SLR and system camera in comparison

For a long time, SLR cameras were considered the only real alternative for portrait and wedding photographers. DSLRs are modeled after analog SLR cameras, only the sensor has taken the place of the filmstrip. DSLRs have the greatest advantages due to their viewfinder, the high level of accessories (especially lenses) and the proven handling.

In recent years, however, more and more system cameras have overtaken DSLRs – why is that and which camera should you choose when buying? Mirror or mirrorless? How do the models fare in a direct comparison?

Differences and similarities

The SLR camera and the system camera have more in common than separates them. Both systems are based on a single lens. The only difference is the mirror.

While the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) directs the image of the lens via a mirror to the viewfinder, which pops up when the shutter is released, the sensor of DSLM (digital single lens mirrorless) cameras is always exposed. The image you see in the viewfinder is a small screen and gives you a much more faithful image than the viewfinder image on DSLRs. This is because it is free of aperture and exposure time.

So you might think that omitting the mirror is rather advantageous. Cameras become lighter, the viewfinder image more precise (and allows digital magnifications), and a mechanical breaking point is eliminated. This actually makes DSLM cameras a bit more practical in use. Especially since they shoot silently, which allows for undisturbed impressions of people and nature. As a wedding photographer, you don’t disturb the bride and groom with the loud slap of the mirror flap, and you don’t startle the neighbor’s cat.

Nevertheless, DSLRs were considered the top dog for a long time, but this was less due to their mirror than to their sensor. The large-format sensors in full-frame format or the smaller APS-C versions, which are based on Super35mm, have an impressive image quality and are above all the ones that – in combination with the right lens – look so much like analog, “soft” film.

System cameras, on the other hand, offered special interchangeable lenses for a long time, but significantly smaller sensors. With cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 (with Micro Four Thirds sensor) or Sony’s Alpha series (with full-frame sensor or APS-C), however, this is a thing of the past. At least you can no longer tell from the pictures whether they were shot with a DSLR or DSLM camera.

The main differences are in size, weight and handling. The lack of a mirror makes for a lighter and smaller camera on average, which is not a bad thing in principle, but larger hands are often slow to make friends with the small digital cameras. Fortunately, however, there are high-quality grips that can compensate for this, but fitting an expensive DSLM with a grip costing several hundred euros so that it fits better in the hand on a day of shooting is an additional expense that is included in the price of more ergonomic DSLRs.

Veteran photographers also don’t have to worry about disposing of their Canon or Nikon optics with a switch to Sony; the Sony E-mount adapts just fine.

DSLRs often have advantages when it comes to measuring autofocus, which is often much faster. The DSLMs from Panasonic and Sony have a huge advantage especially at night and in twilight. Not only does the electronic viewfinder provide a better view of the image, some of the mirrorless cameras are also extremely bright. Perfect for coherent impressions in twilight.

Getting started or switching – Good reasons for DSLMs

Entry-level models are also available for SLR cameras, which usually have a larger sensor than comparable system cameras. The difference between the professional segment and the entry-level camera is much larger in DSLMs, but professional DSLMs can also be mastered well by beginners.

The electronic viewfinder plays to its strengths here in particular and ensures that pictures are much easier to take, are correctly exposed and the focus is exactly where you want it. In addition, they are low-maintenance thanks to fewer mechanics and simply transfer the principle of the SLR camera even better into the digital age.

The handling of the camera is a different story, and many photographers appreciate the familiar functions of their SLR camera. Before buying, you should really take a close look at the corresponding models or borrow them in advance.

DSLMs have a serious disadvantage, especially in terms of price. The price range of professional models is not quite as wide as that of DSLRs, and you usually have to dig a bit deeper into your pocket for a camera in the professional segment.

Especially if you want a full-frame system camera. You should plan on spending around 2,000 euros for the body, plus batteries, adapters and/or lenses. Since professional DSLRs have been around for much longer, you also have the opportunity to buy somewhat older models at very favorable conditions.

Basically, it is no longer necessary to buy a DSLR even for professional needs. For a comparatively high entry-level price, you have the opportunity to shoot more quietly and more easily. This is not a compelling argument to get rid of the old digital SLR, but when buying a new camera or starting out, the system camera should not be treated so neglected.

DSLR & DSLM cameras in direct comparison – mirror or mirrorless?
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