The announcement of Nikon’s D6 stirred a big debate all over the Internet. The comparison between DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras have been beaten to pulp already. In this article, I don’t intend to predict the distant future. Rather, this article focuses on how things are right now and how they are likely to be for the next couple of years.
Table of Contents
Threats to the DSLR Market
At one corner of the photography market, smartphones have already taken a big chunk of the sales pie from entry level DSLRs. Nasim has a detailed article on it.
On another end, a number of video shooters have already moved to the Mirrorless market for the seamless AF, electronic viewfinder, and (often) more advanced video features in the first place.
Landscape and portrait photographers are moving a bit more slowly toward mirrorless, but it’s certainly happening. The advent of high-quality lightweight lenses (great for landscapes) and seamless Eye-AF on many mirrorless cameras (great for portraits) are two of the driving forces. Not to mention the ability to adapt lenses, with features like in-viewfinder focus peaking and magnification that breathe life into older, manual focus glass.
When all seems to be lost for the DSLR market, who is going to stay with the “old reliable” cameras the longest?
The Sports/Action/Wildlife Photographer
The answer lies with photographers who shoot fast action, especially sports and wildlife shooters. In this market, I believe DSLRs will not just retain their current customers, but add new members to their ecosystem, at least for the next 3-5 years. In fact, this is the very reason behind the whole debate since the D6 announcement.
As of now, I shoot wildlife with a Nikon D750 coupled with the Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens. Knowing the limitations of the 200-500 with AF speed, I am not even thinking of mounting it on top of an FTZ adapter. There is not going to be any change in AF accuracy, but I know that there certainly will be a further lag, as well as potentially worse tracking capabilities. I would be the last person to slow down a lens that is already fairly slow for birds in flight and other unpredictable action.
That’s not even talking about the mechanical side of things. I have a friend who uses a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens extensively with a 2x teleconverter. He certainly would not mount his 300mm f/2.8 on a 2x teleconverter which in turn is mounted on top of the FTZ adapter. That’s a lot of points of failure, even on top of the slower autofocus concerns I just mentioned.
Why Action Photographers Will Stick to DSLRs – at Least for a While
Even if mirrorless cameras provided significant improvements for action photography – which I am not convinced they do at the moment – sports and wildlife photographers would still be likely to stick with DSLRs for a while.
Why is that? Simple. They own the most expensive of lenses, and they’re heavily invested in the DSLR ecosystem already. Think of the Sony A9, the best full-frame mirrorless camera on the market today for sports photographers. Sony has been in the mirrorless market more than most others, for about 5 years. How many wildlife lenses do Sony have today? two zooms (100-400 & 200-600) and two primes (400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4). That’s hardly bad, but the options for Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters are simply far more extensive.
Looking at the future roadmaps and rumored lenses for Nikon and Canon mirrorless, we don’t see a particularly different trend. For now, the cameras with the greatest native lineup of telephoto lenses are DSLRs.
Personally, I’m a Nikon shooter. Until the day comes when native Z-Mount telephoto lenses equal or possibly exceed the F-Mount counterparts, I’m not going to switch. I think many others are in the same boat, and that alone is enough to forestall the death of DSLRs. As of today, if I am a sports/wildlife photographer, I would prefer to buy a D850 rather than a Z7 every time.
There are other benefits beside lenses, too. For sports/wildlife shooters, autofocus speed and tracking capabilities matter more than the actual sharpness of the lens. Mirrorless cameras are improving in this regard, but they haven’t caught up yet to DSLRs at a given price.
On top of that, with sports/wildlife photographers, the smaller and lighter camera bodies of a mirrorless system are arguably a disadvantage. A lot of wildlife photographers invest in a battery grip to counter-balance the weight of their front-heavy lenses. There’s no doubt that a D5 or a D850 with a battery grip feels more balanced with a 600mm prime compared to something like the Z7.
The Nikon D4, D5 and the Canon 1DX bodies are also built like tanks. The reason being, a camera body in the hands of a pro sports photographer often have to endure a lot of abuse, and the same is true for many wildlife photographers. Can today’s mirrorless systems (not just the cameras, but the lenses as well) take so much abuse? In my view, that remains an open question.
There are some more minor benefits, too. Wildlife photographers have to dismount their lenses frequently in the field, whether to add/remove a teleconverter or simply swap lenses. In dusty environments, it’s nice to have the DSLR’s mirror to shield the sensor, at least at a certain level. That’s not the case with mirrorless (though the Canon EOS R, with its auto-closing shutter curtain, shows that camera manufacturers at least acknowledge this is a potential issue).
Last but not the least, AF performance. I am certain Nikon’s Z-system and Canon’s R & RP systems are going to take at least a few more years to get where Sony’s A7RIV or A9 are today. But as of today the AF on the D5 and 1DX are among the best available on the market, and certainly Nikon and Canon’s best. This is one reason why I’m sure there will still be a lot of people buying the D6; it will almost certainly have better AF performance than the D5, let alone the Z cameras that have been released so far. And sure, the D6 is at is the highest end of the pro market, but it’s also true that its autofocus capabilities are more likely to trickle down to Nikon’s DSLRs more than its mirrorless cameras over time.
The Ecosystem Problem
There’s a reason why Nikon has kept the F mount around for 60 years at this point. Most professional Nikon photographers have an army of F-Mount lenses. Unless and until someone convinces them that a new ecosystem is much better, they’re not going to part with their existing setup. I am not saying people will stick to DSLRs till eternity, but most of us will need some serious thought and time before taking the jump.
And even when the time comes that mirrorless cameras have an equal arsenal of supertelephotos, I still don’t think DSLRs will be completely dead. Photographers won’t just throw away their F-Mount lenses or let them collect dust. They are going to sell them, and as days go on, they will be selling them for a lot cheaper. This will make enthusiasts go for such lenses, and a lot of them would possibly buy new DSLR bodies to complement them. Even as the mirrorless ecosystem grows, it does not mean the DSLR ecosystem has to shrink proportionally.
Will DSLRs Face the Same Fate as Film?
During the film era, the cost involved in simply seeing a proof of your photographs was quite high. Digital – and all that came with it – represented a huge leap. Exponential rather than linear.
The gap between DSLR and Mirrorless is not that significant, at least as of today. As popular as the “DSLRs are going the way of film” comment may be, it’s just not a fair comparison. Sure, mirrorless is taking over, but it will take considerably longer for DSLRs to go obsolete – and for 99% of pro photographers to make the switch – than it did with film.
This article was never intended to be a DSLR Vs Mirrorless comparison, since we already have an extensive and in-depth article like that on Photography Life already. Instead, the scope of this article is to give an idea of how things stand at this point in time – and to suggest that the answer to the title question “Is the DSLR Market Dead Already” is not just no, but that it may even be growing in certain areas of photography, like sports and wildlife.
What are your thoughts on this? Please use the comments section below if you want to share your views.
Is the DSLR already dead? What kind of nonsense is that? I am a working professional and I do not know a SINGLE professional who uses a mirrorless.
Personally I think DSLR’s are going to drop massively in sales over the next 5 years as more beginner photographers lean towards more expensive smartphones instead and the lure of more creative ways of shooting. There was once a big market for attracting ‘new’ photographers to the DSLR world but I think it’s going to be more the aspiring, intermediate and professional level that owns a DSLR.
Because of this I can only see costs going up on lenses and camera bodies, making it a very hard world for DSLRs moving forwards, I would love to see them hang around for a long time but I struggle to see how they are going to keep up with the advances and attraction of the smartphone to those that won’t shoot professionally.
The only caveat I will add to this is the Nature/Sports photography as this article covers.
Sometimes challenges to established markets come from the blind spot: While enthousiasts and professionals debated endlessly the pros and cons of APC vs full frame, frames per second and pixel sizes, the smart phone cameras + social media integration completely made the entire travel-snap-shot-camera market practically overnight obsolete.
No one of the pros and enthousiasts of the “classic camera market” saw this coming, that millions of revenue (and thus also R&D) got obliterated by a puny camera-phone on a selfie-stick.
Another one of this “who saw this actually coming” market innovations was 1st person sports&action, which was a segment practically created overnight by GoPro.
And maybe in other fields of photography things might turn out similar, who knows? Let’s take landscape photography for example. After having contemplated myself for a while, if an MLC addition (maybe defecting entirely to Sony?) to my anyway way too big DSLR camera kit makes any sense, I got myself finally after recommendation a camera from one of the fastest growing new camera upstarts in this market, which is – drumroll – dji.
If you’re allowed to fly (and that is in some countries/areas a big if), an autostabilized airborne camera with a decent sensor, which is within seconds freely deployable anywhere in 3D space, opened up possibilities to which the marginal differences between DSLR and MLC in this field of photography appears to me in retrospect ridicolusly microscopic.
For an investment that was 60% of a Z7 “upgrade” I got myself a completely complementay camera system to my existing D850 that allows me to do entirely different things that where previously outright impossible.
Would anyone in 2010 have predicted me that in seven years I would invest 2k$ in a drone for still photography, I would have driven him/her straight to a mental hospital and continued to bicker about if the incompatibility of mid-range Nikon DSLRs with older d-lenses is a big deal, or if a Samsung NX is a game changer…
As a consequence, my recent money for new camera investments did neither go to Nikon, nor to Canon, nor to the MLC King Sony, but at the end to dji, (which ironically forked up the good ol’ hasselblad brand, which in itself is a telling story). These afforementioned companies will get money for replacing one day my D850, which should be good enough for some years to come. And what I realistically expect on that day are marginal improvements. But really big innovations / paradigm changes I do not expect from any of these “old school camera manufacturers”. As a consequence, both high-end multi purpose DSLRs and MLCs are certainly here to stay, but catering increasingly shrinking replacement markets, which get challenged from all sides by dedicated new specialized camera-systems.
Amateur wildlife photographer here. I use an Olympus E-M1 II with the Olympus 300mm F/4 lens. Pretty happy with the results (see my Flickr account here: www.flickr.com/peopl…[email protected]/ – mind that the older photos were taken with the Panasonic 100-400mm zoom, which is not as bright as the Oly 300mm).
I do not see myself switching to a DSLR. My combo is below 3k in weight, the lens is much smaller than a full-frame one with the same reach would be, and the build quality is excellent. I can take a combo of this lens, the 100-400mm zoom and the 12-100mm travel zoom as carry-on luggage on the plane. With recent upgrades to the Oly E-M1 II firmware the autofocus is very good, both for those tiny birds in the bushes (I prefocus with AF and very easily and quickly fine-tune the focus manually) and birds in flight.
I’m not a pro, but neither are the majority of people who buy ILC camera to photograph wildlife.
I hate dusts in the OVF. Impossible to clean. My biggest gripe.
… and please correct me if I’m wrong!
“Is the DSLR-market already dead?” – there is one answer: look at the market share!
Personally, I do have heavily invested in Fuji gear (more than I had in Canon gear, before); I would like to point out:
*** In wildlife the size of the camera (+/-300g) doesn’t play a role, when compared to 5.000g lenses. But the photographer would appreciate looking through a clear viewfinder without eating on the battery; and she also would appreciate solid buttons and controls; being able to work with gloves.
*** Two years ago when I heaved my Samsung NX1 and its heavy 16-50/2.0-2.8 through the streets of Rome, some people handed me their Nikon (D5xxx maybe?) to take a portrait of them. I made only a few shot but my feeling was: this camera is reacting much faster than my mirrorless beast!
*** And a guess: looking for a cheap “system” camera, go DSLR!
Honestly, this article is written from a limited perspective with a whole lot of assumptions and speculation.
It’s true — If you are already a Nikon wildlife photographer, deeply invested in a Nikon lens lineup, you’re unlikely to be switching any time soon. And you may very well get in line for the Nikon D6.
But Thom Hogan just got back from real safari shooting, using just the Nikon Z cameras and FTZ adapters. His experience firmly showed no downside to shooting wildlife with the Z cameras.
Meanwhile, if you aren’t yet deeply invested in a system — there are strong reasons why a good mirrorless, like the Sony A9 or A7riv may be preferable wildlife and sports cameras:
If you’re shooting erratic moving birds or other wildlife, you’ll value the blackout free viewfinder of the Sony A9. The blackout free EVF for tracking sports and wildlife is a major advantage over DSLRs.
This idea that dslr tracking is better than mirrorless tracking — simply not universally true.
If you’re trying to get close to the wildlife shoot, the silent shutter of mirrorless cameras is a major advantage.
Yes, for the foreseeable future, Canon and Nikon cameras will require use of adapters. But there is very little if any penalty for using those adapters. And for Sony, 70-200/2.8, 70-300, 100-400, 200-600,. 400/2.8, 600mm F/4, 1.4 and 2x adapters…… Gives any sports or wildlife shooter more than enough choices of lenses.
Animal eye-AF and real time tracking in the newest Sony cameras provide yet another advantage for Sony mirrorless over traditional dSLRs.
And while Nikon and Canon may be a bit behind, I expect they will catch up very quickly.
While I agree that currently invested Canon/Nikon wildlife/sports shooters may be slower to switch to mirrorless, I fully expect the switch to start happening now, and really speed up within 2-3 years.
The 1Dxiii and D6 may be the last gasp of the sports/wildlife dSLR.
Much of what you say, I agree with, but here comes the ‘but’ Don’t forget, the percieved wisdom, and advice doled out to us from enthusist magazines and websites, this one included, is always the mantra – get good glass. If you just spent four or five years building an enthusiast system with 3,4, or 5 good lenses based on that advice, safe in the knowledge that you can replace your DSLR body with another one in the future, you will be feeling quite ill right now. If the idea that Nikon will never release any further DSLR bodies, the value of the lenses will take a hit too, the whole thing stinks. That is, of course, IF IT IS TRUE. On that basis, I challenge Nikon to come out and be honest about it, tell us straight out, IS THIS THE PLAN?
Yes, the question is have Nikon deliberately crippled the Z cameras so they don’t work so well with AF-S lenses, to ‘encourage’ people to buy Z-mount lenses, or is there a real problem as a result of the adaptor/ OSPDAF? What I haven’t seen anywhere is a thorough comparison of the focusing speed and accuracy of well regarded AF-S lenses like 70-200/4, 300/2.8, 24-70 and some of the AF-P lenses etc on a Z body compared to a D500 or similar modern DSLR. Could Nikon have borrowed Canon’s Cripple Hammer and used it in a sneaky way, or do AF-S/P lenses work as well as they do on latest DSLRs on Zs? Would it be possible to tell the cause if there is a difference?
I don’t have a z camera but there is a tonne of reviews and YouTube videos showing that f mount lenses work just fine on z cameras. Nasim and others have noted that for single point non tracking af the z cameras are more accurate then nikons DSLRs. Thom Hogan and others have noted that most f mount glass works just fine, sure some might be slow or not brilliant but f mount glass is varied in quality any way.
Nikon would be crazy to cripple the z cameras so that f mount glass wouldn’t work to well. They want as many people to switch now as possible, that means people using f mount glass untill z mount glass has enough options.
However, af works differently between DSLR and mirrorless and we shouldn’t underestimate how much work the engineers had to put in to make f mount glass work well on Z. I believe that Nikon is slowly putting together a great option for photographers but it seems the internet is a wash with instant bashing, keyboard warriors and YouTube influencers being influenced by companies.
I think the comment that the DSLR is going the way of film is disingenuous.
The cost of getting a decent camera was high in the film days – and the cost of running it was very high. The thought of bracketing as an entusiast was off the table really – you had to buy film, pay to process it, and get prints made, and then there was the time it took to see the results.
Today, the high cost is in the cameras and lenses. Once you have these, the cost of running it is far less, as there is no film, no processing etc. But…. you need a high end camera, great glass, a good computer, and expensive software. I would say, print for print, and even adjusting for inflation, the cost of photography per image has escalated. I paid less for a high end SLR with a 50mm f:1.4 lens than I paid for a flash (strobe) unit today.
I have looked at mirrorless, and they do seem like boys toys compared to a D810 or D5. I suspect they will not prove to be anywhere near as durable as these DSLR’s are, but that is pure speculation.
The camera industry has been doing this upgrade thing for a decade, and now we are expected to ditch perfectly good cameras, and brilliant lenses, in order to ‘upgrade’ to a dubious future of mirrorless? I don’t think so, not yet anyway. As an ecconomist would tell you, do not be an early adopter, wait for the mass market.
I see at least 5 more years with my present kit, and if i am unable to replace my camera body when it eventually dies one day – then I may find I am forced into mirrorless, but for my part anyway, at the moment, there is no clear reason or advantage to do it.
Back in 1978, the best enthusiast camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50/f1.8, cost £199.97. That’s over £2,000 today.
I had a Pentax ESII from 1980-1994, when it conked out. I’ve just given a Nikon D50 to a charity, in full working order after 15 years’ use.
Modern cameras are impressive and good value.
No. I had the Canon A1 and it cost a lot more than £199 nearly double that. You’re ignoring the huge set up costs digital entails. With film, it was a camera and a lens or two. The enthusiasts of today often have three lenses plus a macro, maybe a long lens and a fisheye too, a raft of accessories, a hefty (expensive) computer, an adobe subscription or other expensive software to purchase and so on. It is these costs that diminish the perceived value for money in not having to pay for film, and doing the processing yourself on computers.
Simply making the point that after putting all that money down, to up sticks on my lenses and bodies, and move to yet another camera, and different lenses, is doing no one any good, apart from Nikon (or Canon) from the extra revenue that generates. Maybe my opinion is skewed by my major interests in both landscape and macro. Lots of that is tripod based, not particularly dynamic, and if you were to put a 20×30 print from my D850 alongside one from a Z7, would you be falling over yourself at the incredible differences? No, they would look virtualy identical,
That was my point, a cost north of three thousand pounds, and nothing gained for it.
Call me a diehard if you will, but I need a lot more convincing before I dip into my savings again, I would rather spend it on travel to garner more images. Wouldn’t anyone?
Like many others I have a lot of F mount lenses (up to a 180-400 F4) on a D850. But the D850 is almost certainly going to be my last DSLR. It’ll be in use for (I hope) several more years. But gradually more and more as a specialized secondary camera.
It seems (from reading reviews) that the huge flange opening of the S mount is allowing Nikon engineers to produce lenses that aren’t going to be matched with the tiny F mount. Rather than invest in a deadend I will gradually move.
For example, if my trusty old 24-70 F2.8 ever dies beyond repairable that will trigger a Z7 (or later) with a replacement for it and go from there. Or as a very compact travel solution I might have an F4 24-70 plus Z7 for occasions where I don’t want to carry more (or am not allowed to which has happened).
I would argue it’s the cell phone that has caused the demise of the dslr.
Everyone but me seems to own one.
I refuse to pay a monthly fee for something I already own
A phone, a computer with a 32” 4K monitor, a 55” 4K tv and one hell of a good camera.
Dslr’ have just about reached their limits.
How many more pixels can they cram onto a sensor
How much of a higher ISO do you really need.
The companies needed a new product.
Enter the newest, greatest, best camera we have to offer
It’s lighter, no shutter noise (which I find reassuring).
It doesn’t matter that it isn’t any better
And if you get one you’re cool too
I absolutely dislike anything Sony makes
How long has mirrorless cameras been on the market ?
And how many new you gotta have version have they put out?
Sony builds with planned obsolescence in mind.
I personally had 4 or 5 PlayStations die on my kids.
Unless the review is a lens I can use, I pass on reading new reviews .
I will wait to upgrade, Until I can shoot holographic images I will hold onto my old camera
I will however laugh to myself watching fools and their money part ways.
For something that 9 out of 10 people couldn’t tell which camera it came from