Mirrorless VS. DSLR – And Why It Doesn’t Matter

Don’t be a victim.  Those of you that know me know I’m pretty even-keeled, I am definitely not a conspiracy theorist (though I did grow up watching/loving Harry and the Henderson’s as well as Alf), yet here I am writing this article feeling like I’m living in crazy town.  

How would you feel if I told you that the Mirrorless VS. DSLR argument was created by some crafty marketing geniuses and had little or nothing to do with actual photography…  I’ll wait while you pick the pieces of your mind up that I just blew.  It’s true.  No matter which camp you fall in, the differences are such that it really doesn’t matter.  There is no photograph that you can take with one that you can’t take with the other.  The argument just highlights a growing issue in photography, everything is backwards.

Manufacturers would have you believe that you need the latest and greatest camera to be successful in photography.  I’m living proof that this just isn’t so.  I started my professional photography journey with a simple Olympus mirrorless camera, the E-PL1 (currently selling for around $70-$100).  Everything I earned with that little camera went back into my business and over the next nearly decade I was able to grow my business into a successful brand with art installations all over the East Coast and even had one of my images published on a two page spread in National Geographic Traveler Magazine (with a lot of help from amazing people I’ve met and God of course).  

  • Perceived order of things:  Better camera – Composition – Subject.  
  • Correct order of things:  Subject – Composition ———- Camera/Gear. 

Debunking The Debate

One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard in the M Vs D debate is camera size.  Apparently the smaller mirrorless cameras are so small that the photographers switching from DSLR’s can finally climb that mountain they’ve always wanted to but couldn’t because of the additional 340g of their DSLR’s weighted (the actual weight difference between the Nikon D850 and the Nikon Z7).  

I’ll be honest, if 340g is slowing you down then I’d invest in some weights, not a new camera.  And look, I’m not forgetting about those of us that have to lug a camera around for an entire day, I’ve done it.  I’ve done it in the Canyons of Zion National Park as I hiked miles upon miles.  I’ve done it through NYC, Boston, Worcester, Pittsburgh, Los Angles, Miami, and a dozen other cities and National Parks averaging 10 plus miles a day while on assignment (using Apple Watch to track distance).  A weight difference of .74lbs isn’t going to change your life.  

But the dimensions, John!  The mirrorless cameras are minuscule compared to their DSLR counterparts!  Uh, nope.  A common practice I see is bloggers and manufacturers photographing their mirrorless cameras next to literally the largest DSLR they can find.  And still the difference isn’t so pronounced once you affix a lens to either camera, especially a high quality, fast lens.  12x23x11mm…  That’s all the difference between the Nikon D850 and the Nikon Z7.  So you save just under an inch on on side so you should be able to sneak around like a ninja with your camera now and fit 50 new things into your camera bag….  Right?  Not exactly.  And that’s before you attach a lens.

If you really want to notice a weight and size difference we’d have to start talking about sensor size.  Pick up a an Olympus EM series or a Fuji X100F and you’ll actually notice a difference.  At the end of the day, neither the Z7 or D850 is pocketable, the differences in size and weight, though noticeable visually, aren’t worth the hype the manufacturers would have you believe.  

Of course, everyone’s mileage will vary.  Perhaps you’re super sensitive to weight differences and the .74lbs weight savings is so pronounced that you feel as though you’re floating when you carry your new mirrorless camera around.  Maybe.  I’d still argue it’s not worth shelling out your hard earned money when you could simply just suck it up and use your God given muscles to carry your DSLR like a boss.  

Disclaimer:  I’m not anti mirrorless in the least.  My primary camera is the Leica M10/M10P which is lacking in mirrors.  I also shoot professionally with the Nikon 850 which is mirrored.  When working on a photo project you’ll often find me lugging both around (actually two Leica M bodies and the D850) without the assistance of someone to hold me up…  They aren’t that heavy.  In fact, they fit in my rather small backpack quite easily with plenty of room for plenty of lenses and accessories.   

Conclusion

If you’re reading this in 2035 or later then please disregard everything because mirrorless cameras are probably the size of a pack of playing cards now and weigh as much too.  Look, I’m not discounting that mirrorless is the future…  I’m just pointing out that at this point there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both platforms and no clear winner.  It’s probably a little early and not the greatest business move to sell all of your DSLR bodies and lenses for 30-40% of what you paid for them and invest in mirrorless.  Maybe in a few years?

Like many things in life, it’s worth considering your sources.  Manufacturers, Bloggers, Retailers all have an invested interest in you thinking that the latest and greatest camera is lightyears ahead of the old camera that’s probably holding back your creative genius and stunting your growth as a human being.  They all get paid if you click a link or buy your next camera from them.  God forbid you become happy with the camera you have and don’t upgrade yearly!

As always, thanks for reading and please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  You can follow my current work on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.


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4 Comments

  • I hope that mirrorless cameras will be developed in ever more amazing ways that we can’t tell at this point. It is true that manufacturers will build what they can sell but if they could continue to create much more versatile mirror cameras, I think they would if they could market them. In other words, is it cheaper to build mirrorless and have more versatility or is the profit margin projected into the future looking better with mirrorless or both?

    • Hey Lewsh! Nice insight. I think it boils down to how much money they have and whether or not they spread themselves too thin researching and developing both technologies. Do you try to tackle it all or throw all your muscle behind whichever you think is the future (right now it seems that mirrorless is synonymous with future). I agree with you in that I hope they develop the mirrorless tech in amazing ways. Show me a camera with all the capabilities of a D850 in the size profile of my Leica M10 and I’m in!

      • I would think that all muscle in one direction is the only way to go. Camera companies don’t have bottomless resources and it’s better to have one thing that’s the best you can make for the money rather than 2 lesser products. I think that the DSLR will be gone from production within 5 years. The biggest problem of making your Leica have all the capabilities of the D850 is the UI and fat fingered people like me. It could probably be done within 10 years using an electronic interface like a smartphone with a specifically designed app. I also think that more and more apps for higher end cameras will come out to expand the cameras capabilities without needing small fingers or overly dense menu lists. Good luck with your wish for the Leica!

  • The mirrorless is lighter and smaller argument is pure bull. Size and weight were the least of the reasons I switched from a Nikon DSLR to a Fuji X series camera. The ergonomics (dedicated buttons and dials) work better for me than menus and mapped dials.

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