For years, anyone who had a DSLR was assumed to be a professional photographer. For these owners, image quality and flexibility were essential and compromises couldn’t be made. But if photographers wanted the flexibility of interchangeable lenses without the extra weight and cost, there weren’t many solutions out there.

DSLR

Smartphones have been trying to catch up to dedicated photography cameras for years, but point-and-shoots were too limited. Then came the mirrorless camera, which has all the benefits of a DSLR but comes in a smaller, lighter package. Since then, there have been huge leaps forward in the technology and today many of the best mirrorless photography cameras easily compete with other camera types on the market.

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Size and Weight

What’s the difference between a Canon 5DS and a Sony a7r II? About 325 grams, or half a pound. Size and weight are some of the major differences between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR. Without the mirrorbox and optical viewfinder, which adds some of the extra bulk, mirrorless cameras have some physical flexibility that DSLRs will never be able to match. Mirrorless cameras also use electronic view finders (EVFs), which cut down on the weight and size. Some of the smaller prosumermirrorless cameras forgo the EVF entirely to save even more space and weight.

Lenses

Because mirrorless cameras don’t need a mirrorbox, optical engineers have a lot of different options when designing new lenses. They can be lighter and have larger apertures that are similar to lenses for DSLRs. Micro 4/3 cameras have a special advantage in this regard because the smaller sensor size enables the lenses to be tiny and extremely light compared to similar DSLR lenses.

The other major advantage mirrorless cameras have over DSLRs is that they can use lenses from other systems without too much of a hassle. Mirrorless cameras have an extremely short distance between the mount and the sensor, called the flange distance. This means photographers can use any lens that has a longer flange distance with an adapter. These adapters can be “dumb” or “smart,” meaning they either physically correct the distance between the sensor and the mount or they control some of the lens settings, such as autofocus and aperture.

Silent Mode

The quiet mode in DSLRs is an improvement upon the noise the shutter makes when snapping a photo, but the mirror still has to move, which makes noise. However, mirrorless cameras have an electronic shutter that is silent. The electronic shutter also is several times faster than the 1/8000 of a second that high-end DSLRs have, with some models being as fast as 1/32000 of a second.

EVF

The EVFs on modern mirrorless cameras have high-resolution displays that accurately show the detail of the scene. They also enable photographers to see how their settings will affect the scene before they press the shutter.

A few years ago, a professional would have been hard pressed for reasons to switch from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera. Today, the switch is easy. With the size and weight advantages, combined with most of the same technology, mirrorless cameras are a compelling choice.