Double-lens Reflex cameras were rendered obsolete by Single-lens Reflex (SLR) back in the ‘60s. The latter tech (that had a mirror, a prism, and a film at their heart) was later superseded by Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras, some two decades ago. And like analog cameras before them, ever-evolving smartphones and mirrorless cameras are now rendering DSLRs redundant. DSLR sales have dropped by 37% since June of last year, said a report published by the Camera & Imaging Products Association.
Regardless of your stance on this heated debate, smartphone cameras have indisputably changed the photography landscape. They’re pocketable, more affordable, more convenient, and deliver a good enough quality. But does this incredible decline in DSLR sales point to the inevitable death of this old-school veteran? Or are DSLRs not fading into obscurity anytime soon?
Is mirrorless the future?
For the past seven years, camera sales (DSLR sales in particular) have been on an exponential decline. Between 2012 and 2017, sales for camera lenses plummeted by approximately 50%, from 16 million to almost 7 million in the span of five years. In comparison, sales for their mirrorless counterparts rose from 3 million to roughly 4 million.
But does this correlation imply causation? Let’s consider the facts. Canon and Nikon are widely regarded as the DSLR duo, but both these companies have introduced some great mirrorless cameras, as well. Before Nikon and Canon went pro-mirrorless, Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji had already shifted their focus to mirrorless tech. At any rate, almost every major manufacturer is now offering mirrorless products for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Mirrorless cameras are a new paradigm, with their distinct advantages over DSLR. You get the quality of a DSLR, for a fraction of the space, since they don’t require the additional room for the mirrors that capture the light. The viewfinder only serves to provide an accurate representation of how the clicked image would look. So instead of an optical viewfinder, mirrorless cameras rely on an electronic viewfinder or EVF that automatically adjusts the balance, exposure, and depth of field
More to the point, DSLRs don’t allow you to smoothly focus and pull when recording videos. The mirror is locked in a configuration, while the video is displayed on the LCD. But with EVFs, you get smooth autofocus and advanced features for videography.
Since DSLRs have mirror lockup, they can only shoot at 16 fps. But with mirrorless cameras, you can get up to 20 frames per second because they don’t have a physical limiter. Note that the optical viewfinder is pretty much the only notable advantage DSLRs had over their mirrorless counterparts. Which brings us to our next point…
The Evolution of Mirrorless Tech
When mirrorless cameras were still a novelty, this nascent technology suffered from its share of hits-and-misses. It lagged when the camera was moved, and it mostly had a poor resolution. But these flaws were corrected as the EVF technology evolved. EVFs today are nearly indistinguishable from optical viewfinders. They offer a stable framerate and improved resolution. To that end, their compact design, better videography features, and comparable performance of their EVF to optical viewfinders put mirrorless cameras ahead of the bulky DSLRs. Not only that, but it also takes away the only significant advantage DSLRs have and offers something better.
Who is mirrorless tech for?
Just as DSLRs replaced film and compact digital cameras, mirrorless cameras are the future. They’re the reason videographers have switched to mirrorless alternatives, and even portrait and landscape photography is seeing a shift towards mirrorless. Mirrorless cameras offer seamless autofocus, which is perfect for portraits, and they can be augmented with lightweight lenses that work well with landscape photography.
But the leaps forward in mirrorless technology only tell half the story of the DSLR demise…
The Smartphone Camera Revolution
The digital camera industry will keep declining, and by the year 2021, the industry will have shrunk by 50 percent, said the CEO of Canon, FujioMitarai. In a statement issued back in February, he further explained that Canon would likely shift its focus to corporate consumers in the surveillance and medical field. The factor which so profoundly impacted the camera industry is the smartphone revolution.
The smartphone cameras are ever-evolving, they’re getting cheaper, more compact, and exponentially better. The average consumer can now simply point and shoot, and if they want better quality photos, they can upgrade their smartphone. The masses no longer need a new device to take a decent photo, because to an untrained eye, the gap between a DSLR and a high-end smartphone camera is hardly visible.
Another factor is the pixel-count race. In a few short years, 48-megapixel cameras have now become the standard for upper-mid-range smartphones, and the pixel count exceeds this standard.
This year has already seen a handful of smartphones that feature 100+ MP lenses, which will likely become commonplace next year. What it means for the digital camera industry is that photography no longer belongs to an elite few. While professional photographers are still relevant, pro-grade cameras are now part of a niche market. Enthusiasts (save for hardcore enthusiasts, perhaps) and the average consumer no longer needs to rely on an extra piece of equipment, because they always carry a camera inside their pocket.