When buying a new camera or upgrading what you are currently using, you now have way more choices than ever before. This plethora of cameras has completely paralyzed many of my students from getting a new (or used) camera because they are overwhelmed with options, and have fears of buying the wrong camera. First, if you are buying a new system these days, there is no such thing as getting the “wrong” camera. Just know that from the start.
In this post, I’m going to talk about mirrorless cameras vs DSLRs to answer many of the questions I’ve been getting about this over the last few months.
This post contains my affiliate links from my favorite camera store B&H Photo Video in New York City. I’ve been buying cameras and equipment from them for more than 35 years. They have an enormous selection at great prices, AND they have used gear too. If you do purchase anything from my links, I will get a small commission at no cost to you.
Table of Contents
Why Are There So Many Cameras To Choose From?
First, let’s talk about why we have 1000’s of cameras to choose from in the first place. You must understand the business of camera manufacturing. It’s pretty much their job to constantly make “the next best thing”. It’s a huge competition. Part of that is to make us feel as if the cameras we have in our hands right now are outdated, and that we must get that next best thing or our images will suffer for it.
Raise your hand if you feel like the camera in your hand right now is old and outdated, and that you need to get a new one, THEN your photos will be that much better? You feel this way for a few reasons, but the excellent marketing created by camera brands is one of them. They must continue to make new gear, and to get us to buy that new gear or they won’t survive. It is their business, after all, to sell us cameras and lenses.
Trust me, I KNOW this feeling very well. You always wonder if your photography can be better with a newer camera. Then you hear that your camera is no longer being made, you think, “uh oh, I better get a new one now”. Camera manufacturers know we think and feel this way, and use that in their marketing.
Canon has announced they are no longer creating new DSLR models. This is a big deal.
This means there will not be a Canon EOS 5 D Mark V. The Mark IV was the last camera in that lineup, as an example. They are still manufacturing the 5D Mark IV through 2026 however. They will also continue to service that camera for many years after that. So they are still making DSLRs, just not a newer generation of DSLRs.
I hope this makes sense because there’s a ton of bad info out there saying that Canon has discontinued their 5D line. That is incorrect. They will not be developing the 5D line further. Many camera brands are doing this now with several of their popular DSLR systems. They are focusing instead on their mirrorless lineups.
I’d be willing to bet that mirrorless systems will most likely completely take over the DSLR systems eventually, but this will be several years to come.
So many new photographers who are struggling with their photography are insisting they need a brand new camera because their current camera is a few years old. They also feel that if they get that new camera, their images will be much better as a result and the reason why their photos aren’t excellent is because of the camera. The reality is many of them have never mastered HOW to use their camera and THIS is why their photography is not as good as it could be – it’s not the camera’s fault. It’s the user.
The marketing and PR stories that the camera manufacturers are putting out there are telling us that we need the newest gear. That our images will be absolutely amazing if we do so. The thing is though, many of the cameras that we currently have are already amazing cameras! Of course, if you have a camera that is 15 years old, there are many new features on the newer cameras that could be a benefit to have, including image quality with the new sensors. If your camera is only a few years old, it’s still an amazing camera.
When Should You Upgrade Your Camera?
Just to clarify, I’m not against buying new gear at all. you’re talking to a gal who has over 20+ cameras, 20+ lenses, 5 tripods, blah, blah blah. I love my gear. I love new cameras. I love these new toys. The time to upgrade is when you have mastered your current camera AND understand its shortcomings. This way when you buy a new camera, you understand what to look for to help improve your workflow, and/or your image quality.
If you don’t know how to use your current camera, don’t run out and buy a new one just yet. Learn to use the camera you have. Chances are a new camera might be even more confusing for you. Master the one you have right now.
If you do know how to use your camera and are getting frustrated with your workflow, or are having other issues with it that you know a newer camera can help you with, then it’s time for an upgrade. For example, for me, how many focusing points a camera has is a huge issue, having a flip screen for overhead shots is a big deal, and I want the largest file size I can get. So moving forward I start with those features when I’m looking for a camera, and that narrows down the list quite a bit.
So I would suggest if you are feeling that pressure to buy a new camera, write down what it is that you are not happy about with your current camera. Really be honest with yourself here. Are the things you are listing actually a shortcoming of the camera, lack of certain features, or is it that you haven’t figured out how to get the camera to do certain things yet? This will tell you if you are ready for an upgrade or not.
What Is The Difference Between Mirrorless And DSLR Cameras?
There has always been an obsession in the camera world to create a great camera that is as small as possible and the mirrorless systems can be much smaller than the DSLR systems, so let’s talk about the mechanics of the two systems.
DSLR camera stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. How this camera works is, the image that you are composing is seen through the lens on the camera, then it hits a mirror, which then puts that image up into a viewfinder. This viewfinder is called an optical viewfinder, and this is what we look through when taking the picture. This mirror is placed at an angle (45 degrees) for it to bounce that image up into our viewfinder.
Then when we press the button to take the picture, this mirror must fly up, out of the way so that image can be placed onto the camera’s sensor. This sensor then captures that image when the shutter opens and then the mirror comes back down into place, ready for us to take the next picture. This happens EVERY SINGLE TIME we take a picture, and this movement also creates the famous sound that we all attribute to taking a picture.
A huge issue that a lot of Canon DSLR cameras have is the movement of the mirror going up can actually cause motion blur in the image during a long exposure. It’s a huge pain for natural light food photography and the only way around that is to lock the mirror up when we take a picture.
The mirrorless camera systems do not have that mirror inside them. Instead, that entire piece is gone, and the moment we take a picture and press the shutter release button, the image we are composing travels straight down the barrel of our lens, and directly hits our camera’s sensor when the shutter opens (or when the sensor is turned on). So, we have eliminated a substantial moving part in the camera.
The advantage of this is that by not having that large part inside the camera flying up and down, the camera bodies can be much smaller, much lighter, and the number of images we can take per second can increase. You can imagine if you shoot sports, portraits, fashion, or anything that is moving, this can really be an advantage because you can take a burst of images through a movement, and your chances of getting a great shot substantially increase.
Some mirrorless cameras can capture as many as 20 frames per second when using the digital shutter. The digital shutter is where there actually isn’t a physical shutter opening and closing but instead, the sensor is simply being turned on and off again. You can see how that action can enable us to take a lot of pictures at once.
As food photographers, for example, the ability to take more images per second can be very beneficial when doing a pour shot – as long as your lighting can handle shooting at that speed (either a lot of natural light, or your flash duration must be very fast), that’s a different conversation though, you get the idea.
What Should You buy For Your First Camera?
If you are not upgrading from an older camera, and you are buying your first camera, here are some suggestions. I do have a blog post about buying a camera on a budget here and I have a post about the best way to buy used equipment here. Always make sure to check out B & H’s used equipment here. They are always adding used equipment to their website.
I always suggest starting with your budget first. This could be your most limiting requirement, so you need to start here.
Please know that it is really hard to go wrong with any new camera. I just have to say that right now. I’m a little different in that I think Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Olympus all make amazing cameras. Some photography instructors only stick with one brand, probably because it’s what they know.
When you start looking at cameras, you can start sorting them by price. Keep in mind, you’ll need ideally two lenses for food photography so you need to include this in your budget. You’re going to need a macro lens for close-up food photos and I’m a huge fan of using a zoom lens for overhead shots, and wider images of a tabletop set. Here are my picks for great lenses for food photography on BH Photo.
If you have a tight budget, buying a used DSLR camera will be less money than a new mirrorless camera, and in many cases a lot less money. The newer the gear, the more expensive it is. DSLRs will not be supported by their manufacturers at some point down the road, but that might be a long time from now. So if you are just starting out and not sure about this whole photography thing, you can save a lot of money with a used DSLR system.
For Nikon DSLRs, the cropped sensor, budget-friendly D3500 would be great, and for a bigger budget, their full-frame DSLR D850 is also very popular with food photographers.
If you do have a bigger budget and plan on doing this photography thing for a long time, then it does make sense to get a mirrorless system because it will be supported for many years to come. A great option for Canon would be the Canon R5 with a 100mm macro R mount lens, and the 24-70mm zoom lens. I will be talking about this camera in my next post.
A great way to compare any two cameras is to use this website: CameraDecision.com. I use this all the time to see two cameras listed side by side to see the difference. Make sure to do that when deciding what to get.
I know this was a long post but we did cover a lot here. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and make sure to check out my gear page at B & H Photo Video, where I have hand-selected great gear for you to use for your food photography. Just click the image below.