5 Years On…The Death of the DSLR Revisited

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A little over 5 years ago, we posted an article questioning whether the death of the DSLR had been greatly exaggerated.

It was one of a raft of articles by various writers on various websites. Some were very much of the opinion the DSLR was dead, others thought it was absurd that mirrorless would be the future.

All the articles were well reasoned, based in fact and created heated discussion within the community. 

In our article, we looked at how smartphones had killed the compact camera market. We also looked at how DSLRs were at the cutting edge of technology yet rooted in the past with their ergonomics and reliance on mechanical engineering such as mirror mechanisms.

Our conclusion was that the DSLR has started its demise. Today we are going to revisit that article to see how things have changed 5 years on.

Photo by Chris Barbalis 

The Sales Figures

Cameras sales as a whole have been dwindling over the last 5 years. In fact, dwindling might not be the right words, plummeting may work better.

From 2012 to 2017 interchangeable lens camera sales dropped from 16.2 million to 7.5 million units. However, the most striking aspect of those figures was that the drop was almost entirely limited to the DSLR market.

From 2012 to 2016, mirrorless cameras saw only a very slight drop in sales in comparisons to DSLRs. In 2017 mirrorless sales rose from 3.2 million to 4.1 million. The overall figures for 2018 are not in yet but it would be a pretty good bet to suggest mirrorless sales have overtaken DSLRs based on previous trends.

Photo by Jay Wennington 

Are Mirrorless Cameras The Reason For The DSLRs Decline?

The simple answer is partly. There are other factors in play too, most notably and once again, the smartphone. There is little doubt that the smartphone killed compact cameras. However, that happened over 5 years ago, when most smartphone cameras were decent but limited. 

Over the last few years, smartphones have got better sensors, telephoto lenses and even computer-enhanced image taking such as simulated Bokeh. There was a certain level of DSLR user that had no great interest in photography per se but wanted to take good quality and creative images. While in the past they may have bought a DSLR, these days they are more likely to upgrade their smartphone.

With that said, in the photographic enthusiast and professional markets, there is no doubt that mirrorless cameras are stealing sales from the DSLR.

In particular, younger generations who are not bound by the familiarity of the DSLR. They are more likely to embrace the technological advantages that the mirrorless system can offer. Older photographers too, may well be trading their heavy DSLR equipment for lighter, easier to carry mirrorless systems. 

Photo by Kushagra Kevat 

Have We Entered The Mirrorless Age?

The answer is yes. We photographers are generally a conservative bunch. We are often heavily invested into our systems, particularly Canon and Nikon. It would take something significant to make us jump ship.

In 2018 we saw that significant something in the introduction of full frame professional level mirrorless cameras from those two. The significance is backwards compatibility with existing lenses meaning invested photographers need only buy the camera bodies and not a complete system.

Of course Canon and Nikon going pro mirrorless was big news, but unlike the years of the DSLR, they were both following the trend rather than creating it. Had the likes of Sony, Fuji and Panasonic not driven the mirrorless technology it’s quite possible that the very conservative Canon and Nikon may not have jumped onto the bandwagon of mirrorless. However, the simple fact is that now, all the major camera companies have mirrorless products for both enthusiasts and professionals.

Photo by dhe haivan 

Technology And Systems.

When we published that article 5 years ago, there were several sticks that were used to beat mirrorless systems. Battery life, poor electronic viewfinders, limited lenses. Has that changed? Again the answer is a resounding yes.

Batteries and power management are undoubtedly better, viewfinders are regarded by some, to be better than optical viewfinders. The lens lineups for mirrorless has improved immeasurably. There is now fast glass both wide and telephoto in all the major product ranges. Couple this with increasing technological advances allow super-fast continuous shooting or ultra slow-motion video, it’s clear that mirrorless will continue to pull away.

Five years ago we asked, “Has the death of the DLSR been greatly exaggerated?” The answer then was that its demise had begun. Today, I think we can say that the demise will continue to accelerate.

Personally, I think that in five years time, the DSLR will no longer be in production. Mark your diaries, and let’s compare notes in 2024.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here

Not everyone is going to run and chase the next fad of disposable electronics. Like what has been seen recently with smartphones, there is a fatigue that ultimately sets in around chasing the latest and greatest, as well as the price that surrounds the chase.

Non mechanical mirrorless does have advantages. But I will always want to see down the lens… not have some digital representation. If theres a non mechanical way to do that then maybe I’ll change my mind.

Non mechanical mirrorless does have advantages. But I will always want to see the real stuff down the lens… not some digital representation. If theres a non mechanical way to do that then maybe I’ll change my mind.

I agree with your assessments, Jason. In particular, I believe that as the younger generations age, (as you said they have no particular association or proclivity toward the DSLR camera), they will choose the more advanced designs and advantages of the mirrorless camera systems.

I will go for the highest image quality in high, medium and low light. If mirrorless cannot beat this, I will stick to DLSRs.

Seems DLSRs and Mirrorless have comparable image quality, but if someone already have invested in the DSLR lenses, they maybe hesitant to switch to Mirrorless until they clearly surpassed DSLRs. Lenses can be as expensive or more expensive than the camera bodies.

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