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Is the DSLR Dead?

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

DSLR cameras are typically larger than their mirrorless counterparts. The Nikon D850, despite having similar specs to the Z 7II, is actually heavier and larger overall.

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.

Heat Build-Up

Among other mirrorless cameras, the Canon R5 is known to overheat when shooting its highest resolution video footage, which can limit recording time without a fix.

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 start to phase out DSLR cameras and associated equipment, are new users more likely to buy into a more sustainable, future-proofed lineup?

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.

Stabilization

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.

Autofocusing Ability

Autofocusing was better on DSLRs when mirrorless cameras were initially introduced, but that's since flipped, and mirrorless uses the same phase-detection technology, only on the image sensor itself.

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.

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51 Comments

chris bryant's picture

Yes.

Charles Mercier's picture

She's holding the camera incorrectly.

chris bryant's picture

Damned amateurs.

Charles Mercier's picture

If you're a photographer making a point in an article about photography, you should at least show people how to correctly hold an ILC.

Jon Kellett's picture

Glad I'm not the only one who was triggered by that! :-)

Mike Shwarts's picture

But, but, but she's got image stabilization. 😁

Dinah Beaton's picture

I think its a pose so we have full view of the camera - or a game of 'Spot The Mistake' lol

Tony Clark's picture

Funny, everyone wants to tell you how to do your job. I am fully invested in 5DIV’s and EF glass and they do what I need plus the pandemic has slowed work down drastically. How much does a 5DIV and average EF L weigh compared to the R5 with comparable lens? I work mainly on a tripod so it does really matter to me. I may go ML if the features make sense and I can make the investment.

Jon Kellett's picture

I used to shoot DSLR (Canon), purchased a Panasonic m43 to play with video, jumped ship. Full m43 kit (2x bodies, 2x lenses) was less weight than a Canon body and 24-105.

Then I moved to Sony and am carrying (much) more weight than my Canon days and the same size bodies!

I never understood why some people feel the need to tell others how to do their job/what gear to buy. If what you have works for you and your customers, why spend money changing and learning the new gear?

Stuart C's picture

This months installment of DSLR is dead.

chris bryant's picture

The merry-go-round click bait of the DSLR is dead, m43 is dead, Pentax is dead etc..

Tammie Lam's picture

Don't forget that Canon is dead.
"Readers voted as the Most Dead Company in 10 consecutive years" :)

Stuart C's picture

No, surely after todays onslaught its gotta be all about 'Nikon is dead'

Michael Dougherty's picture

How could Canon be more dead than Nikon? (humor)

Charles Mercier's picture

Fstoppers posts repeat articles all the time, sometimes within days of each other.

Mike Ditz's picture

Artists argue about their brushes too. :)

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Discontinued, not dead. It's a manufacturers decision to terminate. So far my decision to not make the switch has been a great saving and no loss of work. Clients don't care, like 0%. It's going to happen eventually, I have no choice, but so far no $ went to any brand.
The heat issue is due to the simple fact that these are not video cameras.

Ed Sanford's picture

I chuckle when reading these articles. Personally, I am far more interested in photography than equipment. By the way, view cameras are still around. Also, horses and buggies are still around despite the growth of automobiles. So, the DSLR is not dead.

Mike Ditz's picture

And ICE cars will be around for 20 years after OEM just make EVs :)

Daniel Cseke's picture

No. I'm, dead. At least on the inside every time this kind of article hits the page.
DSLR is just discontinued more or less. Other than that it's doing just fine, thank you very much.
Brb, I have to go and calm my 5DIII and my 6D since you startled them with this

Chris Rogers's picture

It's not dead but it's dying. I love my DSLR's but i know mirrorless is the future. I'll always be nostagic for DLSRs but there is no stopping the advancement of technology.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Shutter less is more the future I would say

chris bryant's picture

So that's mirrorshutterlessless. If you photograph with one of these cameras that is mirrorshutterlesslessness.

Chris Rogers's picture

Oh that's right. Whats the benefit of not having a shutter?

Thatcher Freeman's picture

Higher burst rates is an obvious benefit and having no blackout when releasing the shutter. Beyond that, if you had a mirrorless camera with a global shutter sensor, you would also eliminate any banding caused by flickering lights, rolling shutter artifacts, etc, at any shutter speed. Arguably the mechanical shutter is only there because the sensor's readout speed (on rolling shutter sensors) is typically slower than the shutter curtains can move. If global shutter sensors got good enough, mechanical shutters would be unnecessary, as far as I can tell.

Chris Rogers's picture

Damn that's pretty slick. I was watching some videos on the Z9 last and good lord. The focus speed and FPS on that thing are insane.

Dinah Beaton's picture

But they all seem to make a comeback.

Chris Rogers's picture

That's trew! Film is super popular now and film cameras that have no buseiness being as expensive as they are selling for a ton of money now. Even those old point shoots

Momchil Yordanov's picture

My answer is: Not yet. The reasons are several, but the main ones are (imo) a) The image quality is the same or very comparable; b) People have whole camera/lens systems they are familiar with and just use them without spendin a lot of money; c) The used DSLR gear often presents amazing price to capabilities ratio.

Jason Frels's picture

Do you guys have some contractual obligation to make a blog post with this headline at least once every month? You're starting to make PetaPixel look good.

Scott Wardwell's picture

And add that to the obiligatory posting about 50mm lenses and the pathological obsession with the term "nifty-fifty" which is used a billion times in a 2000 word article.

charles hoffman's picture

"moving parts" there's nothing worse

And nothing needs to move in a mirrorless camera
Nothing

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Yes the shutter curtain is worse. When we have global shutter then we'll have articles about shutter and shutter less etc

Bernard Languillier's picture

I guess Nikon talked with you before designing the Z9...

Robert Maher's picture

Well only if you don't count the lens as part of the camera. Obviously one or more elements in the lens need to move in order to focus and, unless you only use prime lenses, zoom.

Jan Holler's picture

" It's only a matter of time before artificial intelligence pops onto a chip on a mirrorless body to help assist this further."

If I were you, I would rather wait for a chip to help me write better articles with content worth reading.

Khuất Nguyên Vũ's picture

It's inevitable just like film cameras.

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Written by someone who probably never picked up a Pentax camera

Tarek El Wazzi's picture

There will always be a market for DSLRs. It might get smaller, but it wont die out completely.

Michael Lee's picture

Let me ask you this question? Are film cameras dead? The obvious answer is no, but they're definitely diminished. Likewise, DSLRs will become less prevalent in the years ahead BUT there will always be folks like myself who will continue to shoot with my trusty Nikon D850, D500 and heck D700 (still love that camera)!!!

Tom Reichner's picture

The DSLR will only be dead when there is not a single one in use anywhere in the universe. That is what "dead" means. Death is the absence of life, so as long as there is any life at all, something is not dead.

So no, the DSLR is certainly not dead, and I don't think it will face death for at least another millennium. After all, nitrate film use isn't dead, nor is wet plate photography dead. So why would DSLRs be dying any time soon?

Gil Aegerter's picture

Shhhh ... don't tell my D780, which just accompanied me on a four-day trip with four lenses and full tripod through the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. On that trip, the first battery lasted three days and three nights. BTW, why use an optical viewfinder for astro-night photography? The D780 live view is great for that.

Razlan Hashim's picture

Not for another 5-10 years... I'm still using D700 and D3s 😉😜

Tony Clark's picture

I just imagined one of the Mission Impossible movies, “your camera is not current, it will self destruct in ten seconds along with all your lenses unless you attach an EF to R adapter…”

Paul Chambre's picture

Typo... it's contrast detect AF. As to IBIS... KonicaMinolta, Sony, and Pentax have all made DSLRs with IBIS. Pentax still does. But, yeah, DSLRs are basically as dead as rangefinders.

Dinah Beaton's picture

Persuaded by clever advertising and pro mirrorless articles, I fell into following the trend, went off to a camera shop and paid out almost £3k on the Canon M6 plus lens and adaptor, took it home, opened the lid of the camera box, stared at the contents and immediately felt "What the ffff have I done?"."This is stupid bloody crazy!!" At 74 i should know better!!
I looked at my Canon 70D, (lovingly - I know) looked at my collection of mostly Pentax old film cameras and vintage lensed and realised (the old adage) it wasn't the latest equipment that would improve my photography......
So I took the whole lot back the following day, blushing pathetically but pleased. They fully undersood and paid back fully.

Charles Mercier's picture

My friend loves(!) old film Pentax lenses. You can find his comparisons on YT under vyoufinder.

Bernard Languillier's picture

Good move. The Canon M mount is a clear dead end.

alberto cabrera's picture

Amazing we are having this discussion while the most important spec was never discussed. At the end of the day, a client isn't buying what setup you have, they are buying your skills and eye as a photographer and the images that are produced. Does it even matter. Yes, mirrorless or even something better will take over eventually. But for right now, DLSRs are far from dead. I mean, stoppers can keep posting articles that claim it is. They been doing it for at least the past 3 years. it has been 6 for me and I am still rocking my D750 and 850. Next is a D4.

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