Why You Should Care That DSLRs Are Dying

Why You Should Care That DSLRs Are Dying

I am not a big tech fan; I don’t overly get involved in tech reviews, but the death of the DSLR is something that does concern me, and here is why you should be worried to.

If you have read any of my previous articles or watched my YouTube videos, you will know that I am not a big gear head. I have used the same camera for a decade before finally upgrading my kit. Dual card slots, 100 AF points, and the highest-resolution sensors do not really concern me when it comes to professional photography. Yes, I need my camera to perform certain tasks, but most of what comes out of these companies is marketing hype and designed to make consumers' lives easier, rather than offering any real improvements to professional image quality. I get that camera companies need to offer improvements in order to sell cameras, but for a long time, there haven't been any improvements that have caught my eye as a non-techy person. However, mirrorless has completely changed this for me.

My camera lives on a studio stand nowadays, and I don’t recall the last time I used autofocus or a memory card. So, most of the technological advances just pass me by. And the actual practicalities and technological advances of mirrorless cameras don't offer anything new to me either. But for many, it will be a groundbreaking change, and I think wedding and event photographers will really be the big winners here. And this change will have an effect on the value of the equipment I own when I come to sell and upgrade.

With both Canon and Nikon jumping into the mirrorless game and hoards of photographers following with both feet, it is starting to concern me that the DSLR may well be on its way out. And if not on its way out, it's certainly going to take a massive hit in value for resale, which is a big part of any professional photographers assets.

Before I go into why we should care, I want to have a quick trip down memory lane.

Consumer Full Frame

Back in the olden (digital) days, the full 35mm sensor was reserved for the flagship cameras only. They were extremely expensive and offered a reason for medium format and 35mm film photographers alike to jump into the digital world. Once this was established, the big marketing race was for the first consumer full frame camera. I managed to pick up a Canon 5D (the original) when a camera store when bankrupt in the recession. It was a thing of beauty and the envy of many of my friends: an entire 11 megapixels of full frame goodness. Any film photographer who shunned me for moving over to digital could no longer state that the sensor was too small or that the image quality wasn’t high enough. Digital cameras had finally made it to the masses in an affordable(ish) package. The two main players, Canon and Nikon, had both achieved this, and it seemed like the stage was set for digital DSLR cameras to reign over professional photography forever. 

The Megapixel Race

For years after this, camera companies competed over megapixels. I am pretty sure a phone came out some years ago which had 46 or so megapixels, while I continued to work with 20 megapixels with no complaints from my clients. But megapixels sold cameras. Photographers had anxiety over the resolution that they needed, often before downsizing it to 1,000 pixels at 72 dpi to post to a Facebook group. Eventually, everyone decided that computers were struggling and that 50 megapixels was more than enough in most studios and that anything over 20-30 was far too much in the event and wedding world. 

Autofocus and Dual Card Slots

So, we moved on from megapixels and on to autofocus, something that I could understand. Granted, I didn’t need it, but I can certainly see the merits in the majority of fields for having more and better autofocus points. Around this time, the camera companies started to add dual card slots to the models below their flagship cameras. If I were shooting weddings today, this is something that I would not be able to live without. Eventually, we had our card slots and more autofocus points than I personally would ever know what to do with. So, the camera brands moved on.

Mirrorless

Sony and Fuji had been producing mirrorless cameras for years, even Hassleblad had a crack, but while Nikon and Canon remained DSLR companies, I assumed it was a flash in the pan and another marketing gimmick. But I was wrong. Both Canon and Nikon have produced amazing mirrorless cameras with specific lens lineups, and they have both been very well received. The benefits of a mirrorless camera seem huge in many genres, and it allows both brands to add tech that wasn’t possible in a DSLR.

So Why Should You Care About This?

There are two camps of photographers out there (broad, sweeping statement, I know): tech savvy folk and people like me. 

For the tech savvy, this is great. They can offload their DSLR cameras quickly before losing too much value and make a nice move across to mirrorless, which I am convinced is the future. If you are in this camp, get rid of your DSLR gear now before the value plummets faster than usual in the used market. Rather than waiting for a 5D Mark V to come out to devalue your current Canon camera, you now have two lines of bodies that will have an impact on your used prices. They may well bring out two other mirrorless bodies before a DSLR replacement comes out, and these will have an impact on the value that your current body holds.

What about people like me? I am useless with new tech. And it isn’t me trying to avoid it; my brain just doesn’t work like that. I upgraded my camera a year ago, and I am still getting to grips with it after a decade of shooting with the same bodies. I know that I am on a sinking ship, but I do not have that much time around my working schedule to learn new tech at the snail's pace that I absorb this information. Moving from Lightroom to Capture One was stressful enough. I have a very specific way of working, and I know that I will hold on to my gear for way longer than I should, allowing for masses of depreciation to occur before finally jumping ship and having a year of stress trying to figure out how a new camera system works. 

A lot of you will be pulling your hair out at me and thinking: "why not just jump now?" And you would be right: that would be the sensible thing to do, but logic doesn’t always win out. 

To conclude, I am a dinosaur who knows that he is going to be left behind pretty soon and standing there, holding on to some heavily devalued gear that no one will want. It will be the FD to EF lens scenario all over again. 

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119 Comments

Tony Northrup's picture

I wouldn't worry too much about resale value; I studied resale value for discontinued mounts and they held onto value better than mounts that are still receiving new gear. DSLR gear could be a better investment than mirrorless.

EL PIC's picture

Tony, I see the mirrorless movement as another Scam to sell more equipment. They all take pictures but until you can tell the real difference between Mirrorless snd DSLR images .. buying new lens and cameras is just more marketing hype w weasel words from the manufacturer.
The real cause of Camera Depreciation is because the manufacturers make little squeak improvements with 1 - 2 year life cycles and the Gear Heads go Goo Goo Ga Ga over it.
The Nikon F had an 12 year run and it’s replacement F2 had a 11 year run
They all have consistently shortened the life cycles over the years on new equip.
I will wait and continue well with my 5D II and III.

Michael Holst's picture

But wouldn't that make every innovation a scam to sell more equipment? Can you tell what photos used autofocus to take a picture? Can you point out which images were taken on a camera with dual card slots?

The pictures all look the same but these added features and innovations are there to assist the photographer in making a photograph.

"The Nikon F had an 12 year run and it’s replacement F2 had a 11 year run
They all have consistently shortened the life cycles over the years on new equip.
I will wait and continue well with my 5D II and III"

You realize that you're comparing the rate of technological advances from the 1950's to that of today right?

Michael Holst's picture

Nikon F camera, introduced in April 1959

Will Murray's picture

I really dislike having to explain.

The assertion was that product cycles are increasing in frequency; by way of example, the you stated the F had a 12 year run and the F2 had an 11 year run. Now, you have applied inductive reasoning by example; however, the induction fails by virtue of the F3, which had a 21 year run.

No matter, your point (although poorly made) is demonstrably true.

Michael Holst's picture

My point was not that product cycles are increasing in frequency. Though I can admit it's somewhat connected/related to your point.

I was quoting the comment I was replying to. I was pointing out that tech is advancing considerable faster since the 50's when the Nikon F, that EL PIC used as an example, was introduced. EL PIC is asserting that firms are introducing cameras with features that are ONLY marketing scams which is a silly claim.

"They all take pictures but until you can tell the real difference between Mirrorless and DSLR images... "
You can't, at least I can't. It is not the final image but the difference to me is in the the taking of the photo.

I agree with the author to a point, because some gear really has taken a hit, already. I have been fortunate to get some incredible deals the past year, buying some used Nikon gear. I have also tried selling a few things, and although they did sell eventually, I didn't get as much for them I was hoping. However I always buy used, camera's and lenses or sometimes even refurbished for lenses. About 80% of the time I resell gear, I end up making some money on it, because I know how to buy gear cheap, mostly off craigslist or ebay. I paid only $1100 for my D4s, which is worth about $1800. I paid only $3,900 for my Nikon 400mm f2.8G VR, which is worth probably $5,000 and so on and so forth. I always laugh when people say it's an expensive hobby or something similar, because for me it's not. If you buy used and can resell for more or less the same amount, it's not expensive and for me, it's a profession, it's a business. I will be using DSLR's for forever and until mirrorless is comparable or better. At present, it's behind in my opinion, but thats another discussion for another time. LOL.

Doug Walkey's picture

Even Pentax vintage equipment has held it's value well. Try and buy an LX or even MX and see what it costs.
DSLRs will continue to take excellent pictures until they physically die. For most brands that is 150,000 to 500,000 shots, and I have had a few cameras die of old age.
Photographers and farmers are about the only two professional groups that have the luxury of buying equipment frequently. Nearly all businesses buy equipment and then use it to death before they take on new hardware. There is a saying in the computer industry that "the last person to upgrade will be the person who bought the last upgrade". In a practical business sense that is true.
for me the switch to mirrorless was brought on by new lens tech. Modern lenses are just sharper and old eyes demand autofocus.
I hated the EVF for about 2 weeks, and was a great fan of OVF. Then I found I LIKE the heads-up display. I LIKE having a histogram right there. I LIKE having level gauges in the view finder. I LIKE not having to chimp to see the effect of that last setting change.
Give up my EVF and go back to a DSLR? Not a chance.

Are they dying though? Are shutter mechanisms all of the sudden imploding? Mirrorless has a few advantages but to say that DSLRs are dying is ridiculous. The fact is that they will remain for a long time. Companies are still actively producing lenses for the mounts. Not everyone is rolling in dough and has the ability to dump an entire ecosystem to invest in another that is not nearly as flushed out and developed.

Keep your equipment until it dies or no longer meets your needs. All of this 'DSLR's are dead' stuff is garbage.

Venson Stein's picture

The two systems actually complement one another. I shoot with both of course. I don't see how using two camera systems is some type of extravagance, but it seems most photographers believe in using just one. (Often accompanied by periodic giant, dramatic, fraught, life-altering, brand switches, ). With some careful shopping, used gear bargains,, patience, etc..90% of photographers could use two different systems. In my case, I use Nikon for DSLR, and Fuji for mirror-less. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

That is mostly due to funds and needs. I am not brand loyal. Two systems often just leads to redundancy and a resultant lack of use. Most people do not have the funds to have one system just sitting around doing nothing. I have a few different types of film gear but that is so cheap that even added up, it would not buy a used Fuji XT2 body.

I go with what works for me and what I can afford, which I would imagine is the case for most people. For digital, I am in the Nikon world because it was what met my needs and what I could afford. After purchasing a few lenses, you tend to stick with that system. There are so many Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc... DSLR users out there that the death of the DSLR is overblown and ridiculous. Until manufacturers are no longer to supply replacement parts (shutters, boards, etc...), to declare the DSLR dead is absurd. If all manufacturers suddenly shifted all of their production over to mirrorless, there would still be demand for DSLRs and the hundreds of thousands of copies of DSLR specific lenses on the market as they would become incredibly affordable. $400 for a D500? Sign me up. I would not need to blow 3 to 4 times that amount on a comparable performing mirrorless body and I will not have to buy new lenses either.

I will agree that these 'I switched!' things are stupid.

Venson Stein's picture

To save some cash, I avoid using the latest and the greatest and buy used where it makes sense. I shoot "one generation back" - I use a D810 and a Fuji X-T2. Neither go unused, I usually have both strapped onto me.

I really hope the DSLR will never die and I think anyone who says they are, is an idiot. Sure they may someday not make them anymore and some models of DSLR's have already disappeared. However it will be a good 7-10 years before you stop seeing DSLR's as often as you still do. I do a lot of large events, like sporting events and even airshows and concerts, etc. I am a photojournalist and almost 90% of what I see in the field is DSLR's, but I realize that's because I live in a niche. At one recent concert, I did see a lot of mirrorless camera's and it was eye opening. For me though mirrorless isn't even a thought and it won't be until Nikon or Canon catches up in autofocus speed, build quality, and two card slots, etc. For what I do, the D4s and D5 from Nikon are still the best option. Also I currently hate EVF's and can't see myself ever liking them, especially not ever liking them more than OVF's. Until I see an EVF that is much higher in resolution and closer to "seeing" it for real, like through the lens in an OVF, I'm not sold. For me, I don't want to be looking at a little TV screen, inside a tiny little black hole. LOL.

Nice piece, mature and thoughtful.

I went mirrorless, with Fuji, but more for the feel of stepping backwards than falling in love with the tech. What the tech did was allow me to shoot full manual, like in the pre-digital days, and my X-E2 had about the same size and heft as my old OM-10, Plus, I could now use all my old glass, with the right adapters. Soon after I sold my DSLRs

Some of which I have bought back. Scored on an old 5D classic, 12 MP is enough for me, as slow as it is (which means a higher keeper rate, in my book). As much as I like the new mirrorless cameras, some are TOO small (Olympus) and as good as the EVF's are, they can't compare to nice, large, optical viewfinder, especially in very bright, or very dim light. I also bought back a Canon 7D but decided that my old Olympus E-3 was better for me, sharper, about as quick, and built like a submersible tank. And I paid higher prices for these cameras then I had earlier sold them for.

So I think there is a place for all types of digital cameras (including P&S cameras like my Panasonic LX5) in our kits.

BTW - "Sony and Fuji had been producing mirrorless cameras for years, even Hassleblad had a crack" - um.,did you forget about Olympus and Panasonic?

Przemek Lodej's picture

I talked to my corporate photographer friend (35 years in the field) here at FCA where I work, and when I mentioned this whole discussion of mirrorless vs DSLR all he did was laugh and said it's all marketing bull**it. He said, just as many others, camera is a tool. If you feel comfortable with the tool and the end result is satisfactory why change? Makes sense to me. I don't see getting rid of my 5D MK III any time soon.

The DSLR or MLess marketing discussion is BS but is this coming from an FCA employee? An industry that lives and dies on selling people what they don;t need but they want because of marketing?

Przemek Lodej's picture

Yes an FCA employee, corporate studio photographer who has been in the industry for 35 years. I agree marketing is a powerful tool. :)

I may know him, I did the first half of my career in Detroit. I assisted at many of th enow defunct studios in Troy. I gotta admit Dodge and Jeep know their customer!

Will Murray's picture

Invalid ad hominem: your argument is wrong because your industry acts otherwise.

Stuart Carver's picture

#pray4DSLR

David Pavlich's picture

Why would I change to mirrorless when my 5DIV does very, very well for me? If I did, it would be to access Canon's new line of lenses which have proven to be very impressive, arguably the best autofocus lenses available. However, until Canon produces a true pro mirrorless, I'll stick with my ole' brick.

Rob Mitchell's picture

All a non issue. Really.
If the camera you have does the job you need, you don't need another. When it comes round to replacing the camera you have, you get a new one. DSLR or Mirrorless. They are all tools, they all do the job well. There's no bad camera out there. Just a wee bit bored of the flogging of this DSLR death thing.

Personally I work with a D850 and a Z7. More and more with the Z7. Both cameras product images that can't be separated as an image from a Mirrorless or DSLR.

I’ll stick my Canon DSLR EOS 6D

Scott Choucino's picture

The problem comes when trying to flog a large stock. So for one camera losing £1500 isn't an issue.If you own 6 cameras, 2 bags of lenses, 15 lights and its forever growing. For big studios the hit is huge when a system suddenly devalues.

Rob Mitchell's picture

It's written off the books so has no value to the company anyway. I've never once thought that any of my kit is worth anything when I'm done with it. It's paid for, earned it's keep.
Lenses, all my Nikon lenses still work just fine on the Z system so no waste there at all, they'll be used till they don't work or until Nikon brings out new ones, which they are. I'll then offload my old F mounts for whatever they're worth.

I'll never 'invest' in any kit that it's going to be paid for by the work it's doing. I'd rather rent a Phase One if needed it that buy it.
The used cameras that I'm long done with, if I don't get anything for them, I literally give them away.

Scott Choucino's picture

In the UK we tend to expense as its real time money and more tax efficient most of the time. From the comments, I think this may be different else where in the world.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Ah, probably explains it. Here it's brought in as an investment. Claimed back and written off over a few years. Once it's off the books it's dead weight. You could see that as the time it actually earns the money which is in fact true. The next investment might be a are computer, car ,any other material needed for the business.
If however, you feel that written off camera, you're taxed on that too. There are apparently other ways to get rid of it that I couldn't possibly know. <cough>

It's all about trying to keep the taxman at by here, he'll rob you blind anyway but we all like to keep our vital organs, first born, etc.

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