They're all full frame cameras. DSLR vs Mirrorless. But this is not this debate here.

10 Reasons To Switch From a DSLR to a Mirrorless System (With Examples: Nikon vs Sony)

Choosing photographic equipment can be both complicated for professionals and extremely difficult for beginners and amateurs. Beginners are often overwhelmed with choices. Pros make a living with their gear and talent know what they need in terms of specs, lenses and accessories. But in the face of endless choice, even they can get lost.

UPDATE: Check out our first impressions and field test of the A7II here and the 7 game changing features of the latest A7rII!

Sony A7S_10 reasons mirrorless
The Sony A7s, first Full Frame mirrorless camera that can reach 409,600 ISO

Just like Jason Lanier who switched from Nikon to the Sony A7S, Serge Ramelli (by the way Serge has amazing tutorials on YouTube!) and Michael Shainblum who switched respectively from Canon to Sony A7R and A7S, many other professionals are either changing or starting to study the possibilities of switching to a mirrorless system. And for sure, for some professionals the A7rII will be a no brainer as it offers some features never proposed on a DSLR body until now like a silent shutter, BSI sensor 5 axis in-body stabilization and the possibility to use as well E-mount, A-mount and Canon lenses (and a Nikon adapter should follow).

Their decisions are interesting to study. It is important understand why this system is a game changer, not only for consumers like us, but also for professionals. Switching from a traditional DSLR to a mirrorless system like Sony’s for a pro represents a big change, not as much as switching from film cameras to digital cameras, but this new technology is reliable and represents its little revolution of its own in the photography field.

Here are 10 reasons why it makes sense to switch to a mirrorless:

10. The Price Advantage

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Photography can quickly become an expensive hobby, especially when you get a bad case of the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). The A7 series represents a real advantage here. It is by far the least expensive full-frame option. While a Sony A7 is selling for $1300, a comparable Nikon D810 (36Mp) is nearly 3 grands! You can buy two Sony A7’s with money left over to buy some nice Zeiss glass.

9. Size and Weight

Sony_leica_Nikon_canon_weight_comparison
A Nikon D810 (974g) is twice as heavy as a Sony A7r (474g)

1000g or 2.2 lb. may not sound like much, but it can quickly haunt you at the end of a long day or at the end of a fabulous hike. At half the weight of a Nikon D800, Sony A7 punches above its weight at only 474g! The heaviest of the A7 series is the latest A7 Mark II with 599g which is closer to a traditional DSLR but it is also the only FF system with 5 axis stabilization. This in-body stabilization system requires more weight than the other cameras from the A7 series. We can accept some more weight for this feature, unless you’re looking for something really light and then an A7 is the solution. And it is still heavy enough to have a good stability.

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The Nikon Df is considered as a very small FF DSLR (its grip is quite uncomfortable). Just imagine the Nikon D4s next to a Sony A7

Obviously, the size is also a big advantage, easier to carry even if the A7 is not a pocket-able camera. If you need a pocket-able camera, take a Sony A5100 (Literally the performances of a semi-pro Nikon D7100 in your pocket!). I personally tested the grips of the 5DmIII and Nikon D700 but the grips of the A7 series are definitely easier to grab for my hand and way more handy, like it has been taylormade, especially the A7II. I imagine that those who have big hands will still prefer the DSLR grip like style.

8. Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

evf exemple

EVFs have come a long way. The first EVFs were not very accurate or pleasing to use, but they are now excellent to use even in low light situations. It doesn’t even require to get used to it. The lag time has been considerably minimized in low light conditions and the resolution is excellent. One of the biggest advantages is that you visualize directly in your viewfinder how the image will end up. You don’t have to verify it all the time, you’re more confident in your settings, you save a lot of time! As you can see what your picture will exactly be like, it is a sort of live-view, you can also use the focus peaking feature which is a huge improvement, especially in macro and more generally for manual lenses, or just those who like to manually focus on their targets.

7. Focus Peaking

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The focus peaking highlights the elements of the frame that are in focus. You are then sure to have the focus on the target you want. Thanks to the EVF, it is also available in your viewfinder. This is an awesome feature for macros for instance.

Manual focus on DSLRs through the viewfinder is extremely tricky. Even the best optical viewfinders aren’t much help because gone are the days of the film split-prism screens that help you with manual focusing. Trying to nail critical focus on a fast lens requires great eyesight. This is where Focus Peaking comes in.

Focus Peaking highlights the edges of the subject which is in focus. This is available in live view and in the EVF. When you’re about to hit your shutter button, you know should know exactly what’s in focus. Even at f/0.95! On the contrary, on the optical view-finder of a DSLR it is sometimes hard to distinguish precisely the in-focus area under f/2.8 and you have to hit a button to visualize the depth of field which also makes you lose light in the viewer. The A7 series also offers the possibility to highlight the under/over-exposed area in live. The electronic view-finder becomes suddenly an extremely useful tool and way more efficient than an optical view-finder or the live-view of a DSLR. You keep a total control on your settings and know exactly what your picture will be. No need to check afterwards.

6. One Click Focus Magnification

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For extreme detailed work, even focus peaking is not accurate enough. This is the area for Focus Magnification. While focusing on the target, the camera magnifies on the pre-selected area in order to ensure it’s perfectly focused. This feature, combined with the focus peaking, allows you to manually focus with great accuracy even wide open or in low light conditions!  I personally use it a lot for my macro shots.

5. Tilt Screen

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It seems pointless to pick this feature up as a lot of DSLRs offer this gimmick nowadays but not so many Full Frame DSLRs have it actually. The Nikon D750 has one, but not the D810 nor the Canon 5D markIII. Once you’ve tasted this feature, you cannot go without it.

Whether you shoot macro, wildlife, concerts or whatever, it’s a very convenient means to get original angles and more creative pictures on the ground or above a crowd. Combined to a very light weight camera like the Sony A7, it becomes a very interesting thing because you can easily hold it with one hand, which is a lot more difficult with the Nikon and Canon I mentioned, and even impossible with a D4s!

4. Versatility of the Lens Range

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This is a sample of Sony E and A-mount lenses. Third party manufacturers (Samyang, Zeiss…) have or will have a wide range of E-mount lenses.

The short distance between the sensor and the lens is one of mirrorless’ best advantages. It allows the use of whichever lens you want via an adapter. There are adapters for all existing brands, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander etc. and even an adapter for Sony A-mount system (LA-EA4) with a mirror inside! You get the best of both worlds, lightness and fast autofocus (I’ll talk about the drawbacks later on).

So even if you have another system today, switching to the A7 series or more generally to the E-mount system is very easy. You can adapt every old and recent lenses you have, which is not possible with Canon and Nikon DSLRs. So even if the E-mount lens range is quite immature right now, you can get whatever you want with an adapter. Old, recent, cheap, expensive, they will all work. The icing on the cake is that, thanks to the A7II with its in-body image stabilization, all the Full Frame lenses that are now stabilized!

3. WiFi and NFC Capabilities

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For those who need to send their pictures quickly, because of journalistic work or just because they can’t live without social medias, this feature, that sounds like a gimmick for most, can be useful. Most DSLRs don’t have it, especially FF ones. But the real plus that represents the NFC and WiFi feature is to be able to use one’s smartphone as a smart remote. In fact, you don’t have to stand behind your camera to take the picture, in addition, as most smartphones have bigger screens than our cameras, it can be easier or more convenient to use. Some accessories are now available for DSLRs making this feature available, but it adds bulk to an already big and heavy camera and it will never be as efficient as a built-in feature like on the E-mount cameras.

2. Video Capabilities

sony a7rii
First full frame camera to house a back-lit sensor!

Like Panasonic with its GH4, all Sony’s E-mount cameras have great video capabilities that Nikon and Canon DSLRs aren’t capable of.

For example, Sony mirrorless camera feature autofocus for video and most E mount lenses also deploy a linear AF motor so the autofocus is precise and silent.While Canon’s USM lenses are fast and their IS systems accurate for photography, both systems are too noisy for video. Don’t take me wrong, their video capabilities are more than just descent, it’s just that the A7 series has an even better quality with a large choice of formats.

1. Image Quality and Sensor Performances

d750 vs a7s vs d4s dxo
The A7II scores 90 points and the A7r scores 95 points! What else? ;-)

Sony E-mount cameras feature APS-C and FF sensors. Most are shared with Nikon cameras since Sony is also their provider. However, the image quality can differ. Indeed, each brand applies its own settings and image processing. Sony’s sensors are also known to have better dynamic range and ISO performances than Canon sensors in general. Regarding the A7 series, lab tests and like most pros agree too, they have a very high quality of their sensor and currently ranking in the 10 best sensors according to DxOmark (A7r being 3rd and A7II 10th). Serge Ramelli always says that he’s amazed by the A7r dynamic range and color rendering.

DxOlabtest sony_A7_A7r_A7s_A7II_Canon_5D_6D_nikon_mirrorless_10 reasons_iLHP
The all new A7mII just got its score which is identical to the A7, 90 points. The dynamic range performance is slightly reduced but the ISO capability is a bit higher with the A7mII. but very marginal difference, nothing significant in terms of image quality.

Counterpoints

What the duck

So these are the 10 reasons why a mirrorless system can be a fantastic move from a DSLR system. If you think so, then you are in the same ball-park as most editors at iLHP. But this being said, everything is not perfect with mirrorless cameras. I’ve outlined 5 limitations to the full frame mirrorless system below. My colleague has also written 3 Detailed Reasons on Why It’s Too Early to Switch to a Full Frame Mirrorless.

  1. Native FE lenses (Full Frame E-mount lenses): Even if you can adapt whichever lens you want on the E-mount bodies, it is always better to use native lenses. The number of native lenses, and especially FE lenses is limited today but Sony and third-party manufacturers are working on it thanks to the A7 series’ success. It’ll change soon, that’s a no wonder. The quality of the lenses are pretty good thanks to the Zeiss and G series lenses.
  2. Battery life: When a DSLR can usually take 1200 pictures, even 3000 for a D4s, the A7 series can only take 300. Better have spare batteries with you!
  3. Auto-focus speed: Even if a Sony A6000 has now an AF almost as fast as the best DSLRs on the market, the A7 series is still pretty slow, so it’s not a sports camera series.
  4. Durability: Especially in extreme conditions (cold, heat, rain, snow…), a Nikon D810 or Canon 5DIII have a better built quality in terms of weather sealing but also shock resistance.
  5. General Size: Yes, it’s contradictory but again very subjective. Some with big hands will prefer the grips of DSLRs, others will love the A7 series grips. Also, FF DSLR screen sizes are generally 3’2 while it’s 3′ for most cameras. That’s nicer but not absolutely necessary.

Conclusion

Sony A7II- iLHP
First full frame camera to have 5 axis stabilization on sensor!

So depending on the photography type and style you have, you can choose one or the other system. Personally I do think the mirrorless system represents the future of photography as the models will certainly expand and improve even more (Canon rumors of an all new mirrorless system). So there’s no wonder about the sustainability of this system, especially the A7 series which is quite successful so far.

But don’t forget that the camera is only a tool and has to remain considered as a tool. it’s not going to take the picture for you (fortunately). The best camera in the world is nothing without a subject and a good photographer. Better get the camera you feel comfortable with! What’s awesome is that there are enough models for every need. So you still have the choice between mirrorless and DSLRs. This article is only here to help you choose what you need.


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Chris