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Disadvantages of Mirrorless Cameras: Do They Matter To You?

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I’ve been loving the contributions that mirrorless cameras have made to my photography evolution and my capabilities as a minimalist backpacker & traveler.  They have many advantages to a lightweight traveler, but there are also a few important disadvantages of mirrorless cameras.

Will these disadvantages put you off from a mirrorless camera?  Keep reading for a breakdown of what I think are the most important things to consider when going mirrorless.  These are mostly aimed at the traveler and outdoor enthusiast.

Related:


Sensor exposure

When you change the lens on a DSLR, the sensor is mostly protected by that mirror that sits right in front of it.  Dust can still get into the camera housing when you change lenses, but floaties in the air are less likely to land on the sensor.

When you change the lens on a mirrorless camera, bam, the precious, delicate sensor is vulnerable to the world, right there in front.  This is one of the most expensive disadvantages of mirrorless cameras.

mirrorless camera disadvantages

I’ve made a quick lens change only to find a black stripe in the middle of my electronic viewfinder.  It was a tiny little piece of threading or something that had found its way to the middle of the sensor in those few seconds it was exposed to the air.  A quick blast with a rocket blower cleared it out, but it was still a bit of a scare.  Even worse can happen if you’re not careful.

A backpacking & travel photographer can mitigate this disadvantage by turning their back to the wind during a lens change and remember the following:

  • Make sure the lenses are ready to swipe out before removing the lens from the camera. 
  • Have the air blower ready to blow out any dust right before the change. 
  • Activate the sensor cleaning function on your camera, where a quick vibration will knock most loose dust off of the sensor.

Electronic viewfinder limitations

mirrorless camera viewfinder
Photo Fujifilm.com

Electronic viewfinder capabilities have come a long way in the past few years and will only continue to improve over the next few.  Still, this is one of the disadvantages of mirrorless cameras that keeps DSLR enthusiasts from jumping aboard the mirrorless train.

When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR, the prism and mirror show you exactly the light that’s reaching the front of the lens at that exact moment in time.  There are no tricks.  You’re just looking through the lens.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) of a mirrorless camera shows you what’s happening after the light goes through the sensor and processor.  This has some wonderful advantages, but also some disadvantages:

  • Slight loss of clarity due to limitations of pixel density.  Between the Fujifilm X-T2 and X-H1, the EVF resolution increased from 2.36 million dots to 3.69 million.  Sony’s new OLED EVF, not yet in any camera, boasts 5.6 million dots.
  • Processor lag means that what you’re seeing in the EVF isn’t what’s happening at this exact same instant.  However, the display time lag of the X-T2 and X-H1, for example, is only .005 seconds, so I’d challenge you to notice that difference.
  • Along with processor lag, you’re also dealing with display refresh rates.  This too is continuing to improve, with an increase from 60fps to 100fps between the X-T2 and X-H1.  Sony’s new EVF has a refresh rate of 240fps – nearly fluid.
  • EVFs are limited in low light just as the sensor is.  You’ll notice grain, lose clarity, and have lower refresh rates.  Today’s low-light sensors are reducing this limitation.

Battery life

Battery life is yet another one of the disadvantages of mirrorless cameras that’s slowly closing in on DSLRs

All of that EVF processing happening in the section above really uses up the juice.  You’ll have to carry extra batteries or charging solutions on extended outings.

The original Sony a7 had a CIPA standard battery life of 270 shots with the EVF and 340 with the LCD.  The Canon 5D Mark II DSLR’s battery could get you through 850 shots using the optical viewfinder.  The Sony a9 currently has one of the best mirrorless battery capacities of 480 shots with the EVF and 650 with the LCD.  Expect this to continue to improve.

You can extend the battery life of mirrorless cameras using the tricks I outline in Extending Mirrorless Camera Battery Life On The Trail.


Ergonomics

We love mirrorless cameras because they’re small. 

The small size, however, doesn’t fit well in large hands.  Holding the small grip for extended periods might cause your hands to cramp up.  This is a disadvantage of mirrorless cameras that we’ll always be dealing with.

I’ve never had a problem with cramping, however, and I quickly became accustomed to the tighter arrangement of controls.

Extended hand grips are available for most mirrorless cameras.  I also use the Peak Design Hand Clutch to give my hand a grip break when I’m not actively shooting – this reduces a lot of hand fatigue.

holding mirrorless camera
Peak Design Hand Clutch

Lens selection

Mirrorless camera lens mounts are extremely new compared to the Canon EF/EF-S and Nikon FX/DX lens mounts that have been out for decades.

Sony originally had about 10 lenses when the a7 and a6000 were released, but they now offer in the neighborhood of 40 lenses. 

Third-party manufacturers are also producing mirrorless lenses just like they do for DSLRs.

It shouldn’t be long before photographers have all of the lenses they need for mirrorless cameras. 

Most travel photographers already have what they need with a selection of fast zoom lenses.


Will these disadvantages of mirrorless cameras be a deal-breaker for you?

Further reading: Advantages of mirrorless cameras vs. DSLRs, Mirrorless Camera Photography Tips

Kenapa harus Beralih Ke Kamera Mirrorless? 2021

Thursday 9th of September 2021

[…] Counter opinion to : https://www.jmpeltier.com/disadvantages-of-mirrorless-cameras/ […]

cak bass

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

When you wrote this article on 2019, I think some of your opinion has been left behind. I think, since 2018 they are growth and bombardier some new models with very good improvement.

John Peltier

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

They have made some good improvements, but overall I think still fall behind in some of these categories. With that said, I've been a mirrorless user for six years now and absolutely love them!

Pascal

Thursday 27th of May 2021

Shutter shock in manual mode at low speed, rolling shutter, banding... so many other problems with mirrorless!

John Peltier

Thursday 27th of May 2021

Those aren't problems with mirrorless cameras specifically. DSLRs have these problems too. In both cases they're only "problems" because the photographer chooses the wrong setting/setup for the situation.

D5600_lighter_than_any

Friday 16th of October 2020

I'd like to add, that an EVF sits so close to your eyes, that your eye needs to focus much more closely than when looking through a mirror into the wild. I feel, that my eye's lens (pupil) does not need to contract that much when using a mirror view finder as almost all objects are more far away. Because of that mirrors used in cars for the drivers extended view (side and rear mirrors) will not be replaced by displays competely as it takes a lot of time to focus closely and then, when looking back at the street or at your model in front of the camera your eyes need to focus again several meters away. I vote for a mirror viewfinder with detailed overlay to show parts in focus or parts that are to bright.

Michael

Sunday 19th of April 2020

The thing that I haven't heard a lot of mention of is how much control you get on the display on a mirrorless camera.

Is it possible to take pictures with the display off? Can you keep the display from coming on when you take a shot?

I shoot almost exclusively looking through the lens, and there are several electronic viewfinder limitations I don't see mentioned here which basically boil down to a couple of things:

1. Battery life - this is mentioned as a separate disadvantage, but it doesn't specifically call out the power required to run the screen, just the processing power to push the pixels. As mentioned in another comment, one can look through a telephoto lens all day waiting for a shot without needing any battery. In fact, sometimes I look through my telephoto just to get a closer look at something and without any intention of even taking a shot. When taking hundreds or thousands of pictures (for instance, for a large panorama stitch) not having the drain of a screen is also advantageous as having to stop to change batteries can subtly shift the camera location and mess up the remainder of the shots.

2. Light emissions - have you ever been in a dark hall shooting with a telephoto shooting a performance a bright stage? Am I the only one who finds all the people holding up their camera phones distracting with all the light they emit? Sometimes I want to shoot and not be emitting any light, either because I'm in a dark place with other people and I don't want them to see what I am doing. With a mirrorless camera this would seem to be impossible unless you have a tripod and have preframe the shot. If I am shooting a long exposure at night I don't want any stray light to get back into the sensor.

Also, if I am shooting a time exposure during the day, I don't really need the screen to be on the whole time because it's a bit more wear on the screen for it to be on for hours (making things warmer, including the battery) when it's only taking a few frames per minute. I would assume... hope... that mirrorless cameras can be a bit smart about this - my camera shows a review image for a couple seconds after each shot for review and then turns off the display until the next shot.

John Peltier

Sunday 19th of April 2020

Hi Michael, those are great points, and thankfully the engineers have addressed them.

I almost exclusively shoot through the viewfinder. I can turn the LCD screen off and disable the image review feature. So my LCD screen never comes on at all no matter what I'm doing. Further, I can also keep the electronic viewfinder off until a photosensor next to it detects my face, at which point it will turn on for me so I can see what I'm doing. Then when I put the camera down it turns back off. Or you can just keep everything off all the time. I had this setup with both Sony and Fujifilm and I'm sure the others have similar features.

These will all help increase your battery life and avoid light pollution.