One thing I like to do on my blogs is to keep you up to date with the technology from the major camera manufactures. Even though I have a picture of Nikon DSLR vs. Sony mirrorless, all camera manufactures are still trying to decide which way is the best to go.

Today, I hope to go over the differences and then you can decide on which camera is right for you, if you choose to buy one soon.


DSLRs and mirrorless cameras differ in their construction and design, but not in their sensors, image quality, technologies and indeed many of their features. A Nikon D850 DSLR will give the same image quality as a Nikon Z7 II, which has essentially the same sensor – bar a few more recent developments in image processing.

The differences are elsewhere, both on the outside in terms of body design, and inside in terms 4K (or even 6K or 8K) video capture. But one huge factor that should not be forgotten is personal preference. Ultimately, your choice between mirrorless and DSLR will likely come down to which one you like more!

Pentax makes only DSLR cameras and they have made significant changes and improvements in their DSLR camera that many mirrorless camera owners wish they had.


DSLRs and mirrorless cameras both show the scene through the camera lens itself as you compose the picture, but the way they display it is completely different. DSLRs use a mirror to reflect an optical image up into the viewfinder. When you take a picture, the mirror flips up so that the image can then pass to the back of the camera where the sensor is exposed to the image.

DSLR’s use a mirror in the body to reflect the image up into the viewfinder. The instant you take a picture, the mirror flips up and out of the way.

Mirrorless cameras take a different approach. They use the ‘live view’ captured by the camera sensor itself to create an electronic image that can be displayed either on the rear screen or in an electronic viewfinder. There is no mirror mechanism to flip up and out of the way.

But what sounds like a win-win situation is a little more complicated than that. First, many people prefer the optical image of a DSLR viewfinder. Second, digital displays consume a lot more power, and mirrorless cameras still can’t compete with DSLRs for battery life.


The key difference here is that mirrorless cameras use a single autofocus system for both rear screen and viewfinder shooting, whereas DSLRs – confusingly – use two.

DSLRs use dedicated ‘phase detect’ autofocus sensors which are in the base of the camera behind the mirror. When you take a picture, the mirror flips up and out of the way and the AF sensor is no longer available.

Back when DSLRs didn’t have live view, this wasn’t a problem. But when the demand grew for live view shooting using the rear screen, DSLRs had to switch to autofocus systems that used the image formed on the sensor itself.

So you have a situation that persists to this day – DSLRs have one autofocus system for the viewfinder and a different one for live view shooting.

Once, the dedicated phase-detect autofocus systems of DSLRs gave them a speed advantage over mirrorless cameras, but now mirrorless cameras have caught up and, in many instances, surpassed DSLRs.

Many newer DSLRs like the Nikon D780 also have on-sensor phase-detect autofocus for fast live view shooting, as do Canon DSLRs – but they STILL have two different AF technologies when swapping from viewfinder to live view shooting.

One of the most popular mirrorless cameras is the Fuji Film cameras. Well built, and designed with only 1 autofocus sensor, unlike the DSLR

Mirrorless cameras can now be successfully used for fast-moving sports and action photography that once demanded a DSLR. In fact, if you look at the capabilities of the hybrid on-sensor autofocus system in the latest Sony A7 IV, even DSLR diehards would have to concede that the separate phase-detect AF systems in DSLRs are dinosaurs by comparison.


The design of mirrorless cameras means they need to use electronic viewfinders. These have improved hugely in a very short space of time.

This is the Panasonic mirrorless camera. The screen on the back and also inside the viewfinder show exactly what will be recorded on the image sensor.

The latest and best electronic viewfinders available today have such high resolution that you can hardly see the ‘dots’ and they have a clarity that genuinely approaches optical viewfinders. 

Viewfinder lag is less of an issue than it used to be thanks to faster refresh rates, and the most recent area of focus for manufacturers has been in the blackout effect you would typically see when shooting continuous bursts of images.

Electronic viewfinders can show a more clearly visible view of a scene in low light, and have zoom functions for precise manual focusing – two highly underrated benefits of electronic viewfinders. Because of their auto-gain light amplification effect, electronic viewfinders let you compose and shoot images in near darkness, and have made small-aperture telephotos like the Canon RF 600mm f/11 and RF 800mm f/11 perfectly practical to use.

It’s also worth pointing out that if you are a fan of vintage manual lenses which need to be used in stopped-down mode, a DSLR viewfinder will be way too dark but a mirrorless EVF will be fine.

However, many photographers still prefer the ‘naked eye’ view of an optical viewfinder over a digital one. You’ll soon see the image the camera has recorded in playback mode anyway.

DSLR optical viewfinders are still popular because they offer a ‘naked eye’ view of world with no screen lag or digital artifacts.
The Fujifilm X-Pro3 offers a hybrid viewfinder, one that combines both optical and electronic types. Almost every other mirrorless camera either has no viewfinder or an electronic one.

Optical viewfinders have another key advantage that’s particularly relevant for sports and action photographers. There is unavoidable screen blackout in the camera’s burst shooting mode as the mirror flips up and down between exposures, but this is rarely an issue – the key point is that there is no lag, and it’s much easier to follow a fast-moving subject with a high-speed DSLR like the Pentax K3 III, for example, than it is with the average mirrorless camera.


Even very basic DSLRs will happily offer 600 shots per battery charge, but the entry-level Nikon D3500 DSLR, for example, can capture up to 1,550 images on a single charge. The very best pro DSLRs can rattle off almost 4000 frames per charge, although this is admittedly with considerably larger batteries. With the Nikon D6, Nikon claims a stunning battery life of 3,580 shots – and twice that if the camera is used for high-speed continuous shooting.

The DSLR camera batteries still are the winner as they get a lot more shots off one battery charge than a mirrorless camera.

Mirrorless cameras, however, fare far less impressively here, with around 350-400 frames per charge being the norm while some are a whole lot less. The Sony A7R III ushered in an extended 650-shot battery life almost double that of its predecessors, and the Sony A7R IV even improves on that slightly, so that’s a significant step forwards, but the Canon EOS RP can only manage 250 shots. 

Mirrorless cameras are inherently more dependent on battery power than DSLRs. Either the LCD display or the electronic viewfinder is on all the time. Furthermore, the fact that most manufacturers try to make mirrorless models as small as possible means that their batteries are also small, which also presents a limit on their capacity.


The most often claimed advantage of mirrorless systems is that they are much smaller than DSLRs. This is the main sell of mirrorless systems: the same size of sensor and image quality as offered by a DSLR without the bulk.

But there are often trade-offs in making a mirrorless camera body so compact, such as battery life, the way a camera handles with larger lenses, and how much space there is for external dials and buttons.

Small bodies also means small controls, and users with larger hands may not find smaller mirrorless bodies easy to use. This extends to touchscreens too, with virtual buttons and controls often too small for then to be keyed comfortably, so although the Nikon D850 DSLR seems huge in comparison to today’s full frame mirrorless camera, many of its pro users will prefer its size because it makes it much easier to see and change camera settings – and because it balances better with big lenses, which is what we cover in the next section.

Size has certainly been an issue in both ways with some photographers. Photographers who have had mirrorless cameras are coming back to the DSLR camera because it is easier to handle than the mirrorless cameras. And it also goes the other way: DSLR users are going to the smaller mirrorless cameras because they are smaller and not so much weight to carry around.

This is where you need to hold the two cameras, and see the difference in your hands. Then you can see which one feels the best for you.


DSLRs still have an advantage for lens choice, simply because they’ve been around and supported for decades. Anyone that opts for a Canon EOS DSLR today has 30 years’ worth of native optics to choose from, and many more when you factor in compatible third-party options. Nikon and Pentax are in a similar position with their DSLR ranges.

However, the development of new DSLR lenses has slowed dramatically. Canon and Nikon now put almost all of their lens development effort into mirrorless lenses. Not only that, wider mirrorless lens mounts and shorter back-focus ‘flange’ distances have given lens designers a blank slate, and many new mirrorless lenses out-perform older DSLR equivalents.

Nikon and Canon have been especially clever with their new full frame mirrorless cameras. Nikon makes an FTZ mount adaptor for using any of Nikon’s current DSLR lenses without restriction. Canon has also launched lens adapters for its EOS R full-frame mirrorless cameras, opening up its entire range of EF DSLR lenses to these cameras. Although putting a larger DSLR lens on a smaller mirrorless camera with the adapter, seems like you are defeating one of the reasons for having a mirrorless camera.

Panasonic’s healthy range of lenses for its mirrorless cameras is joined by further compatible options from the likes of Olympus, Sigma and Samyang and, for its full frame Lumix S models, there are lenses not just from Panasonic, but Sigma and Leica too.

Fujifilm and Olympus have also had time to develop their own native lens systems, to the degree that none of the mirrorless camera brands is now at any real disadvantage regarding lens choice.

HOWEVER, mirrorless camera lenses are non inherently smaller. Mirrorless camera makers can indeed demonstrate that their camera bodies are a lot smaller than their DSLR counterparts, but the same can’t be said for their lenses.

The Canon RF 28-70mm F/2L USM is a remarkable mirrorless lens, but just look at the size of it! (Image credit: Future / Matthew Richards)

It’s the sensor size that largely determines the size of camera lenses, not whether. the camera is mirrorless or not. Some mirrorless makers have produced small or retracting lenses that do offer a size saving, but when lens makers produce mirrorless lenses to match the specifications and performance of DSLR lenses, they end up pretty much the same size.

This not only undermines the ‘mirrorless is smaller’ argument, it produces handling issues with small-body-big-lens combinations. Sony’s A7-series camera bodies are remarkably small, but many of its lenses – especially its top-quality G Master lenses – are unexpectedly big. You might find yourself buying a battery grip for your mirrorless camera just to make it handle better with your favorite lenses.


This is where mirrorless cameras have a considerable advantage, and for two main reasons. First, their design makes them much better suited to the constant ‘live view’ required for video capture. Second, this is where camera makers are concentrating their video capture technologies and where you’re going to get the best video features and performance.

But let’s not forget that DSLRs can shoot video too. The Nikon D90 brought HD video to the consumer market, and the Canon EOS 5D II brought DSLRs into the professional videography and film-making arena. 

For today’s DSLRs, video capture is a standard feature, and the Nikon D5, D850 and Canon EOS 5D IV offer 4K video capture, while the Nikon D780 is as effective for video as any mirrorless camera. 

Even so, when it comes to 6K and 8K capture, raw or 10-bit video, high frame rates and more, all the effort and development work is going into mirrorless cameras.

Don’t assume DSLRs can’t shoot video – the Canon EOS 5D IV is actually pretty good at it.


Read through all the advantages of each. See which one fits your needs better. Also, get to a store and compare the two formats. And then check out the viewfinder and see which way you like to go. The DSLR will give you a true image in the viewfinder, while the mirrorless viewfinder is a screen, like a small TV screen to look at. Which way would you like it? Also, take a look at the difference in sizes between the DSLR and the Mirrorless. The difference is size is not so great anymore as the DSLR manufactures have found ways to make their cameras smaller as well.

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