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Mirrorless vs. DSLR - Which Is Your Preference and Why?

Published: 15/02/2019

Last week in the post about the Amazing Changes Going on in the Digital Photography World, I made a comment that "we are all moving to mirrorless gear."

This was an observation that to me was pretty easy to make, starting in late 2015 with Wayne Capili's post about his epiphany with the Sony A6000, and has continued to today with everyone's discussion about how they are moving to Sony mirrorless gear.

But recently, John in Denver made the following comment:

Please educate me on the advantages of the mirrorless cameras “that we’re all moving to.” Specifically for real estate work.

There have always been arguments about the differences between DSLR and Mirrorless but I thought it would be interesting to hear why so many real estate photographers have switched to mirrorless gear.

If you have switched to mirrorless, let's hear from you. Help John understand what the attraction is.

Larry Lohrman

17 comments on “Mirrorless vs. DSLR - Which Is Your Preference and Why?”

  1. Simply said, it has to do with your investment in gear.

    If you are a newbie, than you might not have the investment in thousands of dollars worth of gear that is in the dslr system. You have the freedom to invest in a alternative system that may....or may not perform better OR just perform the same....
    I would argue that there are not a lot of seasoned RE photogs "Moving" to mirrorless , just a lot of New photogs picking up the "New Fad" and jumping in to what they see as an easy money maker (thinking gear is all that it takes). Not to say there are not those who have "Jumped ship", but those that have been in the business a while, know that changing equipment is not something done lightly.

    Show me something that the new systems will do that the older systems can not?

  2. I have both. I find each has its advantages and disadvantages. For most of my still work I have returned to my trusty Canon 80D. For stills, I just prefer looking through the lens rather than looking at a digital view of the image on the back of the camera or a miniature version through the viewfinder. That may be just because that is what I have been accustomed to with film and digital for too many decades and feels most comfortable. So I don't have to think about my equipment, settings etc with my Canon, I am free to compose and carefully choose my visual capture while my relationship with my equipment is basically subliminal. That comes with experience and familiarity with my equipment and I depend on it.

    On the other hand, for shooting video I love my Sony a-6500 using a Freeworld monitor on my slider or MOXA Air stabilizer so I can see what I am getting. It is light weight, captures exposure in the shadows that can be brought out in either PS and Luminar or with Aurora HDR or in Final Cut ProX for video that is quite amazing. So I can expose for my high lights and depend on opening up my shadows in post. When I have to use my pole instead of my Phantom or Mavic, the Sony is lighter and smaller and thus easier to handle on the top of a 20' pole. The con's for me about the Sony, which is a mirrorless, is that the interface is so damn complex that I forget how it works, where to find the adjustments and what they should be unless I am using it all the time. It is not the user friendly, intuitive interface of the Canon, at least not for me. If it is what you start with, then I imagine that is not an issue. The lightness of the camera with 10-18mm lens is great when using a stabilizer but for hand holding I prefer the heft of the Canon 80D for stills.

    So I am slowly coming to terms with the newbie Sony mirrorless in my work flow, but I hate to have to stop to think about where to find settings when I am shooting and scroll through endless options as my light is changing fast at the end of the day or the very beginning. The short cut buttons help but do not address all situations. And the 80D is no slouch when it comes to video, but the Sony has the edge.

    We live in a time of constantly evolving technology. But I am of the school that the dog should be wagging the tail, not the other way around. So I don't like and don't want to be the slave of technology nor the latest gadget to come on the market just to have it. If it will improve my final results, then I am all for it. But if not, the heck with it.

  3. Return on investment dictates I stay with my dslrs. My Canon 60d and 80d provide enough quality on the stills that both I and my clients are satisfied. A camranger works seemlessly to provide a preview and review of the shot. I don’t provide video, so no concerns there. To reinvest in a new system would significantly affect my bottom line of my part time business. So, I have no plans to move to mirrorless in the near future.

  4. My switch to mirrorless had more to do with the total picture rather than micro focusing on RE. In reality I could accomplish much the same with my full frame D810 Nikon with the possible exception video as Canon, Sony and Panasonic had the long heritage of professional video, but Nikon is catching up after kicking the sleeping giants an introducing DSLR video in the D90 and forcing the other's hands to also offer it in a DSLR. What really brought it into perspective was being "forced" to go to Europe each year, two weeks with my daughter in Switzerland (now spoiling the grandchild), and since I am over there, a week in the location of my choice. Yes, for several years I lugged the Nikon around. Then, when she married a Swiss citizen in the ultimate destination wedding - Canary Islands with a reception in a cave - I had purchased an Sony a6000 for my wife, and being 'addicted' to full frame, borrowed a friend's A7 which was new to the market. The difference was night and day compared to the prior years experiences lugging the Nikon. Back home and RE photography, it only made sense to switch, as in reality both Nikon and Sony do an excellent job, limited more by my skills as a photographer never stops improving in the lifelong journey. I am not looking back saying 'what if' and even recently sold some more Nikon gear with an eye to pick up some Sony gear.

  5. For years as a commercial photographer, everything I shot was on Large and medium format film. I only used 35 mm for snapshots and grab shots on vacation. I later switched to Leicas as they were lighter and sharper than my Nikon, and almost affordable when they were film cameras. When Digital came out, I was locked into the Nikon system because I had so many lenses. But when Fuji started making their pro mirrorless cameras, It reminded me of shooting with my Leica, and actually made photography truly enjoyable again. I find the Fuji (or hi quality mirrorless cameras) are lighter, and produce great images. I feel mirrorless cameras will eventually replace the DSLR cameras. I am seeing it in the Medium format bodies, as they are more flexible in what they can do over the DSLRs.
    If I was new to photography (any style, weddings, RE, fine art portraits or commercial), I would look into mirrorless systems and slowly build on the system.
    As much as I love shooting with my Fuji X system which is more Leica-ish, I think I would recommend the Sony system, as it is being supported by many 3rd party manufacturers and has a great reputation for still and video imaging.

  6. I switched from Canon 5DIIIs to Fuji about 5 years ago. I was shooting the Kentucky Derby and lugging around 50 lbs of Canon gear when I ran into a AP shooter who was doing his editorial work with a X100. I was intrigued, so gave Fuji a try. I fell in love. Here’s why:

    1) Expense - Much better value for me. Their “pro” gear is all metal, weathersealed, and bulletproof (mostly). And its less expensive. It’s as durable as Canon for 50 cents on the dollar.

    2) Weight - lugging around the canon gear. Geez.

    3) Compact - I carry two bodies, two flashes, 4 lenses, a magmod system, and a GoPro system around in a mind shift backlight backpack. I can carry it all day and it doesn’t bother me in the least. Two complete systems in a backpack.

    4) The viewfinder - I am a viewfinder shooter, and the WYSIWYG viewfinder is addictive. I compose a shot, and know whether or not my base exposure is working without having to do the math. Probably saves me 10 minutes a shoot.

    5) Image quality - I havent shot Canon full frame in several years, and I would guess much of this has improved. But when I switched, colors were more accurate and lenses were less distorted. Real time savings in Lightroom was probably 10 - 15 minutes a job.

    6) Feature set - Things like customizable bracketing and bracketed flash control were available on bodies half the cost. And Fuji is legendary for introducing features on new cameras and then making those same features available on current bodies via updates. I can skip entire generations of cameras and have the same feature sets as those who are buying the new bodies.

    What do I miss? Tilt Shift lenses. That’s it, and frankly, for RE work, I don’t miss them much at all.

  7. I say mirrorless.

    But then again...that's all I've ever known. That 2015 Wayne Capili post sold me on the a6000 as my starting kit when I fired up my business in February of 2016. To this very day that camera is till my "outside" camera. It's super light and thus is easy to attach and wield on my painters pole for elevated shots. It's 24mp file size means I can crop-to-zoom and still deliver plenty of size to my customers. The built-in WIFI system means I can trigger it from up high with my phone. The Rokinon 12mm locked at just to the left of infinity means that as long as I'm at f8 or higher...I don't have to worry about focus when the camera is way up there. It just IS in focus. So whether taking elevated shots or ground-level shots...I can zip around the house and knock out the exteriors double-plus fast once done with the heavy lifting work inside the house.

    But we all progress in our business....and that means upgrading. I wanted to add video to my bag of tricks so in September of 2017 I went out and got an a7s2 for video work along with the 16-35mm f4. My plan was to use it just for video and keep using the a6000 for stills. What I then discovered was that I actually LIKED having the capability to zoom when shooting stills! I also liked the fact that it effectively has SIX memory modes. (The a6000 only has 3 memory modes) I LOVE memory modes and use them all on a daily basis. They are used as follows:

    1] Ambient Single - a-priority single shot ambient frame, Auto WB, f8, ISO 100, manual focus
    2] Video Mode - s-priority shooting, 125th/60fps, Auto WB, manual focus, PP8 (slog3)

    These two are "hardwired-saved" into the a7s2 camera body itself. The four below are saved to the memory card. That's important because if you format the card on the a7 seris have to re-program the memory modes again. Contrast that with the a6000 series where all the memory modes are saved to the camera and none to the memory card. I learned that the hard way and now I delete the files from the card by plugging the SD into the card reader, selecting them on my PC, and deleting them that way. I don't format my cards for a long while (once a year) and then I do so at home when I can re-program my memory modes in right away. Here's the memory modes saved to my card:

    M1) 2ev Ambient Brackets - 3-shot sets at +/-2ev
    M2) 3ev Ambient Brackets - 3-shot sets at +/-3ev
    M3) Flash Test Shots - manual mode setup at camera sync speed but shot in JPG
    M4) Flash Final Shots - manual mode setup just like M3 but shot in RAW

    So now my workflow is just about perfect. I outsource most of the time and the editors prefer a set of 3 ambient brackets and a single flash frame. So I select either M1 or M2 depending on the dynamic range I have to fight through in the scene and shoot my brackets. I switch to M3 and shoot my test shots adjusting flash power as needed. Once flash power is dialed in I switch to M4 and take the final flash shot in RAW. Switch back to M1 or M2 and move to the next location and repeat.

    Time for video? Mount the camera to gimbal and switch it to "2, 2, and 2". That is I switch to Memory Mode 2 (for video) and then adjust my exposure compensation wheel to +2 like you're supposed to when shooting slog3, and then adjust the focus on the lens to 2m. So 2, 2, and 2. Turn on gimbal, press record, and roll.

    At home I plug the card into a card reader...copy the files to my computer....organize by "type"...and DELETE all the JPG files. Because those were the junky flash 'test' shots. I don't need them. Now I'm left with only RAW files which are the ambient bracket sets and the final flash frames. Ship them to the editor. Done, sir done.

    So there you have it. First an a6000, then added an a7s2 for interior video but ended using it for interior photos too. The catch point in my business then was the process of mounting the camera to the gimbal every time someone added video to their order. Solution?

    Dedicated body permanently attached to gimbal.

    Enter the a7iii. My new stills camera.

    Honestly, the s2 was just fine for stills. Heck the a6000 was fine for stills....but it didn't have enough memory modes. So the main advantage of me having the a7iii was not all the little improvements that everyone was crowing about. It was simply that I can leave my s2 attached to the gimbal now.

    So that's the path I've walked. a6000 to a6000/a7s2 and on to a6000/a7s2/a7iii going to every job.

    What's next? Well...I plan on selling the a6000 and getting an a6400 this year. I also plan on selling the a7s2 and upgrading to the a7s3 when it comes out. Why? Battery compatibility. Same batteries for all cameras. I know it sounds crazy...but I am fine spending money to just solve that one problem alone. Also...I like having dual card redundancy on my a7iii and so having dual card capabilities on my gimbal camera would be something I would value enough to pay for.

    I also plan on bringing on/training a new photographer this year. I'll have him doing all my photo-only jobs while I focus on the photo/video combos. So that's another a6400 and another a7iii that is going to get bought.

    Lots of money being thrown at Sony from me since 2016...and all because Wayne Capili wrote an article about how the a6000 is a great camera to build a real estate photography business off of.

  8. Oops - hit submit too soon!

    I switched from Nikon to Sony in 2018 and have been thrilled. I'm shooting with an A7r2 for architecture/interiors and an A73 for Real Estate and everything else. A few main points for me:

    What I don't like - I don't like small cameras. I have large hands, and I prefer having more dedicated buttons. So it was quite an adjustment for me, but the good news is that Sony makes up for it with customization. It takes a little effort, but once you figure out what features you use the most, and which buttons you want to map them to, then it's really nice to use and I have gotten used to it. The customization is something that was very limited on my Nikon DSLRs, so in a way it has also improved my user experience in a lot of ways. I don't have any buttons that don't get used, and I have quick access to the things that are more important to me. Give and take, I guess.

    With that out of the way, it's just great. I think we are going to see DSLRs fade away in the coming years. For our work specially, most of us rely on Live View so heavily in our workflow because it is so useful to see a live preview of your photo in real time. Live View on DSLRs is just painful to use, and often (at least in my Nikon cameras) had some limitations on how it was used that I just had to live with and work around. Mirrorless cameras are in "Live View" 100% of the time. Because of that, the experience is very refined and highly prioritized by the camera manufacturers (at least in the most recent Sony cameras I have been using). It has to be good, because it's the only way we interact with the camera.

    The electronic viewfinder is incredibly useful in bright conditions that make it tough to see the back LCD on your camera, and I really love how I can even zoom in to nail my focus in the EVF. You get all of the info in your EVF that you get on the back LCD, including your histogram. I really like the front electronic curtain on the shutter, which minimizes shutter vibrations on longer exposures. I do shoot heavily with natural light, and it's not uncommon to have very long exposures for me.

    Not related to architecture/RE, the autofocus is ridiculously good. Like, unreal. It rarely misses a shot. The eye autofocus is a game changer if you take any photos of any people, ever, you will never want to use a DSLR again. For me, it's mostly photos of my family, and not professional use in that regard. The stabilized sensor is very good and very useful, as it turns every lens into a stabilizes lens. I have casually photographed architecture handheld and gotten very sharp results (a couple of which are in my portfolio) as slow as 1/8th of a second, and a tilt shift lens. Imagine that... getting your composition and exposure nailed in the EVF, then without moving the camera away from your face, zooming in as far as you want to manually focus your lens, use the on-screen level in the EVF, then taking your shot at a slow shutter speed to keep your ISO at a reasonable level. That was never possible with my DSLRs.

    Lastly, if you want to get nerdy with it, you can adapt just about any lens on the planet if you want to. So there's flexibility with that as well if you have a bunch of old lenses. I don't.

    Image quality is equal in terms of sensor performance, relative to my full-frame Nikon cameras I owned before. No change there - it's just everything else is so much more usable. Game changer for me.

  9. I love the idea of switching over to mirrorless, but have a nuts and bolts question about compatibility.

    I shoot 5dM3 with the 17 & 24mm tilt-shift lenses. Love these and would have to take them with me to my next platform. Does anyone know the difference between the RF mount on the new Canon full-frame mirrorless and the EF mount on my current lenses. Would they still be compatible? Would there be any noticeable difference in the images?


  10. Well, I know I'm not the only because I rent in a post last year that one of the readers switched back to DSLR. I hate my A7iii. I came out of Nikon. I look forward to Nikon catching up on some lost ground eventhough the rumor is that the first generation mirrorless won't catch up, I am optimistic the second generation will and then I'm going back.

  11. I have both, and the battery is the reason. I can go on a battery for 3 days with a dslr, I would be changing batteries multiple times a day with mirrorless.

  12. I believe there is an elephant in the room when it comes to this discussion for real estate photographers. Video does sort of muck up the clarity on this question, but if you think about what a real estate photographer actually needs in a camera body, it really isn't much at all. All we need is that sensor, unlike many other genres of photography out there that need outstanding focus features for example.

    Assuming that is correct, that real estate photographers do not need to be upgrading gear to the latest and greatest to improve their quaility, then why are so many people jumping ship?!

    The answer is the elephant. It is simple... it is good marketing. These companies have done their job and made you want to switch. It is as simple as that. You do not need a new camera system, but the marketing has made you think you do.

    Think about this from the manufacture's perspective for a moment. What is the number one thing they would like you to do to increase their profit margins? Switching systems of course! It is not even close. Switching systems is a full grand slam hime run for them... you need new lenses, new accessories. Their goal, make photographers switch systems as much as possible, and I believe the marketing and camera production patterns prove this.

    I agree 100% with what James has said. If you are a business, run it likr a business. Moving to a new system probably isn't going to make your photographey better (I will leave video out of the discission just for clarity). And, it is probably going to hurt your bottom line.

  13. @Andrew, you can throw video in the mix. If you are invested in, say Canon, you can add a Canon C100 video camera with an EF mount and still be able to use your suite of Canon lenses. You may also choose another brand such as Blackmagic that has a model(s) that support Canon EF lenses. If adding video to your services is your goal, there could be alternatives to switching brands/platforms that let you leverage the gear you already have.

    I'm tempted by Sony's eye-focusing as my own set of eyeballs is getting old, but that's not a factor for my RE work. I'm also not shooting a lot of very shallow DOF portraits where the difference between hitting focus on the nose or the eye is going to be a huge difference. In fact, much of my corporate portrait work needs to have a sharp outline, and, therefore, a deeper DOF, to make masking easier to extract people off of the background. There just isn't enough reason for me to jump ship from one brand to the next although given a lottery win, I might be willing to add a Sony set-up to my arsenal.

    Swapping entire systems is a huge expense and if you are a rational business person that doesn't have ample surplus money lying around, it may not be a good idea unless the features are going to save you massive amounts of time or your customers are insisting and you will lose them if you don't (or can't get new ones). One of the best reasons for starting out with one brand over another is if you have a friend/mentor using a particular brand. I chose Canon as I had two friends who used Canon gear and that gave me great free support along with a few deals on gear. Right now I'd love to upgrade my camera body to a later model used full-frame as I have put some miles on what I have. I'm holding back on any major upgrade until Canon releases a professional mirrorless model and really starts building out their R series lenses to show they are committing themselves to a mirrorless future. If it takes too long, I might start with adding a basic Sony set up to cover a few things rather than an all out swap at once.

    As to advantages of mirrorless over DSLR for RE, I don't see enough right now to make me want to spend thousands of dollars and put up with a longer workflow until I'm accustomed with the new gear.

  14. Well, look at the discussion that I kicked off! All of you make valid points. Whether I agree with them is another matter- but to summarize, here's what I read here. You mirrorless converts
    want to get away from heavy camera bags, and you like the features in the newest cameras. For us DSLR users, we'll stick with what we have and what we know, because like Andrew said, our slow, deliberate work isn't helped much by advanced camera features.

    Here's my own answer, one case where mirrorless solved a problem directly related to RE photography. I wanted a shift lens capability, and couldn't find a wide angle shift lens for my Pentax K-1. Canikon users would just squeeze their credit cards for a grand or two and buy a T/S lens. Instead, I got a used Fuji X-E2 ($250) and a Fuji-to-K mount shift adapter ($150). It mounts up the Sigma 12-24 lens I already use on the Pentax, giving an 18-35 field of view and about 8 mm of usable lens shift. That was enough to get correct verticals on an eight-story building across a downtown street.

    Mirrorless design gave me the room to add an adaptor, and the 1.5 crop format gave me room to shift the image. As a bonus, I now have a full set of ten other Pentax lenses, usable (completely manually, of course), on that Fuji body. So I think mirrorless can be great as a supplemental system or for a special purpose. It just doesn't reduce the usefulness of my DSLR.

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