Mirrorless vs. DSLR Cameras


A new type of camera has become popular in the last few years.   They are called mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) because they don’t have the mirror systems that DSLR cameras have but they do support interchangeable lenses.  This makes them much more flexible than the point-and-shoot cameras discussed last month.  Let’s compare them to a traditional DSLR camera.


1. Image Quality


Both MILC and DSLR cameras are digital and both use an image sensor to capture light and record an image.  Some of the MILCs even use the same size sensors as their DSLR cousins and are capable of very good image quality.  As of yet, however, none of the MILCs are using a full size sensor so DSLRs with full frame sensors are still going to produce better image quality while DSLRs with APS-C sensors, for example, produce results very similar to MILCs. 


2. Zoom Range


Both MILC and DSLR cameras support interchangeable lenses.  Many of the MILCs have adapters that let you use your DSLR lenses but they also support smaller lenses built just for the MILC.  Because of this, zoom capabilities are similar between the two.


3. Speed


Most MILCs do not have the same processing capability as DSLR cameras.  This means they focus slower and the time between shots will be longer.  This can be important if you want to capture something in motion.  The gap is closing, however, and some manufactures are offering MILCs that are just as fast as some DSLRs.


4. Light Sensitivity


Both MILC and DSLR cameras have good ISO ranges to handle low light situations.


5. Dynamic Range


The dynamic range of a DSLR camera may not be any greater than the MILCs either.  They can both capture a wide range of light conditions without losing details.


6. Depth of Field


Both MILCs and DSLR cameras allow you to control aperture and shutter speed separately producing effects such as blurred backgrounds or deep depth of field.


7. Flexibility


Both MILCs and DSLR cameras can accommodate different lenses and flash attachments to capture the images you want.  A MILC will not have a traditional viewfinder, however, so photographers must use the LCD display or electronic viewfinder for focusing and composition.


8. Size


MILCs do have some advantages too.  They are clearly smaller and weighs less than a typical DSLR camera, even with interchangeable lenses.  This is most important when you have to carry the camera around all day.


9. Ease of Use


MILCs work like typical DSLR cameras so they have a ‘automatic’ mode like a point and shoot camera but they also allow control of aperture and shutter speed so they are no easier or harder to use than a DSLR.


10. Cost


Most MILCs are less expensive than comparable DSLR cameras too.  There are fewer parts to assemble.


For a travel photographer like me, MILCs provide a better backup solution to my DSLR than a point and shoot camera.  I still use a DSLR for speed and focusing ability but I carry a MILC now for a backup instead of a point and shoot camera.  If my main camera breaks, I can still use all my lenses with my MILC.  The small size of a MILC also allows me to carry it around more discreetly in places where I don’t want the camera to be noticed while its image quality is better than a point and shoot. 


If you want most of the capabilities of a DSLR camera in a smaller and lighter package, you should consider the MILCs – especially if you travel a lot.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


   Roger Nelson