What is the difference between DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras with image of both types

Many new and experienced photographers are asking what the differences are between DSLR and mirrorless cameras.  This is a valid question as mirrorless technology has grown in recent years. I’m going to highlight for you the main key differences including size, view finder, focusing, and battery life.

Before we get into the specifics of the differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera, I first want to talk about how they relate to photography in general. Specifically, I want to tell you that there is no difference in how you take a photograph between the DSLR and mirrorless camera.  They both use the same basic principles of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. The exposure triangle between these settings are concepts used in both DSLR and mirrorless photography.  Understanding aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance are required for both DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless:  Size

The first difference between DSLR and mirrorless cameras is the size and weight of the two cameras.  DSLR cameras are bigger and heavier because they have a mirror in front of the camera sensor.  Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter because the mirror has been removed from the camera.  Some photographers prefer the DSLR camera because of the larger grip size that the larger body provides. Another advantage to the DSLRs  bigger body is more room for individual camera setting controls. Other photographers prefer the mirrorless camera because they are smaller, more compact, and lightweight. The drawback to this is that there may not be as many buttons to control the individual settings of the camera although mirrorless camera manufacturers have been providing smaller buttons to fix this issue.  

Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless:  View Finder

One of the biggest differences between the mirrorless and DSLR camera is the viewfinder.  In a DSLR camera the viewfinder is the actual picture that you see with your naked eye.  The image you see in the DSLR viewfinder is the light through the lens reflected with the mirror into the viewfinder.  There is no processing and no light is actually hitting the sensor of the camera.  The viewfinder on a mirrorless camera is actually an EVF or electronic viewfinder.  The image is being captured by the sensor (because there is no mirror) and being electronically transmitted to the viewfinder on a mirrorless.  There are advantages to this because you can see in real time what changing your camera settings will do to the image.  

As an aside, if you are a photographer who only uses the LCD screen on the back of a DSLR to take images then you are essentially using the same technology a mirrorless camera uses in it’s viewfinder and on the LCD screen.  

Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless:  Focusing

There have been many advances in the focusing technology of digital cameras.  This is where I think the mirrorless camera has the advantage over a DSLR camera.  In a DSLR camera the focusing is limited to certain areas of the image sensor whereas with a mirrorless camera the focusing is much faster and over a larger area of the sensor.  Focusing technology advances such as eye tracking are what makes the mirrorless camera better than a DSLR camera.  Don’t get me wrong, DSLR cameras have great autofocusing capability but this is the one area that mirrorless camera technology has the advantage.  

Difference Between DSLR and Mirrorless:  Battery Life

The battery life is a key factor in the differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera.  The fact of the matter is, the DSLR wins this battle hands down especially if you are not using the back LCD display.  If you are only using the viewfinder on a DSLR camera, there is nothing electronic happening when you view the image before taking the actual picture.  This means that there is very little battery being used. 

The opposite is true for a mirrorless camera.  Because the mirrorless has to actually process the image on the sensor to view the image in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, more battery is being used before even taking the photo.  To put this into perspective, the DSLR camera (when using the viewfinder) can take about 3000 images per battery charge.  In contrast the mirrorless camera can only take about 1000 images per charge.  This may not seem like a big deal, but if you are a wedding photographer or hope to be one, this would be a huge deal.  All that being said you can always (and you should no matter your genre of photography) have backup batteries with you at all times!

DSLR vs. Mirrorless Summary

These are just an explanation of the four main differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras.  There are many other pros and cons to each so I encourage you to investigate on your own.  If you are looking for a super technical explanation of the differences you can go read this article:  DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras in 2022.  Below you can find a table to summarize the differences listed above.

FeatureDSLR CameraMirrorless Camera
Size & WeightBody is bigger and heavier – good for people who like all the buttons and a solid grip styleBody is compact and lighter
View FinderNot electronic – shows what your eye sees.Electronic – Is an image produced by the sensor – the advantage is being able to see how your setting changes affect the image in realtime
FocusingFocusing is good but slower – some of the newer focusing technology is not includedFocusing is fast and the new advancements such as eye detection help keep focus on fast moving subjects.
Battery LifeExcellent – you can get about 3000 images from one batteryOk – you can get about 1000 images from one battery

There is no right answer to whether you choose a DSLR or a mirrorless.  If you really don’t know what to choose, my suggestion is to go to a camera store and hold both types.  How the camera feels in your hands is just as important as the features!

So tell me, which camp are you in?  Team DSLR or Team mirrorless or are you both and have different uses for different cameras?  Tell me in the comments below!

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