Are DSLR Cameras Already Dead?

Are DSLR Cameras Already Dead?

Currently, one of the most discussed topics in our photographic community is if DSLR cameras are already dead. The Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras were indisputably the preferred ones until the mirrorless cameras step ahead into the game and showed how good they could be.

Since cameras become an electronic device, the changes are enormous. Basically, we are using a mini computer that allows the engineers to program anything that is thinkable. In a way we are all winning because it means that cameras will be better, cutting some rough edges quickly to be better and better. Though it will come with a cost on the financial side of it. Cameras will devaluate quite considerably in a short period of time, no matter the system they are using. 

Decision Day

Although it is always a joy when we make our mind up and start searching for a new camera, for me it was really a need. At this point in my career, the tools became much less important then they were in the beginning. I always had a couple of bodies because when you're doing a job there's no margin for imponderables. A backup body is recommended. In my case, I sold a versatile Canon 6D and in my bag, it was only a specialized 5DS


While I hoped to migrate to another brand, with a full frame sensor, it would be a costly change. The investment made during the years of Canon L glass, and many accessories, was too big and would dictate a huge loss. The option was staying on the actual brand, or at best switch to Sony with an adapter. Doing the math, it dictated that a Sony A7 III plus a Metabones adapter would be in the same price range of a Canon EOS R, with the EF adapter included, in Europe.  I asked many friends, read all the reviews, and saw all the videos possible. On the body side, the R convinced me more than the A7 III due to some facts: the upper LCD is a feature important its ergonomics (especially the handgrip), the use of the  LP-E6N batteries since I have plenty of those. According to the reviews, the native adaptor for EF works flawlessly. Over five thousand AF points and fully articulated screen were also some appealing features. So my decision was made, I would be a proud owner of the first Canon mirrorless model!

A Second Thought

I'm one of those who evaluates his purchases by trying to make it as least emotional possible. The cerebral side of me told me that the 5D Mark IV would be a safer bet. Being dragged by our heart, or impulses isn't wise at all. In the short term, it will be stressful to be thinking that I could manage the situation from another angle. So instead of pulling the trigger and placing the pre-order, I rethink my real needs. That's generally the way to go when you have a doubt of this magnitude. You need to ask yourself which features will be the ones you really need. Don't enter into a hype or trend just because everyone tells you that is the "future today". It is your money, so the decision must be between within your budget and respecting a ratio cost/ effectiveness. . 

Maybe DLSR Isn’t Dead Yet

First, let's face reality. Everything suggests that mirrorless is the future. The EVF capabilities, size/weight ratio, silent shutter, endless AF points, and other great features are deal breakers for many, even more with the unstoppable improvements of each new generation. Just think how good the Sony A7 series or Fuji models have become in such a short time. Still, they are not yet there, at least for my needs and way of using the gear. For me when you face challenging situations, a DSLR is still easier to use, especially in low light conditions. Today an optical viewfinder has still a slight advantage over EVF. Generally, an Electronic Viewfinder needs a strong contrast to make us perceive the dynamic range we are getting. On one hand, we have a great step ahead, seeing the overall image without having to look at the camera rear LCD, a gesture that characterizes the digital camera era. So here the key is just the need to get it in a more natural way and not much dependable of the maximum aperture of the lens you're using. Again, in my experience, I already see differences between the superb Fuji X-t1 EVF (my fun camera) and the X-t3

Another downside is the still limited offer of native lenses and accessories for the mirrorless bodies. If you are like me, collecting stuff for my EOS bodies over time, you'll see the differences on the accessories side. Naturally, it will be solved in the next year or two. We can solve the lens situation with the excellent Canon native adapter. As far as I know, it works perfectly, even with the EF-S mount lenses. Then I realize a potential problem… will give a perfect sealing to the body? My previous EOS bodies always performed flawlessly when dealing with the elements. No matter how harsh the conditions were, paired with L glass I had zero issues. 

Construction and Sealing

So, a  personal concern is always how well my camera is built and its level of sealing. I prefer having the best possible, instead of some new feature I would never use. Why do I lean so much to that side? Curiously I use the same principle when buying watches. A diver will last much more than a regular model, due to the use of gaskets. Humidity is the worst thing for our gear. Even if the furthest we go is to the beach or the coffee shop terrace. 

According to Roger Cicala, from Camera Rentals, the EOS R has “well-sealed buttons and dials, not much else. That means, I think, that it will be fine in a misty rain for a while, but don’t get it saturated and don’t set it somewhere wet”Mr. Cicala also adds that today “I don’t know enough yet, and I try very hard to avoid Generation 1 technology.” 

Image by Roger Cicala |

This information after the teardown they made of this fine camera was illuminating to me. It helped me make my mind about my next purchase. 

Handling and Ease of Use

When you hold a camera for long periods of time you need something substantial that really feels good in the hand. Due to the continuous use of the same layout during the years, the EOS series become like a natural extension of my hands. The controls are used without even thinking, or with the need of entering on endless menu/ submenu. Also, love the response that each button has. By including the touchscreen, the experience is superb. I would just love if it swiveled at least. Basically, the DSLR bodies have better ergonomics.  

The mirrorless systems, due to the less bulky and smaller bodies have fewer and smaller buttons. If you have bigger hands it's not as comfy and fast as you would like. Another argument in favor of a bigger body is that it feels more balanced when using long/heavy lenses. Getting a balanced body is important. Other downsides are the battery life, still shorter, a need of a better autofocus system especially for fast-moving subjects, and a larger buffer. The last is compensated by the lightning fast shutter of many mirrorless models.

Now we must talk about the absence of two card slots on the Canon and Nikon. On my side, I really cannot live with only one since I had a card slot malfunction during an important job. Luckily I work carefully and did not lose the images. Since that day I see that system as a life saver. One feature I love back then in my 7D was the joystick. What a pleasure to use while selecting my AF points manually, a technique I use about in 90% of my shooting. The R doesn't have it. We can work around by using the customizable M-Fn Bar or the touchscreen. For now, I prefer having a physically dedicated joystick. But I guess it could be just a matter of being used to it. 

Image Quality

Nowadays the vast majority of cameras on the market deliver a fantastic quality, no matter the size sensor or price. Even mobile phones have usable stills and videos. The difference here could be due to technical differences between both systems. The mirrorless can suffer from the Color Dot Pattern "syndrome". When using smaller apertures facing the sun, some color pattern grid can occur. On the Canon side, some users are experiencing banding when pushing the shadow areas around 5 stops, with luminance values around zero. This is a situation that needs further work, though it doesn't feel like a deal breaker to me. I also guess that some firmware can solve that problem.

Final Thoughts

We live in a fascinating era. I recall 30 years ago when my parents had to wait for a week to see the printed photos of the family trip. Then we reviewed it on the back LCD after pressing the shutter. It was magic! Now we can see it without removing the eye from the viewfinder. I know that in a near future it will be time to abandon ship. I choose DSLRs because I need a quick AF for some jobs, dual card slots, rugged construction, a sealed body with no interference of an adapter. Also, I'm not in a position yet to sell all my L glass and buy the expensive RF mount lenses, if I consider continuing with the same brand. As some users told me, Canon needs to update the face detection and eye-AF, because for now its only available in wide AF mode. In a word I need my tools to focus and meter like I expect, and survive in a harsh environment, being quick and reliable. Maybe this sort of features will all appear on the Pro EOS R and the subsequent generations. On this point, there's also an opportunity. I constantly see good deals from users that are switching systems. So look at the second-hand market and you might be pleased. Why not grab a stunning camera with a mirror (or some lenses) for a great price? So think wisely if you need to move to a new camera and if so, ask yourself the real advantages you'll get when migrating to a new system. Personally, I will continue for a while using the "old school" DSLR until the day comes. As we heard and said a thousand times, the final work depends much more on the photographer than the gear. At least for me and many more, the DSLR is not dead yet!  What do you think about this subject, DSLR is already dead for you? Share your thoughts on the comments below.

Pedro Quintela's picture

Pedro Quintela is a Portugal based Photographer, Historian, and Educator. He never leaves his HQ without a camera, a movie soundtrack playing and a smile. Loves fine cookies, strong and bitter coffee, watches, dogs and, above all, his treasured family.

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The resolution of the human eye is estimated by NASA to be 576 megapixels. The eye viewfinder in a Sony A7iii is less than one megapixel (XGA = 1024x768 = 0.786 megapixels).

+1 for optical viewfinders.

Resolution means nothing if you don't say how big screen is.
Density of pixels is important (ppi).

Do you think it's going to even be remotely close?

after reverse searching your claim, you've clearly taken a single number out of context in an attempt to support your stance.

when you read the whole thesis, you leave out foveal vision, or the actual area where vision in a single eye is acute, which is only 2 degrees from center and is approximately 7mp if assuming 576mp for a 120 degree FOV. the use of total pixels only relates to a specific area and distance for an unfixed, single eye, assuming the ability of the eye to shift around the scene and not fixed, foveal vision.

but, more importantly, you left out resolving detail, which he estimates at 530ppi at 20 inches for 20/20 as being near the maximum resolving power of a single eye (he used a test involving a 20" x 13.3" print at 530ppi for a total of ~74mp at a 20 inch distance). this is a far more apt comparison as it accounts for foveal vision, but more importantly a viewfinder does not correspond to the human eye's nearly 180 degree FOV. only if a viewfinder were constructed to fill an FOV of 120 degrees width by 60 degrees height, as is used in his "576mp approximation, would your comparison make sense.

however, it doesnt. so in this case with the 3.69mp EVFs on the higher end mirrorless viewfinders:

0.5 inch 1280 x 960 (QVGA) OLED microdisplays are used in these viewfinders: Sony A7R III, Nikon Z6, Z7, Canon EOS R, Fujifilm X-T3, X-H1

since the display at QVGA resolution is 4:3 ratio with a hypotenuse of 0.5", the math works out to dimensions of 0.4" W x 0.3" H, or 512ppi.

this does not take into account any magnification used, especially since it varies from camera to camera, but hovers between 0.76x and 0.8x magnification, nor does it account for the eyepoint, which also varies from camera to camera, and person to person, but is within a general range of ~20mm.

which is close to the 530ppi at 20" approximation of maximum visual acuity by the same NASA scientist, Roger Clark.

so, yes, all this proves is that i can take your same data, just more of it, and use it to support the opposite of your claim, albeit far more accurately and with far less obscurity. the real number is 512ppi versus Clark's 530ppi approximation, but with some variance due to magnification and eyepoint. none of it matters due to not being able to account for distance.

That was impressive. I yield.

What about dynamic range and all of the other characteristics to vision beyond visual acuity? ;)

What good is a preview of a higher dynamic range than your system is actually able to capture?

well, OVFs do, but you have a point.

but i can't think of a single reason wrong with making the EVF display capable of giving as close to a real-life view as possible, aside from decreased power efficiency, of course.

You also get zebra strips to show blown out areas, and you can choose to see the histogram in the EVF as well with most of these bodies I assume. I can with mine if I want. Way better for taking flash shots in a dark area, because the EVF lights it up the scene for you. The new Panny EVF will be even better. Higher rez and faster refresh rate as well as a bigger image is my guess. The GH5 EVF specs better than the FF ones.

YES! how many internets do i win?

when it comes to dynamic range, the use of OLED in that specific microdisplay is a non-starter since OLED is self-luminating, therefore capable of presenting a true black unlike LCDs which rely on backlighting. because of this, the 100,000:1 contrast ratio at 500cd/m² max ensures the dynamic range of an OLED display is capable of an image beyond what a CMOS sensor is capable of capturing.

1024:1 contrast ratio equals approximately 10 stops of dynamic range, 14 stops equals approximately 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and 100,000:1 is no less than 16 stops of dynamic range, above the 10-14 stops the human eye is approximated to have. (admittedly not a great reference but it's explained really well in layman's terms, so i can read it. ;) )

i failed to imply the extremely limited focus of my lame calculation. either way, both have their benefits and drawbacks... one will always be limited by blackouts and limited autofocus point spread while the other is a power suck since both the sensor and display must be powered to see anything. but when it comes to purely the resolution, that's essentially been met. as for potential, OVF is as good as it will get for the foreseeable future while EVF still has room to improve, the limiting factor being efficiency.

and of course nothing compares to the energy efficiency of an optical viewfinder. ;)

You win 1000 internets! :)

I have to agree evf is shit in a7iii and lcd screen just as bad 0.9m dot

Unless you would like to see exactly how the exposure would look like...

Yes, but my eye's megapixel count drops considerably in low light. My EVF works better than my eye.

i shot DSLR up to the 5dmk3 then moved to the sony mirrorless world. its not about optical resolution(what the eye can see) .. i want to see what my camera "sees" and will capture. with an EVF i see exactly what the sensor is going to capture. as i adjust settings i see the effects of those changes.

The best camera you have is the one you own. just get out there and shoot.. but mirrorless are pretty impressive these days.

That number, while technically accurate, is extremely misleading. Each eye has about 120 million photoreceptors. However, most of them are monochrome sensitive rods, which saturate in light and shut down. That leaves about 6 million cones, with most distributed toward the center of the eye. Those cones provide all color vision.

So not so great. But you have a massive parallel supercomputer in your head. That supercomputer causes microtremors in the eyes, and it takes in multiple "frames" and delivers an effective 24 megapixels of resolution, again, most of that in the center of your visual field. The same basic way some Hasselblads and Olympus boost resolution, only your brain doesn't need a tripod.

So you do get a clear optical view looking through the DSLR lens. Or more correctly, looking at the image projected by the lens onto the diffuser in your viewfinder. Some value that. But modern DSLRs steal so much light for AF, they don't really have good focusing screens. Many people can't reliably focus manually with stock diffuser screens. Most companies offer accessory screens for manual focusing.

Mirrorless lets you see through the "film". It wotks better with manual focus and manual lenses, including close up zoom, focus peaking, and other assists. It enables all sorts of information, like spirit levels, histograms, etc... though some DSLRs do have overlays for that today. It took me awhile, 60Hz monitors, and about a megapixel, but I do prefer mirrorless.

Foveal vision. Its only 7 megapixels. That was in the article you didn't read too.

Vsauce did a video on the resolution of the eye, worth watching:

The "best skill" is not held back by what a "camera simply can not do".

There's no such thing as a more capable camera, only a more capable photographer. He/She will ensure "the higher image quality".

It´s still far from dead. You also talked about an interesting approach. The influence of the influencers. We just need the right tool :)

I just checked my DSLR; it's very much alive.

Same with mine! Funny about that...

Same here. I heard that mirror slapping the entire afternoon... and it was great.

I don't believe the DSLR will ever be dead. Just too many excellent cameras and lens that will last a long long time if cared for. IMHO.

I hope so. I genuinely love the DSLR.
On the other hand, I remember many people saying that will never buy a digital camera. For now, both systems are alive and well.

All I could think about when I read this article was that the same kind of discourse was going back and forth when photographers were arguing that film was better than these new cameras out they called, digital cameras...and you know where that ended up. I gotta "vote for Pedro" on this one. I hope the DSLR remains alive.

It won't . People still use film camera, view cameras, TLR and other old timey favorites.

I'm not sure what the actual number would be, but I suspect you'd need 4-5 batteries to run mirrorless in a pro studio cranking a full 8 hours non-stop, whether tethered or freestanding. I don't know of any pro outfit that's going to put up with that, day in, day out, on a per-camera basis. We usually go through 1, maybe 2 batteries in our DSLRs a day. That's not including all the Eneloops we need to charge for Pocket Wizards and auxiliary speedlights. Ever see a wall of chargers in a studio for all of that? Call me when mirrorless cameras can put in a full day's work on 1-2 batteries, and then we'll talk.

If you're already tethered why don't you just run an AC adapter?

Nope. Cameras don't necessarily stay tethered. Gear moves around.

Exactly. I can shoot all day even maybe two days with one single battery in my 6D.

The batteries are no longer as much of a problem on the newer models, some has been reported to last a whole day of shoot on one battery.

I'll believe that when I see it. I'm talking about cameras that are turned on for 8 hours or more. I highly doubt a mirrorless is gonna handle that on 2 batteries, let alone one battery.

My GH4 runs all day on 2 batteries shooting birds with an IR trigger in the garden. Usually only drains one of the two batteries, the one in the grip.

Well, OK, but you're not shooting on a relatively continuous level, only when something trips your trigger. We're shooting product all day, product after product. That's a much higher workload.

I have over 40 species of birds visiting my property and some of them are starlings. How many shots do you think I get in a day? However, my real point is fitness for purpose. I'd get far fewer shots with my Canon 6d because of the shutter noise scaring the birds away.

Well, both Nikon and Canon are using the same batteries found on their DSLR body for their Mirrorless counter part and even Sony has gone to a much larger battery compared to their previous mirrorless models. So, while mirrorless are more hungry for power with the EVF but the difference may be not be much more than a dslr that was on live view often.

Sony also nearly doubled battery life between the II and III A7 series, so far. Still half the 6D on average, but pretty impressive.

i think it's funny how some others think changing a battery is an insanely hard task

You obviously don't work in a high volume studio.

People are still hung up on the batteries..I wonder how things worked when people shot film...all that changing of holders and rolls of film. Oh, wait, I used to do that.

I realize that your super studio can't take 30 seconds to change batteries but I do, I also have lunch, coffee, go to the loo and change lenses. I have 4 Sony cameras and 10(?) batteries, more if you include the hi capacity battery. Two batteries in a grip go at least 75% of the day. I change 'em when I need to.

The best thing about my 5D2 is that I never need to change batteries cuz it's plugged in!

This couldn't be more wrong LOL...I shoot weddings ALL day and rarely go through 2 batteries. I always swap a battery right after the reception, that way I'm not fiddling around in the heat of the moment. And I'm easily with the bride and groom for 8 hours.'re comment is very inaccurate.

So you're camera's on continuously and you regularly shooting on two batteries? Fascinating. :-)

You know, I got nothing against mirrorless cameras, I own 3 of them, but in a high volume studio environment it's going to be a while before you see them in there. Mirrorless may work for an individual shooter like yourself, but they're not gong to survive, at least at this time, in a crazed studio. Also, most studio owners for the most part are pretty cheapskate, and they're not about to remotely jump on a mirrorless bandwagon just because it's the latest craze. Hell, we're still shooting with some Mk IIs. Gear is driven to the ground before it's replaced, and it's typically replaced with similar gear (Mk IIIs and IVs in our case). Getting new gear in most studios is like pulling hen's teeth. The batteries are just the tip of the iceberg too, never mind the investment in optics and support gear. One day mirrorless will be up to snuff production studios, but today ain't it. Enjoy your gear.

You had me laughing with the eneloops in pocket wizards. Pocket wizards are no longer necessary in pro lighting. Pro lighting systems have their own communication protocols such as with Profoto, Broncolor, and even the very affordable Godox system. Pro shops even shoot with medium format and overcome many negative issues inherent with those systems, but yet, they use them anyway because they can create more easily with them. Mirrorless opens the door to better creativity getting the camera off of the face, providing more real time information, all while in a familiar format. Film only remains alive because of nostalgia, not because of function. It will not be the same with a mechanical behemoth that is the DSLR. It will die when the manufacturers decide it is, not when the user stops using it. Not because the battery eeks out a shot or two more.

You obviously don't work in a pro shop. Guess what triggers our Canons, Nikons, and Phase One cameras? Yep, Eneloop-powered Pocket Wizards. As I've mentioned elsewhere, shops work gear to the ground. Budgets are slim dude, shit goes until it can go no more. Sure, there's probably a few well endowed shops around, and any new startups will have some modern gear, but any establishment that's been around for years is going to use what's been there since time immemorial. Shop owners couldn't care less about the latest toys if the old gear is still cranking.

I worked in one of those meat grinder production studios when when a friend was one if the managers.
Drop and pops all day long. It was during the film-digtal crossover so it was a special kind of hell. I don't know what it was but not really photography. Sort of like 3D copy work. Other parts of the studio did housewares and room sets and another did fashion. A couple guys shot 4x5 or 8x10. sheets per set up.
The thing that Spy is correct about is the equipment. Lights older than dirt and cameras used until they couldn't be fixed. There were some new scanning digital cameras IIRC. This was a company whose name starts with a K and ended with Mart.

The 6D gets about 1,000 shots pretty much no matter what you do, aside from video. With the proper setup, I get more than that out of my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and a battery grip. And sure, I had a battery grip for the 6D, too.

Battery life on a mirrorless is very use dependent. I have a Sony RX10 (bridge camera, same tiny battery as the A7 series) for situations that don't support system camera use. It's CIPA rated for 400 shots on a charge. At a mysic festival last June, I was shooting lots of fast sequences, and I was getting 2000-2500 shots per battery. I'm sure, under the right conditions, I might only see 200 shots. You always pack a few extra batteries.

Photography is one of the very few industries where equipment can be selected based on "do I like it?" Any other industry they buy equipment for a purpose and use it until it either wears out or something can replace it economically. It is great to have such a luxury, but a camera either does the job or doesn't, and be replaced by the best alternative if it doesn't.

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