Mirrorless versus DSLR: The Best Camera for Landscape Photography

by Lana Tannir

So, you want to get into landscape photography? Whether you’re a beginner or professional, you need the right camera that enables you to achieve the best results. With a growing number of systems and advancing technology, deciding on the right camera has become more difficult than ever. Questions like: “Which camera should I buy?” “Which technology should I choose from?” and “What the heck is the difference between them all?” can leave us with sweating palms. A few years ago, these questions were easy to answer – if you wanted to get creative results, you had to buy a DSLR. But since Panasonic’s introduction of the mirrorless camera in 2008, the entire market has shifted. So, what IS the best camera for landscape photography? And what is the difference between a mirrorless versus DSLR camera?

With so many options to choose from, it’s important to understand the differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. For landscape photography, weight, robustness, low light performance, lens options, and battery life all play an important role. Luckily, your research ends here. To help you choose the best camera for landscape photography, we take a closer look at both camera systems. Dive in to simplify your camera choice between a mirrorless versus DSLR.

1. Mirrorless versus DSLR: Weight and Portability

Weight and portability play a major role when considering your camera gear. Especially for landscape photography, the weight of a camera impacts mobility and flexibility. Having said that, mirrorless cameras fall into a lighter category than most DSLRs. That’s because a mirrorless (as the name already suggests) does not have an integrated mirror. Since a mirrorless allows light to directly enter the camera, it can be built smaller, lighter and simpler than a DSLR. In contrast, DSLRs have a mirror, which flips to divert light towards the sensor using a prism when taking a photo. This makes the camera larger in size and automatically heavier. 

Yet, there are some positive aspects to this as well. Due to their bulkiness, DSLRs tend to be more robust when photographing in harsh weather conditions. Moreover, for photographers with larger hands, a DSLR is easier to manipulate due to its size. And for those who often use a telephoto to shoot distant landscapes, here’s another thing to keep in mind. A bulkier DSLR can serve as a good counterbalance for your lens. So, a good way to simplify your choice is to consider under which conditions you’re going to be shooting most often.

2. Viewfinder

A major difference between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is the function of their viewfinder. While DSLRs use an optical viewfinder, mirrorless cameras rely on an electronic viewfinder (EVF) or LCD screen to preview your shot. So, what’s the difference between the mirrorless versus DSLR viewfinder? Unlike optical viewfinders, EVFs provide you with a preview of what your final image will look like before you press the shutter. This means that if you change the aperture, ISO or shutter speed on your mirrorless, the EVF will automatically adjust your preview. In contrast, a DSLR’s optical viewfinder reflects light without actually altering the image. This means that when using a DSLR, you have to rely on histograms, metering and your personal experience to achieve your final results. 

Many photographers still select the optical viewfinder for its natural look, clarity, and real-time viewing. Yet, many also prefer the digital image rendition of the EVF. For landscape photography setups, it is also important to consider how often you are planning to shoot in lowlight conditions. Since the EVF depicts the brightness and contrast of an image, a mirrorless allows you to better evaluate lowlight situations.

3. Lens Choice

DSLRs have been on the market for a lot longer than mirrorless cameras. Thus, it’s also to be expected that the lens options for DSLRs are broader and more refined than their mirrorless counterparts. Both Canon and Nikon have a massive lens range for every job and budget. Yet, while DSLRs have a broader selection of lenses, the quality of mirrorless lens options should not be underrated.

Mirrorless camera brands, such as FujifilmSony and Olympus provide many high-end prime and excellent fast zoom lenses. While not as comprehensive as DSLRs, the number of lens options from all these manufacturers is expanding. Yet, as with all good things in life, high quality comes at a high price. Since mirrorless cameras currently have a smaller range of lens choices, the ones that are available tend to fall into a higher price range. That’s why when it comes to lenses, the choice between a mirrorless and DSLR camera ultimately depends on your total budget.

4. Battery Life

A significant advantage of a DSLR over a mirrorless camera is its battery life. Since DSLRs do not use an electronic viewfinder and LCD screen, their batteries are more durable than those of a mirrorless. With approximately 600-800 shots on average, DSLRs far outweigh the mirrorless’ 300-400 shots per battery. This is especially helpful for landscape photographers, who often shoot in cold temperatures. Longer battery life equals longer periods of shooting. Plus, it reduces your chances of missing that special moment during a battery switch.

While this is one area where DSLRs have a clear advantage, bringing spare batteries can resolve the shorter battery life of a mirrorless. In the end, the choice between camera weight and battery life is the deciding factor.

5. Autofocus Speed

DSLRs are very fast at focusing on and tracking subjects. Using an autofocus (AF) system called Phase Detection, a DSLR is able to focus on the subject in no time. Even so, there is one small caveat: Phase Detection in DSLRs only works well while the mirror is down. When a DSLR’s camera mirror flips up, the AF module is no longer in the light path. That’s why in Live Mode, a DSLR has to switch to a slower contrast AF. This makes a DSLR’s phase detection weaker in live view. 

A DSLR’s AF system was the best on the market for a long time. That was until mirrorless cameras like Fujifilm X-T2, Sony A7 series, Panasonic GX9 improved their focus system by using a hybrid. By combining both phase detection and contrast detection, mirrorless cameras impress with their focus speed and accuracy. With their strong EVF performance, the latest models of mirrorless cameras have an advantage over DSLRs. 

6. Continuous Shooting

Continuous shooting is a secondary feature when it comes to landscape photography. Even so, there are several distinctions between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The absence of a mirror means that mirrorless cameras can shoot at a staggering 20 frames per second. In comparison, DSLRs have more moving parts, which lowers the continuous shooting speed to 14 frames per second. Thus, mirrorless cameras have the upper hand if you’d like to freeze action in motion.

The Verdict: Mirrorless versus DSLR for Landscape Photographers

Choosing the perfect camera is always a difficult process. And while DSLRs and mirrorless cameras both allow you to capture high-end images, they each have their pros and cons for landscape photography. A DSLR’s sturdy body, long battery life, and wide range of lens choices allow for a robust setup in harsh weather conditions and temperatures. Yet, a mirrorless camera’s lighter weight, low light functionality, continuous shooting speed, and flexible viewfinder make it ideal for treks and nightscapes. Thus, when selecting between a mirrorless versus DSLR camera, your ultimate choice depends on the type of landscape photography you intend to pursue. 

Are you traveling a lot as a landscape photographer? Check out my free guide on How to Prepare for a Camera Trip to simplify your packing process!

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