Mirrorless vs. DSLR: How to Choose the Right Camera

July 09

6 min. to read

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When buying a camera, you’ll be asked the question: mirrorless or DSLR? At Skylum, we’re here to discuss the basics and help you get started.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

- Dorothea Lange

As you dive into the world of photography, you’ll begin to question whether or not you should purchase a DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex) or a mirrorless camera. 

They’re both exceptional options — but what’s the difference? 

The Skylum team is here to explain the basics.

Mirrorless vs. DSLR: How to Choose the Right Camera Image1

What’s a DSLR Camera?

DSLR cameras are digital cameras that combine the optics of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor. They use the same design as the 35mm film cameras of the past. To break it down a bit further: light passes through the lens and hits a mirror inside of the camera. That mirror then reflects that light up to another mirror and into the viewfinder so you can see your image. As you press click to take your photo, your mirror flips up, your shutter opens and the light hits the digital sensor — which enables you to capture that beautiful end result. 

What’s a Mirrorless Camera?

In 2009, Olympus launched its first mirrorless camera, the Pen E-P1 — and the world of image capture was forever changed. With a mirrorless camera, light passes right through your lens and onto your image sensor (providing a preview of your shot in the screen). Unlike their DSLR pals, they don’t feature a complex mirror system. They’re smaller, simpler, lighter. 

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Let’s see how the two types of cameras compare with one another when it comes to the basics. 

The Sizes

One of the main things that appeals to mirrorless camera enthusiasts is their size. DSLR camera bodies are larger, as they contain both a mirror and a prism. Some photographers say the smallness of the mirrorless camera allows them to pack more in their back (like additional lenses) — others say the smallness makes the body difficult to grip and makes the lenses seem too bulky. 

In this case, Panasonic and Olympus cameras are brought front and center. They have a Micro Four Thirds sensor format which is smaller (a trait that some photographers don’t care for). What this means is that the lenses are smaller and lighter and the system is more compact.

The Lenses 

A DSLR camera offers a wide variety of lenses from a number of different makers — offering everything from inexpensive to pricey. Though the options and selection are growing, mirrorless cameras are a bit more limited with regards to their lenses. 

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Mirrorless cameras like the Olympus PEN series have a wider selection of lenses from different companies because they’ve been around the longest. 

The Viewfinders 

With a DSLR, your optical viewfinder will show you precisely what your camera will capture. With a mirrorless camera, on the other hand, you get a preview of the image on-screen. 

The DSLR’s optical viewfinder is called TTL — through-the-lens, meaning that what you are seeing is close-to exactly what your lens is seeing. The mirrorless camera’s viewfinder is called EVF — electronic viewfinder, because there is not mirror to direct the view of the lens to your viewfinder. 

In the end, the decision to go with the DSLR or the mirrorless camera rests in your own style and needs. We’ve covered the basics in this article, though there are additional things to consider (like video quality, shooting speed, durability etc.) when you’re looking to make your purchase. 

At the end of the day, both of these cameras will leave you with high-quality photos and a love for creative image capturing. From all of us at Skylum, happy photo-taking!

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