DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras in 2020: Comparison and Review

It is 2020, and that means it’s time for a quick review and comparison of the latest models of mirrorless cameras versus the latest DSLR cameras.

It is 2020, and that means it’s time for a quick review and comparison of the latest models of mirrorless cameras versus the latest DSLR cameras. With mirrorless cameras booming in popularity, the debate is currently raging around which is better in terms of image quality, size, weight, and speed. Dive into this quick guide with PhotoRobot to get up to speed on your camera options in 2020 and learn more about which camera best meets your needs.

2020: The year of the mirrorless camera, or is DSLR still the top choice?

In this post, we’ll review and compare the traditional Digital SLR cameras of 2020 versus newer model mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras. DSLR (Digital Single Lense Reflex) cameras have set the standard for professional photography for years. Any serious photographer knows the DSLR -- a large, durable camera with numerous features, larger image sensors, and an array of change-out lenses to best match what you’re doing. Always popular with photographers, these cameras support telephoto, wide angle, and prime lenses for portraits and low-lights, and, while heavier than mirrorless cameras, they come with long-lasting battery life.

Now, however, thanks to advances in technology, mirrorless cameras could be gaining ground on DSLR cameras. They could even be set to become the next go-to camera for both amateur and professional photographers. Both produce great photos, and both come with their pros and their cons, but which is truly better? Let’s dive in now for a quick 2020 comparison and review.

What is a DSLR camera?

With standard DSLR cameras, the light passes through the lens of the camera and through a prism, before then going into the viewfinder that you use to frame the shot and focus. In many modern cameras, only part of this light goes through the OVF (Optical View Finder), while part of it hits the autofocus sensor. 

When you want to take the picture, you press the shutter button and the entire mirror assembly flips up, making that distinctive click sound of snapping a picture. It’s very much like the 35mm cameras of the past, utilizing the shutter and light to capture the final image. Basically, you see approximately the exact same amount of light levels that the camera experiences, so if it’s dark, you have a dark viewfinder. This can make it difficult to find a shot in dark lighting.

Examples of top-selling DSLRs in 2020

There are many options on the market for DSLR cameras in 2020, whether you’re an amateur, an enthusiast or a professional. Some of the best and most widely used in 2020 include:

  • The Nikon D3500, for example, is one of the best options for amateurs, students, and the photographer on a budget. These affordable and user-friendly, high-resolution cameras are considerably one of the better buys in 2020 if you want a decent camera but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
  • For the enthusiast, it’s worth considering the Canon EOS 90D, or, if trying to save some money at the cost of some specs, the Nikon D7500. Both are great for hobbyists; it just depends on how much you’re willing to spend.
  • Take it one step further for DSLRs for professional photography, and some of the best options in 2020 are split into 2 or 3 main groups. There are high-resolution models like the Nikon D850, designed above all else for image quality, trustworthy all-around models such as the Canon EOS 5D IV, or cameras for high-speed sports photographers like the new Nikon D6 or the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.

What is a mirrorless camera?

With mirrorless cameras, there is no mirror and no optical viewfinder. Instead, light passes through the lens to a sensor, which then handles autofocus and conveys the digital image to either the electronic viewfinder or the big screen.

Because there is no mirror mechanism, cameras can be much smaller and lighter, while still being able to deliver the same quality of photos that DSLR cameras provide. One of the downsides to this, however, is the lower battery life of mirrorless cameras.

Examples of top-selling mirrorless cameras in 2020

Finding the best mirrorless camera will depend on exactly what you intend to shoot. After all, a camera for shooting your family holiday will be very different from the best mirrorless camera for shooting a sporting event.

That said, there are great mirrorless cameras in 2020 for every photographer from amateurs, to bargain-hunters, to enthusiasts, and professionals. There are incredible all-around mirrorless cameras, some that are for beginners and cost-friendly, and mirrorless cameras for the professional making a living with their photography.

Some of the best in 2020 to mention include:

  • For beginners and photographers looking for simple and affordable cameras, a mirrorless camera can be ideal. If size and usability is your selling point, the Panasonic Lumix GX85/GX80 is designed for beginners with intelligent auto features or for the photographer who wants complete manual control over all exposure settings like shutter speed and aperture. Another option if on a budget could be the Sony A6000, launched in 2014 but still an excellent entry-point into mirrorless photography.
  • For enthusiasts seeking great all-around cameras, the latest mid-range mirrorless cameras can match or even outperform the best DSLRs in regards to features and performance. Take for example the Nikon Z50, arguably one of the best mirrorless cameras for the price in 2020. This APS-C mirrorless camera, introduced in late 2019, has risen to the top spot in the mirrorless camera wars, and is definitely worth consideration as the go-to for enthusiasts willing to spend a little more.
  • For professional photographers, the Sony A9 II is now regarded as one of the best mirrorless cameras for sports and action photography. Then, there is the 61MP Sony A7R IV, which is raising the bar for resolution. These cameras, supporting the latest video features, make some of the professional mirrorless cameras perfect for full-scale video production, too.

Size and weight in comparison

With the mirror mechanism in DSLR cameras, they tend to be slightly larger and bulkier than mirrorless cameras. In comparison, the mirrorless camera body is often smaller, and with simpler construction. This makes it much easier to carry mirrorless cameras, and allows for more space to fit gear into your camera bag.

Autofocus speed in comparison

When it comes to autofocus speed and low-light photography, DSLRs were once the best choice. Today, however, the lines are getting blurred between who holds the top spot. Take low-light mirrorless cameras like the Sony Alpha a7S II for example, or the highly sophisticated mirrorless autofocus system of the Fujifilm XT-30, with extremely fast autofocus speeds. With these rivals on the market and how rapidly the technology is advancing, DSLRs might soon be dethroned even for photographing sports and wildlife.

Previewing images

With DSLR cameras, the optical viewfinder shows you almost exactly what the camera experiences and what you will ultimately see in the final image. Mirrorless cameras on the other hand, provide photographers with an image preview on the screen, and, unfortunately, this preview can sometimes be unreliable, dull, or grainy. Some offer an electronic viewfinder that simulates an optical viewfinder, but in some situations this may not always yield positive results.

DSLRs, by contrast, currently are more reliable than mirrorless cameras in low-light situations. If you are shooting in mostly good light, both types of cameras will perform well, but in low-light and other situations with challenging light, DSLRs are easier to use and shoot with.

Video quality

In regards to video quality, the best options on the market are higher-end mirrorless cameras. Especially popular with vloggers, these cameras are just generally better suited for capturing great video. 

Unlike mirrorless cameras, DSLRs simply cannot use phase detection while recording with the mirror up. This means they need to use the slower and less-accurate contrast-detection focus method, creating the blurry cameras sometimes get when trying to achieve focus. 

There are some newer DSLRs adding phase detection features, like the Nikon 850, but then there are also superb mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5S, capable of capturing 4K and ultra HD video with four times the resolution of HD footage. Also, the superior autofocus in most models of mirrorless cameras makes them overall far more reliable for filmmaking.

Shooting speed

As for shooting speed, both DSLR and mirrorless cameras perform great in 2020. The exception, however, is with the high-end mirrorless cameras of today. The fact that they don’t have a mirror means they are much more apt at snapping photo after photo. They also have simpler mechanics, and ultimately allow photographers to capture more images per second, and with higher shutter speeds.

Battery life

Overall, DSLRs possess greater battery life than the mirrorless cameras of 2020. Photographers can utilize DSLRs without the LCD screen or EVF, both of which require lots of energy to operate. Both however will have similar battery life if you heavily use the LCD screen or EVF. Obviously, the batteries are removable in both types of cameras, and any serious photographer can always carry a spare.

Lenses and accessories

For now, there are more lenses and accessories available for DSLR cameras in 2020 than there are for mirrorless. This makes the selection for mirrorless lenses in 2020 somewhat restricted, but the selection is rapidly growing and could very well soon catch up to DSLRs. In the coming years, we can definitely expect the gap to either shrink or close entirely.

The verdict: What’s the better buy, DSLR or Mirrorless cameras in 2020?

The answer to this question will ultimately depend on what you intend to be shooting. Whether it’s still shots, portrait or landscape photography, action and sports, or footage for your vlog, there is a camera on the market for every amateur, enthusiast, or professional photographer.

With all the advances in camera and battery technology, as well as more lenses for mirrorless cameras steadily becoming available, the gap between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is quickly narrowing. DSLRs, for now, are better in low-light situations, and for their longer battery life; but we might soon see mirrorless cameras just as capable.


Published:

11.8.2020