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Why Do DSLRs Sell Better Than Mirrorless Systems?

By Anthony Thurston on February 25th 2014


There was a time when DSLRs offered quality that no other consumer affordable camera could match, those days are gone. Still, despite competition from mirrorless systems and even high end compacts,  the DSLR remains one of the best selling camera markets in the US and Europe.

Amateur Photographer recently investigated this phenomenon, and their investigation has come up with the following reasons as to why DSLRs are still leading the camera marketplace.


Reasons Why DSLRs Out Sell Mirrorless System Cameras

  • Smaller cameras are fiddly to use compared to DSLRs
  • Confusing category names
  • Consumer are still hanging on to the glory days of Canon and Nikon (in the USA and also in Europe)
  • DSLR has wider range of accessories.
  • Low budget DSLRs compete against mirrorless system cameras

I would like to offer up a reason of my own, not based on fact, but just my opinion. Mirrorless cameras, for the most part, are small and more closely resemble the design of crappy compact cameras than they do DSLRs. There are exceptions to this, obviously, but for the most part, most mirrorless system cameras do look inexpensive and look like they would break easily.

[REWIND: Nikon Officially Announces The New D4s]

DSLRs on the other hand, more closely resemble SLRs. Most people out buying cameras these days were raised with SLRs as “the” pinnacle of photography for most consumers. It all goes back to the American mentality that “Bigger is Better”, and mirrorless systems remind people of crappy compacts, while DSLRs remind people of the SLRs that they grew up wanting.


The Fujifilm X-T1, A SLR Styled Mirrorless Camera, Now Available For Pre-Order

Take a look at some of the best selling and most popular mirrorless systems, Fujifilm for example. What do they do differently than many mirrorless systems? They styled their camera bodies like old rangefinder and SLR cameras. It’s not a coincidence that Fujifilm is gaining popularity with every release. Perception is everything.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with the reasons put forth by Amateur Photographer? What do you think of my theory? Share your thoughts in a comment below to join the discussion.

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. KC

    I expected to see more viewfinder comments here. I still use Pentax kit as I have lenses older than I am, and still love their primes. A real viewfinder would top my list if lenses I already own weren’t being considered. Then manageability; having large hands I prefer a larger camera, though my pocket and weight prefers a smaller one (long hikes and backpacking especially.)
    I have a few friends that will shoot professionally with a DSLR and pick up a nice PnS for their everyday carry. Controls are slower, but the glass/sensor/quality is better than a phone and is always with them. One other thing is weather sealing. I use a WR (weather resist) K-20D and a few WR lenses most of the time in the PNW and this saves my equpment, though I don’t know if 4/3 has moved this direction.
    When I am asked for recommendations, if they want good photos and videos and just want to take pictures, I say go micro 4/3s. If they want to learn about photography, are interested in the hobby or like to tinker, I steer them towards an SLR. I have used this analogy, “a manumatic sports car is fun to drive, but it still doesn’t have a clutch. If that is what you want, you wont be happy without one.”
    One other thought is “cheap and cheerful.” I have an M42 adapter plate and have enjoyed lots of old lenses. Some with fungus/oil/oddities, old manual lenses, un-coated lenses, home made lenses (pinhole.) Most cameras will adapt most lenses, though I prefer optics free adapters. the K20 will meter and set shutter/aperture on manual lenses which was a selling point when I bought it.

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  2. Jim

    Personally, I prefer the viewfinder in my DSLRs.

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  3. David K. Sutton

    And don’t underestimate how much of the current market for DSLRs is fueled by people who already own a DSLR and are looking for a good back up, walk around, or upgrade camera body. That’s not to say I think people new to photography will choose mirrorless over DSLR, but that “newcomer” market is likely where we will see mirrorless gain traction. So it will happen slowly over time.

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  4. Lisa Mirante

    Most comments seem to be coming from people interested in photography for it’s own sake, which makes sense considering the site. But if you look around you, most camera owners aren’t “photographers”; they’re people who just want better pictures than their phone gives them. In my area, that means lots of people who have young kids who want to take pictures of them at Christmas and at soccer games.

    If someone like this asked for my opinion, I’d tell them go DSLR. Kit lenses are good and autofocus is faster, for the most part. I have a Canon 60D and a Fuji X-E1 and I much prefer to shoot and carry the Fuji but if I’m taking pictures of kids at soccer games or just running around like little maniacs, I use the Canon every time. Until this phase of my life goes away, I can’t switch. Although I might if the X-T1 is as good as they say.

    How many people who buy cameras wander around framing their shots of a bridge so the sunlight hits just so, or moves their subject into an area of better light for a more pleasing portrait? You guys do but the vast majority go “Oooh that’s pretty/cool/amazing! ” and they move on.

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  5. Peter

    This guy’s an idiot! Or Mindless! Mirrorless cameras will someday replace DSLR’s, as the used market increases there will be options to fill-out complete systems and when more new lens selections become available.

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  6. Jason

    I can’t speak to the population as a whole, but for me, the reason why I shoot a Canon DSLR instead of Fuji is because of the lens selection. Also, full-frame sensors produce images with more shallow depth of field than crop or m43 sensors. Now I also realize that the general public is unlikely to spend money on a collection of lenses (most people I know with a mid-level DSLR only have the kit lens that came with their camera), so I speculate that the reason they choose DSLRs instead of mirrorless cameras is because 1) they’ve heard of Canon and Nikon and haven’t heard of or are familiar with Olympus, Fuji, Sony etc., and 2) they sell Canon and Nikon at places like Costco and Sam’s Club. Fuji, not so much. If Fuji wants to change things it needs to spend the big bucks on marketing so Joe Public knows they exist and get their product to more marketplaces (e.g. Walmart).

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  7. Black Z Eddie

    I think the “investigation” is inconclusive or purposely made one-sided. It only shows a chart of the declining mirrorless sales. Where is the chart the shows how the DSLRs are doing?

    With that said, I like lugging my Sony A77 around more than the NEX-5N even with little family get togethers because of the controls. I can adjust almost anything on the fly w/o menu diving. That and so I can get grandma eating soup with a 300 f2.8. hahaha j/k

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  8. Andrew Brown

    So people buy DSLR’s because they look professional and remind people of the SLR’s of old.
    That applies to the ‘oldies’ – but the newer generation seem more interested in use of a smart phone for camera uses.

    My main reason for going Fuji after having off loaded all my kit was the fact that it is not breaking my back to carry my X-Pro 1 around – no, it just sits in my coat pocket. IQ is just as good, and with resolution that I find more flattering for people than the 21mp of the 5D2. Next up – I’m finding when out and about, people don’t get nervous when they see me walking around with a little X-Pro 1 and even models seem to be more accepting of this nice little camera “how cute”. Even the Old Bill have ceased stopping me and asking my intentions with that ‘rocket launcher of a camera’ – and as for the ‘security bods in anoracks’ – they often mistake it for a smart phone and don’t even bother to approach.

    Now, all the available gadgets thing that some one said? Really? If you started your photography in the days of SLR (for me it was the Canon A1) – you do not need loads of gadgets, lenses etc. Your experience and interest specialisation should have you down to a couple of bodies and 3 or 4 lenses and what accessories? A tripod, remote release cable (or computer), some speedlites and gels. Lens quality on the Fuji systems is at least as good as anything Canon or Nikon have and with a range that seems to match most peoples needs once the 10-24 is released shortly. And those lovely wide primes with f1.4 and f1.2 coming in for less than the price of a 24-105 L as opposed to Canons equivelant costing the same as a good quality used car.
    The same applies to the bodies themselves.

    So, to sum it up, no 450hp luggage trolley to carry a Canon kit around in, the ability to get a complete kit for less than the price of a couple of 5D3’s or 1DX with image quality to match. Oh – and no hassle from security, police or any one with children. Then of course you have no mirror that can break either!

    Sorry guys – it’s a no brainer in my book.

    Enjoy your back surgery and empty wallets for those not willing to see the futre for what it is.

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  9. Jake

    People want to “look professional” and I don’t think the massed know (or care) about the differences between mirrorless, DSLR’s, Full Frame, Medium Format, Crop Sensor, etc. As far as I can tell, most think all dslr’s are created equal. And I do agree that most american’s are stuck in the Canon/Nikon vortex and wouldn’t branch out for any reason whatsoever. I think it is primarily about perception. Professional looking camera equals “I’m a better photographer”. This a semi-pro who shot Canon and L glass that was completely made the switch to fuji because the of design, and the value that exists in the Fujinon Glass. I just shot a wedding with the X-E2 and 23mm almost exclusively. Loved it.

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  10. Clete

    For me, I’d love to have one but don’t have the dough to buy the body AND glass to go with it. If Nikon came out with a quality mirrorless with an F mount, I’d be all over it

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  11. Graham Marley

    Matt, I think you’re both definitely on to something as far as design and form factor, and I think both of those are important in their own way. I mean, I think the cameras Sony and Fuji are designing look totally baller compared to a Rebel or an intro Nikon SLR, and I definitely get that appeal.

    It’s just hard for me to approach from where I’m at now: While I continue to add to my FF kit, the next truly new thing I’m thinking of is medium format. I’m really drawn to the Pentax, because of the new specs and pricing, but there’s something about Hasselblad and Phase One having a cohesive, modernized line of lenses that don’t seem to cross as many wires as the Pentax line. That makes me at least pause. And that pause ends when I see the 5 figure difference in prices. :)

    But my point is, I think that would be my same mindset. I’d have to look at, say, Panasonic and say “This looks great!” but is it as straightforward, easy to understand and concretely established as the EOS and EF lines? I honestly don’t think so.

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  12. Timothy

    I think for me it really boils down to commitment, i currently have all canon gear, just because thats what i started with, so for me jump to a fuji system or sony i would either have to sell everything that i spent the last few years building with a lot of saving a budgeting or i add a new system to my gear, which would be awesome but then its just a question of why do i need two systems …. also for me i tend to shoot a lot of off camera lighting and i would also have to switch over to pocket wizard system to make that work as well. I think they released that meta bones adaptor for the sony cam, so i might end up doing something like that if i decide to go mirror less ill pick up and A7r or whatever is out at that time but my Mark iii is still relevant and probably will be for a few more years so until that time comes ill stick with what i have, and chances are by then i feel medium format will be the industry standard….but to shorten my answer my dam lenses are very expensive and i want to continue getting my money’s worth ….

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  13. Graham Marley

    “DSLRs on the other hand, more closely resemble SLRs.”

    Sedans resemble cars with 4 doors.

    Just giving you a hard time. If I were to start all over and go back to a place where I was going to buy my first serious camera, I would seriously have to consider how established a product line is. A new product category can pop up with a handful of accessories, and then vanish, and that product is a dead end. I think at this point MFT looks pretty secure, but Canakon has decades of legacy (that continues to be very well earned btw), and I just think that carries with a lot of serious consumers.

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    • Matthew Saville

      ROFL that was good. Thanks for pointing that out Graham!

      OK seriously, I think Anthony is on to something though. If I’m buying a camera, it has to look cool. It can’t look like something my grandmother would know how to use. Call me shallow, but I like my cameras to look more like something Bruce Wayne would carry around. I’m just sayin’!


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    • Vinnie

      most serious photographers would actually be more concerned about things other than the camera looking cool, but we all have our priorities.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      haha, Graham. :P

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  14. Averil

    I like the idea where a person can have a full frame camera without the bulk. It comes in handy especially if a person is trekking cross country. My reason for holding back on buying a mirrorless is basically I am waiting and seeing if they improve on how they evolve and what reviews are saying

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