Are Mirrorless Cameras Better Than DSLR’s?

Photo courtesy of Jim Esten.

For the typical photographers I’ve surveyed in my world, which is primarily landscape and wildlife photographers, up to this point in time, most have stuck with their DSLR bodies, though a few have committed to Mirrorless to one degree or another. The tides of change towards Mirrorless camera bodies is not likely to stop and may actually force us to make the decision of “if or when” to make the switch from DSLR to Mirrorless. I find myself constantly evaluating photography gear, mostly internally, as I don’t normally get off on promoting camera equipment or brands on my blog. I’ve thrown a few opinions out there from time to time, but you won’t see click-links to Amazon or camera stores on my blog very often. I’m not trying to sell you anything but food for thought and perhaps something interesting to read.

I cruise the Internet photography websites several times a week, looking for something interesting or informative to read. A lot of what I find is just not that interesting or informative or even relevant, but there are a few online writers/photographers who I visit often and who I think actually have something relevant and informative to say. One of my more frequent Internet stops is ByThom, a website run by Thom Hogan. Thom is a knowledgeable fellow, his articles are well written and his Internet following is very high. I’ve had a few email conversations with him over the years, but we’ve never actually met one another. I give his opinions far more weight than the typical web writer, as he does know his stuff.

Thom recently published an article, “The Mirrorless Myths Continue” where he gives his take on common myths surrounding the Mirrorless cameras on today’s market. After reading this article, I formulated a few thoughts and wanted to find out rather or not he believes that the Mirrorless camera is better than a DSLR of equal market position when it came to the subjects he covered in his article. Thom was gracious enough to reply to my questioning and has given me permission to publish his responses.

Here is the basic exchange of my Q&A with Thom Hogan.

I’m referencing his article “The Mirrorless Myths Continue.” While I can’t republish his entire article, I’ve referenced the topics he discusses and I highly recommend you read his article. Thom likes to debunk photography myths, a practice I find we both have in common.


On the subject of “Mirrorless cameras have poor battery life.”

GG: My question would be, does the mirrorless battery typically last longer than a typical DSLR battery given the same shooting conditions?

TH: “No. But the real question is just how many shots/charge do you really need? Mirrorless is now well above what most people need in a day.”

On the subject of “The electronic viewfinders (EVF) on mirrorless cameras have terrible lag.

GG: Does the electronic viewfinder in the typical mirrorless camera have a better image lag (real time) than a DSLR?

TH: “No, it has a lag and a DSLR doesn’t, so you’re not seeing real time, you’re seeing 1/60 delay typically. That said, the lag between recognizing something and the shot actually being taken can be the same or better on a mirrorless camera, depending upon what we’re comparing.”

On the subject of “EVFs aren’t good for your eyes.”

GG: “Is the typical EVF better for your eyes than a DSLR viewfinder?”

TH: “No, with a caveat: cheaper DSLR viewfinders generally have distortion and less light. EVFs can regulate the brightness to the eye, DSLRs can’t.”

On the subject of “Mirrorless cameras have terrible, small, or fiddly controls.”

GG: “I don’t have a mirrorless camera, so I don’t know the answer to this. But, are the controls on a typical mirrorless camera better than a typical DSLR for operating the camera?”

TH: “Not yet in most cases. Canon and Nikon are getting close.”

On the subject of  “Mirrorless cameras aren’t as well built as DSLRs.”

GG: “I’ll take your word on this one. I don’t own a mirrorless camera. I do know that I can shoot all day in cold, wet or dry dusty weather with my D810 and/or D850 and not have a problem.”

TH: “There are a few exceptions now, but only a few.”

On the subject of “Autofocus isn’t as fast or responsive.”

GG: “I’ll accept your explanation on this one. I do know that the SonyA9II is pretty good, I have shot with it. Is it better than a D500 or D850 using 3D trackinig?”

TH: “As I’ve reported many times, Sony’s “tracking” typically leaves something to be desired: it tends to default to DOF is good enough, which means that the actual focus plane moves forward and back from where it really should go (haven’t tested the A1 yet). On a DSLR like the D6, tracking is dead on, the focus plane is where it should be, pretty much always if the subject is actually tracked. If you watched Fox NFL football this year, you saw just how bad the Sony focus can be: that handheld A7R Mark IV (or A1 for the Super Bowl) is typically fine, until it isn’t, and then it’s decidedly problematic in getting it back to being “on”.”

On the subject of “Mirrorless cameras don’t make good sports or wildlife systems.”

GG: “Is a typical mirrorless camera a better wildlife or sports camera than a typical DSLR? I don’t know many wildlife photographers using them and many of them own a mirrorless camera, which they opt to not use in lieu of a DSLR.”

TH: “This depends a lot on the talent of the photographer, actually. At the low end (true consumers), mirrorless is better because of the “all automatic all across the frame” autofocus. At the high end (well-trained and practiced pros) mirrorless can also be better because of more options in focus. It’s the middle area where DSLRs still reign.”

On the subject of “Phase Detect on sensor reduces sensor capability.”

GG: “Is a phase detect sensor providing the photographer with a better image quality than a DSLR in the same shooting situations?”

TH: “No. DSLR image quality would be better, all else equal. We actually can test that with a D850 and Z7 side-by-side, as the same base sensor is used, as well as the same post-sensor electronics. The difference isn’t big, and most people will never encounter something where they notice it, but it’s there.”

On the subject of “Lens choice is a problem.”

GG: “Are the lens choices for mirrorless cameras equal to or better than the lens choices for DSLR’s? I’m not talking about adapters here either. I’m talking about product lineups from all the lens makers.”

TH: “Sony FE would be equal to Canon EF and Nikon F if they had a few more telephoto options and tilt-shift lenses. Generally, the Canon and Nikon adapters are so good that there’s no penalty for an EF or F user to go RF or Z with their same lens set, assuming that lens set is reasonably current.”

Thanks Thom. I appreciate your feedback to my questions.

Now I’m going to be quite honest here. I kinda knew the answer to many of these questions before I asked them, but we all need to confirm our thoughts before we dive into something we don’t have first hand knowledge of. Thom has much better access to the gear he writes about, and he does write often about the results of his testing that gear. Me, I only have access to what I own or a friend lets me play with. Though I know a thing or two about photography, I’m not a market expert.

Hopefully, you may find my Q&A with Thom to be of use while you mull over your future photography pursuits. From my view of the road, Thom may be the most knowledgeable guy on the Internet when it comes to Nikon, but he has expanded his horizons greatly over the past several years and I have found his websites to be a great place to get accurate information and well thought out opinions on all things photography related.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions regarding the Mirrorless vs DSLR debate. I’ve drawn mine. I’m not ready to invest in Mirrorless just yet.

Your mileage may vary.