Difference Between DSLR vs Mirrorless vs Point & Shoot Cameras

Last Updated on February 25, 2016 by PixelPluck

Difference Between DSLR vs Mirrorless vs Point & Shoot Cameras

Here is a detailed explanation on the difference between DSLR vs Mirrorless vs Point & Shoot Cameras.

DSLRs vs Point & Shoot

The primary advantages of a DSLR over a point and shoot camera are pretty much everything except size. P&S sensor size is almost always much smaller. There’s nothing stopping P&S cameras from having large sensors though. Some manufacturers are coming up with new models with larger sensor.
P&S cameras use contrast detection auto-focus, which is not as fast or easily controlled as the phase detect that DSLRs use. Interchangeable lenses gives you liberty to use a different dedicated lens for a different purpose. More creative control over images through more depth of field control due to larger apertures and different lenses, and much more appropriate controls on the body for quickly and easily changing them.
DSLR cameras have built in support for external flash systems.

DSLRs vs Mirrorless:

DSLR provides faster auto-focus for moving subjects. Mirrorless cameras generally do pretty well for non-moving subjects. Most mirrorless cameras don’t use phase detect auto-focus. Some sports could be shot well with mirrorless systems, but why would you use an inferior tool? Mirrorless cameras have better ergonomics for bodies with a full control suite (At the cost of bulk).

dslr nikon vs sony mirrorless

  • Real optical viewfinder (vs EVF)
    – both have their advantages/disadvantages.
  • Mature lens systems
    – Canon/Nikon sell a tremendous variety of lenses. Olympus/Panasonic have about 1/3 as many lenses as Canon or Nikon. There are few specialty lenses for mirrorless systems are the moment. Note that mirrorless systems can adapt SLR lenses pretty well but they are generally left to manually focus.
  • Mature secondary market
    – more DSLR stuff has sold, so there is a huge used market for DSLR based equipment. Many new mirrorless systems have tiny secondary markets by comparison.
  • Price
    – Canon and Nikon easily win on price.
    Panasonic has seemingly focused more on video, but their lens lineup is generally decent. Fuji is focusing on high speed prime lenses and some high quality zooms. Sony seems to be focusing more on bodies than optics.
  • AF System
    Mainly the difference is that a DSLR has it’s own focusing system apart from the image sensor. The focusing system is pretty important in stills and also video but in order to achieve really high precision focus in no time or even intelligent subject tracking, you need something designed to sense little contrast changes even in really low light situations. For example in this screenshot from the Canon 5D Mark III you can see a little part of all the possibilities that this AF system gives to DSLR.
    5d mark iii focusing system

But there is also a negative side of it. In order to use this AF System, DSLR have a mirror that reflects the light to the AF and flips in order to let the light get into the image sensor. This switching is what makes the loud clicks you’re used to hear from DSLRs. The negative side is that this mechanism is expensive and has a limited lifetime (Between 100 000 and 150 000 shots). Either the mirror mechanism or the shutter dies at around 150 000 actions which in the life of a wedding or event photographer is around 2-3 years depending the frequency of the events.

  • Ergonomics and control
    DSLRs  are made for professionals and professionals use DSLRs. This is not a mater of fashion, the real reason is that DSLR cameras are made for fast and easy control in critical situations. You can control every aspect of the image without searching in menus and looking to the screen. The big body gives a better grip and easy way to distribute all the controllers you need. Eg. Nikon D750 vs Sony Alpha vs Canon P&S

Mirrorless/Point and shoot: They are really easy to use in automatic modes and so easy to wear in your bag or even pocket. If you are not thinking about photography as your actual or future job, there is no need to have this near 2-3kg (Magnesium alloy body + professional telephoto lens) machine on your neck. Really, it hurts and looks cool but there is no need to.

  • Batery life
    DSLRs have bigger and more powerful batteries.
  • Long term
    DSLR can pretty much be used for many years just because the system is still the same as it was 60 years ago. You can easily use a 10 year old DSLR in a studio photoshoot today and the images will be just fine. But someone having/using his point and shoot camera for 10 years is rare just because the technology is changing fast, the prices are low and it’s easy to change them.

DSLR vs Point & Shoot

  • DSLR is expensive, point and shoot is cheap enough to buy a new one every 1-2 years.
  • DSLR is made for your hand, P&S fit in your pocket.
  • DSLR are precise and fast, P&S just gets the work done without the need to get too involved.
  • DSLR and P&S can have the same resolution but DSLRs have larger pixels.

The argument can go on and on as subject is so extensive. DSLRs are for people who need or want the maximum control over the image and P&S are for people who just want to take pictures and have them, no editing, no apertures, no shutter speeds. Mirrorless comes somewhere in between where you sacrifice some professional features for the sake of smaller size and bulk. But with technology evolving so fast and some stunning mirrorless cameras being introduced, the game may change in favor of the mirrorless system. Sony is taking the lead with it’s performers like Sony Alpha 7s II.

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