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Is mirrorless cheaper than DSLR?

Both mirrorless and DSLR cameras have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cost. There are a few key factors that impact the price difference between mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

Upfront Cost

In general, mirrorless camera bodies tend to be a bit cheaper than comparable DSLR bodies. For example:

Mirrorless Camera Price
Sony a7 III $2000
Fujifilm X-T3 $1500
DSLR Camera Price
Nikon D750 $2000
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV $2500

As you can see, the mirrorless models are $200 to $1000 cheaper than the comparable DSLRs. This price difference is mainly due to the simpler mechanical design of mirrorless cameras compared to DSLRs. DSLRs require complex mirror and optical viewfinder mechanisms that add to the costs.

Lenses

Lenses are where the cost comparison gets more complicated between mirrorless and DSLR. There are a few factors to consider:

  • Lens availability – DSLR lenses have been around for decades, so there is a huge selection of new and used lenses available. Mirrorless lenses are a newer technology with fewer options currently available.
  • First party vs third party – Mirrorless lenses tend to be more expensive for comparable focal lengths and apertures, especially when comparing first party lenses. More affordable third party options are becoming available for mirrorless mounts.
  • Adapters – You can adapt DSLR lenses to mirrorless cameras using lens adapters. These retain automatic functions like autofocus and aperture control. So you can use legacy DSLR lenses on mirrorless cameras.

To demonstrate the lens price differences, here is a comparison of a few similar Sony mirrorless and Nikon DSLR lenses:

Lens Mount Price
Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 E-mount (mirrorless) $2200
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 F-mount (DSLR) $1700
Sony 50mm f/1.8 E-mount (mirrorless) $250
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 F-mount (DSLR) $220

The mirrorless lenses are $200 to $500 more expensive for similar quality optics. Of course, adapted DSLR lenses provide a cheaper alternative for mirrorless shooters.

Camera Size and Weight

One of the benefits of mirrorless cameras is their smaller and lighter weight construction compared to DSLRs. This makes mirrorless cameras and lenses less expensive to manufacture and ship.

For example, here is a weight comparison between some popular mirrorless and DSLR camera bodies:

Camera Weight
Sony a7 III (mirrorless) 650g
Fujifilm X-T3 (mirrorless) 538g
Nikon D750 (DSLR) 840g
Canon 5D Mark IV (DSLR) 800g

The mirrorless models weigh about 200-300g less than the DSLRs. This lighter weight allows for some cost savings in materials and shipping that translate into slightly lower MSRP prices for mirrorless cameras.

Electronic vs Optical Viewfinders

Mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders (EVF) to preview framing and capture. This is less mechanically complex than the optical viewfinders (OVF) in DSLRs that require mirrors and prisms.

Electronic viewfinders were expensive to produce in the early days of mirrorless cameras. But as technology has improved, EVFs have gotten sharper and have very fast display refresh rates. This makes them very close to the optical viewing experience of OVFs while being cheaper to manufacture.

Battery Life

One area where DSLRs retain a cost advantage is battery life. The optical viewfinders in DSLRs do not use any electronic power, allowing the battery to last for hundreds or even thousands of shots per charge. Mirrorless EVFs use battery power whenever the camera is turned on.

Here is a battery life comparison between some popular models:

Camera Battery Life (shots per charge)
Sony a7 III 610
Fujifilm X-T3 390
Nikon D750 1230
Canon 5D Mark IV 900

DSLRs get about 2-3 times more shots per charge. This means mirrorless cameras require more spare batteries to get through a day of shooting. The extra batteries add to the ongoing cost of ownership.

Weather Sealing

High-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras include weather sealing around buttons, dials, and openings to prevent dust and moisture getting inside. This allows photographers to shoot in all weather conditions.

Weather sealing does not directly impact purchase cost. But it improves the durability and lifespan of a camera. So you can use a weather sealed DSLR or mirrorless camera for many years without issue, which improves their value over time.

Autofocus Performance

DSLRs rely on dedicated autofocus sensors while mirrorless cameras use sensor-based autofocus. For many years, DSLRs had faster and more accurate autofocus, especially for action photography. But mirrorless autofocus has caught up in recent years.

The Nikon Z9 and Sony a1 mirrorless cameras now lead the market for autofocus performance. Going forward, the autofocus advantage will likely shift further towards mirrorless cameras given the greater flexibility of on-sensor phase detect pixels.

Used Value

Used and refurbished DSLR equipment tends to hold its value a bit better compared to mirrorless gear. For example, a 5 year old Canon 5D Mark III DSLR still sells for around $1000 used, similar to its original $2500 launch price. In comparison, a 5 year old Sony A7 II mirrorless camera now sells for around $600 used, a bigger drop from its $1700 launch price.

The longer history of DSLRs means there is higher demand on the used market. As mirrorless cameras become more prevalent, their used values may start to match DSLRs. But for now, purchasing refurbished or used can be cheaper for DSLR systems.

Accessories

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras share many of the same accessory costs like spare batteries, battery grips, storage cards, bags, tripods and more. Some key differences:

  • Flashes – Mirrorless cameras have proprietary flash systems like Sony’s multi-interface shoe. But many mirrorless shooters adapt canon speedlites via flash triggers since Canon flashes are so widely available. DSLR flash systems are built in with no need for adapters.
  • Battery Grips – 3rd party battery grips are plentiful for popular DSLRs like Canon and Nikon. Mirrorless grips are fewer and tend to be more expensive first-party options.
  • Remote Shutter Release – These are widely available for all DSLRs. Fewer wired options exist for mirrorless, but many support smartphone app remote shooting.

Overall, accessories are a wash in terms of cost. But the wider availability and lower cost of some DSLR-focused accessories give them a slight edge.

Repair Costs

Mirrorless cameras have fewer mechanical parts and simpler construction than DSLRs. Fewer moving pieces means mirrorless cameras are less prone to mechanical failures requiring repair. DSLR cameras have complex mechanisms including mirrors, pentaprisms, and separate autofocus modules. More complex build means more that can go wrong.

Major repairs often run $200-500+ for DSLRs compared to $100-300 for mirrorless cameras. And vintage DSLR bodies are getting harder to repair as replacement parts become rare. So while both formats remain repairable, the cost is lower long-term for mirrorless as technology becomes outdated.

Conclusion

In summary, mirrorless cameras tend to have lower upfront purchase prices compared to similar DSLRs when comparing just camera body prices. However the overall cost becomes closer when you factor in lenses and accessories.

Mirrorless benefits include:

  • Cheaper camera body prices
  • Smaller camera and lens size
  • Less mechanical complexity
  • Lower repair costs

DSLR benefits include:

  • Lower lens prices, especially for high-end glass
  • Better battery life
  • Huge selection of lenses and accessories
  • Higher used value

For a beginner on a tight budget, a mirrorless camera kit offers strong value and room to grow. The low initial cost and small size are very appealing. But the high lens prices may become frustrating over time as you upgrade beyond the kit lens.

Enthusiasts who can invest more upfront may prefer a DSLR. Lenses are cheaper and plentiful for every budget. And the DSLR system retains value well if you ever want to sell gear and upgrade. Professionals also need the durability, lens selection, and battery life DSLRs provide.

As mirrorless cameras mature, the costs are converging with DSLRs. Lens prices are gradually dropping while used values rise. And battery life and autofocus continue to reach parity with DSLRs. The line between mirrorless and DSLR costs will further blur over the next 5 years. But for now, mirrorless cameras offer a cost advantage for bodies while DSLRs retain a slight edge for systems as a whole.