These days, mirrorless cameras are all the rage, while interest in DSLRs has steadily waned. And it’s true: Mirrorless cameras do offer lots of benefits over DSLRs – but does that mean DSLRs are obsolete? I don’t think so.
In my view, thanks to a handful of key advantages, DSLRs are still the better choice for plenty of users, including various categories of beginners and even professionals. Take it from me: My primary camera body is mirrorless, but I love my DSLR, I still use it for a handful of tasks, and I don’t plan on selling it anytime soon.
So if you’re saving up for a brand-new mirrorless kit, or you’ve been thinking that you should get rid of your old DSLR and make the jump to mirrorless, just wait. Let me share with you the five biggest DSLR advantages; that way, once you’re done reading, you’ll know whether a DSLR makes sense for your photography needs, even in this mirrorless-dominated age.
Let’s dive right in.
1. DSLR viewfinders are better in low light
If you’ve spent time reading about DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, then you’ll be familiar with the viewfinder debate.
DSLRs feature optical viewfinders (OVFs). These allow you to look through the lens at the scene; consequently, the image preview is very sharp, extremely natural, and free of lag.
Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, generally boast electronic viewfinders (EVFs), which offer a digital preview of the scene. In other words, electronic viewfinders give you a simulated preview of your image, which allows you to assess its exposure from the moment you put the camera to your eye. EVFs also boast other cool benefits, such as focus peaking (in-focus areas are highlighted on the viewfinder display), as well as the ability to “see” in black and white.
But while electronic viewfinders are great for many applications, optical viewfinders offer one key benefit:
They look way better in the dark. When you’re shooting in extreme low-light situations, looking through an optical viewfinder is very similar to looking with your naked eye. Looking through an electronic viewfinder, however, is like looking through an old, poor-quality display. There’s noise everywhere, which makes it tough to tell whether you’ve nailed focus and exposure.
Of course, it’s possible to look past these flaws, and you can still shoot mirrorless in low light. (In fact, many mirrorless cameras offer outstanding low-light capabilities.) But if you frequently shoot in intense darkness – for instance, you like to capture nighttime cityscapes – you might want to consider sticking with a DSLR. (I do a lot of night street photography, and staring at a noisy screen can get pretty frustrating.)
One note: EVFs are improving all the time, and there may be a point in the future when EVFs are essentially identical to OVFs, even in ultra-dark scenarios. But right now, OVFs are still dominating EVFs in the low-light arena.
2. You can shoot all day with a DSLR on a single battery
Another major DSLR advantage in 2022? The batteries last far longer compared to mirrorless cameras.
Most mirrorless bodies are rated at around 250-400 shots, and the best of the best (like the Sony a7 III) reach approximately 700 shots per charge. DSLRs, on the other hand, can frequently shoot around 800 shots per charge to 1500 shots and beyond.
For many photographers, this won’t be an issue. After all, you may not shoot more than a few hundred shots per day, and even if you do, you can get a substantial amount of additional shots per charge if you make an effort to conserve battery.
But if you’re the type of photographer who likes to shoot all day without stopping, or you travel into areas without access to electricity for days on end, you’re going to struggle with a mirrorless body.
Sure, you can bring extra batteries, but this can get expensive and inconvenient, plus you need to remember to charge them after each shoot. And when you’re working in the freezing cold or in bad weather, changing batteries on the fly can be difficult (or even impossible).
So if battery life is a big deal to you, you may want to stick with a DSLR.
3. DSLRs feel much better in your hand
I know, I know: This one really comes down to personal preference, and it also depends on the type of shooting you do.
But I’ve used a number of mirrorless cameras, and I’ve also used a number of DSLRs. And in my view, DSLRs offer significantly better ergonomics.
Why? Mirrorless cameras are much more compact than DSLRs (on average, anyway). And in order to achieve a smaller form factor, manufacturers flattened the body grips. In particular, many of the mid-level options from Sony and Fujifilm, not to mention the entry-level, no-viewfinder cameras from most manufacturers, have very shallow grips.
And this makes them very tough to use for street photographers (who often shoot one-handed), as well as casual walkaround photographers. Plus, if you plan on holding a camera for hours on end, you likely want it to feel comfortable, not just usable. And in a lot of cases, mirrorless bodies just…aren’t.
Check out this DSLR, and note the extent to which a deep body grip defines its shape:
So before you grab a new camera, I’d encourage you to head into your local camera shop and actually try it out. Hold it in your hand. And ask yourself:
How would I feel about this after spending hours in the field?
4. The DSLR used market is full of great options
If you buy a brand-new camera – whether you go with a mirrorless body or a DSLR – you’ll end up spending a chunk of change. High-level models retail for upwards of $2000, and even good beginner models will set you back $800-1000 – whether you buy DSLR or mirrorless. (On average, DSLR starter kits do tend to be slightly less expensive, but they also come with a rather limited feature set, so it tends to even out.)
On the other hand, because many photographers are selling off their DSLRs to finance mirrorless purchases, the DSLR used market is currently booming. Cameras that cost thousands of dollars new are available for triple digits, and entry-level cameras can be purchased for just a few hundred.
To be fair, neither of the big DSLR manufacturers – Canon or Nikon – has released a DSLR in several years, so the technology is on the older side. But many of the best DSLRs, such as the Canon 5D Mark IV, are still highly regarded by professionals, and the mid-tier models – which you can grab for ultra-low prices – are plenty powerful for beginners and even up-and-coming intermediate snappers.
Plus, the amazing used prices aren’t just true for DSLR cameras; they’re also true for the lenses. You can save big simply by buying used, and because lens development moves far more slowly than camera development, you don’t have to worry about your lenses becoming obsolete.
So if you’re on a budget, I highly recommend checking out used DSLRs on sites like Amazon, eBay, and KEH Camera. You might just happen upon an incredible deal!
5. DSLRs offer a better (and cheaper) lens selection
Here’s the final major advantage of DSLRs:
The lens selection.
Yes, there are plenty of great lenses designed for mirrorless systems. And the range of lenses is constantly growing. But the mirrorless lens lineups just aren’t as expansive as the DSLR lens lineups, whether you look at joint DSLR and mirrorless manufacturers like Canon and Nikon or you consider mirrorless specialists like Sony and Fujifilm. (DSLR lenses also tend to be significantly cheaper, which is another big benefit.)
Fortunately, there are adapters that allow you to use DSLR lenses on mirrorless bodies, but these can cost a substantial amount of money, and for some lineups, they’re just not ideal.
Some shooters won’t care about the limited mirrorless lens offerings; if you’re a portrait photographer, for instance, you’ll probably be just fine with the lens lineup offered by any of the major mirrorless manufacturers. This is because portrait-type lenses are often developed first, as part of a “standard” prime and zoom series.
But if you photograph with more specialized equipment – a set of super-telephoto lenses, a tilt-shift lens, or a long macro lens – you may struggle to find the mirrorless glass you need, and you’ll be much better off with a DSLR system.
Which DSLR should you buy in 2022?
If you do decide to purchase a DSLR, we do have a few quick recommendations:
Both Nikon and Canon offer similarly capable lineups, so it’s tough to go wrong with either system. Beginners should check out Nikon D3500 or Canon SL3 kits; either of these options will give you everything you need to get started, and for a very reasonable price, too.
Hobbyists should look at higher-end APS-C models, like the Nikon D5600 or the Canon T8i (for all-around photography), and the Nikon D7500, the Nikon D500, the Canon 7D Mark II, or the Canon 90D (for action-focused and outdoor photography).
Advanced photographers should consider lower-priced (but still very capable) full-frame models like the Canon 6D Mark II or the Nikon D780, while professionals should look at top-notch models like the Canon 5D Mark IV, the Canon 5DS R, or the Nikon D850.
Finally, serious action shooters should look at the Nikon D6 or the Canon 1D X Mark III. Yes, they’re eye-wateringly expensive, but they pack outstanding autofocus, ergonomics, low-light capabilities, and so much more.
5 essential advantages of DSLRs: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know all about the key DSLR benefits, and you should have a sense of whether a DSLR is right for you.
As I’ve emphasized throughout, both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer their own advantages; the key is to determine which camera system aligns best with your needs.
Now I’d like to know:
Do you shoot mirrorless or with a DSLR? And why? Share your reasons in the comments below!