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 | www.lensrentals.com

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.

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138 Comments

Previous comments
Jesse Merz's picture

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

Spy Black's picture

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

Jeff McCollough's picture

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.

Spy Black's picture

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.

Joe Morrison's picture

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.

Spy Black's picture

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.

Joe Morrison's picture

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.

Pete Tapang's picture

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

Spy Black's picture

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

Mr Hogwallop's picture

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. So....you're comment is very inaccurate.

Spy Black's picture

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.

Brent Rivers's picture

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.

Spy Black's picture

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.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

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.

Doug Walkey's picture

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.

user-156929's picture

Photography is one of the very few industries where people do it for fun, as well as work. I don't know a lot of machinists running a drill press on the weekend for relaxation. :-/

Doug Walkey's picture

If I knew more machinists... but I know a raft of woodworkers that do exactly that. And very few of them are upgrading table saws with each new model. <grin>

user-156929's picture

Woodworking is different! My brother-in-law loves it. Most of the times I visit, my sister doesn't even wait for me to ask: "He's in his shop!' 😁

Adriano Brigante's picture

"DSLR is already dead for you?"

As far as I'm concerned, TLR and SLR aren't dead yet.
So I guess DSRL isn't dead either.

Pedro Quintela's picture

To be fair, Canon discontinued the EOS-1V, its last remaining film camera, this year. So no new gear is available.
Though I sincerely hope that film and DSLR cameras never dies. It's our obligation as shooters to keep that flame alive.

Adriano Brigante's picture

I try and do my part to keep that flame alive. All the cameras I shoot with are older than me, and some are older than my grandparents (I love my 101-year-old Kodak No.2 Folding Autographic Brownie). I think there's enough used cameras in the world to last at least another century! :)

Michael Comeau's picture

Yes, Sony waved its Infinity Gauntlet and DSLR's all disappeared.

user-156818's picture

Bonus points for the Marvel reference. :D

Simon Patterson's picture

If my d800 was stolen or suddenly broken beyond repair, I'd replace it with a d850. I bet I'm not Robinson Crusoe there.

Simon Patterson's picture

Wow, that is me, I didn't realise anyone else was nearby to take my picture! Lucky I wasn't picking my nose at the time when I thought nobody was looking! 😀

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