DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras in 2021

Digital cameras are the most accessible, practical, and affordable cameras available. We compare the two types to help you fulfill your photographic needs.

May 19, 2021
Product Review

You may remember when mirrorless cameras went mainstream more than a decade ago: they were often fairly small and compact and had a monitor or digital viewfinder that lagged and didn’t always accurately show the photo you were about to take

As a rule, if you were a professional or aspiring photographer, you hoisted a more bulky DSLR camera and had at least a couple impressive interchangeable lenses in your kit.

However, since mirrorless cameras were introduced, they have evolved to become the standard of the top camera brands and are more popular than ever with hobbyists and pros alike.

In this post, we discuss the differences between these two cameras and break down the key advantages and disadvantages to help you choose the right type for your photographic needs.

What are DLSR cameras?

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras function by passing light through the lens, which hits a 45-degree angled mirror. The light goes up into an optical viewfinder so see precisely what the lens is looking at. This is pure optics with no digital processing. When you lightly hold down the shutter release button to take a picture, the mirror moves out of the way to reveal the image sensor. Click-chicka! The photo is taken.  

Key advantages:

  • Sturdy with great handling
  • Fantastic image quality
  • Impressive long-lasting battery life
  • Cheaper than most mirrorless for image quality
  • More comprehensive lens range

Key disadvantages:

  • Few new DSLRs are introduced to market each year
  • Not as many technical features

What are mirrorless cameras?

It is what it says it is: mirrorless cameras don’t have a mirror—or an optical viewfinder for that matter. Instead, the light passes through the lens and straight onto the sensor to be processed. The image is displayed on a monitor on the back of the camera or an electronic viewfinder, which acts like an optical viewfinder but is really a tiny monitor.

Key advantages:

  • Often smaller and lighter
  • More technically advanced
  • New models are being developed and introduced each year
  • Faster focusing speeds and frame rates
  • More advanced continuous autofocus and tracking performance
  • Generally discernible difference in image quality compared to DSLRs
  • Better video and image stabilization options

Key disadvantages:

  • Electronic viewfinders may not exactly reflect final image
  • Some EVFs or monitors may be difficult to see in the sunlight compared to optical
  • Not compatible with as many lens options
  • Much lower battery life
  • Cheaper mirrorless cameras might not handle as nicely as DSLRs

Our verdict:

Choosing a DSLR system these days strongly depends on your shooting style and preference. If you appreciate more lens options, the DSLR might be the way to go (for now). Although there are fewer new DSLR releases, this means that they are often a better bargain for quality in terms of price. If you’re just starting out, we’d recommend the Canon Rebel t6i, t8i, or t5i, and the Canon Rebel SL3 for quality, affordable DSLRs.

If you are just getting into more professional-level photography or want to embrace the future of camera technology, mirrorless cameras hands down make the most sense with their image quality, video abilities, portability, and technical features. We recommend Nikon Z5 or Z6 or Z7 II, Fujifilm XT4, Canon EOS R5 or the Sony A7R Mark IV for professional-level mirrorless models with comparable quality to DSLRs.

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