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16 Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera: Why I switched!

 

It's been almost two years since I switched from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera.

Personally, I love my mirrorless camera. In this post, I want to share the features and benefits of mirrorless cameras that I enjoy.

However, I hope that after reading this, you don't think that mirrorless is all rainbows and unicorns.

There are still PLENTY of benefits to DSLR cameras as well as drawbacks to mirrorless cameras, but that's beyond the scope of this article.

Significantly Easier Manual Focus

For the last few years, manual focus lenses have been more popular than at any time since the '80s.

Photographers are discovery treasure troves of manual focus lenses at cheap prices that perform well.

However, with a mirrorless camera, manual focus is far more accurate than with a DSLR because the photographer can use focus peaking and focus point magnification to easily see exactly what is and is not in focus.

Weight

Contrary to what you may think, the difference in weight between a mirrorless and DSLR camera is usually quite small.

Sure, a Fuji XT2 is WAY smaller than your old Nikon D810, but that's because the sensor size and consequently the lens weight is different.

When you actually look at cameras with the same sensor size, the difference between the DSLR version and the mirrorless version is usually just a few hundred grams.

Mirrorless CameraMirrorless Weight (In grams)Comparable DSLR CameraDSLR Weight (In grams)Weight Difference (In grams)Weight Difference is equal to...
Fuji XT2 (APS-C)457Nikon D500 (APS-C)76030396 tea bags
Sony a6500 (APS-C)420Canon 80D (APS-C)6502302 bars of soap
Sony A7rii (35mm)587Canon 5D iv (35mm)8752882 bananas
Fuji GFX 50s (Medium Format)820Pentax 645z (Medium Format)150068017 dead parakeets

Fujifilm X-T2 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) + Fujifilm VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster

Sony Alpha a6500 Mirrorless Digital Camera w/ 2.95″ LCD (Body Only)

Sony a7R II Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera, Body Only (Black) (ILCE7RM2/B), Base, Base

Fujifilm GFX 50S 51.4MP Mirrorless Medium Format Camera (Body Only)

For me, saving 96 tea bags or 17 dead parakeets from my bag is actually quite helpful.

First of all, I don't drink tea, and secondly, the parakeets can be noisy at times.

But seriously, every gram counts as far as I'm concerned.

I often photograph far-flung corners of the world and I'll take any weight reduction I can get

I just want to be clear that the weight savings is likely not as much as most people imagine it would be.

On my first trip to rural China with readers of Improve Photography, I shot with the Nikon D810 and the Nikon D750. The gear was SO heavy that I switched to the Fuji XPro-2 for my most recent trip and it was FAR more enjoyable. But the big weight difference here was not the camera weight, but the lens weight since I UPGRADED from full-frame to crop sensor (at least in my opinion).

Zebra Stripes & Live Histogram

Zebra is a really cool camera feature that puts white animated stripes, hence the name, on areas of a photo that are overexposed.

On the other hand, the histogram is simply a graph showing you how much of the scene is completely black, how much each brightness level is moving all the way up, and what is completely white.

A DSLR can show a histogram of a photo once you've taken it, and a FEW can in live view mode.

But no DSLR can show a live histogram in the viewfinder as you're messing with camera settings and before taking the picture.

Having a live histogram showing up right in the viewfinder is a huge benefit, which I use every time I take pictures with my mirrorless camera.

Fuji doesn't have zebra stripes, but it does have a live histogram in the viewfinder.

Other mirrorless camera brands like Panasonic do offer it, though.

It keeps me from needing to take a shot to test the exposure.

All I have to do is look in the viewfinder to see what I'm going to get.

Preview of the Image for Night Photography

I mentioned already what a benefit it is to see the image preview in the viewfinder for judging exposure, but for night photography, this has an additional benefit.

Suppose you're in the forest taking photos of the Milky Way on a DSLR.

When you look through the viewfinder, you'll essentially see nothing—it'll be totally black.

It's already dim with the naked eye looking outside, and now you're looking through a tiny hole where the light has been passed through a prism and mirror and such.

You can't judge your composition without taking a series of LONG exposures and waiting to see the resulting image and moving the ball head slightly until you get your composition. It's a pain.

With a mirrorless camera, you get the advantage of the ISO of the camera to boost the light output of the scene right in the viewfinder.

With a mirrorless camera doing night photography, I can easily see and set up the composition in seconds rather than a series of trial and error shots with a DSLR.

A DSLR's LCD screen can do something similar in taking advantage of the ISO, but the aperture is different, so it won't give you an exact preview of what the image will be.

This works much more accurately and faster on a mirrorless camera.

Low Light Focusing

I'm sure there are exceptions to this one and people who will disagree with me based on a specific camera circumstance.

However, in my experience of traveling around the world many times shooting night photography with readers of this blog, I've seen that those with mirrorless cameras are often able to focus for night photography MUCH easier than the DSLR crowd.

I was in Glacier National Park last year and spotted a patch of old dead trees on a mountainside. I scouted the area with Bart.

Despite the extremely dark night (the moon in this shot is Photoshopped–it was black outside), my Fuji mirrorless camera found focus effortlessly. Those with DSLRs had to struggle a bit to find focus for this shot.

Size

I expected when I switched from a large DSLR to a mirrorless camera that I would bring the smaller mirrorless camera with me more often.

Honestly, I haven't really found that to be true.

A mirrorless camera is smaller, but it still doesn't fit in my pocket by any means.

If it doesn't fit in my pocket, I've gotta hold it whether it's large or small.

Despite that, the size does make a difference in packing for travel photography.

I like to use the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon and I pack it full each time I go out.

It's nice to have smaller gear that fits more easily in a carry-on size pack.

However, remember that if you switch to mirrorless but still use a mirrorless with a large full-frame sensor, your size savings will be very minimal.

The real difference is if you take advantage of the system switch to choose a smaller sensor camera (APS-C is the perfect sensor size for my style of photography).

High Burst Rate Without Blackout

The burst rates available in many mirrorless cameras available today are insane!

I've listed some examples below which are impressive, especially considering that these cameras are far less expensive than the DSLRs that could shoot a similar frame rate.

However, not all mirrorless cameras have high frame rates.

For example, the Sony a7r ii.

Another benefit of shooting a burst on a mirrorless camera is that generally, the autofocus does better between frames than on a DSLR because the mirror isn't required to find focus.

Also, there is no blackout when shooting a burst on some mirrorless cameras.

All DSLRs have viewfinder blackout when taking a picture.

Video Autofocus

Generally, the autofocus for video on a mirrorless camera is far superior to that of a DSLR.

Since the mirror needs to be flipped up for DSLRs to record video, the primary autofocus method is blocked.

Most DSLRs can only do contrast-detection autofocus during video, which can be quite poor.

However, some DSLRs are getting focus pixels in addition to the traditional focus methods but these have fewer points.

So in general, I have to give a point to mirrorless for autofocus during video, but it depends on the specific camera.

Flying Under the Radar

Because mirrorless cameras don't look huge and professional to the untrained eye, I'm able to get shots in some situations where I wouldn't be able to otherwise. For example:

  • At youth sports events, I don't get weird stares from other parents wondering if I'm a creepo, or if I have a kid on the team (yes, I've been asked before on more than one occasion when shooting with a large lens and a DSLR).
  • I photograph many locations when traveling where pro cameras are banned or require a special permit and there have been a number of times where I've made it through security because of the “Oh, that little vintage camera of mine? I just wanted a snapshot of my travel experience” excuse.

Again, this benefit is mostly negated if you shoot a full-frame mirrorless and are using a long lens.

But if you're shooting a short lens or an APS-C or micro 4/3 sensor camera, you'll get away with a lot!

Facial Recognition

I find facial recognition to be a promising new technology.

Most serious photographers are still manually choosing focus points, but the promise of what facial recognition could do is really encouraging.

Another benefit of facial recognition is that it can be helpful for auto white balance. Generally, auto white balance is a pretty dumb technology.

 It recognizes colors and seeks to balance them out, but it doesn't really know WHAT the scene is.

If the scene is naturally one color, the camera is often tricked.

However, if the camera can recognize a face, it knows approximately the color balance a face should be and is able to more accurately determine the white balance.

More Autofocus Points and Better Spread

To me, this is one of the biggest benefits of a mirrorless camera.

Most mirrorless cameras offer a high number of focus points, and the focus points are far more spread across the entire frame than on an average DSLR.

DSLRs are starting to catch up to what mirrorless cameras are delivering in terms of autofocus points but still fall far behind because of the inherent problems of having the mirror in the way.

Are the lenses on a mirrorless system like Fuji sharp enough for professional photographers? I'm going to leave this photo here as proof that this is not a concern at all.

Quieter

Mirrorless cameras are not silent, but they are significantly quieter than a DSLR most of the time. 

When the quiet modes are engaged on some cameras like the Fujis, they can be nearly silent.

This is a really nice benefit for photographing events such as a wedding ceremony, a black-tie event, etc.

However, there are exceptions to this as well. 

The original Sony A7r was really noisy due to a loud shutter slap.

Focus Distance in the Viewfinder

This is a nice little benefit when shooting night photography. On many mirrorless cameras like the Fuji cameras, you can show how far your lens is focused from you, right in the viewfinder.

This is helpful when doing night photography to know when you're focused out to infinity, and it's much more accurate than the focus distance scale on most DSLR lenses.

Adapting Lenses from Other Systems

The native lens systems for mirrorless cameras are behind that of most DSLR systems in terms of the total quantity.

However, the lenses being released for most mirrorless cameras are exceptional since they are using the latest technology and newest lens designs.

But when you can't find the lens you want, you can always adapt a lens from another system.

For example, many Sony a7r ii users who are unhappy with the Sony 16-35 are using Canon wide-angle lenses on an adapter instead.

Adapters are not a panacea as they bring drawbacks as well, but they can be very helpful.

Shot on the Fuji XPRo-2 in a VERY VERY dark room.

Preview of Effects

This is a benefit that I personally haven't used, but it's kind of a cool concept that I'd like to experiment with.

Suppose you're shooting a wedding and you think a series of shots in one location would look great in black and white.

Most shooters will simply shoot a RAW file in color and then convert to black and white.

This gives you editing flexibility but makes it difficult to imagine the end result while shooting.

With a mirrorless camera, you can set your picture style to black and white so you preview the image while shooting the same way it will look when finished.

However, you record your images in RAW still.

So you get a preview of the black and white, AND the flexibility to change things in editing. Beautiful!

Future-Proofing

I personally believe that 7 or 8 years from now, we won't even be talking about DSLR cameras.

I think at that point all major new cameras will be mirrorless.

Currently, there are still some benefits to having a DSLR with a mirror, but those benefits are being eroded away with each release of new mirrorless cameras.

I personally think it simply makes more sense going forward to not have the mirror in camera bodies, but that it will take many years before having a mirror is a clear drawback to a camera.

Conclusion

I personally don't think it's worth switching to a completely new camera system for the one reason for getting the benefits of a mirrorless camera. Not yet.

However, if you're looking at a new camera system anyway, then in my opinion choosing mirrorless is a very good option for most shooters.

22 thoughts on “16 Advantages of a Mirrorless Camera: Why I switched!”

  1. I played around with Mark Connors the first night I met him at the retreat in Phoenix and I was blown away looking in view finder and now the rear LCD shuts off when you look in. Wow.

    First time I had ever used a mirrorless. That was an eye opener.

    I has heard about this of course but in hand it’s really a wow factor.

    1. Yeah, mirrorless is pretty cool 🙂 I really enjoy my Fuji. I have the XPRO2 but I wish I had the XT2 instead. The cameras are almost identical but mine doesn’t have the flippy LCD screen.

  2. Just switched from a Canon Rebel series to a Canon M5. I know Canon gets a bad rap for being late to the mirrorless game but I love it.

    Just shot a three hour dance dress rehearsal for my daughters’ studio and loved the smaller body/lens for weight, the EVF and its electronic level lead to less straightening of images in post, and at times switching into manual and having the focus peeking was awesome.

    And while it’s iso performance didn’t match my borrowed D810 from last year, I captured totally usable images in low light with movement by heading up to iso 6400…

  3. Switched from Canon T3 to Olympus. I’ve never looked back and I love the Micro 4/3 system! Wish you guys would offer more details on it. I AMA true hobbyist and the m4/3 is more than enough for my needs, with the option of pro level gear, for those who want it.

    1. Glad you’re liking it. I know, right? We don’t have any micro 4/3 shooters amongst the podcasters nor the columnists. I’d love to buy one to talk about more…. but money isn’t growing on trees yet 🙂 Maybe you should write a guest post? 🙂

  4. I’m currently traveling in China w a rented A6300 and a few lenses. It’s my first experience w mirrorless and I am rapidly becoming a convert. I still like the “classic” feel of my 7DMII, but boy this sweet little Sony is winning me over.

  5. Great article. You point out some major things that really convince me that my next camera will be a mirrorless (hopefully soon, and potentially a fuji).

    I have heard mirrorless cameras struggle with long exposures and displaying motion blur in photographs. IP Team do you have any example photos of long exposures and how the motion is captured? Or have you compared them to a traditional DSLR in long exposures?

    Thanks for all the work and material your team provides!

    1. @John – I haven’t had any issues whatsoever with long exposures. The night photo above shows a long exposure trail of lights from a car on the road.

  6. Better watch out Jim. The “anything but full frame isn’t worthy” will be on your case. I played with Fuji the other day. I like it a lot but it weighs more than my Oly and the lenses weigh a lot more.

    1. Yeah… gonna be hard to find something lighter than those little Olympus cameras. So cool how they can do so much with that little form factor.

  7. Most of the mirrorless features you mentioned are available on Canon DSLRs thanks to the wonderful ( and free) Magic Lantern firmware upgrade. My $400 Rebel SL1 has focus peaking, zebras, live histogram, the works. It is also smaller and lighter weight than many mirrorless cameras, and of course much cheaper.
    Manual focusing though an optical viewfinder (OVF) is vastly simpler than an EVF, at least for me. With an EVF you have to zoom in or rely on the computer to tell you if the shot is in focus, with an OVF your eye and brain do the work much faster. There’s also a more natural experience when looking through an OVF and actually seeing the light in the scene, not a recreation of the light on a tiny screen. I feel more connected to my subject and the world around me with an OVF.
    I do appreciate your comments on night photography and video applications of mirrorless cameras, as these are two areas in which DSLRs offer no clear advantages. If I do ever spring for a mirrorless, it will be for night and video use.

    1. Magic lantern is really impressive stuff. Amazing what they can do in their spare time that Canon won’t do despite having teams of people working on the cameras.

  8. Hi Jim – how do you activate the zebra highlight on a Fuji? This is one setting I really want and thought was missing.

    Agree with all your points. Upgraded from X-T1 to X-T2 last month by selling all Canon gear.

    1. Hey James. Long time no see! I don’t think Fuji has zebra stripes, but it has the live histogram in the viewfinder which is what I use. I updated the post to be more clear on that.

  9. Hi Jim, for this trip I brought a 10-18, f/4 and I’ve been pretty happy so far. It was a nice range for me and seemed to focus fast. I’ve only viewed the images on my Surface, but I’m pretty certain the lens is better than me right now. 🙂 … I also brought a Sony Zeiss 16-70, f/4 and that has been a fantastic general purpose range for me. The final lens, a Sony Zeiss 24, f/ 1.8 , while not really super wide has been the best of all in terms of focus and a first pass sharpness check…

  10. I was in the situation of buying my first “real” camera. I originally looked into DSLRs because I hadn’t even heard of mirrorless until a photograph mentor of mine added that option to the list. I bought the Sony A7 and absolutely love it. I am glad I didn’t go with a DSLR!!

  11. I hv recently bought Sony A6500 mirror less camera, on my trip to US last Dec., and I just love the results this camera is giving.. Night shots and videos are simply amazing. There are Countless features this camera is offering which I am still exploring. Thanks Jim for the very informative article on mirror less Camera

  12. The real advantages of mirrorless technology are those that enable improved image quality, in particular sharpness. They are:

    The ability to design lenses without compromise, as the rear element can be as close as you like to the sensor.

    Elimination of sources of vibration: the mirror, the mechanical shutter

    Focussing, whether AF or MF, that is measured at the sensor, rather than with a separate AF system that must be calibrated with extreme precision

    The widely touted advantages (size, weight, WYSIWYG viewfinder, no viewfinder blackout, quieter operation …) are secondary.

    The one big disadvantage of cameras that rely on an electronic viewfinder is their poor battery life. This is a reason that DSLRs may continue to be the first choice for many photographers. Being able to make a large number of shots on a single charge is especially important for anyone that travels with a camera in remote places.

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