As more mirrorless camera lines are announced from the biggest manufacturers in the world, does the DSLR run risk of being put on the sidelines indefinitely?
Certain camera manufacturers (Sony, Olympus, etc.) have been offering mirrorless cameras for a while now and to great success. Their smaller form factor and portability meant that many photographers could carry the same kit but in a lighter camera bag. The big brands, such as Canon and Nikon, have caught onto this in recent years and finally decided to take the plunge into the mirrorless market, releasing both mirrorless cameras and new DSLRs side by side, but the tide seems to be turning. There are recent reports of DSLR equipment and cameras themselves either being discontinued or not being put on the market at all, but why? Let's look at a few reasons below.
Size and Weight
Due to the absence of a pentaprism, a mirror, and an optical viewfinder, a mirrorless is a less bulky affair. It requires more vertical space to house this and as such, a DSLR is big and heavy. There are exceptions to the rule, with entry-level camera bodies being much smaller and lighter than their beefier professional brothers and sisters, but when you want big quality, the device gets big, too.
For example, let's compare the Nikon D850 to the Nikon Z 7II. Both shoot just over 45 MP, both are full-frame 35mm, and both shoot 4K UHD video. However, the Nikon D850 weighs 915 g compared to the Nikon Z 7II's 615 g — about a third less. The dimensions follow suit, though not as dramatically, with the D850 at 146 x 124 x 78.5 mm and Z 7II at 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm.
Seeing in the Dark
When shooting astrophotography or capturing any subject at night or in the dark, DSLRs are good but have a few quirks. Due to that optical viewfinder, there is a direct link into the camera body, which means that any light shining onto the viewfinder can work its way inside and mess up the metering system or worse yet, leak onto the image sensor itself. That means viewfinder caps (or in-built sliding covers) have to be used to block that light off for accurate results. Not so with the mirrorless.
Mirrorless cameras use electronic viewfinders (EVFs), which essentially place a tiny screen inside that familiar viewfinder spot to produce an image similar to that of the rear LCD screen. The benefit of this is that most mirrorless cameras have a boosted exposure live view that can also display through the EVF, meaning you can see better in the dark to compose your shots than with a DSLR. And you don't need to cover the viewfinder, either.
Making a camera body smaller might mean it takes up less space in your kit bag, but it also means there's less free-flowing air. That's trouble for heat dissipation. Since electrical components generate heat and there's quite a bit of electronic equipment inside a camera, that results in hot cameras. By limiting space, the issue of thermal build-up gets worse, and as mirrorless cameras keep pushing the limits of what we thought possible (such as 8K video), we're noticing the limits of what they can do. Read any news article on mirrorless bodies overheating while shooting high-resolution video footage and you'll see what I mean (the Canon EOS R5, for example).
Lenses Being Discontinued
As camera manufacturers pour money into developing new mirrorless technology, many things in the production line have to change, and as such, it leaves fewer resources to continue running DSLR alongside it. For a technology that offers the same (or better) performance for a fraction of the size and weight and increasing features that outperform the old DSLR lines, it's only a matter of time before DSLR bodies, lenses, and other accessories are discontinued. It's already started to happen for some companies.
So, future-proofing is what we're talking about here. Why would a consumer who's looking to get into photography invest in a dead camera format when the newer models are offering so much more? There are a few reasons. Buying second-hand makes things cheaper, an older, more established format, such as a DSLR, has a wider range of lenses and accessories available, and some people prefer bigger cameras in the hand. But for professionals and those who want to keep up to date, going mirrorless is increasingly the better option.
For most DSLR shooters the option of image stabilization has been in the form of literally stabilizing the camera using some kind of rig (shoulder rig, Steadicam, gimbal, etc) or using lens-functioning image stabilization that shifts the elements inside the lens to create a more stable image. This gives the advantage of shooting longer shutter speeds handheld or keeping smoother-looking video when tracking fast-moving subjects.
Mirrorless cameras can also be used with camera rigs and feature stabilization in their lens line-ups (depending on the lens), but many camera bodies also include in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Take a look at the latest offerings from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc., and you'll get five stops of IBIS to smooth out images. That's before you use a rig or a lens. And lenses with IS can (in some models) be combined with the IBIS to produce silly numbers, like eight stops of IS. So, if you wanted to shoot that skateboarding video handheld without a rig, well, now you can.
You may be forgiven for thinking that the DSLR has mirrorless cameras beat for autofocusing (AF) ability and speed, but you'd be wrong. Sure, that was true when mirrorless cameras first started appearing, using only contract-detection AF similar to how some cameras autofocus using the rear LCD screen, but many mirrorless models now use phase-detection AF that are just as fast as the DSLR phase-detection we're used to.
It goes further, though. DSLRs typically have a separate sensor for detecting autofocus before snapping a shot, which limits the AF points to around the center of the frame, but mirrorless cameras operate autofocus on the image sensor itself, meaning AF points can be placed right up to the edges of the frame. They also use new features, such as face, eye, and animal detection. It's only a matter of time before artificial intelligence pops onto a chip on a mirrorless body to help assist this further.