Reflecting on the Mirrorless Debate [IP82]

Jim & Darin sit down and discuss the pros and cons of mirrorless cameras with Adam Favre.  Adam is a subscriber of the  Improve Photography Podcast who tactfully wanted us to dive deeper into the Mirrorless debate.  We chat about the pros & cons of both DSLR and Mirrorless systems.

What's in this episode

  • Benefits & drawbacks of DSLR Camera systems
  • The upsides & downsides of Mirrorless systems
  • Contrast & Phase Detection Autofocus
  • Accessory & Lens selections for DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras
  • A deeper look into why to buy either a DSLR or a Mirrorless Camera

Resources Mentioned 


* Jim & Darin are seeking your feedback.  We asked you last week, but we want more of you to comment on whether you would like one or two weekly installments of the Improve Photography Podcast.  Please comment and let us know how hungry you are for photography knowledge!

25 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Mirrorless Debate [IP82]”

  1. I was really looking forward to this episode, but I felt it came up short. Adam was fantastic. He was very respectful and diplomatic, as were both hosts.

    With that said, I was expecting someone from the mirrorless camp that was a little more seasoned with different levels of gear, instead of someone who had never owned a DSLR and bought his first camera less than a year ago. I don’t think he was equipped with the knowledge to present the mirrorless side of the debate.

    I’d sure like to see a do-over on this. Not with a die-hard defend-mirrorless-at-all-costs photographer, but with one of the many professionals who has made the jump from DSLR to mirrorless or at least has incorporated it into what they do. Someone with more knowledge of the lens selection available and the groundbreaking features in some mirrorless cameras that haven’t made their way to DSLRs yet. Someone who has experienced hand-holding 1/4 of a second shutter speeds with Olympus’ 5-axis image stabilization, has edited the 4K video of the GH4, or has had the chance to experience the amazing manual controls or the dual display focusing of the Fuji X-T1. Or the apps that allow wifi control of these cameras. I feel you barely scratched the surface of mirrorless technology, covering only focus peaking and in-camera accelerometers. Someone respected in the photography community and unbiased. Maybe a Scott Bourne, Rich Harrington, Frederick Van Johnson or Derrick Story. Doing so would help your audience make a more educated decision about which road to take.

    Thanks, and love the show.

  2. Thanks for this week’s episode on the mirror less debate. I started out as a Sony A-mount shooter and switched to the a7 last December. I love it, but definitely feel your critique about lens selection. They just announced some major lenses today, but those are still a long way off for some. For me, spreading out the lenses is not that big a deal, because it lets me recuperate from my last purchase!

    Your conversation about sports photography compelled me to share my recent blog post with photos from a Mercer University football game shot with the a6000 and the 70-200 FE lens. A couple of caveats as I share this:
    1) I was not shooting in any official capacity, but from my seat in the stands.
    2) I rarely get to shoot action, so this was an experiment for me.

    I thought the continuous auto-focus with the hi-speed (11fps) worked really well. I had some unusable shots in terms of focus, but it did notice that I was sometimes inadvertently touching th focus hold button on the lens.

    The lens is far from small, especially with the hood on. That said, it is still significantly smaller than a DSLR lens. The autofocus was snappy, and with more experience I think I can make even better use of it. I had rented it for DragonCon, but extended the rental when I heard I would be going to the game. I love the lens on the a7, too, but that does not have the robust focussing system of the a6000.

    Here are some select shots in the blog: http://garbergeektography.com/2014/09/12/being-the-bear-our-first-mercer-university-football-game/ The blog is mostly a photo story and not a lens review, but a few shots may demonstrate the combos capacity for more hobbyist shooters.

  3. One problem I have using a Nikon crop sensor camera (D5100) is that the lens system was originally built around full frame cameras and that it was Nikon still caters too. The zoom ranges, specifically, are the problem. There are far more 24-70 f2.8 lenses than there are 16-55 f2.8, so I’m often left using a 36-105 equivalent as a walk around lens, which just isn’t wide enough on the wide end.

    One of the appeals of the Fuji APS-C system is that it is designed as a crop sensor line so all the lenses are built for that. Micro four thirds is the same way, just with a smaller sensor.

  4. I’d like to point out that if you are a Canon shooter, and you use Magic Lantern custom firmware – then you can gain a lot of the features that are in the mirror-less market (and then some): focus peak, intervalometer, bulb timer, etc.

  5. Completely agree with you, Scott. Even someone like Steve Huff would have been great on this episode.

    The bottom line is that for non-pros (95%+ of listeners), mirrorless is a MUCH better option based on 1) size 2) price 3) technology.

    Image quality is right on par with DSLR, and if you compare 95%+ of photos side by side, you would not be able to tell the difference. In fact, like you mention, 1/2 second handheld shots are a cinch with the outstanding Olympus 5-axis IBIS.

    A proper re-do of this episode would be much appreciated.

  6. I’m not surprised that everyone is hoping for 2 episodes. I also love seeing the new episodes pop up in my podcast app! But, I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy this episode. It sounded to me like there were some technical issues, and also the content wasn’t as dense or interesting as all the other podcasts have been. (Though, as others have mentioned, Adam was really well spoken and asked good questions.) Therefore, I’d suggest that if you can have 1 great podcast per week, that would be more desirable than 2 mediocre ones. 2 per week worked amazingly well when you were doing interviews, but without that extra content I worry that you’ll run out of great tips and information for us! I guess another suggestion would be to just make 2 shorter podcasts. That way we can all enjoy an extra set of dodads every week, but you’ll still have plenty of content to go over each episode.

    Whatever you choose to do, I’ll certainly keep listening. Even in this episode, although I didn’t think it was up to your usual VERY high standards, I still learned some new stuff! I can’t wait for the next one!

  7. Thanks for the episode on mirrorless versus DSLR. I think that there were valid points made on both sides but I think the choice comes down to using the right tool for the job as opposed to one or the other. I use a Nikon D600 and an Olympus EM-5. I have no intention of getting rid of either system. When I am traveling or out to so some street shooting, the Oly is perfect but I would not think of using it for an indoor high school sports situation.
    The point is that these systems are complimentary and are each good at certain things. Why must it be either/ or?

  8. Aren’t there adapters for the Sony system to use with other lens brands like Canon and Nikon? Has this been addressed before?

  9. Jim, you spoke about lens costs and also what a 50mm F1.8 equivalent costs on a DSLR. I have the canon 50/1.8 and it’s $111AUD/99USD. I’m surprised you didn’t correct Adam that lenses on SLRs are NOT more expensive. His idea was that it costs $400 or thereabouts. Keep the info coming and twice a week podcast is nice for me. Thankyou

  10. Well of course I’d like to hear 2 podcasts a week!! It’s already too long with the anticipation between them as it is! Yes, Jim & Darin, please consider passing on this great info & insight at twice the speed.

  11. Jim, you commented in a recent podcast about another podcast you frequently listen to (besides your own awesome ones :). Can you name a few of your favorites that might fill the time while we wait for your next one? Thanks in advance!

    1. Here’s my list of favorite podcasts…
      Digital Photo Experience
      Martin Bailey Photography Podcast
      Leo Laporte the Tech Guy
      Dave Ramsey
      Smart Passive Income
      Income School 🙂
      Leo Laporte the Tech Guy
      60 Minutes

  12. Jim, I’ve recently discovered your website and have listened to a few of your newer podcasts. Enjoyed them very much. I’d like to start with podcast#1, but I can’t figure out how to navigate quickly to the early ones.
    I know I can keep going to “previous”, but it takes forever. Do you have a shortcut somewhere that I just haven’t found?
    Thanks in advance.
    Tony Parker Baton Rouge, LA

  13. Hi Jim,
    I guess you are no longer reading posts on your Google+ community, since my post there from last week appears unread. I am copying it here, but you suggest you go back to see the comments to the post.

    Hi +Jim Harmer ,

    As a long-time listener, I have learned a great deal from your podcasts. I admire the time and effort you have put into it. However, two recent podcasts about mirrorless cameras left me a bit annoyed. A little background: I am an amateur photographer who started shooting SLRs back in 1974. Despite those years shooting, it has only been in the last couple of years that I felt I really began to understand photography fundamentals. (This is why I listen to your podcasts.) I am by no means an expert. That said, I have bought several crop-sensor DSLRs over the last few years, and about a year ago purchased a Sony NEX-6 mirrorless camera. So I do have some experience with both.

    My main issue is that although you encourage people to make their own pro/con list, the one you used on the podcast was the one that you, a professional photographer, assembled. You then use this as the basis of saying the mirrorless ship has not yet arrived. For you this may be true. I think for the majority of your audience it is not. The message I came away with was buy an entry-level DSLR for now because mirrorless cameras cannot do a number of things as well as high-end DSLRs and lenses. Yes, most things you said are true, but I think you are losing sight of the fact that most people listening to your podcasts are probably not pros and some of them are just looking for a decent camera that does most things well. While I have only used the NEX-6, I think it safe to extrapolate that Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus have equally good cameras, any of which would serve most amateur photographers well.

    As for the lens issue, the current line up for Sony is more than adequate for someone just getting into a new camera line. Your comment about there not being a serious wide-angle lens for the Sony A7 series is not true. Various professional photographers have determined that the Sony 10-18 mm, designed for a crop sensor, in fact works fine from about 11-17 mm on the A7 cameras. But the more important point is that there is a fine range of lenses for the crop sensor Sonys. These are the cameras that most buyers are likely to look at.

    There actually are more lenses available for the Sony e-mount than for all of the DSLR manufacturers put together. No, that is not a typo. Since the e-mount flange-to-sensor distance is so small, you can get lens adaptors that will allow you mount almost any lens from most of the big manufacturers. If you really have to have that tilt-shift lens or super macro, you can get it. (I am not really suggesting this for most people, merely pointing out that there are more options than you indicated.) +Deb Yarrow has been shooting with a Canon 65 mm f/2.8 macro lens (up to 5x), first on a Sony NEX-7 and then on a Sony A7R, for a couple of years. She has some absolutely stunning photos. I challenge you to find an adaptor that will allow you to mount this lens on your Nikon!

    As for the micro 4/3 cameras not being able to compete with a Nikon D4 for night sports photography — of course they can’t. But are you really suggesting that everyone just buy a D4s and a 500 mm lens because they might want to shoot night sports someday? How is buying a Canon Rebel with a kit lens going to provide any sports capability that you can’t get with a well-chosen mirrorless camera? I notice you didn’t mention the Sony Alpha A6000 which has a 25-area contrast-based system with 179 embedded phase detect AF points. It can shoot 11 frames per second while autofocusing. What other camera from Canon or Nikon (other than the D4 and 1Dx) can claim that? You are getting amazing value for a mid-range priced camera ($600). You should look at +Gordon Laing’s extensive review of the A6000 at his website: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Sony_Alpha_A6000/index.shtml , or if you don’t want to invest that much time, look at +Doug Kaye’s fine overview video: Sony a6000: All About the Gear

    I think what I found most annoying is that you focus in on one shortcoming such as the lack of lenses for the Sony A7 series, but you fail to mention the 57 lenses currently available for the micro 4/3 systems. When it comes to photographing sports you say the m4/3 systems aren’t good enough, but ignore the Sony Alpha A6000. This picking of weak spots in some mirrorless cameras and then saying that mirrorless cameras in general are not up to the task, doesn’t sit very well with me.

    Again, I am not faulting you for your effort, and I don’t mean to imply that you were being purposely unfair. My concern is that when a typical listener of your podcast goes into a camera store a month or two from now, they won’t remember any of the specifics from these episodes. What they’ll remember is “Jim says these mirrorless camera are just not good enough.” So they won’t even bother to look at them, even though for many they may prove a superior choice.

    Despite my rantings here, I remain one of your avid fans.


    P.S. Since writing this post I listened to your most recent podcast where you seemed to be very enamored of the new Samsung NX-1. I totally agree with you, but I don’t think you mentioned that this is a mirrorless camera. I still think that the Sony A6000 at 10 fps with autofocus represents a much better buy at about a third of the price.

    1. @Dennis Wisinski – You’re welcome to disagree. I think mirrorless cameras are doing some neat things but I haven’t found one that I can consider as a replacement for my current system because I don’t see the benefits outweighing the drawbacks. That’s all.

      You said that my opinion “annoyed” you. Why would you be annoyed about another person having a different opinion about a camera?

      You also complained that I “encouraged people to write a pro/con list, and used the one on the podcast that I assembled.” That sounds pretty normal. After all, people listen to the podcast for my opinions. It doesn’t mean you are forced to agree with them by any means, and I even went the extra mile by bringing on a mirrorless advocate to show the other side of the issue.

      I don’t have an axe to grind against mirrorless. I fully expect that within the coming year, two, or three I’ll probably be shooting a Sony full frame mirrorless, but right now the system isn’t the right choice for me.

      I already laid out my reasoning for sticking with DSLRs for the time being in the podcast, but I want to just make a note on why I think it’s a good choice for many of my readers. Most of the readers/listeners of Improve Photography do lots of different types of photography and haven’t picked just one niche. That means they need a lens system that will allow them to adapt over time. So if you pick an Olympus EM-1 and then want to shoot your kid’s high school sports game… yikes. The results will be terrible because of the slower focus, reduced lens options, and worse low light performance than a comparably priced DSLR.

      Or what if you want to get into night photography so you want to rent a wide f/1.4 lens? Depending on the system, you’re probably out of luck.

      An adapter is not a panacea by any means. The crop factor of the system completely changes the lens, and light and autofocus speed are often lost depending on the conversion.

      Or, let’s say you invest your savings into a Fuji and 3 or 4 really nice lenses… then 4 or 5 years ago we’ve all moved on to the latest craze. Your system will likely have a very very low resale value, so if you don’t have money to get into a completely new system… you’re stuck. Given the number of DSLR users, I believe resale values of cameras and lenses will be very stable for the coming years, so even if you’re brand new to the system, you’ll be able to sell and switch to whatever system takes over in a few years. Right now it’s all up in the air.

      You’re welcome to disagree, but that’s my opinion. I fully expect it to change in the coming months and years as mirrorless continues to evolve. Heck, if Sony knocks it out of the park with their next professional full frame mirrorless, and they get us a good wide angle, I could see myself switching very soon.

      1. I personally spent an age debating a new DSLR or a mirrorless,

        I agree with the poster, with adapters you can use a vast array of lenses, but understand your issue with the changes due to crop factor.


        Although a straight adapter indeed is still an issue with the change in crop, for mirror-less cams like the a6000, get a metabones adapter, it lets in more light, also one full fstop, also magnifies so you almost getting the same fov as on a full frame,

        Essentially I found with a metabones, the lens debate becomes a much smaller issue, you get all the AF functionality, and a full range of all the DSLR lenses, using the metabones it also makes the lens brighter than when your using on a DSLR as its focusing more light onto the smaller sensor. So you f2 lens will act more like a f1 on a m4/3 or like a f.12 on a apsc, thats a massive money saver, a f1 lens will set you back 4 or 5k when a f2 could be a few hundred buck.

        Focus wise also the a6000 is one of the fastest focus system, in fact was claimed as the fastest AF on the planet on release.

        I would say finally though, if you want to shoot video, the a6000 produces some of the best 1080p video results. Each to their own though

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