Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless cameras have been taking over the photography scene for quite a few years now, and they're widely heralded as the next step in photographic innovation. But there are quite a few reasons why they're not the game-changer we were expecting.

I'm all for adopting new technology to help make my life as a photographer easier, faster, or to improve the quality of my work. However, I find it difficult to accept the mirrorless movement as this huge step forward in camera evolution. There are several things that need to be addressed in order for me to acknowledge its prerequisite of being "essential for my kit bag." So I've decided to compile a few of my main gripes with them and explain a little about why I'm not so sure it's the wonder pill for photographers that it's meant to be.

Viewfinder Woes

Call me a traditionalist, but I love an optical viewfinder. Looking through a portal into the physical world free of distortion and other optically hindering stumbling blocks is something that I take great pleasure in, so much so that when comparing my Nikon F100 to the Nikon D750 I had for years, I was rather disappointed. The F100 had a larger field of view, and it was considerably bigger (at least to my eyes). It felt like I had a real connection with the world in front of me. However, my point is that I could live with it.

EVF viewfinder

The biggest display on the device is a rear LCD screen, but pop your eye into a mirrorless viewfinder and you'll find... another mini-screen!

Take that a step further with the latest mirrorless cameras, and I struggle to remain tolerant. Not only do I now have to peer into a small box with another screen in it, but now my access to the world is limited by frame rate, color gamut, brightness, and resolution. If I open both eyes (as you should if you're a pro, check out my other post on that), then my view of the world feels imbalanced. The only consolation is that because I'm peering into an electronic viewfinder, I can now ramp up the exposure brightness when shooting in low light, which helps me see (and focus) in the dark.

It Means New Lens Collections

Are you ready to sell all your old kit and lenses and start afresh? Because that's what you'll want to do to take advantage of what mirrorless brings. Let me clarify. There are many of you out there right now about to head to the comments and tell me that there are lens adapters; yes, I know! But it rather negates the advantage of mirrorless systems. However, mirrorless systems outperform their DSLR brothers and sisters due to improved flange distance and high-quality engineering in the lenses.

Mirrorless and DSLR lens comparison

Mirrorless cameras and their lenses are comparatively smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, and often have higher quality optical characteristics

So, yes, you can use a lens adapter with your older DSLR lenses, and that should work perfectly fine, but you're keeping the same old larger lenses and now introducing an adapter, which almost negates the point of having a smaller body in the first place. Plus, the newer mirrorless lenses have special features such as customizable rings on the lens to adjust specific camera settings.

Overheating Issues

Hot warning sticker on camera

Maybe there's a reason that warning labels exist on some of the mirrorless cameras?

Unfortunately, because of the smaller form factor that comes with the mirrorless cameras, they are more prone to overheating, that is, getting so hot during operation that they need to be turned off and/or cooled down before using again. True, this only affects certain models and under specific operations (such as 8K video recording), but it's still enough to put me off. Did my DSLR ever overheat? No. Did my film SLR ever overheat? No. For me, I'd like to feel the flexibility of being able to shoot as much as I want, wherever I want, without limitation.

As Limited as a DSLR

I outlined in a recent post that although mirrorless cameras are the next step in the "proper camera" lineage, we will have to wait for the improved integration of these cameras into our everyday lives. For example, their connectivity to our existing devices is sub-par for now. Why do I need to download an app, get it to sync with my camera, have it lose connection a few times (in my experience), and then have to edit on my phone before uploading to my favorite social media? I think it would be far better to do some editing on the camera itself that integrates with my Lightroom catalog and then automatically share it via the camera to social media, rather than having to introduce another step and get it to my phone, tablet, or laptop.

Mirrorless camera body

I'd like to see a vast improvement in connectivity and sharing with the ability to edit using Lightroom-style features and share with my

In this respect, my mirrorless camera is about as useful as the DSLR, which can do pretty much the same thing. I appreciate that camera manufacturers are trying to introduce new apps and integration software, but I think the communication between camera manufacturers and software manufacturers needs to be stronger and that connection between platforms much more smoothly developed to make it a paradigm shift for the user.

When Will I Upgrade All My Kit?

Mirrorless cameras are great, useful, and serve to be the next step in camera evolution in terms of size and weight, and there are plenty of cameras out there that have exciting new features that DSLR cameras will probably never have. The almost-standard five stops of in-body image stabilization is awesome for doing all kinds of things, such as shooting in low-light conditions and shooting handheld video with smooth, dolly-like tracking. But are they the "holy grail" that many people appear to be purporting? Should you swap all your gear and buy into this system just because it's the latest iteration of the technological generation? Well, I personally don't think so. It'll take a little bit more to convince me that it's the game-changing step that others have us believe it is.

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162 Comments

Stuart Carver's picture

I wouldn’t go back now, then again my DSLR wasn’t that great so not the best thing to compare to. The live shot preview and wealth of on screen info has me won over, its game changing for getting it right in camera. And focus peaking (not widely available on DSLR) is amazing for nailing that sharpness.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Wow, this article is sheer click-bait, and I'm kicking myself for falling for it, but will still respond...

Pretty much EVERY pitfall or downside to MILC's is pure personal preference of someone who has difficulty adapting to new technologies, workflows, and methodologies.

The EVF, when you get a good one, like in a A7RIII or better (3.7M pixels+), is a sheer game changer, and has completely changed how I shoot, being able to get a MUCH more accurate approximation of what I'll have to work with in post later when shooting via the EVF in harsh lighting conditions where live view on the rear display is difficult to see.

The vast majority of MILC-specific lenses have FAR superior optical formula's when compared to the much older DSLR lens designs, so just that alone in many cases is a no-brainer upgrade. Just look at the mirrorless lenses coming to market now in the form of Canon RF, Sigma Art, and even cheap brands like Samyang, their optics are killing DSLR versions!

Overheating? Really? Let's be real here, MILC's SOMETIMES get warm or overheat WHEN SHOOTING VIDEO; most DSLR's until models made in the last 4-6 years barely had a FRACTION of the video shooting abilities of MILC, so this is not a fair comparison. And when shooting stills, I have yet to EVER push a MILC to the point of overheating, unless you're talking about the Canon EOS R5, which can become a toaster oven even when shooting stills under extreme conditions.

And you use smartphone apps to illustrate the point that MILC's are no more useful than DSLR? Really??? I'm not even going to touch that, it made me laugh.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

The lenses are better because they're new. That's not dependent on them being mirror less suited.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

That’s right, and the VAST majority of new lenses now coming to market with those new and improved optics are for MIRRORLESS cameras, NOT DSLR’s. DSLR lenses are mostly old, outdated optical formulas, and manufacturers are not really introducing anything new and improved for those older systems.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I've been buying the latest Tamron DSLR lenses for my D850 lately. (70-200 F2.8 G2, 100-400 Tamron VC, 35-150 Tamron OSD) These lenses are sharp, nicely corrected, and very reasonably priced. They are also lighter and focus closer than their counterparts. (in many cases)

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Yes, but having seen their reviews and tests, they still don't compete with Tamron's E-mount offerings, as that's where they seem to be putting their R&D funding these days, as does Sigma. The "newish" glass coming out for F-mount and EF-mount is still based around older optical formulas. They may be a bit better than older versions, but still behind MILC models.

Lawrence Huber's picture

There are 2 manufacturers still clinging to DSLRs and new DSLR lenses.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I think technically we can say three manufacturers, as I believe Pentax is also still clinging to DSLR models...

Alex Herbert's picture

Picking up a DSLR now just feels to me like something is missing. I'd use one if I HAD to, but that optical viewfinder just seems like dead empty glass now :(

Venson Stein's picture

I have a D810 and three Fuji X cameras. I reach for one of the Fujis 80% of the time.

Eivind Larsen's picture

I shot all summer in the Middle East at 45 degrees during the day (113 deg F), not once did my Sony A7R4 overheat. My portable lights and flashes overheat. My Samsung S20+ phone which I Bluetooth to a speaker for music and energy overheat every time, even if placed in the shade.

When shooting in the evening with very low ambient light and with portable ligths, I love how the EVF brightens up the scene so I can actually see what I'm shooting and see where I'm focusing.

My last DSLR was D750. I think my A7R4 is much better for me.

Out of curiosity, I wonder how much video the author shot with his film SLRs since mentioning that they didn't overheat...

Mike Ditz's picture

I have been shooting mostly mirrorless for 5 years now in a lot of different conditions and never once have they overheated. My vision was blurry because of sweat going in my eyes but the camera still worked. My DSLRs never overheated but they did need shutter/mirror replacement.

The new mirror less lenses are for the most part all new design, not refreshes (Mk 2 or Mk3) of 10 or 20 year old designs. The manufacturers have chance for a new optical design. Seems to be working as the current lenses are very good.

True viewfinder snobs only look down into the 6x6 or 6x7 focussing screen, they don't peer into a tiny optical or electronic viewfinder :) Seeing exactly what you get on a E finder is a huge advantage over an optical design where you need to chimp to confirm exposure.

Let's get over the size and weight thing, unless you carry one camera and one lens the weight is not a big difference if you have 2 bodies and a few lenses and a tripod, etc...I wish ML cameras were abit bigger...

DSLRs will be around for a while but just like there are very few new film cameras being made these days the ILMC will eventually replace DSLRs for most people. IMO
I look at this debate as the EV vs ICE vehicle debates, each time there is a step forward with EV the "ICE purists" need to add another straw man argument.

Rob Gatson's picture

Umm.no...to everything you said..I dual eye with my R5 all the time, the 120hz EVF is fantastically good, along with the Sony a7s3, and to be able to see what your shot looks like before shooting it is awesome.. they make adapters with the control rings. Overheating? Are you kidding me? So when you shoot 8k for 15+ minutes you have to let the camera cool off? How is that even apples to apples to a dslrs whose 4k is subpar...and the 4k modes that will still blow away any dslr won’t overheat...better AF performance, better sensor performance, there is literally nothing that makes a dslr better....and this comes from someone who has been a pro photographer for over 25 years.

This article is like listening to my great grandfather try to convince me that a horse and buggy is better than a modern automobile...

Lee Morris's picture

The advantages a mirrorless camera offers outweigh all the issues mentioned in this article. Simple as that. All the major camera brands know it. Most consumers and "pros" (who look through the viewfinder with both eyes open) accept it. These issues are good to bring up so we can progress, but denying the mirrorless future is just silly.

Yin Ze's picture

I use 2 a9 and a7riv. unless you keep the camera on (no sleep) there is a 1/2(sleep)s-1.5s(from off) bootup time. Not good for street photography or where you need react to an unexpected event. I guess you can carry 7 batteries to get you through the day by keeping the camera always on.

af when shooting flash with a7riv in dim conditions 1-2 stops closed down not as good as with DSLR.

i am thinking of getting D850 since I kept most of my Nikon lenses. I miss the responsiveness and simplicity of the Nikon system, especially the menus.

Michael Dougherty's picture

With my D850 and battery grip, I can take up to 5,000 images at a surfing contest before needing to change batteries. To this day, I've never had to change batteries.

Yin Ze's picture

I used to charge my D4 and D810 once a week lol. Now I go through 3-5 batteries a day. I usually take 8 batteries with me to be safe.

I also like how you do not have to change settings with Nikon when you put on a flash or Profoto or Godox flash controller. With Sony, you have to adjust shutter type to mechanical(i prefer not to leave it on auto), wireless flash setting(IIRC with godox it is off, or with profoto it is on), live display, efcs...

Greg Edwards's picture

Battery life is IMO the biggest downside with most mirrorless cameras. I never had a DSLR, but I've owned a few cameras over the years, film and digital and the battery life gets worse and worse as more technology is added. If like me, you like to GPS tag photos when you're travelling, it drains your phone battery too!

I sometimes yearn for the days when the battery on my old Minolta Dynax 7000i wouldn't need changing for a couple of years despite getting similar usage as my Eos M5.

I also wish camera manufactures would offer the option of USB charging too, so you could plug in a power bank to keep it juiced up on the go.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I believe the just introduced Nikon Z7II allows you to charge with a USB-c connection and shoot simultaneously.

Michael Clark's picture

For some people in some shooting scenarios. Neither is always better for every shooter in every shooting scenario.

N A's picture

Minor complaints compared to what mirrorless bodies bring to the table. IBIS is huge. There are many reports of finiky lenses ie 135L getting a second life and performing better on mirrorless bodies. EF 50/85Ls apparently focus better on the R5/6 with an adapter than they did on EF DSLRs.

The pros far outweigh the cons imo.

Mike Ditz's picture

I have an old Nikkor 55mm f 1.2 and a 105mm f1.8 that I use on my Sony, I like adapted lenses on the mirrorless (Contax and Canon TS lenses too)

Stuart Carver's picture

That’s a good point, I found an old Helios 44-2 in my girlfriends classroom, they were there for the kids to draw... bought a cheap adapter for the Fuji and now I’m using it to take some cool shots. Good luck trying that with a DSLR.

N A's picture

Love those dusty old finds. I found a bunch of M42 lenses in a box at my parent's place. $20 Fotodiox adapter on my 6D and voila, magic. A couple of them turned out to be real gems.

Stuart Carver's picture

Yeah that’s awesome, didn’t realise you could adapt them to the 6D so that’s a bonus. I paid about the same for my Fuji adapter. The lens is absolutely knackered too, but you can still focus it and get sharp shots.

Venson Stein's picture

Helios 44-2. A better lens than 80% of modern junk.

Christian Fiore's picture

You can also pop it on a Sony and use the Techart Pro to add AF (including tracking and Eye AF!). Unthinkable on DSLR.

Craig Bobchin's picture

My Pentax K-1 can use M42 lenses with a cheap adapter as well. So not all DSLRs are limited.

It also has IBIS so any lens I use gets the same advantages.

Stuart Carver's picture

Yeah i didn't realise, i assume that there might be some vignetting etc though, or is the adapter just really thin?

Craig Bobchin's picture

It's really thin, essentially flush with the flange of the camera body.

Here's one example, there's others that are less expensive.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/673977-REG/Pentax_30120_Mount_Ada...

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