Mirrorless Camera vs DSLR – How much lighter are the mirrorless cameras?

One thing I heard from my wedding photographer friends a few times recently is that they are thinking of switching from DSLRs to one of the mirrorless system. One reason almost everyone mentioned is, the mirrorless cameras are a lot lighter and it will makes their life so much easier!

Of course, we all know the mirrorless cameras are much smaller and lighter than the dinosaur DSLRs. So the swap would make our camera bag a lot lighter and that is awesome as we wedding photographers quite often have to carry a large bag of camera gear running around from morning till late evening.  This got me interested to find out how much lighter my camera bag would be if I swap a DSLR kit with an equivalent mirrorless camera kit. I decided to calculate and compare a full frame Nikon DSLR setup with a similar Fujifilm and Sony mirrorless setup, the two most popular mirrorless system among wedding photographers.

First thing I need to say is, it’s impossible to pick an identical setup from all three systems as as no two cameras have identical feature set and performance. Also, since both the Fujifilm and Sony are quite new systems they don’t have a really complete lens lineup yet. And the Fujifilm cameras have smaller sensor so that makes straight comparison even more tricky.

mirrorless_vs_dslrDSLR or Mirrorless? How much lighter is the mirrorless kit?

I’ve picked a very simple camera kit for each system that consist of one of their latest camera with three prime lenses:  35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8 (35mm equivalent). The kit from each system should offer very similar output in terms of view angle, low light performance (quite often we have to shoot under very low light without being able to use external light source), shallow depth of field (for subject separation and the pretty bokeh) and I also make sure each kit has enough battery to last a day of shooting (1000+ photo).

For the Nikon DSLR kit, I picked the full frame Nikon D750, Nikkor AFS 35mm f/1.8G, Nikkor AFS 50mm f/1.8G and Nikkor AFS 85mm f/1.8G. A simple solid setup that outputs great picture quality.

For the Sony, a7 II is the camera as it has a 24MP sensor same as D750. There is a Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 and Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8 which are close enough to the Nikon lenses I picked. The only problem  is that the closest lens to the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens would be the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 which is not only slightly slower but is also a manual focus lens. The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is a lot larger and heavier and would not be a fair comparison.

For the FujiFilm mirrorless, X-T1 is definitely the camera any wedding photographer would pick so that’s a easy one. But because it has the smaller APSC sensor, I chose lenses that is equivalent in actual performance rather than the numbers on the box. The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 would give be roughly the same as the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 on the D750 in terms of view angle, wide open depth of field and wide open low light image quality as the full frame sensor on the Nikon and Sony are approximately 2 times bigger and with one stop better high ISO performance. The other two lenses are the  Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4R and Fujifilm 23mm f/1.4R for similar reasons.

And here are the figures:

Nikon_vs_Fujifilm_xt1_vs_Sony_a7

The Fujfilm X-T1 kit is 297g lighter than the equivalent Nikon D750 kit, that is about 18% weight reduction. Not bad, but not as big as I thought it would be. And if you go for the Sony a7 II, it’s actually 109g heavier than the Nikon!

And remember this is like a bare minimum kit. An actual kit would probably include camera strap, camera bag, additional memory cards, speed lights, triggers, more lenses, reflector, light stands…etc  So an actual kit,  would weight at least 2-3 times heavier than that. Once you have a 5kg+ camera bag, the 300g or so weight reduction would only equals to 5-6%. As a reference, my current wedding camera bag(s) is approximately 10kg.

As I’ve said at the beginning, the three setups aren’t exactly identical. While some people may prefer the OVF on the DSLRs, I can say the EVF on the Sony and Fujifilm are very useful as they give you realtime exposure preview and other information that the OVF can’t do. And the Sony a7 II has in body stabiliser which the other two cameras don’t have. But then the D750 has dual card slots, much faster autofocus system, better continuous focus  performance and the autofocus system works well under low light. The bigger grip on the D750 also makes the camera a lot more comfortable to hold for extended period while the Sony or Fujifilm with the smaller body and grip you might need to add a battery grip to give you better support and extend the battery life a bit which increase weight. I can say the Zeiss has slightly less plastic build quality  and hence why they are heavier than the Nikkor. But I can also argue the Loxia 35mm is only f/2 and manual focus so it could be made quite a bit lighter than the Nikon equivalent. Or I can say the Fujifilm lenses despite having a faster aperture number, are actually slightly not as good if you want shallow depth of field and low light performance after you take the sensor size into consideration. I can go on and on to list the differences but no matter what, I believe overall it is a fair comparison.

Now if you think I’m trying to defend DSLRs and say mirrorless cameras have no advantage over the DSLRs. I’m one of the earliest mirrorless camera adapter. I bought my first mirrorless cameras (Panasonic GF1) back in 2010 and since then I’ve own or used more than a dozen of mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Olympus, Fujifilm and Sony and I’ve experimented using mirrorless cameras at weddings and photo sessions. I strongly believe mirrorless camera is the future and this future isn’t really too far away now as the EVF and contrast detection autofocus system are getting better and better every year.

But I just want to point out the actual weight reduction if you switch from DSLRs to a equivalent mirrorless system is really not as big as we thought especially if you carry multiple lenses, other gears and accessories.  So switch to mirrorless system is really not the solution if want to reduce your hand and shoulder sore.

One day I may switch my “work kit” from my full frame Nikon DSLRs to some mirrorless cameras, but it is probably because of the EVF, the more accurate contrast detection autofocus system, or some new technology that is not available on my DSLR.  I just know it won’t be because of weight saving as it really is not as big as some of the companies want you to believe. 

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/PhotoByRichard

Richard is also a contributing writer for a few photography magazines. 

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