If you’ve been thinking about upgrading your old DSLR, chances are you’ve heard of the new mirrorless cameras. Every camera maker is heavily invested in this new technology and many photographers are embracing it.  One main advantage of the mirrorless camera is the size. Without a mirror and a prism, they’re smaller, lighter, and more compact.

Mirrorless cameras, by definition, don't have a reflex mirror, a key component of DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Not that long ago, when photographers heard the term ‘mirrorless’ they immediately associated it with a small sensor. This is no longer true.  The new mirrorless cameras have the same size (sometimes larger) sensors than DSLRs, which means they’re capable of producing the same quality images.

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras share one important aspect; you can change lenses. You’re not only buying the body, but you’re also gaining access to an arsenal of lenses. Even though manufacturers are still developing their lineups of lenses, the standard options are currently available for mirrorless- both for consumer and pro lenses.

One of the biggest differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is the viewfinder. Without the mirror to reflect the image, mirrorless cameras can’t provide the option of a viewfinder. Call me old school, but I really have a hard time shooting while only looking at the digital rendition of the scene. Especially when shooting something fast-paced like a wedding.

LA surf and adventure photographer Fred Pompermayer (Instagram profile here) recently ended an 18-year relationship with Canon for the new Sony A7RIII. He says he’s happy with his new purchase.

“The main factor that led me to change to the Sony mirrorless was size and weight. Especially when photographing climbers or mountain bikers; the weight of the equipment makes a lot of difference. The mirrorless allows me to take one extra lens than I would with my DSLR.”

However, these changes came at a cost. Fred also mentioned how, at first, it was difficult to shoot looking at a screen.  That’s something he’s slowly adjusting to, but said he’s sticking with the new technology. And why did he choose Sony? Fred points out a few advantages:

“I’ve wanted a Mirrorless for many years, and I was hoping Canon would catch up, but so far, in my opinion, Sony is a better option. Sony not only has a great assortment of lenses, but there are other third-party companies that make great products that are compatible with my Sony body.”

With some noticeable differences and some familiar similarities, photographers now have a tough choice to make.

Sony Mirrorless Yosemite National Park at night El Capitan

El Capitan, at Yosemite National Park.

  • Size and Weight:  That’s an easy win for the mirrorless. With fewer internal components, they are much more compact. That’s a huge advantage for photographers that have to carry their gear for a long time.
  • Lenses:  Major manufacturers of DSLRs like Canon or Nikon currently provide a wider variety of lens options. That’s something that will definitely change in the next few years. The Sony Alpha mirrorless line, for example, might have every lens needed for both consumer and professional, but the lineup is not quite as developed and extensive as Canon or Nikon.
  • Viewfinder: No mirror or prism = No optical viewfinder.  This means that shooting with a mirrorless camera dictates either using the screen on the back of the camera or the miniature screen inside the viewfinder. The advantage is that your exposure is accurately represented here. With an optical viewfinder, you're essentially just looking through a window. With a digital viewfinder, you're looking at your exposure. The advantage is you can quickly adjust your exposures on the fly without having to review an image.
  • Autofocus: Not too long ago, that was a feature mirrorless cameras were way behind.  But now, not so much.  Now some of the higher-end models have far better autofocus. Some models are as reliable as the ones found in DSLRs, if not better. Insert features like eye tracking, face and smile detection and there is a lot less messing with autofocus points or locking focus and recomposing your image.
  • Continuous Shooting: Mirrorless cameras have a less complex construction with fewer moving parts; therefore, it’s easier to shoot more frames per second. While the Canon DSLR EOS-1DX Mark II can shoot at 14 fps, some of the newer mirrorless cameras will do 20 fps. That’s a huge advantage for action photographers.
  • Image Quality: With the same size sensors, they're both able to produce high-quality images. Modern sensors are not only gaining in resolution, but the incredible ISO sensitivity (32,000 for example!) and advanced noise reduction make shooting in low light a breeze.
  • Battery Life: DSLRs have a big advantage in this aspect. Since they don’t need to use the screen as much, the battery life on DSLRs is much better than the newer technology. Plus, one trade-off with mirrorless cameras is their smaller size. This means your battery is significantly smaller, making the capacity smaller as well. Thankfully, the batteries are more affordable making it easier to stockpile enough batteries to get you through a day's worth of shooting.

Hopefully, this article outlines some of the basic pros and cons of switching to a mirrorless camera. Below are a few more resources if you'd like to dive even deeper into the subject.Here's a fantastic and in-depth video from Eastcore Photojournalism about their recent change to Sony from Canon and Nikon:

Engadget produced an incredible video that is worth watching:

This article by PetaPixel is also a fantastic and thorough look at the rise of mirrorless cameras.