On the Impending Death of the DSLR

As mirrorless cameras become more and more advanced, most photographers assume that they are ringing the death knell for the DSLR. But will DSLRs be totally a thing of the past, or will they just take a new position within the photography industry? This thought-provoking video essay explores just that question.

Coming to you from Ted Forbes with The Art of Photography, this interesting video essay explores how the role of DSLRs will evolve in the next decade and if they'll really die out. I think it's important to remember that history has seen a few paradigm shifts in photography gear, and each time, the previous technology didn't just disappear so much as become relegated to either an accompanying role or an alternative that photographers embraced for reasons ranging from nostalgia to retained usefulness. When it comes to DSLRs, there is such an abundance of bodies out there that it seems nigh impossible that they'll just stop being used. Furthermore, unlike some of the previous paradigm shifts, most DSLRs have comparable performance to their mirrorless counterparts. As manufacturers stop servicing them and the electronics eventually break down, we might see DSLRs start to fade out, but I think that won't happen for a lot longer than the prevailing opinion might indicate. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Too young for the autochrome, but I did play with the polachrome back in the days. I've seen videos of people shooting and processing left over old rolls that look quite faded due to age, but the fresh stuff I played with if I recall was high contrast and beautiful but weird.

In 5 years the DSLR won't matter.

Yeah - Apple announced the iPhone Pro! - LOL

I have a name for those, spider phones, too many eyes for my taste

I found a bunch of B&W negatives that were over 40 years old. I bought a slide/neg copier and have been scanning them in. It's magic again to see my old photos. I remember when I took them with my Nikon F2. I developed the film in my bathroom. I can still smell the fixer.....

Solid image!

Long video to say what we already know.
I would replace the term Silly with Scam regarding Mirrorless.
But the vast majority of photographers will still bite the bait either way.

Why do you say mirrorless is a scam? Can you tell the difference between photos taken with a dslr and a mirrorless camera?

Since no one can tell the difference .. and still buy new cameras with a whole new lens system .. sounds like a excellent scam for manufacturers to make bundles. They give you the weasel words of latest and greatest. You now Excel.
Go for it !!

There are many advantages to going mirrorless now but you can’t tell the difference between photos. It’s user experience and usability that matters.
I switched when it wasn’t advantageous to switch back in 2013. Now, I have zero complaints with the system I use and have only benefitted from its progression.

People said digital was a joke but everyone went digital... people said mirrorless was a joke too not long ago and now many are making the switch.

You’ve obviously got your mind made up that it won’t benefit you so be happy with your system but don’t discredit new technology because you don’t have it or haven’t used it.

One word, EVF. Another 2, eye autofocus. I shot a Canon 5Diii before buying an A7iii. You couldn't convince me to use a DSLR again.

I don't think you can make the claim that Mirrorless is a scam when Canon releases two APS-C bodies, one Mirrorless, and the other DSLR and the Mirrorless is cheaper and arguably better in many ways. Move over to Sony and its even cheaper and you get even more bang for your buck.

And this is the no. 1 selling point IMO in regards to mirrorless.....adapt ANY LENS, FROM ANY MAKER.....there you go. Even cheaper. Used Canon lens, OK, Used Pentax, OK, Used Leica, OK. More choices, less dollars. How is this is a scam?

also with mirrorless I could just spend (what could be $750) on an amazing camera (A6100) that also shoots 4k video, has all the benefits of mirrorless (EVF, Eye AF, Insane Speeds, small form factor) and get say, a Sigma 30 1.4 which is great glass for about $250 used, and I have a WAAAAY better setup (and cheaper) than ANY Nikon APS-C DSLR on the market....any canon APS-C DSLR....and we are just talking APS-C......

Now lets talk about the $2498 Full frame A7Riii vs. what? A Nikon D850 is $2,996 A Canon 5Dmkiv is $2799 And these are WAAAYYY less of a camera. No IBIS, less FPS, Slower and less accurate AF, no ability to adapt lenses (easily and economically)..... this to me is a scam in 2019!

You can make arguments against mirrorless, but money isn't one of them, and honestly most of those arguments are getting less and less. Battery-life? Dual Memory Cards? High megapixel? Amazing viewfinder? Glass Options? Weather Sealing? really.....what is left in this argument? Canon and Nikon seem to agree. the D6 will be the last of its kind.

You’re the man Jan!

Everyone wishes they were you and your opinion is the only one that matters on FStoppers. Maybe you could write articles one day for them? Maybe you could have your own site called Jan’s Canon Playland so we could hear everyday about how Sony is garbage and we’re all inferior because of our choice in camera?! That would be bliss.

Canon did it right over 30 years ago and no one else has ever come close to system compatibility and seamless adaptability as Canon.

So the fact I use Canon, Nikon, Tamron, Sigma, and Helios lenses on my mirrorless doesn’t compare to what Canon did 30 years ago.

Cool story bro... keep living in the past and you’ll end up like Jan on this forum; laughed at by the majority for promoting falsehoods.

I’m not trying to fight, I’m bowing to your photography prowess.

It’s 317 euro not 450 grandpa. Your math skills are leaving you.

You must like overpaying for things. You can also find overpriced items elsewhere but since you like pain go ahead and keep using that site, I’m sure nobody here will stop you.

Exchange rate dropped overnight so it’s even cheaper! Now you can finally use the camera in your profile pic someone called you out on a few weeks back!
Happy shopping Jan.

Ah, I’m sorry grandpa. Maybe they did put gold in it, you’ll never know unless you save up for one. Just mow some lawns or something. Show some initiative.

Don’t you have a EOS-R? Glad to see you’ve finally come to grips with the fact you wasted your money it.

There's advancements in autofocus technology in mirrorless that make it worth looking into,especially if you're shooting in live-view or video. The advanced eye-tracking feature is much more refined in mirrorless than it is in Canon (and non-existent in pre-Expeed6 Nikons).

Plus the ability to upgrade your features with just a firmware upgrade is pretty attractive.

Mirrorless isn't a scam. More of an evolution in camera tech that has some promising leads to make our jobs a little easier.

It’s not worth the effort. It’s the same old thing when DSLRs came out and all the film guys said digital would never be for professionals... they won’t listen and they’ll secretly convert over and make a new profile here after admitting their just stubborn.

The DSLR death has been predicted (and wished for by clueless people) since about 2011. And yet per CIPA numbers, DSLRs still outsell MILCs in 2019.
There are reasons for that.

Behold, the Gartner Hype Cycle.

If the tool does the job the the owner bought it to do, Does it really matter how works?

You are absolutely right its just a tool.....its just that we are talking about using say a Power Drill, vs. a manual screw driver.....they both do the same thing and you would never know which I used to hang the picture, but which is better for 99% of the cases? Go ahead and use a manual screw driver to put together a house, kind of matters how it works right? Gear doesn't matter....until it does matter.

That comparison isnt even close. Try again with something more relevant.

Except you probably wouldn't use a power drill to take apart or assemble electronics, would you?

The right tool for the right job is more important than the newest tool, or most powerful.

I recently upgraded to another DSLR after trialling a mirrorless. Why? I'm travelling for long periods often without access to electricity. A mirrorless would just not cut it. I needed a different tool for my projects.

I needed the right tool, and it wasn't mirrorless. DSLRs aren't going anywhere soon.

Can't wait for DSLR's to die already. Then the lenses would be cheaper, and i could afford them.

But... this isn't quite true, is it?

The BIG reason why DSLR will continue on for quite a bit longer than the article's author(s) imagine is because of the huge investment photographers have in glass. DSLR glass, not new optics for the mirrorless cameras.

Of course, one can buy the short converter-adaptor barrels for the mirrorless bodies to use existing DSLR lenses (at least with Nikon you can). Problem is, that many of the more obscure features of the camera-optics interface are suppressed with the conversion.

Moreover, to just about any external observer, it is clear that the Great Camera Makers are using the mirrorless-camera format to reinvent (and thus make a market to sell-up) the exchangeable lens commerce channel. Not only do Sony, Canon and Nikon (as well as the others) have an issue with not really controlling their channel-sales of lenses, but they can't even make a solid pitch for retiring much of the glass people bought 20 years or more ago.

ILC mirrorless ''fixes'' this. For the manufacturers.
But it is deeply mendacious.

Its like the transition to digital sensors from cartridge 35 mm film cameras. The camera market was pretty much moribund because the darn cameras were not just expensive, but attendant to the price, tended to last a long long time. People with 20 year old SLR bodies were still able to use them to good effect ... if they personally had good camera manners and insight. I know, I bought my first F-1 in 1980, and was till using the darn thing in 2005 because I had purchased a HUGE box of film and had kept it in an airtight freezer ever since. And the pictures were often darn impressive. Great glass, bomb-proof body, 5th generation film, outstanding color print paper, and so on. But... DSLR revolutionized that.

And delivered the commercially attractive ''must replace the body every 4 years or so'' thing as megapixels inexorably skyrocketed, as ISO sensitivity dramatically rose, as capturing video (!!!) became standard, and as the DSLR matured from a ''digital film camera'' to a unique photographic image capturing device. But the lenses I bought in 1983 ... are still usable on my D90! Poor Nikon hasn't had the opportunity to sell me glass for over 35 years. I bought a suitcase of it when I was young and more wealthy than I had any reason to expect.

Anyway, I write too much.
I just don't think the DSLR market is going to evaporate overnight.
Just saying,

Mirrorless cameras are neat, but I think they are a no big deal big deal. The backbone technology of through the sensor to viewfinder has been around for a while. I still have a Sony DSC-f505v that I bought in 1999 (or maybe it was 2000, I can't remember exactly). It doesn't have a viewfinder, just an LCD. Ultimately, they are cameras that shoot in live view all the time. Get a mirrorless if you want one, just don't overpay for the gee-whiz factor. That's what turned me off. That and I'm a Nikon guy and Nikon dropping the F bayonet in favor of the Z was a turn-off as well. The Z lenses are kinda magical, but not enough to make me want to start a new lens collection. And the F to Z adapter . . . I dunno. When Nikon caveats the adapter by saying "compatibility with _virtually_ every lens" it just makes me kinda leery.

Battery life! It is often impractical and sometimes impossible to carry a pocketful of charged batteries. There is always the inconvenience of managing them and, for travellers, airlines restrict you to two lithium batteries in your carry on luggage and none in the hold. Until mirrorless cameras can manage something comparable to the 2000+ shots per charge that I get from my DSLRs I won't be making any big change. Besides I do not see how they would improve my results. For that I would need to learn more become more skilful ... not buy new equipment.

I just shot a wedding last Friday and got 1700 shots off with my mirrorless with 24% left when I swapped it out. I only know because I was surprised.

But the battery life on a mirrorless isn't really shot-limited, it is time-limited. You could get that many photos 9n a mirrorless but it might still only last 3 hours.

I'm a budding photographer who recently had the chance to upgrade camera, within a set budget. I ended up buying the rather unpopular 6D Mark II, despite having other more feature rich mirrorless cameras to choose from. Why?

It was the only full frame camera in the 1200 price range with weather sealing and a battery life that could power through for days. The competitors were either much more expensive, or lacked features I need.
I can use an optical viewfinder to frame without switching it on, there is live view for some of the benefits of mirrorless, which lasts about the same amount of time.
I needed it because I'll be doing long term travelling, possibly being away from electricity for long periods.

Despite what people say, for certain needs, some cameras just fall into their niche and there isn't another option.
Again, the right tool for the job is more important than the newest.

The Z batteries only lasting 3 hours would be tragic but that isn’t the case. And yes, you are partially correct on the time limit but you also need to factor in that you could be using the mechanical shutter or the electronic so battery life can be limited by time or by shutter actuation. You can also buy extra batteries for your camera. If you’re dropping 2k on a camera, you should definitely think about spending 100 bucks on another battery or two, any enthusiast or professional should have multiple.

The rest of what you wrote is just extra stuff about your choice in a camera not many people bought because it got bashed horribly when it came out. The battery life on the 6Dm2 isn’t a positive above any of the new mirrorless cameras out now and the sensor is incredibly old so it was rightfully bashed for asking that price at release.
The 6Dm2 vs the A73 isn’t even a close comparison for just bodies (same price point). Other factors come into play but to each their own. You could have just bought the 6Dm1 and saved yourself a ton of money for a camera I still use occasionally and many still love.

Again, mirrorless batteries still don't last long enough. If I have extra batteries, they aren't going to last me days for travel unless I carry waay too many to actually be manageable.

I've used mirrorless and the battery life on even an old DLSR is definitely better compared to modern mirrorless. That statement is just inaccurate. I've not had a single mirrorless that doesn't have its battery (or two) die by the end of a full day of shooting. I don't need to take 2000 pics in a few hours. I need it to stay alive for extended periods of time, as in days.

Again, 6DMKII new is in the region of €1000-1200 on sale. I literally wrote that in my post. The release price was bad but that's not what it costs anymore, so it is a much better deal.
I spent 1300 odd and got the battery grip, an SD and a second battery.

A7iii is €2000-2200 where I live, just for the body, not including extras. Of course it isn't a close comparison, that is not the same price point at all. The price difference is literally a professional lens. Comparing them is just nonsense.

I think your points are just trying to bend the truth to make it seem like mirrorless is useful in every case. It just isn't. It has different strengths and weaknesses which can make them less useful than a DSLR in plenty of cases. Some are preference, like viewfinder, other are objective, like battery life.
Right tool for the right job, and they each do different things well. Whether you want to accept that or not.

Your argument centers on battery life. Buy spares and change them out when you need to. It’s not that hard, takes about 30 seconds, and isn’t a make or break point with any camera today unless you are held at gunpoint while being told you must complete a shoot on one battery. If you’re saying you haven’t had a battery last a full day by any mirrorless then you haven’t used any of the newer mirrorless cameras. Battery problems centered on the Sony cameras and was fixed with the new Z battery. Nikon made a comparable battery and so has Canon now.

Not accepting your weak point is exactly what I’m doing. If you wanted a good camera with a good battery life you should have just bought the 6D for half as much... which I already stated but you seem to read right over that part.

Except the difference exists. If I carry 4 DSLR batteries, I will literally get days more time than if I carry 4 mirrorless batteries, even z batteries. They're still rated for twice the amount of shots, not even thinking about length of time. If I'm camping in a forest for a week and want to ensure my camera lasts throughout, which should I pick?

The whole "completing shoots" statement shows your mentality. You're shooting people, in a place for a set, fixed amount of time. Fine.
You have a set job or task with your photography that differs greatly from mine. Accept it. A mirrorless does not suit my needs or the needs of plenty of other photographers.

The 6D is still around €1000. 6DMK2 is €1200 Like, what world are you living in with your ridiculous camera comparisons?
6d2 also has better weather sealing,which was more the weighted decision.

It is literally MORE expensive than the 6DII on Amazon UK. Look where it says "newer version".

You're just being stubborn and inaccurate because you don't want to accept mirrorless has its downsides as well.

No not being stubborn at all. Your camera choice is based on battery life? Good luck with that.
If you were going on a wilderness exploration for days or weeks you’ve got gear to support that as well. Why would you not have power banks, solar, or just not leave your camera on the whole damn time?

And since you asked, I’d tell you to get a Nikon D850 despite me doing exactly what you’re talking about in Alaska, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Qatar, Oregon, Montana, Vietnam, and I’ll be in Kuwait next month... with my mirrorless and I’m a Sony shooter.

To get back to the original post, he’s a “budding photographer” why would a budding photographer be in the wilderness for days on end with no support ? On top of all this why are we centering on new prices? Buy gear used or new. You can save a ton of money and build a proper kit that way.

What you said changes literally nothing. Power banks, solar, etc, still deliver better results with longer lasting batteries. With solar there's more time to charge a battery because there's more time to use the camera. Less power banks are necessary because the battery itself holds more charge, etc.

Even if I wanted the camera on all day, I know which one would last longer.... 😩
Time-lapses, long night exposures, astro etc. There are lots of reasons why I might need a camera active for hours, over days, that you seemingly don't use in your work. Cool, but respect that the versatility photography extends beyond your use.

You're clearly inexperienced regarding these kinds of things tbh, so don't talk about "support". Less support is necessary by choosing the easiest use item, which requires minimal management, that you can still rely on as-is when all else fails. Back-up support is great... As a fail-safe, not requirement for basic function.
What you keep offering are band-aid solutions... Which are only mentioned when there's an obvious problem to cover up.

I didn't ask about a camera. It was a rhetorical question about which battery option would be better in the wild.
Again, D850 is €2000-2200. Like these are not comparable. You are literally making comparison to better cameras in €1000 higher price bracket. Try and make a comparison to something the same price, similar features including battery life. Please do.

We center on new prices because its smart to get insurance on gear, which, where I live, will only be given on a new purchase.
You talk about support but then ignore the basics like insurance and warranty? I will actually pay the difference so I can avail of those.

Support as in gear for going in the field with your kit... not sure how that flew so high over your head. You battery argument is tired and dismissible with simple gear adjustments..

Actually, yes I do know why it did. Some of us use these cameras in the places that are speculated they won’t work or won’t be able to stand the elements because of weather sealing or battery life; some people just speculate and dismiss new technology because it’s the in thing to do. Digital vs film was no different.

If you need your camera active for hours or days you’ll be using a power bank to ensure your camera doesn’t need a new battery. You say I’m inexperienced but obviously you haven’t done what you say you need it for yet but guess what, I have, so I’m helping you here

Have a nice day. Be happy with what you have and good luck.

Couldn't respond with a camera in the same price range with the same features.
The only thing you could offer comparably were cameras in the next price bracket up. Useless.
Cherry picking responses. It was all more expensive different camera suggestions until I actually asked for a comparable camera for the same price.
Absolute failure of an stance tbh.

Well if you’re going mountaineering as an amateur and you say you don’t want to use powerbanks or solar chargers or buy more batteries or anything else that makes sense to do because it’s inconvenient... yes, I will tell you to buy a better tier camera.

If you can’t afford that and you still want to have your weak complaints, then you should stay at your kid’s soccer games where the worst that could happen is a spilled sippy cup.

Cherry picking problems you don’t want to hear solutions for from someone who has already tested gear you say doesn’t work in places and conditions you haven’t been to... your complaints are unfounded and illegitimate.

Well, I actually didn't say those things. You're putting them in my mouth because you have nothing to stand on...

What I said was that those things still have longer lasting life and easier maintenence when using them with DSLRs that have better battery life, compared to mirrorless.

Which is true.

And your best suggestion was to buy more expensive cameras, which is dumb and entitled. Not everyone can afford the difference, or the difference can be a lens, a battery pack, accessories, etc. If I had the means, I'd just buy the best. People often don't, so they can't. Why do you think different price brackets exist? Duh.

And who needs to buy one when there's a perfectly good one that fulfills my needs within my price range? Why would I pay 1000 more for a camera that doesn't?

There isn't a legitimate comparison you can give for the same price. You say buy a more expensive camera.
When YOU say that, my ORIGINAL point is actually proven... By YOU. Some cameras fall into a niche which others don't. You can't offer a single camera in the same niche that is comparable. Point proven.

Moreover, tell me about the conditions you shot in if you're so informed about it and how you managed your wild living. Because from someone who is experienced with my own work, it is obvious you do set shoots, in which you have set amount of time to work, so you know what exact power requirements are necessary. Totally different than my needs.

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