Nikon DSLR Cameras Versus Nikon Mirrorless Cameras

Nikon DSLR Cameras Versus Nikon Mirrorless Cameras

Over the decades, Nikon has stood out as a company that innovates in the field of optics and imaging. The brand's commitment to excellence is evident in its two flagship camera lines: Nikon’s DSLRs and the cutting-edge Z series mirrorless system. 

Throughout this article and our latest GeorgesCamerasTV video learn the differences between Nikon DSLR cameras and Nikon mirrorless cameras as we shed light on their features, benefits, and suitability for various use cases.

The Evolution from DSLR to Mirrorless

Nikon DSLR cameras are well-regarded for their sturdy build, excellent image quality, and precise optical viewfinders. They appeal to anyone wanting to make their start in the field of photography through to seasoned professionals.

However, it's with the introduction of Nikon's Z series mirrorless cameras that there's been a notable improvement in camera technology. These mirrorless cameras are recognised for their smaller size, improved autofocus features, and enhanced video capabilities, indicating a major evolution in how Nikon develops cameras.

Comparing Nikon DSLR and Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras: Features and Benefits

To provide a clearer understanding of the distinctions between Nikon DSLR and Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras, below is a comparison that highlights the key features and benefits of the two systems. It’s worth noting that the image quality is on par between both systems; the main differences are in the body, design, lens system, viewfinder, autofocus system and battery life.

Size Of Nikon DSLRs Compared with Nikon Mirrorless Cameras

One of the major differences between the type styles of cameras is in their size. Mirrorless models tend to be more compact, partly due to the elimination of the mirror box addition, shorter flange distance and optical viewfinder. This size reduction extends to compatible accessories like smaller memory cards and optional battery grips, designed to maintain the system's overall portability. However, adding a grip can enhance handling and battery life, bringing it closer to DSLR ergonomics but still retaining a size advantage.


When looking for lenses you have to take into consideration the mount. For instance, if you already have Nikon F mount lenses you can utilise these on Nikon DSLRs while you can also employ an adapter to mount them onto the Nikon mirrorless system via the additional FTZII.

Nikon F Mount lenses are abundant as the history of SLR is extensive, whereas, for Nikon Z lenses, the range continues to grow with a total of 42 native lenses. These newer lenses utilise Z-mount, which is designed for high optical performance in a more compact form, enhancing the system's portability without sacrificing image quality.

So, if you are switching to the newer, choose from a vast range of focal lengths, including wide-angle, low-light, portrait lenses, telephoto and macro lenses.

Mount Compatibility

As mentioned, the difference in mount is crucial to understand when looking for a new or older lens for your camera. The table below outlines the two main lens types and their compatibility.


F Mount lenses, traditionally used with Nikon DSLRs, can also be used on Nikon mirrorless cameras with the aid of the Nikon FTZ II Adapter, while Z-mount lenses are directly compatible with Nikon mirrorless cameras but cannot be used on DSLRs.

Benefits Of Older Lenses

There's nothing wrong with utilising an older lens on a newer camera system. You may already have Nikon lenses, or you might be on the lookout to benefit from numerous advantages, notably in affordability, as they're often available at a lower cost compared to their newer counterparts.

These lenses not only offer a cost-effective way to diversify your lens collection but also bring distinct character and optical qualities to your photography, enriching your images with a vintage look that modern lenses might lack. Moreover, they encourage the exploration of different focal lengths and apertures, expanding creative horizons without the hefty price tag of contemporary lenses. Legacy lenses also benefit from mirrorless technology such as in-body VR stabilisation, focus peaking and live exposure preview.

Lens Sharpness

Nikon Z lenses often showcase higher sharpness than F Mount lenses, partly due to the Z Mount's larger diameter and shorter flange distance, allowing for more advanced optical designs. Additionally, Z Mount lenses frequently employ newer technologies, including improved lens coatings and elements that reduce aberrations and enhance image quality.

Lens Size & Weight Differences 

Nikon's transition from F Mount to Z Mount lenses reflects advancements in lens design, notably affecting size and weight. Z Mount lenses benefit from the mirrorless system's reduced flange distance, allowing for a more compact and lighter construction without compromising optical performance. This is particularly advantageous for photographers prioritising portability and those frequently on the move, as carrying lighter gear can significantly ease the physical strain of shooting for extended periods.

For instance, the F Mount Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens measures 88 x 154.5 mm in size and weighs 1070 grams, whereas the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is more compact at 89 x 126 mm and lighter, saving 265 grams of weight, illustrating the Z Mounts advantage in portability without sacrificing performance.

System Autofocus Speed

Understanding the differences of autofocus (AF) systems within Nikon's lens is important to consider before purchasing. There are many differences between the two systems, each catering to different settings that will ensure its focus success when it comes to capturing different genres. 

For example, F lenses leverage a phase-detection AF mechanism when paired with a DSLR's optical viewfinder, activating a dedicated AF sensor. This traditional approach, while effective, is shaped by the physical constraints of the AF sensor within the camera's body, influencing focus point positioning and, by extension, the speed and coverage of autofocus across the viewfinder.

Conversely, Nikon's Z lenses operate in unison with the mirrorless Z series cameras, where the AF sensor is ingeniously integrated into the imaging sensor itself. This innovative configuration facilitates a more expansive coverage of AF points directly on the sensor, enabling rapid Hybrid phase and contrast detection. Contrast is higher accuracy and contributes to phase AF. This is not only faster but also more accurate, especially when capturing both still and moving subjects across the frame.

Diving deeper, it's evident that the number and type of AF points play a crucial role in the accuracy and speed of focusing.

Nikon's Z lenses benefit from a more advanced design that allows for a higher density of AF points, including cross-type sensors, which are adept at locking focus with greater speed and precision. This is particularly advantageous in challenging shooting scenarios where subjects are in motion or when operating in low-light conditions.

Furthermore, the Z mirrorless cameras offer a suite of autofocus modes and area options, such as the Wide Area (small) and Auto Area modes, tailored to enhance focus on specific subjects or scenes. These modes, combined with the inherent advantages of the mirrorless system's autofocus, provide users with a more versatile and responsive experience.

Video Comparison

There are several differences when comparing video capabilities between Nikon DSLR cameras and Nikon Z mirrorless cameras. These differences not only highlight the technological advancements inherent in mirrorless systems but also illustrate the shift towards more versatile and high-quality video recording options for users.

Nikon DSLRs have been long appreciated for their robust build and exceptional image quality, traits that extend into their video recording capabilities. Traditionally, DSLRs were among the first cameras to offer HD video recording, with later models incorporating features such as Full HD and even 4K recording. However, the DSLR's design, with its mirror mechanism, often means that the autofocus system in video mode is somewhat slower, relying on contrast-detection autofocus. This method, while accurate, can be slower and less smooth compared to phase-detection autofocus, leading to noticeable focus hunting during video capture.

Furthermore, the optical viewfinder of a DSLR, a key component for still photography, is rendered unusable in video mode, necessitating the use of the live view on the LCD screen. This switch can impact battery life and, for some users, the ergonomics of shooting video.

In contrast, Nikon's Z mirrorless cameras represent a significant leap forward in video technology. These cameras are designed with video in mind, offering features such as 4K recording at higher frame rates and, in some models, like the Nikon Z9, the ability to record in 8K (In N-RAW). The absence of a mirror mechanism allows for the continuous use of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the LCD screen without a significant drain on battery life or ergonomic compromises.

Nikon Z Video Auto Focus and Stabilisation Advantages

Aside from the greater dynamic range log profiles, one of the most notable advancements in Nikon Z series cameras is their autofocus performance in video mode. Utilising the full array of on-sensor phase-detection pixels, Z series cameras can achieve faster, more accurate, and smoother autofocus transitions during video recording. This capability is particularly beneficial for tracking moving subjects or achieving cinematic focus pulls without the abruptness often seen in contrast-detection systems.

Moreover, the Nikon Z series enhances creative flexibility in video shooting through features like in-body image stabilisation (VR / IBIS), which significantly reduces camera shake, and the ability to use a wide range of Z lenses designed specifically for the mirrorless system to provide superior optical performance with minimal aberrations and high sharpness across the frame.

Final Thoughts

In summing up our exploration of Nikon DSLR and mirrorless cameras, it becomes clear that each system offers unique benefits tailored to different photographic needs and preferences. Nikon DSLRs, with their robust construction and optical viewfinders, cater to traditionalists and those who value durability and the tactile experience of photography. On the other hand, the Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras signify a leap forward in technology, offering compactness, advanced autofocus capabilities, and superior video performance, aligning with the demands of the modern content creator through to the professional photographer.

The choice between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera ultimately depends on individual requirements, such as portability, lens compatibility, and the type of photography one is engaged in. For those making this decision or considering an upgrade or expansion of their kit, our team is on hand to provide expert advice. Whether you're in the market for a new system or a second-hand Nikon body or lens, their knowledge extends across the Nikon range discussed in this overview, ensuring you make a choice that best suits your creative or professional journey.

What Camera Models Are Currently Available?

Nikon never stops innovating. Their cameras are used by a host of professionals worldwide to cover sporting events, capture breathtaking landscapes, and document life's most significant moments. Currently, Nikon's lineup includes a diverse range of DSLR and mirrorless models designed to meet the needs of photographers at every skill level. Among the DSLR range, models like the D850 and D780 continue to be popular for their reliability, high resolution, and versatility in various shooting conditions.


On the mirrorless front, the Nikon Z series has expanded, with the Z6 II and Z7 II leading the charge, offering enhanced autofocus, increased frame rates, and superior video capabilities. These models, along with the more compact Z fc for those seeking an entry-level option, ensure that Nikon has a camera to suit every photographer's ambition and creative pursuit.

Below is a quick guide into the popular models, highlighting their main features and the kind of photography or cinematography users they best serve.

DSLR Cameras

Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 offers a versatile combination of high resolution and speed. It's built to withstand the elements and rigorous use, making it a reliable choice for enthusiasts and professionals.

Key Features

  • High resolution 45.7MP FX-format CMOS sensor.
  • Up to 9 fps continuous shooting with the additional battery pack.
  • Full-frame 4K UHD video recording capabilities.

Who Is The Nikon D850 For?

The D850 is ideal for landscape, wedding, and wildlife photography, as well as event and wedding filmmaking, thanks to its robust build, weather sealing, and high-resolution capabilities. Its versatility also makes it suitable for studio and portrait photographers who demand the utmost image quality and detail.

Nikon D7500

The Nikon D7500, with its blend of high ISO performance and energy efficiency of the D500, caters to the creative generation of photographers and videographers. It boasts top-tier image quality, fast operation, precise autofocus, and 4K Ultra HD video capabilities, all within a rugged and comfortable design.

Key Features

  • 20.9 MP DX-format CMOS sensor.
  • 4K UHD video recording at 30 fps.
  • Built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Who Is The Nikon D7500 For?

The Nikon D7500 is highly recommended for wildlife and sports photography thanks to its fast frame rate and robust autofocus system. It's also suitable for travel and event photography. For videographers, the camera's 4K recording capabilities make it a solid choice for creating high-quality content, including filming events and short films.

Nikon D780

The Nikon D780 integrates DSLR reliability with mirrorless innovation, featuring a 24.5 MP sensor and an EXPEED 6 processor for sharp images and swift autofocus, particularly in low light.

Key Features

  • Eye-Detection AF for sharp portraits.
  • Silent shooting at 12 FPS, ideal for discreet photography.
  • 4K video and time-lapse capabilities.

Who Is The Nikon D780 For?

Perfect for wedding, event photography, and videography, offering silent operation and robust autofocus. Its durability also suits landscape and wildlife photography.

Mirrorless Models

Nikon Z fc

The Nikon Z fc is a mirrorless camera that combines a retro design with modern Z series technology. It's lightweight, compact, and features a 20.9 MP DX CMOS sensor, making it highly portable and suitable for everyday use.

Key Features

  • Classic Nikon design but includes modern features like a vari-angle touchscreen
  • Eye-Detection AF and Animal-Detection AF for both stills and videos.
  • Supports 4K video recording at 30 fps without crop.
  • 20 Creative Picture Controls

Who Is The Nikon Z fc For?

This camera is perfect for vloggers, street photographers, and anyone who appreciates a blend of classic design with cutting-edge technology. Its compact size makes it ideal for daily shooting, travel, and content creation.

Nikon Z f

The Nikon Z f is equipped with a 24.5MP sensor and the Expeed 7 processing engine and boasts an ISO range of 100-64000, expandable up to 204800. This camera offers a unique shooting experience with its tactile controls and high-quality construction, including a magnesium alloy frame and durable weather sealing.

Key Features

  • 24.5MP full-frame CMOS for sharp images.
  • ISO 100-64000, expandable to 204800 for superior low-light shots.
  • 299 Auto-Area AF points with subject detection for precise focus.
  • Records 4K UHD at 30 fps; slow-motion options at 4K/60p and Full HD/120p.

Who Is The Nikon Z f For?

The Z f is ideal for photographers who appreciate a blend of classic design with cutting-edge features. It's well-suited for portrait, landscape, and night photography thanks to its high ISO performance and detailed image output. The camera's video capabilities also make it a strong choice for filmmakers and content creators looking for high-quality 4K recording.

Nikon Z6 II

A 24.5MP sensor powers the Nikon Z6 II, tailored for exceptional low-light performance and versatility in photography and videography. This model excels with its dual processors, enhancing autofocus, speed, and image processing.

Key Features:

  • 24.5MP Full-frame CMOS sensor.
  • 4K video capabilities.
  • Dual card slots for expanded storage options.

Who Is The Nikon Z6 II For?

The Z6 II is suited for a broad spectrum of uses, from landscape and portrait photography to demanding video production, making it a favoured choice for professionals and enthusiasts seeking flexibility and high-quality output.

Nikon Z7 II

The Nikon Z7 II, with its 45.7MP full-frame sensor, delivers superior image quality and dynamic range. It's designed for both photography and videography, featuring dual processors for improved performance, and supports 4K UHD video at 60 fps.

Key Features

  • High-resolution 45.7MP CMOS sensor.
  • Enhanced low-light autofocus performance.
  • Dual card slots for SD and CFexpress cards.

Who Is The Nikon Z7 II For?

Ideal for professionals and enthusiasts in landscape, portrait, and event photography, as well as filmmakers needing high-quality video capabilities.

Nikon Z8

Unleash what some might call the mini Z9. This powerful full-frame body outputs an incredible 45.7 Megapixels, ensuring images retain incredible details throughout the frame. Couple this with the 8K video, and you’ve got the best of both worlds for working professionals who shoot both stills and video.

Key Features

  • Impressive Full-frame 45.7MP CMOS sensor.
  • 8K 60p and 4K 120p video.
  • Up to 20 frames per second RAW shooting.

Who Is The Nikon Z8 For?

This sensational camera can do it all. From weddings through to sports, pros will find the smaller body ideal in almost any environment. For filmmakers and cinematographers, the smaller form factor of the Z8 is ideal for rig use or using on a set of sticks in the studio or out on location.

Nikon Z9

The Nikon Z9 is a flagship full-frame mirrorless camera featuring a new image-processing engine, capable of high-speed shooting and 8K video recording. It's designed for professionals demanding high performance in sports, news, and wildlife photography, offering advanced autofocus, robust build, and extensive weather sealing.

Key Features

  • 8K 60p and 4K 120p video.
  • Black-out free view through the viewfinder.
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities for image transfer.

Who Is The Nikon Z9 For?

Serious professionals looking to maximise their quality and output will delight once they have this durable camera. Made for almost any scenario, users will appreciate the speed, autofocus and sharpness in any photographic genre. Plus, being the first camera in Nikon mirrorless lineup to shoot 8K in-camera speaks for itself. Get this camera if you want the most reliable body that continues to support after purchase with welcome firmware updates.