Mirrorless vs DSLR

by Michele Seghieri

Mirrorless vs DSLR camera: Future vs Past? What a photographer should know to decide what is the best solution?
Everybody knows: the sleep of photographers is corrupted by unresolved conflicts since ancient times. I will try to answer them in this article.

How to make the final decision

Should I buy a Canon camera? or a Nikon? What about Sony, Fuji, or what else? This is just one of the many definitive decisions each type of photographer must take — an extensive list of Choices of Hercules that start from the beginning of their passion.

  • Gear choices: what camera brand, prime lens or zoom, Digital or film?
  • Category choices: portrait, fashion, glamour, landscape…
  • Software choices: Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, Luminar Ai…
  • Accessories choices: camera bag, graphic tablet, desktop vs laptop, monitor…
  • more and more…

Each of their choices will define their personal style.

But in real life, things are a lot easier. Usually, photographer already knows the answer to most of its dilemmas.

Hey, Hercules! You are a photographer, right? So don’t be scared. Take the downhill road. What are you waiting for? Listen to the undressed lady!

The choice of Hercules – Annibale Carracci. He followed the undressed lady.

Some camera costs are prohibitive, others are cheap, others are just handcrafted using a wood recycled box and a tape.

The first thing to understand is our needs. Today I will show you how to become a master in choosing the right camera, taking one of the most challenging decisions for today’s photographer.
Is it better a mirrorless camera or a new fancy DSLR? It depends on the specifications.
But I want to answer a more profound question:
Is it better a super cool new mirrorless camera or a still fancy DSLR that saw the first ray of light ten years ago?

For a photographer, what really matters is the final result. Always.

If the result reflects your expectations, then that’s the right camera for you. Cameras today offer so much more than what we need.

This is just an photography gear list. I will show you what gear I use and some alternatives. I mainly work as fashion and beauty photographer, and also love to shoot glamour. So my gear is optimised for these photographic categories. Feel free to send me your opinion and suggestion. I always try to take the most from my photo equipment.

What camera should a photographer use?

My main camera is a Canon EOS R5, my off camera is a Nikon D800.

I am a fashion and glamour photographer. I often do beauty shoots. So my needs are simple: a good camera with an adequate focusing system and decent resolution raw files.

My cameras are the mirrorless Canon EOS R5 (main body), and the DSLR Nikon D800 (backup body).

For about a decade, I used the same camera: the Nikon D800. I change it because I decide to let it fall together with my beloved lens Nikkor 24-70 2.8. An irreversible disaster. While the lens mount was still attached to the camera, lying on the asphalt, another part tried to avoid its departure in a rolling agony.

In an instant, I felt like a person who invested too much money in cryptocurrencies.

Nikon Repairing Center did a great job with the camera body, but the lens didn’t make it.

I took it positively. This was an opportunity to make a clear-cutting change.

With tears still on my face, I decided to buy a mirrorless camera.

As you know, I mainly do portraits, fashion, and beauty photography, so I looked for a camera with good specs for that. After careful research, I found the Canon EOS R5. It was love at first sight. I also got the Canon RF 24-105 f4. I didn’t want to spend more money on the Canon RF24-70 2.8, and I think I took the right decision. We are in a new era, where you can work with just a camera and a single lens.

From 2012 until 2021, I worked for various clients, both locally and for multinationals. I have almost exclusively used my faithful Nikon D800. Believe it or not, no one of my clients ever asked what camera I used.

To be honest, many have never seen my equipment. Are you wondering why? The correct answer is simple and obvious:

a camera is just a tool

You don’t ask the painter what brush he uses. You do not glance at the brand of your doctor’s stethoscope while she’s auscultating you.
And, most importantly, lt is impossible to know what camera model has been used just by looking at a photograph.

The truth is different

No clients will ask you what to do about Mirrorless cameras vs DSLR to hire you.

For some reason, there is the idea that to take a good photograph, you need a good camera.

It’s not the truth: for the client, it is the result that matters. Déjà-vu.

To achieve the desired result, you need to know your gear. Only adapting it to your needs is what a real photographer does.

In my own little corner, a client may have chosen me for various reasons. My photographic style or my photo editing technique i.e.. Not to mention my immeasurable rectitude and seriousness or my prices list.

None of these reasons have ever been a piece of my gear. What camera, flashlights, or retouching software I use, have never been considered to hire me.

The main reason a client chooses me as a photographer is how I use my photographic equipment and what I can give in creativity.

Each photographer has his own preferences for a product or brand. Every detail of your equipment is a fundamental characteristic that affects the photographic style.

Non-quantifiable aspects also come into play:
  • experience
  • empathy
  • curiosity
  • natural predisposition
  • technical and general knowledge
  • personal style
  • cultural background
  •  and so on…

These are just the first things that came to my mind. There are a lot more aspects, but this is what I can do for now. Does it happen to you too to do not find common words since the Pandemic? I must stop to google “what is that word that means that thing that I think begins with a consonant but could also start with a vowel?”

What happens if we compare two photographers that share many of the aspects above? They probably will obtain the same-level results. And it will happen if they will use the same or different photographic equipment.

The Ease Factor

Why this happen? It comes to play the ease factor. I prefer a comfortable car to a sports car. That he massages your butt rather than letting you stain it with fear.

A photographer wants to shoot comfortably.

While photographing, it is essential to be comfortable. This is valid for everyone involved in the shooting project. We work with creativity. We do our best when we have no worries. Model’s expressiveness cannot be compromised. Make-up artists and hairstylists need a proper place to do their magic comfortably. But it also applies to the photographer.

A photographer can fight against any compromise.

Not all situations can be fully controlled. Sometimes we are obliged to compromise. The best photographer’s weapon of choice is creativity. Thanks to it, we can bypass complex weather conditions (direct sun, rainy, too hot/cold), low budget, bad light conditions, etc.

Mirrorless vs DSLR camera: Taking pictures with ease

Mirrorless cameras vs Reflex – a typical comfortable photographer. Not an ordinary photographer for sure
A typical comfortable photographer that didn’t read this article.

There is something that can never be a compromise: our camera.

It is not essential what budget we have. There is always a solution.

If we do not choose the right camera, our workflow will be more complicated. It is about minor details that altogether make a big problem.

Typical camera problem if you do not make the right choice:

  • heavy to held
  • ergonomic problems
  • technical constraints that limit your personal style
  • too many features that you won’t use

Try before buy

A camera is one of the few things you should try before buying it.

Today’s cameras offer more than what a photographer really needs. Do you know that we pay for all those features? So it isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive camera.

Try a camera of a friend, a colleague, or directly from the shop. Ask someone you trust for an honest opinion. I wasn’t joking before: if you can’t try it, rent it. But never underestimate the most minor details.

Buying a camera is a declaration of love. You should do it to the right one.

The only difference is you can’t buy love.

My main concern with switching cameras was ergonomics. I used a D800 with a battery grip for about a decade, so the weight wasn’t an obstacle. My biggest concern was: “Will I be happy in the long run, with the ergonomy of the handle and dials positioned differently?” Spoiler: yes. I inverted the order of the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO dials.

All the rest went smoothly.

What really matters is when you find the photographic system that perfectly fits you.

It’s not a war Canon vs Nikon, Sony vs Canon, Fuji vs Nikon, or what else.

You should look for do not have limitation by your gear.

A lens to rule them all

A photographer, today, can use just a lens (or maybe two). For my primary body, the Canon EOS R5, I have one single lens.

Wich one? The Canon RF 24-105 f4 fits all my needs. Does a better lens exist? Of course. I could buy the Canon RF 24-70 2.8 and the Canon RF 70-200 f2.8, the RF 50mm and 85mm f1.2. Are they required? No, for now, I’m happy with my single lens.

Didn’t I buy the other lens for budget reasons? That is for sure a good point. But with a deeper analysis, I don’t need them. At least not soon.

Camera Lenses: the master guide from zero to hero

A lightweight workflow for your mind

My workflow has changed a lot only in the smallest details. My gear limits are more expansive than ever.

How I speed up my photographic process:

  1. I never change my lens
  2. I don’t need to check the autofocus all the time
  3. The depth of field at f4 is satisfactory in most situations
  4. I rarely care about the shutter speed, thanks to the improved image stabilization.

For these reasons, now I am more involved in the image creation process.

My mind has never been as free during a photoshoot

I can concentrate only on the creative part of the composition. That’s amazing. Sincerely I think I won’t need an upgrade in the future.

Does it worth the change?

Is a lightweight workflow like that fundamental for a photographer? To be honest, I could continue to work with a 10-years-old camera.

To be more precise, a photographer could still shoot with a film camera. It’s a slow process, but it is cathartic to wait for the right pose until the shutter is pressed. It’s easier to have control of the photo you’re taking. With digital cameras, it’s something like: “I think I have it.” If I don’t check, I cannot remember the last photos taken.

The analog camera impresses on film and in your mind too. Thinking about it, I may dust off the analog equipment.

Ok, my desire to return to analog lasted just a sentence. I haven’t considered the development process and scanning time. Too slow and expensive also for my personal projects!

Why am I saying this? It seems useless, but that’s why it isn’t:

a photographer is not limited by 10-years-old gear

The amount of time gained is minimal. You just have fewer concerns.

Let’s talk about technology for a moment.

Technology always tries to make things easier for us. So, a camera from 10 years ago can’t replace a camera from now, right?

Yup? No? What do you think? Wait! In this corner of the internet, only my opinion is also the correct one. And for me, it is a sharp No.

The workflow may be slower and less effective. But this is irrelevant for a photographer.

Mirrorless vs DSLR camera: the pros of no mirror

Today’s cameras have tons of features that we will never fully utilize. They cover vast and rather particular needs. But one thing is evident to me: I could easily continue with my Nikon D800. The truth is I miss it a little bit. But it’s always there, naively waiting for me.

Let’s get to the point. What are the technological advantages of the latest-generation mirrorless cameras, compared to a 10-years-ago DSLR?

  • lighter;
  • it is prettier and more fashionable (not a real advantage but care about style!)
  • Best focusing system I’ve ever seen (surprising for its reliability)
  • High-speed live-view (Thank you, captain obvious: it is a mirrorless camera! but the D800 was really cumbersome and outclassed by same-age cameras)
  • Flip touchscreen  (I have no longer to make spraining somersaults or holding clumsy positions)
  • Improved connection to the computer. Bye-bye cables.
  • Infinite settings menu
  • 8 stabilization stops
  • Enhanced noise response at high ISO
  • Amazing video specs
  • The electronic viewfinder, I love you
  • .Significantly improved final image quality, especially in sharpness
  • Fewer things to concern during photoshoots

Mirrorless vs DSLR camera: the cons of no mirror

What about the disadvantages?

  • Larger files (thank you, genius! the sensor is bigger)
  • Mirrorless mounts are different from the DSLR mounts, and lenses must be changed (I don’t like adapters, the native lenses are optimized)
  • CFExpress cards cost a fortune (especially ultrafast for 8k video)
  • Battery grip costs even more (unfortunately, I can’t live without it)
  • Will it last at least 10 years? The D800 lasted 10 years and retired just because I decided to smash it along with my primary lens. I hope the Canon EOS R5 won’t finish in the same way or is more resistant!
  • I will never take full advantage of many features.

Are my photographic habits changed, switching from DSLR to mirrorless? No. I haven’t changed anything. The desired result is just more comfortable to achieve. The final quality has improved overall, although I honestly didn’t need it.

A photographer with an outdated camera can reach the same quality with little more effort.

Firstly, I didn’t trust the autofocus system of my Canon EOS R5. For 10-plus years, I have manually shifted the spot focusing point in each photograph. Wasted time? No, it took an instant. But it is one less effort that improves my concentration on composition and subject.

Digital viewfinder? A big yes!

GIF by Gorillaz - Find & Share on GIPHY
A distinct photographer using is extremely manly digital viewfinder.

The first impact with the electronic viewfinder was weird. Looking into a hole in a tiny backlit screen is not particularly natural. After a few minutes, the feeling disappeared.
I let myself be carried away in a romantic liaison that still continues now.
If you shoot with natural light, you constantly see what the photo will look like when you press the shutter button—a perpetual preview.
In complicated light conditions is very useful.

In extreme ambient light situations, it’s a valid alternative to the primary camera screen. When the light reflects on it, and you can’t see anything, You can still check the photo previews through the viewfinder.

Another advantage is that you can check that the photo has come out well without the customer holding your breath on your neck. Nobody notices! But then they ask you why you stopped shooting.

The only disadvantage about the electronic viewfinder is something ridiculous to say.
Do not check in-viewfinder previews during the shooting.
The models can’t notice what you’re doing and wait in vain for a camera click. The results? The model can lose the flow.

A photographer trying to explain to a model they were on a break.

Be sure of being on a break before doing it.

Mirrorless cameras vs DSLR: my personal advice

In this final paragraph, I decided to recap my impressions about switching to a mirrorless camera from a 10-year-old camera. 

I switched from Nikon D800 to Canon EOS R5, keeping the DSLR as a backup body.

Before disintegrating my primary lens, I didn’t have any intention to change. It was in the air, but I’d prefer to wait for new releases.

But, unlike my empty wallet, I’m 100% satisfied.

My workflow has become significantly lighter, allowing me to focalize my effort on the composition.

It is easier for me to focus on the details and not to miss the shot.

The autofocus is highly reliable and really helps a lot. I could say that I no longer have to use the half-press shutter. I still have to get used to this. It sounds strange to me to say, but the half-press shutter is (almost) not necessary anymore.

Everything has changed in order not to change anything. I work with more ease: just the way I like it!

You can consider this rant of verbosity as a review about future vs past: mirrorless cameras vs DSLRs.

I narrated about Canon EOS R5 and Nikon D800 because they are the leads of this engaging pantomime.

Honestly, I was very tempted to switch to Sony. I tried a couple of their cameras and was thrilled. At the end of the day, I preferred the Canon R5 because I thought it suited my needs better.

After varied years as a dedicated Nikon repair center customer, I decided to change.

Sooner or later, we always need to make a new experience.

I did it just because we were on a break.

So, which camera should I buy? (you must be wondering). My not much excruciating answer is: Who cares? Joking apart…

You must set your limits, not the camera. You’re the boss!

A photographer should buy a camera that makes him feel comfortable.

If you work with photography or are an enthusiast who aims for the best, my advice is to buy an excellent full-frame mirrorless camera. It will make everything easier for you. The Canon EOS R5 is just an example. The Canon EOS R6 and Sony a7 series are impressive too. Unfortunately, I never tried Nikon Z cameras, and I can’t formulate a personal opinion. In the end, camera brands are equivalent. You should try it before buying and be sure it is a full-frame camera.

If you want to take the first steps with photography, have a lower budget, or don’t shoot often, I would personally opt for a camera with a few years.

I prefer new gear. But used is fine too. Just be sure the seller is reliable and the camera has no internal damage!

In these cases, you can buy, for example, my Nikon D800 or an equivalent full-frame DSLR camera of any other brand. You won’t be disappointed!

Especially for learning, it’s even better.

Something you can’t forget!

Take in your mind that your camera must be the coolest of your circle. That’s imperative!

I give you some example to become a stylish photographer:

  • a super classy battery grip
  • keep it warm with a fancy cover
  • avoid any drop with the most solid and comfortable strap
  • place it in a fantastic camera bag

A good lens lasts a lifetime. From my personal experience, a good camera lasts a decade or more (If you are capable of not destroying it).

You can have a basic camera model or the all-time most expensive one.

Who’ll notice?

Photography is for everyone.

All things considered, light is free. At least for now.

Now you know what’s the best camera for you and it’s time to find a model!

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