The Pros and Cons of Mirrorless Cameras for Wildlife Photography

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If you’re considering getting a new mirrorless camera to photograph wildlife, you’ve likely thought about the advantages and disadvantages of this type of system. Yes, DSLRs, which are gradually being phased out, have their pros and cons too, but with mirrorless becoming the new standard, it’s good to know what you may be getting into.

Pro nature photographer Steve Perry is someone who uses both types of cameras to photograph wildlife and in the video at the bottom of this post, he shares what he says are the advantages and disadvantages of mirrorless.

Mirrorless Advantage #1: AF All Over

“For me, this is the big one,” Perry says. “With autofocus, I like to compose and then move my AF point to the eye. Once there, I keep AF engaged as I shoot, so if there’s any unexpected movement, the camera will instantly compensate. However, with a full-frame DLSR, this is often a challenge since the eye frequently falls outside the AF for the composition I want. With mirrorless, I can place my AF point anywhere in the viewfinder and this problem completely goes away.”

Mirrorless Advantage #2: Tracking

“A close cousin to the first (advantage) is the superior tracking systems found in many mirrorless cameras,” he notes. “Also, when we’re talking tracking here, we’re not strictly talking about the camera’s ability to follow focus as the subject moves and you keep it under the AF area, but rather, a mode where the AF area actually chases the subject around the viewfinder. While DSLRs have tried this – Nikon’s 3D Tracking is a really good example – it just doesn’t work nearly as well as it does in a mirrorless camera.”

Mirrorless Advantage #3: Eye Detection

“Mirrorless cameras also offer eye detection, and while it’s sometimes hit or miss, there are times it really makes nailing the perfect shot much easier.”

Mirrorless Advantage #4: Silent Shutter

“Silent shutter is super handy around more sensitive subjects and it keeps them from running or flying off.”

Mirrorless Advantage #5: Faster Frame Rates

“Mirrorless cameras are starting to offer far faster frame rates than their DLSR cousins. Although it may seem crazy to shoot at 20 or even 30 frames a second, if you’re doing action work, it makes a difference.”

Mirrorless Advantage #6: WYSIWYG Exposure

“Although I’ve been shooting for decades now, I still blow exposure on a rare occasion when shooting a DSLR. With mirrorless, I can preview the exposure before I shoot and even use zebra stripes and histograms to help verify that I have it right.”

Mirrorless Advantage #7: No AF Fine Tuning

“Although it’s technically possible you may need to calibrate or fine-tune a mirrorless camera lens, I’ve never had it happen.”

Mirrorless Advantage #8: No Viewfinder Blackout

“This doesn’t apply to every mirrorless camera, but some have no viewfinder blackout. It really does make it significantly easier to track and follow your subject.”

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Mirrorless Advantage #9: No Glasses

“This doesn’t apply to everyone but one huge advantage of the EVF (electronic viewfinder) is that you can use your camera without glasses. As long as the diopter can adjust to your vision, you can run everything from the viewfinder.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #1: Slow Start Up

“Every mirrorless camera that I’ve ever used takes a quick moment to start up and even a half a second or so to come out of just standby mode. DSLRs are ready to shoot the millisecond you flip them on.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #2: Potentially Sub-optimal Viewfinder Experience

“Even the lowliest of DSLRs experience zero viewfinder lag and that can’t be said for mirrorless.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #3: Battery Life

“The truth is DSLRs generally have better battery life than mirrorless.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #4: Native Lens Availability

“At the moment, mirrorless simply don’t have the lens lineup that Nikon and Canon DSLRs do.”

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Mirrorless Disadvantage #5: Size

“For some people, mirrorless cameras are actually a bit too small. Some shooters find a DSLR more comfortable.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #6: No Cross Type AF

“As of this video, mirrorless cameras simply don’t have cross type AF. They use line sensors that can struggle with horizonal lines and fail to focus.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #7: Mirrorless Cameras Love Backgrounds

“Another AF disadvantage that’s a little bit annoying is that mirrorless cameras seem more apt to get stuck on backgrounds and refuse to focus on closer, blurrier subjects without a little help.”

Mirrorless Disadvantage #8: Camera Price

“The truth is, as of this publication date, mirrorless cameras are pricey and the used market for high-end mirrorless is almost non-existent.”

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