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Which is better for beginners DSLR or mirrorless?

Choosing between a DSLR and mirrorless camera as a beginner can be a daunting task. Both types of cameras have their pros and cons and are well-suited for different types of photographers. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare DSLRs and mirrorless cameras across various factors to help you decide which is the best camera type for you as a beginner.

What is a DSLR?

DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. These cameras use a mirror mechanism that reflects light coming in through the lens up into an optical viewfinder. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up, allowing light to hit the camera’s image sensor which captures the digital image.

Key features of DSLR cameras:

  • Optical viewfinder that sees exactly what the lens sees
  • Phase detection autofocus for fast focusing on moving subjects
  • Larger lens mount for stability with big lenses
  • Good battery life

What is a mirrorless camera?

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, do not use a mirror system. Instead, light passes directly onto the image sensor, allowing preview of the image digitally on the rear LCD screen or electronic viewfinder before taking the shot.

Key features of mirrorless cameras:

  • Smaller and lighter body design
  • Silent electronic shutter
  • Smaller lenses
  • Many feature in-body image stabilization (IBIS)

Body Size and Weight

DSLRs tend to be larger and heavier than mirrorless cameras. This is because the mirror mechanism and optical viewfinder take up considerable internal space. A typical entry to mid-level DSLR with a kit lens weighs 700-900g whereas an equivalent mirrorless camera is 500-700g.

For a beginner just getting into photography, a lighter camera can be beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Easier to carry around all day
  • Less strain on neck and shoulders
  • More likely to take your camera everywhere

That said, some enjoy the solid, rugged feel of a bigger DSLR and don’t mind the extra weight. It’s a personal preference.

Ergonomics and Handling

The larger size of most DSLRs translates to more space for external controls. Buttons are generally bigger and the grip shape is more defined. This lends itself to secure and comfortable one-handed operation. Mirrorless cameras have improved greatly in this regard but the very compact models can feel too small if you have large hands.

Advantages of a DSLR’s handling:

  • Comfortable grip for secure one-handed use
  • Plenty of physical controls for easy access to settings
  • Often better weather sealing on higher-end models

That said, an increasing number of mirrorless cameras now offer excellent handling. And some people prefer the streamlined design with better portability.

Viewfinders and Preview

DSLRs use optical viewfinders while mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders. Optical viewfinders show the exact view through the lens in real-time. Electronic viewfinders show a digital preview feed. The table below compares the two:

DSLR Optical Viewfinder Mirrorless Electronic Viewfinder
No lag, real-time natural view Small lag, digitally projected
Works better in low light Can show exposure, white balance previews
What you see is what you get Display may not match final image
Doesn’t use battery power Uses battery so reduces shots per charge

For many beginners, seeing exactly how the scene will look through the optical viewfinder is preferable. However, electronic viewfinders have improved dramatically and work very well in most situations.

Autofocus Performance

DSLRs use phase detection AF with dedicated AF sensors. This makes them better for tracking moving subjects like athletes, wildlife, or cars. Mirrorless cameras traditionally used contrast detection AF. However, mirrorless AF has come a long way – many now use both phase and contrast detection AF.

Generalizations about autofocus performance:

  • DSLRs faster at tracking moving subjects
  • Mirrorless better for face/eye detection tracking
  • Both work very well for single shot still subjects

For beginners, mirrorless AF is generally fast enough for most purposes. But sports/action photographers may still prefer DSLR AF.

Shooting Speed

DSLRs can shoot more frames per second in burst mode on average, but the latest mirrorless cameras are impressively fast. The top-end mirrorless models match or even exceed entry and mid-level DSLR burst speeds.

Average continuous shooting speeds:

  • Entry level DSLR – 3-5 fps
  • Mid-level DSLR – 6-10 fps
  • Pro DSLR – 12-14 fps
  • Entry level mirrorless – 4-8 fps
  • Mid-level mirrorless – 10-20 fps
  • Pro mirrorless – 20-30 fps

For most beginner photographers, both DSLR and mirrorless provide fast enough burst speeds for capturing kids sports and general action.

Video Capabilities

Mirrorless cameras tend to have better video capabilities overall, with features like 4K recording, high frame rates, mic ports, etc. They also have free-run shooting without the AF drop out effect you can get with DSLRs.

However, DSLRs are no slouch for video either. Some advantages include:

  • Optical viewfinder useful for following action
  • Phase detect AF good for moving subjects
  • Less chance of overheating on long shoots

For beginners interested in the occasional video, both camera types work well. But videographers should lean mirrorless.

Image Stabilization

With a DSLR, image stabilization relies on stabilized lenses with optical stabilization built in. Each stabilized lens has extra cost. Many mirrorless cameras now feature in-body image stabilization (IBIS) to stabilize with any lens.

IBIS advantages:

  • Works with any lens you attach
  • Makes it easier to get blur-free shots in low light
  • Can stabilize video footage as you walk

For beginners, IBIS makes getting sharp, blur-free images much easier straight out of the camera.

Image Quality

Image quality depends firstly on sensor size and specifications. Both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with full frame sensors, APS-C sensors, Micro Four Thirds sensors, etc. You can get excellent image quality with both types when comparing the same sensor size and generation.

Some differences that may impact image quality:

  • DSLR lenses optimized for phase detection AF
  • Mirrorless lenses optimized for sensor
  • Mirrorless IBIS can allow lower ISOs for less noise
  • No mirror slap vibration with mirrorless

Overall, with good lenses and proper technique, both DSLR and mirrorless produce stunning images. The camera type itself does not directly determine image quality.

Battery Life

DSLRs provide longer battery life as they don’t use power for an electronic viewfinder or rear screen. The optical viewfinder doesn’t drain the battery.

Camera Type Typical Battery Life
Entry level DSLR 500-600 shots
Mid-level DSLR 900-1100 shots
Entry level mirrorless 300-400 shots
Mid-level mirrorless 350-700 shots

Carrying extra batteries can mitigate the mirrorless battery life disadvantage. But DSLRs offer longer single charge shooting.

Lens Selection

One clear advantage of DSLRs is the massive range of lenses available going back decades. Mirrorless lenses have caught up remarkably fast but the variety isn’t quite on the level of DSLR lenses yet.

DSLR lens advantages:

  • Huge range of budget-friendly lenses
  • Specialist lenses for sports, wildlife, astrophotography, etc
  • Vintage lens options with adapters

That said, it’s very rare a beginner would truly need exotic lenses only available for DSLR. Most mirrorless systems have great starter lens kits.


Entry-level and mid-range DSLR body-only prices are very similar to equivalent mirrorless cameras. However, DSLR lenses tend to be cheaper, providing lower cost kits.

Typical camera and kit lens prices:

Camera Type Entry Level Price Mid-Level Price
DSLR $400-600 $800-1200
Mirrorless $500-700 $900-1400

Beginners on a tight budget may be able to get more camera for their money going for a DSLR kit. But mid-range options are quite closely priced.


For beginners looking to get started in serious photography, both DSLR and mirrorless cameras are excellent options. DSLRs provide the controls, handling, viewfinder, and lens selection familiar to generations of photographers. But mirrorless cameras offer lighter weight, simpler operation, and features like image stabilization.

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference for how the camera looks and feels in your hands. If you plan to carry your camera hiking or traveling frequently, mirrorless has some advantages. If you want the familiarity of an optical viewfinder go DSLR. Either option provides stellar image quality and performance to launch your photography journey.