DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven’t Switched Yet and Why You Should

In brief

  • Many photographers, especially men, suffer from GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This photographic ailment causes you to constantly dream of and lust for new cameras, lenses and other photography equipment.
  • Mirrorless cameras and advances in algorithms have made it possible to manufacture smaller cameras capable of taking just as high-quality images as their larger counterparts.
  • DSLRs are still widely used in sports photography because they allow very fast shooting. This advantage is rapidly diminishing, however.
  • DSLR cameras are a dying breed which will most likely be superseded by mirrorless cameras within five to ten years.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

It’s a sad fact of life that photographers never have enough gear. Not only is the constant bying of new equipment expensive, it also puts us in a frame of mind to never really enjoy what we have.

In photographic circles, this phenomenon is known as GAS, gear acquisition syndrome. It’s usually contracted by male photographers, judging by the comments on such photography sites as Digital Photography Review.

I have no doubt that there are female photographers suffering from the same malady. They just tend not to talk about their gear lust as openly as men.

I’m not in any way a technical person but I must admit having had GAS during the majority of my photographic career. I have gotten better in the recent couple of years, and hardly think about new purchases anymore.

This might stem from actually having almost all the equipment I need for my photography. It might also be a by-product of gaining confidence in my ability to use my cameras, lenses and lighting equipment. When you photograph as long as I’ve done, you realise that almost any kind of photo can be created with almost any kind of gear.

Why It Doesn’t Really Matter How Old Your Camera Is

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

The cameras and lenses nowadays are so good that anything new coming on the market is only a variation of what’s already there. Improvements are fractional, and don’t make that much of a difference in real-life situations.

New or more expensive technology does help you do your job more easily in some instances.

Let’s take two examples, one general and the other more specific.

First, mirrorless technology has allowed cameras to become smaller.

Second, forward strides in mathematical algorithms have made it possible to get very high image quality using smaller sensor sizes.

Smaller sensor sizes mean smaller lenses and smaller cameras.

The Micro Four Thirds system of cameras – which have a sensor that’s twice smaller than a full-frame camera sensor – are able to take photos that match those taken with a larger sensor.

The matching image quality can be attained in all but a handful of situations. Full frame and APS-C sized sensors still have an advantage in very low-light conditions. Other than that, the quality produced by these varying-sized sensors is comparable.

Mirrorless Camera Advantage

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

The mirrorless technology has allowed the camera manufacturers to dispense with the physical pentaprism mirror system used in traditional DSLR cameras. The advancements in image technology and the absence of the pentaprism have both resulted in smaller cameras.

Lighter and smaller cameras make it easier to carry your camera, with its lenses, onto assignments in nature or faraway villages in Tibet or Africa.

If you’re any kind of landscape or travel photographer, your life is now ten times easier than it would have been just ten years ago. There really is no reason to own a full frame digital SLR anymore if you’re in one of these professions.

Why You Might Still Need a DSLR Camera

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

DSLR cameras are still widely used in sports and studio photography. The sports photographers have a couple of reasons for preferring a Canon or a Nikon DSLR over a mirrorless camera.

Canon and Nikon both have excellent, fast lenses with superior optical qualities.

The professional Canon and Nikon camera bodies allow very high-speed shooting.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, for example, lets you shoot at a rapid-fire speed of fourteen or sixteen frames per second, depending on whether you’re using the viewfinder or the live view.

Nikon’s response to Canon’s sports-line of cameras is Nikon D5. It will let you photograph at fourteen frames per second with fixed focus, and twelve frames per second with autofocus.

Both of these cameras are specialist tools used by the world’s top sports photographers. Their specialty status is reflected in the price tag. Canon EOS-1D X Mark II will cost you roughly USD 5700. Nikon D5 is slightly more expensive at USD 6500.

Mirrorless cameras are catching up and even improving on the DSLRs, however. The new Sony Alpha a9 mirrorless camera can shoot at 20fps. Canon and Nikon still have the advantage of their huge high-quality lens collection, which Sony and other newcomers will take years to match.

DSLR Cameras In Studio Photography

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

In studio photography, the heavier DSLR cameras are used widely because they’re normally supported by a tripod. The weight and the size of the camera system does not matter in studio photography.

For still life and product photography, the amount of pixels is important. A minimum suitable image size for studio photography is around 24MP in these days. This allows the photographer to zoom into the photo to check for the sharpness of any critical detail. The large image size will also let you crop your images without losing too much image quality.

Currently, the highest resolution DSLR camera is Canon EOS 5DS which has a 50 megapixel sensor. The new Sony A7R III mirrorless camera is close behind with 42 megapixels.

Why You Should Consider Mirrorless Cameras and Why I Won’t, For Now

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Why I Haven't Switched Yet and Why You Should

Mirrorless technology is advancing rapidly. With the exception of sports, and possibly studio photography, mirrorless cameras are already as useful as DSLRs for normal photographic purposes.

I have contemplated long and hard on switching onto a mirrorless system. My main camera is a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. It doesn’t represent the latest technology but I’ve found it to produce images of exceptional quality in most, if not all, situations. It is very reliable and has an extremely long battery life – something that mirrorless cameras also struggle with.

I use a battery grip on my camera which allows me to have the power of two batteries at my disposal, instead of just one. It’s only on very rare occasions that I’ve had to change batteries, which makes my work easier. Shooting a three-hour event with one set of batteries, for instance, is no problem at all.

The reliability of the focus is another thing making me stay with my DSLR camera. Fast, foolproof nailing of focus in low and almost no light makes the camera such a pleasure to use.

And then there’s the ergonomics. With most things being equal in camera technology, a comfortable grip is something that makes a real difference for a professional photographer. When you have to hold your camera for hours on end, it’s important that the device is shaped for your hand.

Many mirrorless cameras have a retro design, which basically means that they are rectangular boxes. I like the look, it’s beautiful, but I know that they wouldn’t feel as natural to work with than my bulky DSLR.

The comfort factor, as well as the reliable autofocus and the great battery life, keep me using a DSLR camera, for now.

If you’re a starting photographer, however, you might want to consider whether a mirrorless system suits your needs better. There’s no doubt that mirrorless will equal and surpass the DSLR in about five to ten years.

The main thing hindering the ultimate demise of the DSLR system is the lack of first-class professional lenses. When that shortage is remedied, there’s nothing that will save the DSLR.

All photographs copyright (c) Markus Jaaskelainen 2018.

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