The DSLR camera market has truly been struggling with the growing popularity of mirrorless cameras. They may not be dead entirely, but the ones you have are getting hit even worse.
For the past couple of years, due to the emergence of faster and higher-resolution mirrorless cameras, along with the exponential growth of lens lineups for most major brands, people have been anticipating the death of the DSLR. But what are the parameters to be able to pronounce it dead? More importantly, who pronounces it dead? The truth is that no one can really tell until we all realized that it truly has died. It is most likely that we all only begin to realize it’s death when we notice that no new DSLR camera model has been released in the past few years. But for now, we know that it is still alive, but we have to think of our longevity as photographers with this camera format.
Signs of Life
We know that camera manufacturers still have not entirely given up on the line because of the development of the Canon 90D, the Canon 1D X Mark III, the Nikon D780, and the D6. But we should admit that about six years ago, the rate at which new DSLR models were released was at least three times faster. You would expect that by now, we should have at least the Canon 5D Mark V or VI or something similar. We must also acknowledge the fact that lens development for DSLR cameras has gravely declined. Canon and Nikon may have already established their DSLR lens lineups by now, so that is acceptable, but if we look at the third-party lens manufacturers previously aggressive in the DSLR game, namely Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina, we know that they could have developed more lenses (like a more affordable tilt-shift lens, for example) but got sidetracked by the rapid growth of demand in mirrorless camera lenses. In the past year alone, they have barely released anything for the DSLR system, and for the one brand that did, it was a mere update of a really old lens variant.
Is Yours a Dying Investment?
Because of the so-called "mirrorless revolution" that boosted the demand for the newer cameras, demand for DSLR cameras rapidly declined. Since people were more interested in the lighter and more compact cameras, there are consequently fewer people interested in used DSLR gear as well. Because of that, the used market for DSLR cameras and lenses suffered as well. Depreciation of value for such cameras and lenses accelerated. With a random search for used gear on B&H, Amazon, and even Craigslist, you would see that most high-value DSLR gear released in the last three years and in good condition is, at best, 40-60% of their original price. That means that if you have gear that is about five years old and up, its value has definitely gone down very quickly, with the exception, of course, of not-so-common pieces of gear.
Is It Time to Adapt?
If you are a DSLR user who still hasn’t gotten one foot through the door into the mirrorless ecosystem, you have quite a limited number of choices on what actions to take in response to this. First, you can shift now. Get that new mirrorless camera body and its native lenses. That way, they don’t depreciate as fast, and your money’s worth won’t go down as quickly. Doing so would also allow you to sell your current gear. That may not give you any significant profit and won’t really decrease your expenses since prices for used gear have gone down, but at this point, you can, at least, prevent any further losses rather than waiting for what you have to lose even more value.
Another option, of course, is to upgrade to a new-old DSLR camera or lens that was much more expensive a couple of years ago. This way, you can actually take advantage of what is happening and upgrade to something that you may have been wanting for a couple of years now. Of course, if you’re going to get it cheap, keep in mind that it’s only going to get cheaper in the future. Don’t expect to sell it for a good price in the future.
Lastly, of course, you can opt to stick to what you have right now and let your gear live out its life. Especially if you don’t do photography professionally or if your line of work doesn’t really require so much on the technical aspects, then, of course, you can survive the rest of your life without having to upgrade. It is just important to realize early on that if you ever do upgrade, selling or trading your current gear for an upgrade can be quite helpful in decreasing the amount of money that you spend on your next camera. Older cameras are obviously also less likely to be accepted for such deals.
Planning Long-Term for Your Gear
Let’s face it. After everything discussed, the reality is that 99% of us can survive life without an upgrade. If your gear has delivered the images that you’ve needed in the past few years, the chances are that it can still deliver what you need in the next three years. Camera models turn over pretty quickly, but this is not in any way due to a certain need or requirement for most of us but is instead simply driven by the desire for new gear.
The past and next couple of years are quite crucial for photographers in terms of making gear choices. It may be tempting to shift to a mirrorless system of the same brand or maybe even shift to a new brand altogether. Know that every choice you make should always be 10 steps ahead of the game. Unless you have unlimited resources, you should think of how feasible your gear choices are and how quickly they might depreciate in the coming years. On the other hand, you should also know which pieces of gear you are willing to keep for the long haul. Many photographers (including myself) have one or two lenses in their lineup that are only used about 3-5% of the time, and it’s important to remember that no matter what, they will depreciate. Lastly, we are in a time of rapid development, at least for the mirrorless systems. If the need is not that compelling, then it may be prudent to wait things out and weigh your options once more of them are available.
As for the DSLR, who knows? The chances are that it won't really ever die since we've seen so many camera formats survive the advancements of technology and digital cameras. Heck, film is certainly not dead. They may be reduced to the bare minimum, but the DSLR format will always have its value.