What Is a Mirrorless Camera? | Fully Guide

What Is a Mirrorless Camera

While the mirrorless camera is a relative newcomer to the game, it has emerged to be an incredibly strong contender in the world of digital cameras.

For decades, the DSLR camera has reigned supreme as the instrument of choice for both amateur and professional photographers. But that’s all about to change now that Best Mirrorless Camera Under $500 have come into the picture.

Combining the features of a DSLR and the portability of a point-and-shoot camera, the mirrorless camera provides photographers with a smaller, lighter, but no less powerful alternative to the mighty DSLR camera. How To Use DSLR Camera.

What Does Mirrorless Mean?

You might bring a mirror to your portrait shoots so that your client can see how their hair looks mid-shoot. As their name implies, mirrorless cameras eliminate this need! Alright, that’s wishful thinking and not true at all. However, mirrorless cameras lack a photography-related mirror, just not one you can usually see.

In DSLR cameras, a mirror sits between the lens and the camera sensor. It is situated at a 45-degree angle and directs the light from the lens up toward the optical viewfinder for you to see. This is how you are able to see a scene through a DSLR’s viewfinder, even when it’s turned off.

When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips down and reveals the sensor which ultimately leads to the creation of a digital image. There are a few drawbacks to this process, including the space requirement and time that it takes to move the mirror.

Mirrorless cameras eliminate the mirror, which makes for a faster and smaller camera with the potential for better autofocus.

Advantages of Mirrorless Cameras

Sound. Without a mirror mechanism moving around, the shutter on a mirrorless camera can be silent. Some cameras use an artificial clicking sound to help the photographer know when a photo has been taken. In fact, that sound might be customizable in future cameras.

Speed. Although DSLR cameras can have high continuous frame rates, mirrorless cameras are generally faster due to the fact that they don’t have to perform as many physical movements when the shutter button is pressed. This makes mirrorless cameras great choices for wildlife, sports, and other action photographers.

Digital technology. Since mirrorless cameras use more digital technology in previewing an image, there are opportunities for better autofocus and more information to be relayed to the photographer before an image is created. Take the Canon R3’s eye-controlled autofocus, for example. The camera will, in theory, focus where your eye is looking.

Electronic viewfinder (EVF). There are lots of advantages of using an EVF. Just like live view, the EVF allows the photographer to see the image as it will be captured. The EVF can also act as a small screen to perform image playback. Since it is a screen, it can also be overlaid with lines or other information that can’t necessarily be shown using an optical viewfinder.

Illustrations of the electronic viewfinder on a Nikon Z series mirrorless camera. Images by Nikon.

Size. Mirrorless cameras can be smaller than DSLRs because they have fewer moving parts. This makes them attractive for travel photographers, or anyone who just wants a more portable camera. You might use your camera more often if it’s easier to take with you wherever you go.

The Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR camera (left) next to the Canon R5 mirrorless camera (right).

Shorter flange distance. One of the reasons mirrorless cameras can be smaller in form factor is that they allow for a shorter flange focal distance, or the distance from the lens mount (the flange) to the image sensor. The shorter the flange distance, the thinner (and lighter) a camera can be.

Adapted lenses. A shorter flange distance also allows for lenses (i.e. those designed for equivalent DSLRs) to be used with an adapter that increases the flange distance. For this reason, DSLR lenses can often be adapted for mirrorless cameras but mirrorless lenses generally cannot be adapted for DSLRs. Canon and Nikon photographers switching from Canon EF to Canon R or from Nikon F to Nikon Z can bring their existing collection of lenses to mirrorless thanks to lens adapters offered by the companies.

A lens adapter can be used to increase flange focal distance, making DSLR lenses compatible with mirrorless cameras.

Disadvantages of Mirrorless Cameras

Native lens selection. With newer camera systems come newer lens mounts that aren’t necessarily compatible with older lenses. Companies are working hard to increase their selection of mirrorless lenses, but so many years went into making lenses for SLRs and DSLRs that it will take time to have a similar selection for mirrorless. Even if there are adapters to allow older lenses to work on mirrorless cameras, they often come at the expense of quality (and money).

Battery life. Smaller camera bodies sometimes mean smaller batteries, but the real issue with battery life is that mirrorless cameras have to power two screens (the LCD and EVF). It takes a significant amount of power to keep the EVF working, whereas it doesn’t take much power to move the mirror mechanism in a DSLR and, unless you’re shooting in live view, there’s no need for a digital display to be constantly powered.

Cost. Mirrorless cameras can be expensive, and they can also be cost-effective. However, the fact that you might want more batteries or a lens adapter (just to name a few additional costs) means that mirrorless cameras have the opportunity to be expensive. DSLRs and other cameras do too, but with the new and exciting technology that mirrorless cameras boast, it’s likely that accessories for them will be more expensive.

Accessory compatibility. Speaking of accessories, this is an issue that’s similar to the lens compatibility problem. Companies are torn between different camera markets and they aren’t necessarily focused on the mirrorless industry enough to keep up with the demand. There are plenty of accessories that have been developed for mirrorless cameras, but there are also areas where DSLR cameras still have a greater number of accessories.

General industry knowledge. Since DSLR cameras have dominated the still photography market for the past decade or so, they are better tested and reviewed, and there is more general industry knowledge surrounding DSLR cameras. That’s not to say that there aren’t great mirrorless camera resources, but DSLR cameras have the advantage of being leaders for longer.


If you’re thinking you want to dive into the mirrorless world after reading this, check out our picks for the top mirrorless cameras on the market today. They’re generally faster and lighter than DSLR cameras and come with quirks and perks that make them really interesting cameras.

One thing’s for sure: mirrorless cameras are likely the near future of serious still photography. Just based on the investments that major camera companies are making, the next decade is when we will see mirrorless cameras dominate the industry, just like DSLRs did for the past decade.

Alisha Singh

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