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Compact Camera vs. Mirrorless Camera: 9 Key Differences

After Panasonic unveiled the world’s first Mirrorless camera back in 2008, the world was taken by a storm. Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras also had the ability to change lenses. And they were very compact in nature as well. They were called CSCs which is an acronym for Compact System Camera.

So, yeah! Mirrorless Cameras were the best of both worlds. They were compact yet more powerful than your typical compact camera.

This is good right?

Well, not quite to be honest! After the introduction of CSCs people were not sure whether they should opt for a point and shoot camera? Or perhaps a mirrorless camera?

Don’t get me wrong. Mirrorless cameras are really good and I absolutely love them.

So, to help you guys remove all the confusion, I’ve compiled a list of 9 key differences between the two camera systems.

Without any further ado, let us all enjoy the battle of point-and-shoot compact camera vs mirrorless camera.

Mirrorless camera has interchangeable lens

1. Lenses are Where the Differences Begin

The most preeminent added benefits of a mirrorless camera over a compact camera is lenses and the ability to switch lenses. This gives you a DSLR like the option in a much smaller package.

This was always not the case.

Previously, mirrorless cameras were only comparable with compact cameras with respect to size. This is still true if your CSC is partnered with a potato lens that does not have retractability. You know! The ones that don’t add any core benefits to your photography experience.

Although this is still true for most cases, mirrorless camera manufacturers have definitely been putting more efforts and thoughts on this.

Read: Compact camera vs. DSLR camera

Now, a lot of mirrorless cameras compatible lenses are available which have retractable barrels. This does add much more portability and compactness in the overall design (more on portability later).

The most common and used lens system for a mirrorless camera is the kit lens. They are much more compact and a perfect fit for the common market. Although they do not serve the purpose of professional photographers (you know! The exotic ones), they are still very powerful.

More often than not, kit lenses are the main reason why people choose a mirrorless camera over anything else, to begin with.

They are very conveniently designed. Most of them extend automatically when you need them. This is not something compact camera modules provide you with. They are basically one lens for lifetime system.

Over the year, compact cameras have gotten much better. But having the ability to change lenses is a very powerful concept.

Camera form factors

2. Sensors Make the Second Difference

As a general rule of thumb the larger the sizes of the sensor housed inside a compact camera, the shorter the size of the focal length will be. Like all tech product, this is a tradeoff every manufacturer has to make. You can’t change physics, right?

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This is true for most cases. If you look carefully between different models, you’ll see that there is a negative correlation between sensor size and focal length.

Most camera manufacturers try to house a large sensor with relatively long lenses. A 1-inch sensor with a long lens is now considered as the sweet spot between sensor size and focal length. However, there are some compact camera models that have been able to break free of this convention.

Mirrorless cameras, as they have lens changing ability does not have to deal with this issue. They have a fixed sensor but the lens is a variable factor here. You can easily find something that works best for your use cases. In case you need to switch out the lens, you can do that as well.

However, there is a catch here. As we all know more mechanical/ motorized parts mean more trouble. As motorized parts have a limited lifespan, it is very much possible to have an unfunctional lens in the future. Although most manufacturer makes sure every unit is tested thousands of times, this can still happen.

Compact cameras are easy to carry

3. Portability

As promised, in this section we will talk about the portability aspect of both cameras. The main reason small and compact were popular, to begin with, was their portable nature. DSLRs can take great pictures and all. But they are not portable in nature at all.

Both compact and mirrorless cameras are much more portable than any DSLR available in the market. However, mirrorless cameras do take an “L” over compact cameras when it comes to portability.

While they are more powerful than a typical compact camera, they need to take up extra space. Also, the interchangeable lens mechanism also needs more storage inside. As a result, they can be a bit bulkier and heavier than a compact camera.

Read: Why should you buy a compact camera?

This is a tradeoff manufacturer had to make. You either take something with a fixed lens and everything but much easier to handle. Or you take something which is a bit bigger in size but much more powerful. It’s totally up to you.

Speaking of handling, handling a big camera with any form of gripping mechanism can be a real pain. Sony was strongly criticized for its design choice when they released RX100 without any grip.

This led to a change in design for all mirrorless cameras. Almost all of them now come with a convenient grip. In case yours does not, many 3rd party companies make grips for cameras now. You can easily find one that works for you.

4. Settings and Simplicity

I’m not going to lie. I honestly had difficulties finding what are the key differences between both cameras when it came to simplicity.

Both of them had a very simple and user-friendly interface with easy operation. However, mirrorless cameras were a tiny bit difficult to use for a beginner. As they can work with different accessories, you need to tweak those accessory specific settings to get the best out of them. This can a bit intimidating for beginners.

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Compact cameras, on the other hand, were super easy to use. As I probably already mentioned a million times, they a basically an “all in one” camera. You really don’t need to bother too much about different settings and all.

So, this round goes to compact cameras when it comes to simplicity of operation.

5. System Support is Better in Mirrorless Cameras

One of the most appealing aspects of a mirrorless camera is the accessories that are compatible with it. Manufacturers realize the importance of that and to get a better footing in the mirrorless camera world, they have developed a bunch of goodies that are complementary to their models.

Companies like Sony, Canon, Fujifilm are very well known for the number of complementary modules they make. Other companies are also doing a decent job at developing lenses and accessories.

Compact camera market, on the other hand, is a bit different. When you buy a compact camera, you’ll not have to worry about accessories. They are static cameras. What you buy is what you get. Although there is a wide array of accessories available for mirrorless cameras, compact cameras have a very limited set of accessories.

Accessories like external flash (although, most of them have a built-in flash), external microphone are some of them. In some cases, you’ll be able to use a conversion length that provides you with different focal length. However, adding all these other accessories to your compact camera module might destroy the whole essence of portability.


6. Size and Weight for Compact Cameras Are Better

The reason point and shoot cameras are sometimes called compact cameras are because they are smaller in size and weighs less than anything else. People who require instant snapping without any inconvenience goes for compact cameras because they know how efficient it can be.

When it comes to size and weight, compact cameras clearly come on top. Mirrorless cameras have to house more electric components.

Along with larger sensors and motorized mechanisms to change lenses, there is other stuff they need to house as well. This makes them a bit bulkier and heavy. On the other hand, compact cameras don’t have to do that.

They are way easier to handle than a mirrorless or DSLR camera. They don’t weigh a ton either. You can put them in your pocket and you wouldn’t even notice them. Mirrorless cameras, despite being pretty compact in size and weight cannot do that.

However, they are obviously a far superior option than a DSLR when it comes to size and weight.

Shooting video with mirror-less camera

7. Video Recording

Both mirrorless and compact cameras now have the ability to shoot 4k resolution video at 60fps (or at the very least 30 fps). While both of them come with this ability that does not ensure the quality to be the same. I’ve tested this on different cameras and the results were sometimes noticeably different.

Cameras with larger sensors tend to perform very well when it comes to video recording. They are sharper and contains much more details. The final output is way better than something that was shot on a small sensor. Also, they provide you with much more control over everything.

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Compact cameras don’t have the space to house a much larger sensor inside. That’s why typically, mirrorless cameras with its larger sensors always come on top when it comes to video recording. And, of course, the ability to change lenses whenever you want gives it an even bigger edge.

Compact camera manufacturer can clearly see this as a physical issue. And they also know they can’t do anything about that.

That’s why to compensate for that, they are trying to bridge that gap by adding features like slow motion videos, stereo microphone, zebra, etc. in their arsenal. But most of the compact cameras do not offer this yet as they are computationally heavy and hard to implement.

8. Price  Matters

Price can sometimes be a big issue. Both cameras want to break the stereotypes of “You need to be rich to buy a camera” mentality. Both of them comes in a very reasonable price tag. They are way cheaper than DSLRs yet really powerful. However, for the sake of direct comparison, I had to give this round to the compact camera.

Mirrorless cameras cost more than a compact camera. Not only are they pricier, but also all the complementary accessories do add up to a substantial amount.

For beginners, I’d highly suggest you go with a compact camera. Then once you feel comfortable with the photography world and have extra cash to spend on, go for other better options (be that mirrorless or a DSLR).

Cleaning mirrorless camera isnt easy

9. Dust and Noise

Okay! I was actually nitpicking a little bit at this point. Both cameras work really well when it comes to noise and dust resistance. None of them get as dirty or clunky as a DSLR. But mirrorless cameras tend to collect more dust over time than a compact camera. This is due to moving and changeable parts that come with mirrorless cameras.

But to be completely fair, mirrorless cameras do not collect dust to the point they become unusable. As I mentioned earlier, I was just nitpicking.

Infographic:  Mirrorless vs DSLR vs Compact Camera

Mirrorless vs DSLR vs Compact Camera

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Final thoughts

This brings us to an end of the compact camera vs mirrorless camera battle. While both of them are quite similar in some aspect of photography, there are some major differences as well. If you are looking for any suggestions or recommendations, I don’t have any direct answer to that.

I’d suggest you decide for yourself. The only way to decide that for yourself is to pick one out and try it. Once you try both systems, you’ll know which one suits your need the best.

That being said, if I was a beginner myself, I’d stick my guns to a compact camera as it would not cost me an arm and a leg. Also, they are powerful enough for a beginner to intermediate photographers, even some pros use compact cameras over a DSLR.

So, let me know your thoughts on this. If you want to know about some of the best mirrorless cameras, feel free to let me know in the comment section below. I’ll try to cover that as soon as possible.

As always, happy snapping.

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