The Blog

Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality Video

So, there’s always a lot of debate about the image quality of the new mirrorless interchangeable lens systems and cameras like the Sony NEX-7 and Fuji X-Pro vs. DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III. This video is a simple tour of what the main differences are between the traditional DSLR systems and the newer mirrorless sytems.



Ultimately, the mirror – or the “Reflex mirror” that defines the “DSLR” is the part eliminated by the mirrorless camera designs. Combined with high-quality big sensors and the shorter flange distance or flange-to-focal distance – these small cameras are capable of equal image quality and,  in some cases, huge benefits.

The big benefit is in wide angle lens design. As the distance between the flange (where the back of the lens is) and the film/sensor plane INCREASES – the difficulty in making wide angle lenses INCREASES. So does size and price.

This is why wide angle lenses (i.e. 14mm – 24mm) for DSLRs are XBOX HUGE, weigh a ton, have a zillion lens elements and employ all kinds of tricks to correct distortion and other problems. The “retrofocus” or inverse telephoto design required for DSLRs with longer flange-to-focal distances are complex and ultimately expensive.

DSLR 14mm Lens. BOOM

Meanwhile, Leica and Zeiss have been making epic ultawides and wides for the Leica M system for ages – with fullframe coverage – and they are tiny little suckers.

One of the disadvantages of APS-C sensors was the challenge of making good wide lenses. Think about it. To get an “L” quality wide field of view – say a 24mm equivalent for a Canon APS-C camera, you’d need a 15mm lens. That leaves you with the Canon 14mm f/2.8 II. A monster lens with a rounded front element that BEGS you to bump it against something hard and “scratchy.”

So – while it is generally harder and economically unsound for a DSLR line to have good wide-primes designed for APS-C cameras… the nature of mirrorless systems will make smaller, simpler and high-quality wide optics possible.

Bottom line:

The mirror in a DSLR does nothing for image quality and the short flange distance of mirrorless camera bodies offers some unique advantages and flexibility in lens design that can lead to wide angle goodness for consumers.


You may also like:


Tags: , , , ,

About Leica BOSS

I heart grain. I'm also an unapologetic Leicaphile - bringing original content and photography goodness from around the web with gear, photos & tutorials. Pay it forward.

11 Awesome Comments So Far

Don't be a stranger, join the discussion by leaving your own comment
  1. J. Knight
    March 17, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    I was under the impression that the shorter film-focal distance is harder in digital than film. I’ve heard it’s because the photosites/pixels are rather directionally sensitive, and the increasingly oblique angle of the incoming light is a harder to gather with digital pixels as opposed to film. This doesn’t negate anything you said, and your topic is well explained. But if we’re going to dock the SLR lenses for their poor wide-angle performance, perhaps we should speak to the peculiarities of digital sensors and the incoming angle of the incident light.

    It’s very possible I’ve missed some updates in technology regarding this, but I’d still like to hear you speak to the topic.

    • Leica BOSS
      March 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

      You are correct – the corners/edges of a digital sensor are tough because the pixels are like buckets and the light hits them at an angle. Microlenses are used to kind of focus that light into the “buckets” as well as software correction. This is particularly true with non-manufacturer lenses and certain sensors… the Sony NEX-7 is a particular suspect.

  2. M
    December 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    Seeing this two and a half years later. Thanks, very instructive and well articulated. I now understand that shorter flange distances allow for smaller wide angle lenses as their optical design can be simpler and suppose that this design advantage (for lack of a better term) goes down as the focal length of a potential lense increases.Is this the case and if yes what would be the focal lens after which an e-mount for example would loose this “design advantage” ? Thanks again.


  1. Comparing the Design and Quality of Mirrorless Cameras with DSLRs - March 13, 2012

    […] Leica Boss via ISO […]

  2. Tamron A09 review - May 8, 2012

    Tamron A09 review…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  3. nikon d3200 lenses - May 13, 2012

    nikon d3200 lenses…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  4. nex-f3 - May 19, 2012


    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  5. night photography steel wool - July 27, 2012

    night photography steel wool…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  6. photoshop tutorials - July 29, 2012

    photoshop tutorials…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  7. digital cameras reviews - July 30, 2012

    digital cameras reviews…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

  8. canon camera review - July 30, 2012

    canon camera review…

    […]Mirrorless Camera vs. DSLR Image Quality | Leica BOSS[…]…

Leave a Comment

Remember to play nicely folks, nobody likes a troll.