Mirrorless or DSLR?

This discussion will lean towards mirrorless as the years progress and new lenses and bodies are introduced but in November 2020 I’d generally recommend going with the new mirrorless offerings.

If you are considering buying a new APS-C DSLR or MILC

  1. I’d lean towards the MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.) Either a Nikon Z50, Canon M6 Mark II, Canon M50 Mark II, or a Sony A6xxx. Still, the argument either way isn’t overwhelmingly persuasive. Try out both body styles and see which feels the best in your hand. Note that the different brands and models can feel radically different with the exception of the Sony A6xxx line which uses the same body style throughout the 7 models. 6000, 6100, 6200, 6300, 6400, 6500, and 6600. The one exception is if you want an APS-C Canon and have Canon EF-S and EF lenses. The 90D is an amazing DSLR and is much more suited to physical use and abuse compared to the M6II.

If you are considering a full frame DSLR or MILC I’d recommend going with the newer mirrorless offerings. The development resources are being made on the mirrorless side and sales are now about half of all ILC sales. I’d guess that the current generation may be the last generation of DSLRs, or possibly one more. A couple of notes:

  1. If you get a Nikon Z or Canon R you can just use and adaptor for F or EF mount lenses. The new Z and RF lenses you can mount natively.
  2. Try out both systems and see which one you like best.
  3. Z and RF lenses are more expensive than the F or EF mount lenses.
  4. DSLRs have more native mount lenses. This is really not that big a deal since you can just use an adaptor with the mirrorless models. Moreover the lens roadmaps all show RF and Z mount plans, but no EF or F mount plans. Granted, they have those mount ecosystems built out, but still…
  5. The narrative about how DSLRs are dead is ridiculous at a technological level and from a business perspective. DSLRs are 50% or more of the photographic income for Canon and Nikon. Mirrorless cameras however make up about half of their ILC sales now. They can’t just stop producing DSLRs now since that is about half of their ILC sales. Would those users migrate to the same brands mirrorless line? Whether Nikon and Canon update the current DSLR models is doubtful. After the current and next iteration of models Canon 90D, 5D Mark IV, it will be interesting to see if DSLRs will continue to get updated. What if they continue to sell much better than the mirrorless lines? Canon and Nikon won’t have much choice than right? I’d bet the resources are put into the mirrorless lines and would recommend going with a MILC instead of a DSLR.
  6. Expect the entry level DSLRs selection to narrow to 1-3 models and mirrorless to have 1-2. Canon RP and Nikon Z50 are the current entry level mirrorless.
  7. 2020-2021 is a transitional period in photography and we don’t know the future of the DSLR and MILCs. The common narrative is that MILCs will take over and DSLRs will all be discontinued. In 2020 this is the most likely future scenario so it’s a safe bet to buy into a mirrorless system either Canon RF, Nikon Z, Panasonic L mount, or Sony.
  8. Try out all four brands and see what you like better. Image and video quality won’t be significantly different. Bloggers, Vloggers, Youtube influencers and other reviewers tend to exaggerate small differences that are insignificant to most photographers and videographers.

I own a phone and APS-C DSLR – This section assumes you have a phone and an APS-C DSLR or mirrorless and are considering buying a full frame ILC.

If you own several lenses either APS-C or full frame and you want to continue using them with the new camera then you have to buy the same brand.

Deciding between a DSLR and Mirrorless is as important as the brand you select. 2019-2024 is a transitional state for both Nikon and Canon. They both introduced full frame mirrorless camera lines in 2018 but have a ways to go to fill out their lens line. Most likely you will use an adaptor to get the EF or F mount lenses you want to use in the new mirrorless camera. Once there is a large selection of popular Z and RF mount lenses the discussion will change. For now though you will have to adapt EF or F mount lenses.

I’m leaving Sony and Panasonic out of this discussion since they don’t have DSLRs

The inherent pros and cons in either aren’t really enough to sway most buyers one way or the other

Mirrorless
  1. the lcd showing approximate exposure is really helpful
  2. Lighter
  3. Smaller
  4. no mirror lock up to remember to engage
  5. Some have a fully articulating screen like the Canon R and RP, while the Nikon Z6 and Z7 screen tilts but doesn’t flip
  6. Live view will often reduce the AF functionality compared to through the viewfinder
  7. Focus peaking, zebras, waveforms are all features on mirrorless cameras I’ve never seen on a DSLR.

Trade offs with IQ no longer exist. In theory. My EOS R had terrible dynamic range compared to my 5D Mark IV so bad that I sold it. I might have had a lemon.

When comparing brands and models this discussion gets much more complicated, but generally the lighter, smaller, no mirror to lock up advantages all hold true for mirrorless. For Canon M specifically, less expensive, easy to use, great IQ are also all pros of the line.

If you are shooting sports and need the fastest AF and FPS possible, then DSLRs would be the best choice, a Nikon D500 or Canon 7Dii though compare the latest mirrorless since this may no longer be accurate.

Do DSLRs have any advantage? Comparing to the Canon M line, the EF DSLRs have a much larger native lens selection. Generally bigger buffers, faster AF and FPS but this is not necessarily true with the latest updates to the Canon R, Nikon Z, and Lumix S lines.

CANON M ISN’T FOR EVERYONE

Wedding photographers – The Canon M series is not an ideal camera for everyone. If at some point in the near future you plan to shoot a wedding and get paid for it, I would not recommend a Canon M series. The size impresses people who don’t know anything about cameras, so go with a full frame Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Lumix.

Videographers – who want to shoot and get paid, who want full sensor 4K or need all the rigs, cine lenses etc will be better off with a Canon EOS R, R5, R6, or Cinema camera, Lumix S5 or S1H, Nikon Z6II, and maybe an Atomos Ninja 5 external recorder.

Sports and action photographers – Long telephotos, 10FPS, lots of AF points, I’m pretty sure the latest mirrorless cameras may have caught up to the 7DII and D500 but haven’t seen any comparisons yet.

Art – enlarging to over 24×36 would probably be better with a full frame camera of 24mp or more.

CONCLUSION:

If you are currently shooting with an iPhone, I recommend getting an M50II or M6II system first, then if you want to enlarge your images to 24×36 or larger and are critical about image quality, a full frame Canon 6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, Nikon 800, 810, or 850 or mirrorless Canon EOS R, RP, or Nikon Z6, or Z7 would be a good addition. Do you need to stay with Canon? Not really. The lenses are not compatible though you can use an EF lens on an M body with and adaptor but there are so few instances where you would prefer to do this. The speed lights are 100% compatible, remotes might be compatible,  and possibly the battery and charger if you get an RP but other than that you don’t gain much by sticking with Canon FF if you own an M system.