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Are DSLRs Really Dead? (& What the Future Holds for the Camera)

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For a long time, the DSLR was at the apex of the camera world. They were sitting pretty at the top of the mountain, being favored by photographers all over the world. DSLR cameras were jewels in the crown of all the top camera manufacturers.

But now, the DSLR era is entering its winter season. And the sun is setting on this once impervious camera system. Mirrorless cameras are now taking their place at the top of the camera world. But are DSLRs dead and buried?

This post is our take on the DSLR situation. We’ll look at what’s happening now and what the future might hold for DSLR cameras.

Overhead photo of Canon DSLR camera
© Dim Hou

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What is a DSLR Camera?

The DSLR is a digital version of the old SLR film cameras. SLR stands for single-lens reflex, referring to the shutter and mirror mechanism used to capture the image.

A series of mirrors allows you to look through the lens using the viewfinder. When you take the picture, the shutter lifts to capture the image. With SLR cameras, the shutter lifts, allowing light onto the film. With DSLRs, the light goes to the digital sensor.

You can find both crop-sensor and full-frame DSLR cameras. And Nikon and Canon have DSLR models for beginners, enthusiasts, and professional photographers. They have a reputation for being reliable machines with excellent image quality.

Shot of Canon DSLR camera on a table outside
© Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga

End of DSLR Development

Canon has recently announced that the EOS-1D X Mark III will be their last DSLR release. This announcement comes shortly after Nikon made a similar decision to stop the production of DSLR cameras.

Canon and Nikon were the champions of the DSLR systems. They had the best for beginners with their EOS 7D Mark II and D3500. And they proudly advanced the technology with their professional-grade cameras. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the D850 are the best money could buy.

The professional-grade cameras are the peak of DSLR technology. The image quality is unquestionable. They have excellent functions, like rapid continuous shooting speeds. And autofocus systems were fast and always reliable.

But it seems DSLR development has hit a wall. The body and infrastructure of a DSLR present limitations. And it seems the autofocus systems are as good as they’ll get in DSLRs.

Canon and Nikon both introduced dual-pixel autofocus systems. The best examples are the Canon EOS 6D Mark II and the Nikon D780. But this AF system can only be used in Live View, meaning you can’t use the optical viewfinder.

Canon, Nikon, and Pentax have looked into adding in-body image stabilization to their DSLRs. But the mechanical system doesn’t make it easy. Adding a stabilization system to the sensor creates a disconnect. This means what you see in the viewfinder might not match the final image.

Photo of lighthouse shore landscape seen through viewfinder
© Neil Mark Thomas

The Rise of Mirrorless

While the bitter cold of winter approaches for the DSLR, it’s springtime for mirrorless cameras. Over the last few years, they’ve become the talk of the photography town. And camera manufacturers are turning their attention to mirrorless machines.

Nikon and Canon have only recently gone full-mirrorless. But Fujifilm, Olympus, and Sony have been focusing all their energy on mirrorless cameras for a long time. Fujifilm and Olympus produce excellent beginner to high-end enthusiast mirrorless models.

Sony has made the biggest waves in the mirrorless division. Their Alpha series is pushing the limits of mirrorless technology. The Sony A7R IV is a prime example, with its 61MP image sensor. No DSLR comes close to that.

Mirrorless cameras have also made headway with autofocus and image stabilization systems. The lack of a mechanical shutter gives developers more freedom with electrical components. And these advancements have drawn a lot of attention from photographers.

Fujifilm and Sony haven’t left Nikon and Canon behind. Both brands have been releasing mirrorless cameras alongside their DSLR options. The Nikon Z7 and the Canon R5 are two of the best mirrorless cameras on the market.

Despite these brands producing both camera types, the wind was only blowing one way. And the termination of the DSLR lines is the victory bell for mirrorless cameras.

Sony A7R on a table in front of a computer screen
© Drew Hays

What Makes Mirrorless Cameras so Great?

One of the first things you’ll notice is the size and weight of a mirrorless camera. Most mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLR bodies. Without the mechanical parts of a DSLR, a mirrorless can have a smaller camera body.

Image resolution and sensor sensitivity have garnered a lot of attention. DSLRs top out at around 45MP, with only the Nikon D850 and the Canon EOS 5DS beating that. But upwards of 50MP has become standard for full-frame mirrorless units. The Sony A7R currently tops the league with 61MP.

Mirrorless cameras also have excellent autofocus systems. DSLR AF systems only offer limited coverage of the frame. But some mirrorless options now have full-frame AF coverage. And this includes face and eye detection.

Built-in image stabilization is another area where mirrorless has taken the lead. As the viewfinder and sensor are both digital, you can have an image stabilizer that stays true to the projection on the viewfinder. The built-in stabilizers also mean you can shoot action and low-light with better quality results.

Mirrorless cameras use a digital shutter, which means they can shoot without making a sound. Many people like the clunk of a DSLR shutter. But sports and wildlife photographers appreciate the benefit of a silent shutter.

The digital shutter also allows for a quicker burst and shutter speed. The quickest you’ll get out of a DSLR is about 15 frames per second. But some mirrorless cameras now have continuous shooting modes with a 30fps speed.

Dark image of Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera
© Jan Kopriva

The Enduring Popularity of the DSLR

DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras have been going toe to toe over the last decade. Recently, the mirrorless camera has gotten the scorecard’s upper hand. But the DSLR is still in the fight. They’re up against the ropes, but they can still throw a few punches.

The camera companies might be moving away from DSLRs. But the DSLR market remains a vibrant place for a digital photographer. From beginners to professional photographers, DSLR shooters love their cameras.

DSLR cameras are reliable machines. They’re durable and built for a life of work. The DSLR is the work-horse of the camera world. Some might see the mechanical elements as a drawback. But physical components often prove more reliable than electronic ones.

Mirrorless models have a reputation for freezing. Their circuits get overloaded, and the machine freezes. It’s usually just a case of turning it off and on again. But that can be costly when you’re on the job. It wastes time, and you could miss your shot.

Electronic components may be small and lightweight. But they generate heat. And in the smaller camera body of a mirrorless machine, that can cause problems. The Canon EOS R5 is one camera that can overheat. When you’re shooting video at full definition, you’ll feel it getting warm.

Many mirrorless cameras have higher image resolution. But some see the high megapixel count as overkill. The image quality of a Nikon D750 or a Pentax K1 II is excellent. And the resolution is more than enough for professional editorials or print publications.

Nikon and Canon DSLRs have excellent selections of lenses available. The DSLR lines have been running for years. And both companies have been releasing lenses throughout that time. Their mirrorless lens ranges don’t have the same inventory.

Woman using a Nikon DSLR
© Lisanto

Why the Decision to Go Mirrorless?

We don’t believe Nikon and Canon are stopping their DSLR lines due to a lack of interest. It’s a response to their competitors and the smartphone market. They don’t want to fall behind with innovation. And all the innovation hype surrounds mirrorless.

It’s a rash move. And one that seems unnecessary. DSLR users have been calling out for new features and functions to improve the user experience. They would also strengthen their appeal against mirrorless competitors. But these requests have gone unanswered.

They could create smartphone apps that actually work. Or they could develop in-camera apps for ease of sharing images. Internal storage would be a huge benefit. And multimedia makers would love wireless capabilities for mics, headphones, and flashes.

These are just a few additions that could help keep the DSLR competitive in the digital camera market. But Nikon and Canon are following the mirrorless trend. They can feel the wind blowing in a certain direction, so they’re following it.

Someone carrying a Nikon DSLR with a shoulder strap
© Jamie Street

Are DSLRs Dead?

DSLRs are not dead. The top manufacturers may be moving away from DSLR production. But they’re not dead and buried yet. Their popularity will endure over the next few years. And mirrorless cameras haven’t been able to give the knock-out blow.

If you’re a DSLR user and you love the results, there’s no reason to change. And if you’re looking for a new camera, DSLRs are still excellent machines. They’re reliable and produce superb results at all levels.

The DSLR is definitely on the way out. But there’s still some fight in the old dog. You’ll see photographers of all types using the DSLR cameras for years to come. And good cameras could go up in value. The future doesn’t look great for DSLRs, but they’re not dead yet.

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