Which is better - DSLR or Mirrorless?

Last Updated in June 2021

After spending most of 2020 in lockdowns, and the past 7 months working on a very intensive project at my day job, I finally found time to catch up on tech news 2 months ago.  It seemed that while I was under a rock, working hard, the camera world had turned upside down.  The mirrorless juggernaut had seemingly subdued the DSLR camp.  Even today, hardcore DSLR lovers still duke it out on Internet forums with mirrorless users.  I read a lot of this with growing trepidation, wondering whether this was going to be another HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray fight, with millions at stake.  If you remember that fun event, having won that battle, Sony went on to lose the war, to streaming.

There are advantages and disadvantages to Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC), and I am about to tell you about my experiences, shooting the same or similar subjects, in the same lighting.  I rate myself a 3 to 4 out of 10 in bird photography, a 4 to 5 in landscapes and portraits at this time.  So please take my advice as advice from an advanced amateur photographer.  This is not a technical review either because YouTube and the Intertubes are chock full of them already, comparing everything to everything else.  This is my personal experience and opinion.

Cameras Used in this Comparison

  • Nikon D750 Full-frame DSLR

  • Nikon z7ii Full-frame Mirrorless

  • Nikon D500 APS-C DSLR

Lens 1 - Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports

Let's start with the Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports.  This is a beast of a lens, and if you can handhold it, Thor, great.  I use it almost always on a tripod, with a Wimberley WH-200 gimbal head.  If I don't have the tripod, I will at least have my monopod and the same gimbal head on it.  With the z7ii mounted, the balance point for the camera + lens on the gimbal was of course, different due to the difference in weight between the D500 and the z7ii.

The Sigma works natively on the D750 and D500 of course as it is a F-mount lens.  On the z7ii, I used it with the FTZ adapter.  I had absolutely no issues shooting with the FTZ adapter, except occasionally, when changing lenses, I would absent-mindedly take the FTZ off the camera along with the lens, and then try to attach the next F-mount lens and wonder briefly why it did not fit.  Based on my limited shooting experience with the FTZ adapter, and 4 different F-mount lenses on the z7ii, I will not hesitate to recommend this.

As for the Sigma, I got far more keepers with the z7ii.  The D500 is an excellent body, no doubt and for larger birds and animals, the D500 performed wonderfully.  When it came to the smaller birds or subjects much further away, the D500's aufofocus often did not deliver, whereas the z7ii did.

One of my favorite locations, is by one of the many rivers that we're blessed with in Missouri.  I've seen swallows, kingfishers, cardinals, woodpeckers, robins, warblers , Cooper's hawk female and a juvenile, herons, egrets and several other species of birds.  Deer also frequently show up alongside the river now and then. My main target was the belted kingfisher, who I had failed to get good photos of, with my D500, on the past several attempts.  I hoped to get lucky this time.

After a wait of about 20 mins, hiding in the bush on the river bank, which is about 15 feet up from the river, I finally got lucky. Two of these beautiful birds soon showed up and one perched on this dead tree that had fallen into the river.  With the z7ii and the Sigma 500, I fired off a burst of shots at high burst rate mode.  Later that night, when I checked them on my 5k screen at home, I was delighted to find that every single one was in focus and well exposed!

For acquiring and retaining focus on tiny birds (including this and Indigo buntings), the silent shutter which helped to stay relatively hidden from the critters, the high resolution images which lent themselves well to processing, and cropping, I give this one to the z7ii.  Perhaps I should have compared the z7ii against a higher-resolution D850, but the D500 is what I had.

  • House Wren - z7ii + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports. 500mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO-800

  • Indigo Bunting - Nikon z7ii + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports. f/7.1, 1/640s, ISO-800

  • Belted Kingfisher - Nikon z7ii + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports, 500mm, f/4, 1/500s, ISO-800

  • Belted Kingfisher - z7ii + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports. 500mm, f/4, 1/250s, ISO-400

  • Indigo Bunting - Nikon D500, Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports. 500mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO-500

  • Deer - D500, Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports, 500mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO-400

  • Eastern Bluebird, D500, Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports + Sigma 1.4x TC. 700mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO-100

  • Deer - Nikon D500 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports, 500mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO-500

  • Prothonotary Warbler - Nikon D750 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS + Sigma 1.4x TC. 700mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO-800

  • Backlit Leaves. Nikon D500, Sigma 500mm f/2 OS Sports + Sigma 1.4x TC. 700mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO-160

  • Sunset. Nikon D500 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports. 500mm, f/8, 1/1250s, ISO-100

  • Goldfinch - Nikon D500 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports + Sigma 1.4x TC, 700mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s, ISO-400

  • Moon - Nikon D500 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports + Sigma 1.4x TC - 700mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO-400

  • Egret Landing - Nikon D500 + Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports, 500mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO-100

Lens 2 - Nikon 200mm f/2 VR

Fondly nicknamed "Chubby", this lens is the ultimate for outdoor portraits and indoor sports where the focal length is sufficient.  It is big, heavy and often left behind at home in favor of lighter lenses such as 70-200mm f/2.8 or 135mm f/2.  But there is a magical quality in images taken with this lens.  It is sharp wide open and produces stunning high quality images.

The lens blurs the background into oblivion, and you can get caught over-using this effect purely because you can, and then you may get told "all your images look the same with very shallow depth-of-field".  Ignore them. :)

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While the 200mm is my favorite outdoor portrait lens, it is difficult to have a normal-sounding conversation with your subject, if you're standing out of easy earshot.  This lens can also produce outstanding extreme close-ups of faces, as well as for photographing plants, flowers, and landscapes.  If I were asked to travel with only 1 lens, it would be a close tie between my 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 200mm f/2.  It is well worth the weight, bulk and cost.

  • Vicky, Nikon D750, Nikon 200mm f/2 G VR, 200mm, f/2, 1/400s, ISO-400

  • Emma - Nikon z7ii + Nikon 200mm f/2 VR, 200mm, f/2, 1/1600s, ISO-100

  • Emma - Nikon D750 + Nikon 200mm f/2 VR, 200mm, f/4, 1/250s, ISO-100

  • Lexi Carter - Nikon D750 + Nikon 200mm f/2 VR, 200mm, f/2, 1/250s, ISO-100

  • Lexi Carter - Nikon D750 + Nikon 200mm f/2 VR, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO-100

  • Lexi Carter - Nikon D750 + Nikon 200mm f.2 VR, 200mm, f/2, 1/640s, ISO-100


For landscapes and portraits

The EVF on the z7ii left me emotionless and uninspired.  Perhaps a different camera body with a better EVF might change my opinion.  I was clicking sharp photos, but shooting using the EVF did not make me happy.  With the DSLR, I love the OVF and what it shows me inspires me.  For portraits, I never had trouble with focusing in the first place, but I do not shoot sports, racing and other action events.  So the faster Autofocus ability of the z7ii did not really help me.  I found myself reaching out for the D750 often.  I got good results from both z7ii and D750, nevertheless, so if I can get used to the EVF, I can see myself using mirrorless for both landscapes and portraits. 

For birds and wildlife

The z7ii simply rocked.  The D500 is no slouch, but I got far more keepers from the z7ii.   Perhaps, part of that is due to the increased resolution, and perhaps I should be comparing the z7ii against a D850.  However, I found myself reaching for the z7ii when I was out by the river, waiting for the belted kingfishers to show up.  I also liked the silent shutter which didn't spook the birds when shooting smaller birds up-close.  I got some really good, crisp and colorful images of an Indigo Bunting with the z7ii.  I assume that with native z-mount lenses, the performance will be faster?  I had to use the FTZ adapter for all my lenses on the z7ii and they all worked great on it.

My current plan

Keep my D750 for landscapes and portraits and, if a good Nikon body came out soon, with good autofocus and 24 or higher megapixels, I may upgrade from the D500 to it. In the meantime, I may sell 2 of my F-mount lenses (24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 VR ii) and buy the z equivalent (if I am staying with Nikon), and keep the Nikon 200mm f/2 VR and Sigma 500mm f/4 OS Sports.  If so, then I will also buy the FTZ adapter and use both of the F-mount lenses on any mirrorless body I may buy.


I think Mirrorless will be a short-lived fad, and that something better will replace it soon.  As for DSLR, I think that camp has already lost the battle.  What will replace mirrorless, I do not know, but imagine a crystal clear OVF (without the image coming through a prism) on a mirrorless? Or even better, a camera body onto which you can simply plug in your iPhone or Android device, and use the phone as the controller and LCD.  Maybe cameras will support Virtual Reality headsets, you have a choice between the silly EVF, the phone itself as the LCD or your VR headset for a totally immersive photography experience.

What is your opinion?

  • Praveen Bennur

    on September 2, 2021

    Anil, You are the most perfect you there is in photography !! Loved browsing your stunning captures and thank you for info on DSLR vs Mirrorless..

  • v m

    on June 20, 2021

    Anil, Oh ok thanks for sharing that info. You the best :) !

  • Anil Raghavan

    on June 20, 2021

    Dany .. I know you'd been shooting Olympus for years. Did you change to a different system?
    VM .. not quite dead, but it looks like major manufacturers have stopped spending R&D money on DSLRs, which amounts to the same thing in the end.

  • v m

    on June 18, 2021

    Wow amazing article! Are digital SLRs dead ?

  • Dany Varghese

    on June 17, 2021

    Mirrorless all the way for me! The dynamic range and ease of just casually carrying around for any situation makes it my go to. I love the small form factor to carry to locations and also a breeze to hand hold. While editing, the mirrorless gives more freedom with exposure and dynamic range for last minute edits as well. If I choose to get a high resolution shot that is also a benefit I can pick at the time of the shoot. The possibilities are endless and benefits far greater with the mirrorless. Just my opinion though. 🙂

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