Back in 2004, when the world first saw a mirrorless camera, industry experts and professional photographers wrote it off entirely, assuming that this was another gimmicky feature that would never catch on. BTW, the first genuinely mirrorless camera was made by Epson, a technology company that isn’t exactly known for its cameras.
People started taking mirrorless cameras seriously from around 2008-2010 when several camera makers, like Sony Leica, Olympus, Fujifilm, Pentax, and Panasonic, started dabbling with the form factor.
By 2008, mirrorless cameras were considered a lifestyle product given their beautiful design and look. The picture quality they boasted was way better than any point-and-shoot camera could offer but not as good as DSLRs, even your basic APS-C sensor DSLRs.
Today, however, DSLRs, once the mainstay in photography and filmmaking, is going the way of the dinosaur. Things are bad for the camera format when significant manufacturers like Nikon and considering switching their production capacities completely to mirrorless cameras.
Mirrorless v/s DSLRs: What are the differences?
DSLRs or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras have a pentaprism glass mechanism, which projects the image on a viewfinder. The reason why we needed this mechanism is to see what kind of framing one would get when one is taking photos.
Light enters through the lens, reflected off a mirror in the camera body that bounces light into the viewfinder. When you click the shutter, the mirror flips down and exposes the digital sensor, which absorbs the light and captures the image.
In a mirrorless camera, this glass pentaprism is absent. Instead, we use a digital viewfinder, a video feed of what the lens sees, which is usually shown to users at 60fps.
Because the design is simpler and more streamlined in Mirrorless cameras, they are considerably smaller and more portable. The smaller mirrorless cameras have also allowed manufacturers like Nikon to create much wider lens mounts, enabling them to go for apertures like f1.2 or f0.95.
Mirrorless v/s DSLRs: What makes Mirrorless cameras better?
Mirrorless cameras are better than DSLRs or mirrored cameras in several ways. Firstly, mirrorless cameras’ more compact and lightweight bodies mean they are straightforward to carry and work with. Secondly, the autofocus systems on mirrorless cameras are far superior to DSLRs, especially when we consider autofocus tracking in videos.
Also, mirrorless cameras include Hybrid Auto Focus systems that combine the advantages of fast, decisive on-sensor phase-detection AF (PDAF) and the precision of contrast-detect AF (CAF), which allows users to select exact focusing points. This is also why mirrorless cameras can focus quickly on fast-moving subjects and track focus better than most DSLRs.
Another advantage that mirrorless cameras have over DSLRs is the digital viewfinders that they use. When using viewfinders in DLSRs, you don’t get to see how your image or video will get exposed, whether you should tweak your ISO, exposure compensation, or aperture opening.
Because of their compact size, mirrorless cameras have allowed lens makers to make better lenses with wider mounts, allowing more light to be read by sensors.
When using the viewfinder in mirrorless cameras, you can see how your image will be exposed in real-time and make adjustments accordingly. For professional photographers, this helps them save a lot of time in post-production.
Mirrorless v/s DSLRs: What makes DSLR cameras better?
DSLRs with good glass pentaprism optical viewfinders provide a brilliant actual feel viewing image that no mirrorless Electronic View Finders can quite match. EVFs can be jarring, especially for people who have shot on DSLRs all their lives.
Because DSLRs are more extensive, they are very ergonomic and can be operated even when you wear thick, heavy gloves. Also, their bigger size allows manufacturers to use bigger batteries, which last much longer than most mirrorless cameras.
Furthermore, as far as built quality goes, it is tough to beat a DSLR, especially those with a magnesium alloy body. Some photographers and filmmakers feel that a heavier camera, like a full-frame DSLR, provides a more stable shooting platform than some minor, lighter mirrorless cameras.
DSLRs, especially the full-frame, professional-grade ones, are more robust and can survive some harsh weather conditions, which very few mirrorless cameras offer.
And finally, there is the range of lenses available for DSLRs. Because mirrorless cameras are relatively new, the content of lenses on any platform, be it Sony, Nikon, or Canon, is minimal. On the other hand, DSLRs have a wide variety of lenses to choose from. This may not be a concern for amateur photographers or hobbyists. Still, this is a big deal for a professional filmmaker or photographer who invests almost thrice of what their camera body costs on their lenses.
Some adapters let you use your older lenses for DSLRs with new mirrorless camera bodies. Still, they invariably downgrade the quality of your image ever so slightly. Furthermore, you lose out on many features and qualities of the lens when using an adapter.
Mirrorless v/s DSLRs: Conclusion – Why are camera manufacturers like Nikon and Canon moving away from DSLRs?
Believe it or not, most of this is because of social media, YouTube, and what most content creators want. Most camera buyers right now are either amateur filmmakers or content creators who wish for lightweight, easy-to-use cameras.
Someone who needs to upload videos or photos almost every day requires the convenience of a point shoot and the quality that a flagship DSLR provides. Mirrorless cameras have been able to provide just that and hence have been chosen as the way to go forward.
Canon and Nikon have been able to claw back a lot of the market share they lost to Sony since they introduced their mirrorless cameras.
Consider this as an example. When film SLRs and DSLRs were at their peak, Nikon and Canon had over 80 percent of the camera market share, even among professionals. Sure there were the likes of Leicas, Olympus, and Pentax, but they were minor players, at least in terms of numbers.
Then came Sony with their first mirrorless cameras in the APS-C format and then as full-frames, and went to turn the market on its head. Independent filmmakers raved about how easy to use these cameras were and how they were offering much better quality, ease of use, and feature sets, compared to the best DSLRs that either Canon or Nikon had to offer.
That is why, from 2014 onwards, Sony cameras outsold Nikon and Canon combined. The two major players had to respond; therefore, in 2018, both these players started selling mirrorless cameras.
In the four years since they launched their mirrorless cameras, Canon and Nikon have been able to claw back some of the market shares they lost. As of today, the three major players in the mirrorless market, Sony, Canon, and Nikon, have roughly the same numbers in terms of units of cameras sold. At times, Sony may have a slight advantage over Nikon and Canon, but the disparity is nowhere near what it was during the mid-2010s.