DSLR users and friends of the mirrorless camera constantly discuss which system is the best. Is this discussion driven by unreasonable fear?
Before You Tear Me Apart
A short word in advance: I encourage you to shoot with the camera you like. I personally own a mirrorless system and a DSLR. Even worse, they also have two different sensor sizes. And I love both of them for different reasons; I understand why different systems suit different styles and occasions.
I also understand that the matter is an emotional topic. It’s about your time, money, and success. At least that’s what we believe.
Your Camera as Your Investment
The camera is a tool of the photographer. Without a camera, the ideas, concepts, and projects of a photographer would never make it to a final product that clients, friends, and family can admire.
Hence, it’s quite reasonable to choose your camera – and camera system – wisely. This decision includes understanding the differences of systems, sensors, and models.
The problem for the consumer is that there is no such thing as the perfect camera. While the Fuji GFX 100 might offer amazing image quality and endless options for pixel peepers, it’s probably not a traveler’s friend, let alone the price tag.
Fear of Being Outperformed by a New System
One reason for the ongoing discussions between owners of one and the other system is the fear of lagging behind. What if another camera really performs better, and I can’t guarantee the same quality and standards to my costumers?
I have shot a few weddings, and one thing that I always hated was the noise of the shutter of my Nikon D750. It was, in fact, the only time I ever thought that a mirrorless camera could become a decisive factor for clients to hire one photographer over another, given they know about the possibilities.
Yet, there is the new Nikon D780, a DSLR which also performs beautifully. Some people call it a final attempt of keeping DSLR on life support, but I guess some customers will be quite interested into this almost hybrid concept.
I’m not a wedding photographer at all, but still got my hands on a mirrorless camera a while ago. It was a decision of size, haptics, and ease of operation. While I often shoot documentaries and travel a lot for that, I need a lightweight and fast-to-grab system. I choose practicability over quality, here.
There will be people who will find good reasons to choose a mirrorless camera, and there will also be those who want to stick with their old DSLR as long as they can. It’s what they’re used to. Some people even like the heavier weight in your hands and the feeling of a solid product.
In the beginning, I stated that the camera is a tool for photographers, not “the” tool. It’s needed, but it’s also complemented by the photographer, his or her team, and their experience with a system.
Camera Systems Between Need and Greed
A new camera system will always come with certain expenses. Especially if you run photography as a business, the financial aspect of a new camera system will be crucial for your decision. Do the benefits justify the expenses? Are you really in need of a system, or are we talking about greed?
While development always pushes the market and its standards, your fear of falling behind might become true one day. Then, you’re in need of a new system. Greed, however, is run by the fear of missing something.
Just as an unsatisfied need can harm your business, frequently served greed can also ruin your finances.
The Fear of Market Changes
It’s important for you to know the right time to change. In a crowded industry like photography, competitiveness is real. If one system will be dropped by the camera manufacturers, you might have to change eventually. That’s also a problem for the competitiveness of your photography. When recent developments won’t be available to you, you might be forced to shift, even though you prefer your old system.
Probably, this is the reason why there is so much fighting about “the best” system. Whenever mirrorless users make statements about the death of the DSLR, DSLR lovers will feel the need to defend themselves. Everyone wants his or her system to shine in the best possible light. Why? Because their opinion matters, not only for themselves, but for the market.
From a camera manufacturer’s position, it’s not important to build the best camera. It’s important to build the camera that the customers will buy. If DSLR users tell everyone that the mirrorless systems are better and that nobody should buy a DSLR, their system becomes obsolete. Without demand for it, there won’t be any development in the long run. That means no new lenses, no software, no customer support. Basically, you rely on the secondhand market and sparse new developments.
Another reason is your reputation. By denouncing the other system, you create a narrative. A publicly accepted narrative of one system being more “professional” will help its users' reputations. Not every customer is reasonable, many decisions are affected by marketing.
The Fear of the Wrong Timing
It sometimes feels like Murphy’s law. Today, you make the decision and invest into a new system. The next day, there will either be a better one available, or your system’s price will fall significantly.
Technological progress doesn’t halt for you. This means that new models of cameras, lenses and other gear will continuously enter the market. Your own equipment will soon be outdated, and a new system will always be expensive. At least, adapters for your old lenses help you survive the transition of a change.
What I want to say is that the time for change is not dictated by the market. It’s dependent on your needs and capabilities. For some people, the time never comes. There are photographers out there, who work with analog and medium format cameras. Niches exist, too. Again, it’s not survival of the strongest, but the fittest.
Why Fear Is Often Unreasonable
Depending on the industry you work in, you’ve got to check your results and the needs of your clients. If you use your camera only for Instagram, an “outdated” APS-C camera with a kit lens might just be what you are looking for. You’ll get the best quality/price ratio for all your needs! Do your clients really hire you, because of that Sony a7R IV?
Probably, many of your customers will still think “the bigger, the better” or simply count on your portfolio. I even know about photographers who bring an additional film camera to weddings. Old gear tells its romantic narrative, too. For your own case, you’ll have to check expectations and demands and eventually choose whats good for you, not what others like.
If, in the future, one system is dropped by manufacturers, you might be forced to change. Yet, my economics professor used to tell students: “the future is always uncertain”.