Digital Dinosaurs: Are DSLR Cameras Considered Old News in 2024?

Digital Dinosaurs: Are DSLR Cameras Considered Old News in 2024?

It's 2024 and you're still shooting with a full-frame DSLR? Me too. Here is why I feel no pressure to switch from my DSLR camera body to a mirrorless system any time soon.

Digital photography has come a long way since the Fujix DS line came to the fore in the late 1980s as one of the first fully digital cameras featuring a tiny 0.40 MP capability. Fast-forward to 2024, photographers and enthusiasts are spoiled for choice with the amount of digital camera systems that are available on the market today. From DSLR and medium format, onwards to mirrorless; your budget and area of practice will have largely determined which system you have bought into over the years.

On one end of the spectrum, there are photographers who covet the rapid evolution of technology and upgrade their gear whenever they can, which can be compared to those who regularly upgrade their phones with each new release. Driven by enhanced features and the promise of cutting-edge innovation, these photographers find excitement in staying at the forefront and maintaining a current edge in the industry. On the other end, which is probably where I sit, another group of photographers adopt a more pragmatic stance, viewing their cameras as indispensable tools that are integral to their profession—taking a measured approach and upgrading only when their current equipment no longer serves its purpose.

Everyone is different, and I don’t expect all who read this article to agree with me on this. In terms of my equipment, I feel invested, and it's more than just a financial investment. I chose the Nikon D850, and it was a deliberate and calculated upgrade from my previous Nikon D800, as there were features of the D850 that attracted me, such as 45.7 megapixels of effective resolution, far superior low light performance, and the focus shift feature for product and macro photography. The tilting touchscreen was a bonus too. All of these reasons for choosing the D850 still stand today – they haven’t gone anywhere just because new cameras have been released, so why would I upgrade before the camera ceases to meet my needs? I am not a gear-driven photographer; for me, it's all about the image.

For full disclosure, I almost switched to mirrorless during the pandemic, but held off, and I am very glad that I did. This was the first time that I was tempted by a mirrorless camera as my main body. Nikon announced the Z9 in early 2020 which, I must admit, really piqued my interest. Delay after delay, the initial excitement around the release faded as I continued to use my trusty D850. When comparing the spec of the Nikon D850 and Z9 side by side, there just wasn’t enough to justify the switch. I realized that the main draw of the Z9 for the majority of photographers who were switching was the 8K video resolution. At that time, I rarely shot video.

By the time the Z9 was finally released amid the pandemic, I could not get my hands on one anywhere to even feel in my hands. Online retailers quickly sold out of the limited stock that they had, so I took the money that I would have invested in the body and lenses and upgraded to a new kitchen instead! I am still satisfied with that decision today.

The images I make are very intentional and important to me. Upgrading my equipment is not something that I do more often than is necessary because I form an attachment of sorts to items in my kit. My favorite lens, for example, is the Nikkor 70-200 2.8E FL ED VR, but this is not because I use it the most often, this is because of a specific series of portraits that I shot using the lens back in 2014. If I upgrade to mirrorless, I have to deal with parting with that lens. Yes, adapters are available, but if I’m switching, then I’m fully switching, and that lens is too costly to just hang on to as an ornament. I only just sold a camera I had hung on to since 2008 last year, the Fuji S5 Pro, because that’s what I used when I started studying photography at college. I hadn’t used it in years, and it is better off in the hands of someone who will use it than being packed away in storage.

A camera becomes a part of your routine, and finding your way around it becomes automatic, meaning you can just concentrate on what the camera is pointed at. Knowing your camera intimately can only be of benefit to the photographer and whatever the lens is pointed at. I like to think that this is similar to learning how to drive; at first, you have to think about every motion from controlling the gearbox to indicating, and which way to turn the wheel when reversing. Once you are an experienced driver, there are many parts of your process that become second nature, allowing you to concentrate on the road ahead.

Mirrorless camera advancements have come thick and fast in recent years, with more rumored to be released in the months ahead if you look at some of the recently filed patents and discussions of leaks in various Reddit threads. There have been rumors of a Nikon Z9H circulating since late 2023, and I would bet on some new fast shutter systems being released to coincide with the Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris this summer. Do I need to shoot more frames per second than I am currently able to? I do not, and so I can't imagine that there will be any camera released in 2024 that will cause me to switch.

I still appreciate the optical viewfinder too much to make the jump to mirrorless, which provides a direct optical view of the scene, as opposed to the electronic viewfinders on mirrorless cameras. DSLRs have longer battery life compared to mirrorless cameras, which can be advantageous during extended shoots, which I find myself in often. In a market dominated by high-spec mirrorless cameras, ultimately, the decision to upgrade or stick with a DSLR will be decided by camera manufacturers and what they choose to bring to the market. The Nikon D850, although first released in 2017, is still in production today, which lets me know that I am a long way from being labeled a dinosaur. I will switch when the time is right for me.

Have you switched or stayed with your DSLR system? What is your reason for doing so?

Kim Simpson's picture

Kim Simpson is a photographer based in the West of Scotland. Her photographic practice is an exploration of the human experience, with a particular emphasis on themes of identity and belonging.

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99 Comments

I still shoot with my 6D as a DSLR, alongside a Canon R-Series body.. my next cameras will all be mirrorless.

It's not about the size or bulk at all -- all of my DSLRs always used the extended battery grip and I had no complaints. Even on my mirrorless, I still use exclusively large EF lenses and have no complaints (except super telephotos can make the small mirrorless body a bit awkward to hold)

Batteries are cheap and easy to swap. I do swap them much more often than my DSLR, but an all day shoot might take 1 spare battery. I also swap the lights on my strobes so it's not a huge deal.

The biggest value to me, is the focusing. I shoot almost entirely at f/1.4 -- 20, 24, 35, 50, 85 and 105mm 1.4 lenses and on a DSLR? Accurate, sharp focusing has been an issue on every body. A lens might work fine at 5 foot but back focus at 15 feet. Liveview works, but it's incredibly slow compared to a a mirrorless. A mirrorless hasn't failed me in this area like a DSLR has multiple times, and that alone was my reason for swapping.

With no real dslr's on the way, you're also stuck with "what you've got" while the mirrorless are getting the new features

Edit: with that said, if you're shooting studio or anything not needing that, you probably won't care to upgrade

Thanks for your comment Matt. I do know that my next upgrade will most certainly have to be full frame mirrorless as the major manufacturers are investing in continuing this line... unless I can afford to go medium format at that time :)

I am a long time enthusiast, now retired and on a fixed income. I am a still photographer and never shoot video. I would go mirrorless if someone gave me the money. :) I have a Nikon D7500 and an IR converted D5300 with 5 lenses, DX and FX. So I am covered and really don't NEED to change.

Separating the wants from the needs!

Not by the images they take!

I've worked with Nikon SLRs since the Nikon F Photomic Ftn and currently use a D810. I'd like an 850 but can't see a good reason to upgrade yet. It is not the camera which shoots great photos but the photographer, a fact which many people seem to have forgotten.

The D810 is a fantastic camera! I am sure it does everything you need it to.

So true (from a fellow d810 owner). I hope youve been taking advantage of all the poor souls who have to sell their gear drive AF lenses now that theyre on mirrorless. I prefer the ai/ais lenses, but even with AF-d lenses, the rendition of color and light was still the engineers main priority at nikon. Once marketing depts started using lens resolution/sharpness as a measuring stick, the lenses got worse for actual photography. Im sure several people who spend all day debating $3k lenses based on how they photograph a ruler will disagree, and those dweebs suck, nobody should listen to them.

I had the D850, nice camera, but, Like you said I'm all about the image and more than the bodies, Nikon S lenses are so good. I can see the difference from the F lenses. You say you can't stand the thoughht of giving up on the 70-200mm lens, shoot them side by side with a Z7II or Z8, Z9, and use the 70-200mm S lens. I think you would change! I bought into Nikon Mirrorless mainly because their S Lens mount is superior to all of their others. Plus I was not giving up on any resolution. I now have a Z8 and I love it, with all my S Glass.

I have no doubt that they are fantastic pieces of equipment - like I said, I almost switched during the pandemic because the buzz around them was so great. There just wasn't enough to justify for me at that time, and I still feel the same way. They'll get me one day!

The 80-200 S is a $2500 lens. Are you doing portraits? Because the ais135mmf2 is $350, or if you need training wheels bolted on, the AF135mmf2DC is $500. As it stands, all mirrorless cameras are more suseptible to bricking, battery eaters, with lenses engineered for bench racing. If you upgrade from a "dumb" nikon (no ibs, pixelshift, etc) to a mirrorless and your photos are suddenly much better, its because your technique was bad, and youre seeing a computers guess of what they would look like if you had good form. Turn off all the digital correction and then compare the output to your dslr/f-mount lenses.

Do you have examples of your work?

I have a Z8, a D850 and a D750 and frankly I always gravitate towards my D750 and still prefer the viewfinder on my DSLRs

All great cameras, lucky you! I too enjoy the experience of the viewfinder. Especially with still life or product work, when the camera is on the tripod and I am taking my time.

I have a different perspective on updating camera equipment. I don't think it's worth spending money on the latest models of SLR cameras, because they are constantly changing and evolving. You can never catch up with the technology, and you don't know what will happen in the future. Maybe your photos will be lost or forgotten someday. I have been interested in photography since the 1990s, when I used Chinese Seagull film cameras and developed my own film. Then I switched to Canon's first SLR, Canon D30, D60, and so on. I reached 1Ds and I was obsessed with megapixels and shutter speed. But I realized that it didn't make a big difference. I don't need to follow the trend, because my works may not last as long as I hope. Life is short, and I think the most important thing is to enjoy it while we can. That's what makes me happy.

A lovely way to look at it, thanks for sharing.
I have an old Seagull TLR at home! Photographs if preserved properly (digital and print) can last for a long time. I have my great grandparents wedding photograph, taken over 100 years ago.

I bought an album from Facebook Marketplace for $250. It is dated 1865 and the photos are on tin type instead of paper. The pictures still looks new, with photos of when people were children, then as adults, with their names written on the album. It even include real braided hairs of females. Plus a picture of a twin boys with goatees & long hair.

Regarding your old Seagull TLR camera, I bought a Kodak Brownie camera complete with its flash equipment at a thrift store. I bought it for sentimental reason because my mom had one in the mid 1960s.

It took me all of 5 minutes using a Fuji X-T1 to realize that mirrorless cameras were a better tool for me. That was a decade ago and I haven't owned or wanted an SLR since.

Sounds like it was the right move for you. Dont get me wrong, if Nikon sent me a Z8, all my articles for the next 5 years would be about how great it is.

MILCs viewfinder is bright, compared to DSLRs. But I find them storing the photo after you take a picture takes awhile.

I still use my Nikon D850. I enjoy keeping up with new tech but I see no reason to buy the Z7 or Z8. The benefits with mirrorless are mostly faster AF and better video capabilities and I shoot architecture in manual focus with tilt/shift lenses.

If your work involves waiting for the right moment and the right light, then your priorities are different from the masses. There is no one right camera for the job (but plenty of wrong ones!)

Im in complete agreement with you. I use D810's currently, and thats only because i feel a lot more comfortable putting a $700 camera through the rough life i give them. If/when i get a "new" camera, a good condition d850 is in my future. Honestly, the best thing to come from the mirrorless revolution is the crash in prices for nikon ai/ais, and af/af-d lenses. So many god tier (often artistically better than the corresponding Z mount) lenses for $300 or less. The Z-mount fast lenses are ridiculously priced. I would put the results i get from my d810/ais135mmf2 or moldy, crusty ais85mmf1.4 up against anything those $2k lenses on a Z6ii. Plus the two biggest flaws of mirrorless cameras, they still take 2 seconds or more to fully turn on, and you had *BETTER* keep it turned off when near lazers at nightclubs, the front of any modern car with adaptive cruise/lane assist, or the sun. Because if you happen to get a lens-ful (especially a telephoto lens) of any of those things while its turned on, youve bricked your sensor. God gave us two eyes, but only one sensor in each camera, so with a DSLR (the way god intended us to take photos) you can just burn out a retina tracking a bird into the sun, instead of burning out that precious rectangle of sony's finest.

I am sure we will see huge improvements in mirrorless camera battery life in the coming years, its still very early in their evolution and things will only get better. I like your sentiments about burning retinas instead of sensors :)

It likes when digital came and slowly replaced film cameras in the past. That is the stream of history and technology, we have to accept it and move on.

Absolutely, evolution of imaging hardware is continuous. DSLR's are not yet obsolete though which was the sentiment of my article.

It would be even more exciting if they come up with hologram, or 3d photos.

I remember back from the 1970s, the highest ISO that I can get for 35mm film camera was 400. Now you can set it on auto ISO at ridiculously high numbers on your DSLRs, or MILCs. My first camera that I bought with my newspaper route money was a Minolta SRT-101 with a 50mm f1.8 lens at K-Mart back in 1972 when I was a young teenager.

When my EOS 70D was not meeting my needs any more, I changed to a 5D IV. That was back in 2020. I had the opportunity to go mirrorless then but preferred the handling of the DSLR and was more familiar with its operation. I have a collection of EF lenses (including a 50mm from the ‘80s!) that do everything I need them to do. I no longer make money out of my photography, being retired and am more than happy with my current kit. The camera’s abilities exceed my own and until I find that I’m not achieving what I want, or the 5DIV gives up the ghost, I won’t change, but when I do I presume it will be to a mirrorless.
I do change my iPhone camera every year, but will reconsider this when I can’t see any major benefit from the latest model over what I currently use.
I do like the idea of the ‘latest and greatest’ but have come to the conclusion that unless I can see a major leap in capabilities, I’m staying where I am. Same applies to cars and power tools ;-)

I upgraded my iPhone 11 to the 15 Pro Max and really appreciate the jump in quality... had I upgraded every year or every other year, I wouldn't really benefit from that feeling.

Noticed that the bulk of comments thus far are from Nikon folks; Canon shooter here. Regardless, much of what has been said reflects my experience/position as well... i.e. happy with my results using the existing DSLR equipment in my possession, can't justify the expense on changing protocol for where I'm at in my photographic journey, etc., etc.

I'll tell you a primary/main influence re staying with my kit (or at least pushes my reasoning over the threshold), is the open source project "Magic Lantern" that I'd installed on those bodies it was/is available for. Anyone who is using this resource will know what I am talking about. So many tools that could have been built right into the camera software by the OEM, but weren't; developed by volunteers (or hackers, if you will)... many of which seriously up my game with the equipment.

Cheers

Thanks for your input from over there in the Canon camp, Peter! Glad you get what you need out of your kit, that's what its all about.

I am a Canon DSLR camper too. From 5DM2 to 5DM4. My MILC is a Sony A7R3 with a Canon EF lens adaptor.

I started using Canon SLRs 30+ years ago and moved to DSLRs about 20 years ago. My current body is a 90D. I looked at the R7, which is the rough equivalent in mirrorless but decided to stay with a DSLR. I could see some advantages with the mirrorless option, but the deciding factor for me was it's lack of an "amateur" feature: pop-up flash. I know it's something that serious photographers aren't supposed to use, but I use it extensively for macro work - mainly insects. Sure, I could get slightly better results with proper macro lighting in a studio, but in the field, it's fast, effective, easy to carry, and easy to diffuse. A smaller, lighter camera isn't much of an advantage if it means that I have to carry an external flash.

Whatever does the job, Brian! A ring flash would really change the game for you but I understand it would take away the light and compact set up you currently have.

Great idea of using that pop-up flash for micro work.

I used a Bronica S2A system from 1979 to 1994. Weddings and portraits. What you said about the Nikon and getting to that place where it becomes automatic and you can concentrate on what the camera is pointed at is so true. I always carried 2 bodies, 5 lenes, and 5 film backs with 220 Vericolor II. I was free to create with this and a Majestic (4x5) tripod. The Metz 60CT did it's job and all I had to do was shoot. Even camera rotation wasn't needed. The tripod also freed me to really "see" what I was doing in a pleasing and repeatable way. I totally get why you would keep a camera that has no "futz" factor for you. Thank you for encouraging these young people to move past the gear and into art.

The Metz flashes were absolutely fantastic, I think it was the Mecablitz I used. Very clunky but couldn't fault the power output. Great gear is great gear, but getting lost in the creation of a great image is really something.

I had the Bronica ETR in the 1980s, but it was too heavy for me, hand holding it for weddings, especially when coupled with the Metz 60CT flash.

The S2A was a brick, as manual as one can get. I only hand held it when I had too. My assistant was my wife of now 49 years. We did this together and it worked great. We were younger then.

i shoot both the D850 and the Z8, and though the D850 was my favorite camera, it just can't compete with the focusing and the accuracy of the exposure of the Z8. i'll probably won't take it abroad with me due to it's cost but for paid work it's simply a game changer.

Great to hear from someone who has both! I look forward to the camera which tempts me away from my D850, it will truly be fantastic.

you will defiently enjoy it, even the learning curve was not as steep as i thought it would be

I have sort of had the alternative experience. I shot DSLRs for about 7-8 years, but was a very early adopter of mirrorless technology, switching entirely to mirrorless by 2011. I have gone through the evolution of mirrorless bodies. I started wondering about whether my perceptions of DSLRs were still valid, so I picked up a small DSLR kit last summer to try out for a month or two to see what I was missing, and what I wasn't.

I wrote an article about the experience (here: https://admiringlight.com/blog/revisiting-the-dslr-is-mirrorless-really-... ), but to sum up for the comments: Image quality was great, of course, since that doesn't depend on the mirror. Viewfinder was very nice in good light, but notably worse to me in dimmer indoor situations than a modern EVF. Value is definitely there at the moment in favor of the DSLR...but focusing? My god, what a step back from modern mirrorless cameras...especially with regards to shallow depth of field shooting, where the precision, accuracy and easy of use is simply miles ahead on mirrorless.

Interesting perspective. It would be strange to go from a modern mirrorless to what you described as a small DSLR. Focusing does seem to involve a little more precision on the DSLR side but then it would depend what you were shooting. I cant compare as its just the way I shoot.

It isn't generally known, but EVF cameras focus at the set aperture. How does an EVF camera decide the magic spot of focus with a wide angle lens set at f/11? They often hunt or focus incorrectly in these situations. The OVF, like a D850, focuses at maximum aperture, which can be faster and more precise. Further, this theory that the EVF is truly showing you what you will get is misleading. Besides, if a tool worked effectively one, two even 5 years ago, why shouldn't it continue to do so? Therefore, why suffer the depreciation with little to be gained?

I never rhought about that focus factor between the OVF & EVF. I will try that myself.

But this is the complete opposite of my experience. DSLRs do not have the same focus consistency, accuracy and precision as modern mirrorless cameras. First, while yes, mirrorless cameras often focus at working aperture, this is usally only up to a certain point (Nikon, for instance, stops at f/5.6 for working aperture focusing)...I've never had an issue with focus accuracy on my wide angle lenses on mirrorless.

In fact, I have essentially never had an issue with focus accuracy on ANY lens on mirrorless. Front and back focus are non-existent, and the consistency of focus is just miles better in my experience. And it's especially true for shallow depth of field situations, where nailing eyes with lenses like an 85mm f/1.2 is quite easy to do on mirrorless, and quite inconsistent on a DSLR.

--- "How does an EVF camera decide the magic spot of focus with a wide angle lens set at f/11? They often hunt or focus incorrectly in these situations."

Sounds like you lack knowledge of the new tech. You were probably using Wide Area Focus instead of using Spot Area focus. There's no magic to it.

--- "Further, this theory that the EVF is truly showing you what you will get is misleading."

EVF is 99% close what you'll get compared to 0% close on an OVF.

--- "Besides, if a tool worked effectively one, two even 5 years ago, why shouldn't it continue to do so?"

Different people have different needs. If you are the type to shoot at a slower pace or at smaller apertures (f5.6, f8, f11, etc), what you have is fine. But, if you are shooting at a faster pace, especially at wider apertures, mirrorless will benefit you.

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