A few months ago, whilst researching my purchase of a Fuji X100s, I came across a video about that camera by renowned editorial and commercial photographer Zack Arias. In the video, he describes with passion his love for the X100s and indeed swayed me to buy one. Two comments that he made in that video have stuck in my mind. The first was that the X100s was “the greatest camera ever made”. Now this can easily be dismissed as hyperbole and enthusiasm for what is a very good camera, the second comment, however, was somewhat more thought provoking and I think needs some careful examination. His comment was “the DSLR is dead”
Of course, if we take this comment at face value, it would seem an absurd thing to say. DSLR sales are at their highest point ever, everywhere you go, these days, people have DSLRs, mainstream electronics stores both online and physical sell them as main stream products in a way that the humble film SLR never achieved. On the face of it, the DSLR is in rude health.
But then so were digital compact cameras just a few short years ago, now they are in decline, not a gentle decline but a steep and to a certain extent accelerating decline. The reason? Technology moves on, for a product to go into decline there must be something better, more accessible and easier to use and in the case of the compact digital, it was the smart phone.
Smartphones are replacing compact cameras by camflan, on Flickr
Now I know we as photographers may not look upon smart phone cameras as being good cameras but we are not the target market. The target market is the average person in the street that wants to take pictures of their family, friends, pets and holidays. What they wanted is something simple that they can point and shoot at will and get good quality images to share online. Smart phones filled that gap.
So what of the DSLR?
What is driving the current demand?
Well, most buyers will have come from digital compacts, people enjoying taking photographs and wanting to be able to do more things than compacts will allow. Some of these people will get serious about photography, some will continue to just take snapshots. However, as we said earlier, technology moves on, and whilst DSLR’s are at the cutting edge of electronic technology, they are still firmly rooted in the past when it comes to ergonomics and mechanics.
In common with their film SLR predecessors, they have a great deal of clunky, some might say unnecessary mechanics that in this day and age can be replaced by electronics. The mirror is the most obvious example, it is a highly complex part of the camera that takes both a lot of space and of course power. The mirror is needed to give us that live physical view through the viewfinder that we all know and love. The shutter is another example of this older technology. The upshot is that DSLRs remain quite bulky and cumbersome compared to new technology.
Size is not everything by 아우크소(Auxo.co.kr), on Flickr
So what of this new technology?
Well at the moment, one of the growth areas is the mirrorless cameras. These cameras use electronic viewfinders to remove the need for both a mirror and a pentaprism, resulting in a much smaller, more manageable camera. Are electronic viewfinders as good as an optical one? No they are not, but neither were camera phones as good as a compact camera a few year ago.
The Fuji X100s, that I bought has an optical, rangefinder style viewfinder in addition to an electronic viewfinder. Is this as good as an optical viewfinder on a DSLR? No, in my opinion, it’s better. The use of electronics has allowed for an optical viewfinder that has a much greater than 100% field of view and then uses a kind of head up display projected in the viewfinder to show the frame size, grid lines, parallax corrections and much other information. It is simple the best viewfinder I have ever used.
The technology to produce smaller, more ergonomically pleasing cameras yet with better image quality, is accelerating rapidly. We as photographers want a camera that allows us to connect with our subjects yet become a part of us as we shoot. These new, more compact yet fully featured cameras are allowing us to do this. We still have interchangeable lenses, we still have great quality but what will also gain is the compactness and discretion of a smaller camera. Where photographers go, the mainstream will follow.
Is the death of the DSLR greatly exaggerated?
Yes, but its demise has started and as a lifelong SLR user, that is something I never expected to say.