Is The DSLR A Dying Digital Camera System? – OP-Ed With Matthew Saville
(Approximate Size Comparison, Canon 6D, Nikon D800, Sony A7R, Olympus OM-D E-M1)
Recently we’ve been seeing a lot of chatter about how mirrorless digital cameras are the wave of the future. The latest article written by Gizmodo (found here: “The Last Days of the DSLR) has definitely sparked a lot of debate, especially since Sony has just recently announced and delivered the A7 and A7R cameras. For those of you who have not been paying attention, they are full-frame mirrorless cameras with 24 and 36 megapixel sensors, squarely aimed at both advanced amateurs and even pros alike.
Or for those of you who are Nikon fans, the A7 and A7R are basically a Nikon D610 and Nikon D800, without mirrors or prisms, for a whole lot less cash and in a whole lot smaller package. Ouch, them’s fightin’ words!
Okay instead of starting a flame war, let’s discuss this subject in a beneficial, informative manner. Will we have to change our name to”MirrorlessLounge” someday?
(Approximate Size Comparison, Nikon D800, Nikon D600, Sony A7R)
The Advantages Of A DSLR Camera
- A Real Prism
There is no way around it: a real prism delivers one thing that an electronic viewfinder never can: An actual window to the real world. In a world where both work and leisure find us staring at electronic displays, to be able to see the real world through my viewfinder seems refreshing and, well, REAL.
- Superior Phase-Detect Autofocus
For now at least, phase-detect autofocus is currently the reigning champ for sports photography cameras. The Nikon and Canon flagships can nail focus on football players, gymnasts, race cars, birds in flight, you name it!
- Lens Options
This may of course not be an advantage for long, however for now there are innumerable lens options for the main SLR mounts, while mirrorless systems are somewhat restricted.
For example, thus far it has been nearly impossible to achieve fast apertures and ultra wide focal lengths in any mirrorless system while Canon and Nikon have access to plenty of name-brand and third-party lenses that deliver fast apertures such as 24mm f/1.4 and 14mm f/2.8 Yes, they’re making new lenses for mirrorless systems, however thus far the majority of them are catering towards the more casual shooter. Nikon made a 32mm f/1.2 lens for their mirrorless “1” system, and there are some other killer lenses out there, but not yet nearly as many as I’d like to see.
The Advantages Of Mirrorless Digital Cameras
- Smaller Size And Weight
Mirrors and prisms take up space. This is not new at all, actually. Decades ago, a film 35mm rangefinder camera and lenses were tiny compared to a 35mm SLR camera and lenses. And now, technology is bringing a return of this previously very popular system.
- Live Information Readouts
Using an electronic viewfinder, all kinds of things become possible. Two things that an optical viewfinder can’t compete with are focus peaking and live histograms. There are plenty of other things, such as the ability to magnify an area of the image during autofocus so that you can perfectly confirm sharpness before you even click a photo.
Simply put, there are more technological benefits possible with an EVF, or mirrorless systems in general.
- Simplicity and Affordability
If you have never had a mirror break or a shutter “die”, then you might not be a “hard core” photographer. Personally, I’ve had to replace shutters and mirrors and other antiquated mechanical parts at least a half-dozen times. And that’s not me bragging about being hard core, that’s pure annoyance!
A mirrorless system will, in theory, have fewer mechanical parts to break, and inherently cost less to manufacture. True, software and electronics can go bad too, however they are often easier to fix or cheaper to replace.
Pro versus Prosumer
For now, in my opinion what I think it comes down to is the fact that many of the high-end pros still need and/or are happy with their current DSLR systems. It is going to be many years before NFL / Olympic Sports photographers completely dump their Canon 1DX’s or Nikon D4’s in favor of a mirrorless camera. In fact, this may never happen.
Then again, live view refresh rates and on-sensor phase-detect + contrast-detect autofocus systems are becoming more and more powerful, so maybe eventually it will happen. But from what I can tell, the bottom line is that it won’t happen any time soon.
Rest assured, certain professions that work a little more slowly than an NFL photographer will be quick to adopt a system like the Sony A7/R system. Landscapes, Nature, Architecture, Studio, …essentially anything that demands high quality images, extensive camera control, but not necessarily blazing speed.
The more casual shooter, however, will see the benefits of a traditional SLR system quickly begin to fade over the next few years. We will see more and more lenses, more and more bodies, at lower prices and in more portable, versatile packages.
The Red Flag of Kodak
So, there are actually two questions we’re answering here. Firstly, we have agreed (at least in my head we have) …that for now, and for a little while longer, the current DSLR standards will remain relatively prevalent, especially the higher you go into certain professional sectors.
However, the other question is: Even if their DSLR flagships continue to be in demand for many years to come, can “the big two” afford to go much further without beginning to compete more directly with cameras like the Sony A7, or the Olympus OM-D E-M1? You may love your current DSLR setup, and you may not plan on buying new camera gear or switching systems for another year or two, (or three or four!) …however this is not an excuse for Nikon or Canon to sit back and be stubborn about their legacy systems. If the decline (and eventual bankruptcy) of Kodak is any indication, it is that even if you pioneer a new technology and have many “firsts” under your belt, you are still at great risk of being surpassed by another innovator who leapfrogs your own success and technological advances.
So, what do you think? Please comment below!