pros in fields like sports photography might still go for full frame DSLRs (although the Sony A9 is targeted directly at them) but enthusiasts don’t need to worry about focusing.

As for image quality, there’s never really been much difference anyway. The sensors are broadly similar in size and capabilities (and some Nikon DSLRs even use Sony built sensors), and all the mirrorless systems have enough quality lenses to cater for all levels of user.

camera ergonomics
Image Credit: FujiFilm

The ergonomics are also not an obstacle. Cameras from the likes of Fuji are packed with external dials and buttons, enabling you to change your settings without even lifting your eye from the viewfinder. Mirrorless has caught up with the DSLR by offering weather sealing on an increasing number of models, so you can shoot in all conditions.

And, let’s be honest, they also look better. Who’d choose a bulky DSLR when you could have an Olympus PEN-F (CA, UK) instead?

Olympus PEN-F (Body-Only) (Silver) Olympus PEN-F (Body-Only) (Silver) Buy Now At Amazon $999.00

olympus pen-f
Image Credit: Olympus

5. Lenses

When mirrorless cameras first entered the market, lenses were a weak point. It takes time for a manufacturer to build a system from scratch.

Nine years later, there are no such problems. Micro Four Thirds, Sony, Fuji, and others all have lenses for all use cases and at all price points. Versatile travel zooms, fast primes, pancakes — whatever lens you need 5 Common Photo Lenses and When to Use Them 5 Common Photo Lenses and When to Use Them Though there's no photographic rulebook when it comes to focal length and aperture, there are a few best practices to remember. Read More you can get.

Legacy Lenses

More interesting is how good mirrorless cameras are with legacy lenses. With a simple, inexpensive adapter you can mount virtually any old film lens. Pick some up from Ebay or a local garage sale and it will blow your photographic options wide open.

legacy lenses

It opens you up to work with old Leica or Zeiss lenses, while Soviet-era manufacturers like Jupiter and Helios are also very popular among legacy lens aficionados.

Most mirrorless cameras use a feature called “focus peaking” to enable you to work with manual lenses. This highlights the highest contrast areas of an image — which represent the sharpest edges — with a bright color. The brighter the color, the more in focus the image.

6. More Options

Unless you’re a professional with very specific requirements, it’s hard to make a case for DSLRs these days. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter, more versatile, and perform as well, if not better, than their old-school counterparts.

The sheer variety of models also ensures you’ll be able to find the right one The Best Mirrorless Camera of 2017 to Fit Your Budget The Best Mirrorless Camera of 2017 to Fit Your Budget What's the best mirrorless camera of 2017? Mihir Patkar created a curated list based on expert opinion on budget and high-end mirrorless cameras ranging from $450 to $3,400. Read More for your needs. If you want to drop nine grand on a medium format Hasselblad X1D, you can. Or you spend as little as $500 on a body that will still give you 4K video and most of the innovations outlined above. Or you can go anywhere in between.

The days of the DSLR look to be numbered. There really has never been a better time to go mirrorless.

Have you gone mirrorless? How have you found it? Or do you still love your DSLR? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image Credit: SB7 via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Brian Allan
    July 5, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    I moved from Canon DSLR's to a Sony A7R in 2013. I now have a Sony A7S, A7 II and A7R II and will never go back to a DSLR. I've found mirrorless just is so much better for the shooting I do!

    Good article.

  2. Janice M. Vaughan
    June 29, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I'm not ready to make the switch yet. Less weight is a good thing but I have large hands and fat fingers s so I'm more comfortable with a larger camera. As the DSLR dies, I can pick up a pro-level DSLR with full frame sensor and lenses for pennies on the dollar.

  3. Nick
    June 27, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Points one and two are largely dependent on the size of the lens. Your picture showing the "dramatic difference" between the sizes is rather misleading, as the dslr cameras have much bigger lenses attached. Sure the body of the mirrorless is smaller, but that doesn't matter a whole lot of its attached to a giant telephoto lens.
    I'm not sure why you think "mirrorless got there first for a few features" matters. There are plenty of features dslrs did first as well. But you should be evaluating the features of the models you are considering, not done legacy model.

    • Jason Mason
      June 30, 2017 at 12:27 am

      Actually lenses used in that photo are very comparable.

      Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
      Fuji 18-55mm f/2.8-4
      Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6

      I'd say Fuji lens is the best on paper, it has a stop advantage at the tele end and half a stop at the wide end.

      I am not sure if it is a design choice or advantage of shorter flange distance, but in certain focal length ranges mirrorless lenses (at least for aps-c and m43 sizes of sensor) are considerably smaller than their dslr counterparts.

    June 27, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Single lens reflex camera bridge camera compact zoom mirrorless cameras people like The hobby hope photography or enthusiast all good types of camera a number of different manufacturers prefer Canon

  5. James
    June 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Another political speech why the world should ban the evil thing called DSLR. All the points mentioned can be countered as a major weakness of this thing called Mirrorless who will save the photographer from their demise and will resurrect an industry that has died. or is it another scream to justify a decision.?? Why don't you just show us your work. ? That is what we are interested in. Not the equipment you use

    • Hugh Kessler
      June 27, 2017 at 4:14 am

      James, as a retired Pro that now teachers at a college, I can tell you that I now about with Panasonic Lumix micro 4/3s mirrorless cameras.
      Though the camera I love the best is my Rolleiflex, I have to say my Lumix cameras allow me to have more fun then I ever had with any cameras that I've owned.

      By the way I'm able to produce beautiful 60x40 photographs work that camera. Not saying DSLR camera are not good, but I agree they are not the cameras of the future.

      You said show us photos, so go to hughkesslerphotography.com to see samples and also hybrid photography.

  6. Jon
    June 26, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I've been shooting mirrorless almost exclusively since the first Olympus Digital Pen, the E-P1 came out around 2009. I have a humorous anecdote that illustrates your second point re: convenience and discreetness. Shortly after I got my Pen, a friend visited us from the States. We went to a local mall. He was borrowing a friend's ancient Nikon dSLR for his trip. I think it was 6mp. I had my brand new Pen. We separated for a while, while shooting photos. When we got back together, he complained that mall security had stopped him shooting, saying that photography wasn't allowed. (something about them not wanting people to profit off the mall). But nobody had stopped me. Later, I was sharing my photos with him, so he could have something to share back home. He saw one photo, and lo, the security worker who had stopped him was in the photo, looking directly at the camera! But he hadn't stopped me! I figured it was because my camera looked sort of like a low cost compact (silver), and I had to shoot holding the camera out from my face because there was no eye-level viewfinder. The irony of the situation was not merely that my camera took photos of significantly better quality than his obsolete camera, but also that I _was_ shooting for a professional purpose, and those photos, while not directly earning me money, were a part of an overall project/promotion that did have such a long-term benefit! So yeah, these cameras are great if being inconspicuous is important. :-)