The whole DSLR - Mirrorless thing

A comment on Google + about my piece on the Nikon D4S.

'Still I'd say that those monsters are the real reason DSLR's aren't going away. No mirrorless camera can beat them in their own game, which means some pros depend on them. And this perpetuates the notion that DSLR's are what the pros use.'

My Response

'Not sure I agree with that. While there is a lots of 'visual evidence' that DSLR's are the cameras that professionals use via what we see on film and TV, the simple fact is that many mirrorless camera are overpriced. And Nikon and Canon, via dealers, do some serious discounting. And yes the fact that these DSLR's look like 'proper' cameras doesn't do any harm.

Plus I suspect that the vast majority of camera buyers don't care about whether a camera is mirrorless or not. The mirrorless manufacturers have been trying to push these differences for years, but the general attitude seems to be 'so what?'

Imagine this. Someone walks into a shop and says I want a better camera what do you have?. The salesperson puts a Canon 600D + 2 zoom lenses for £550, an Olympus E-M1 +  12-40mm for £1900 and a Fuji X-M1 + 18-55mm for £1400 on the counter. Now it will take a super salesman indeed to get the customer to buy either the Olympus or Fuji. Particularly since the Canon has more MP's and more people have probably heard of Canon cameras and their friend who is into photography has one too. The fact that the other two are newer cameras is mostly irrelevant. The Canon outfit is perceived to be a great deal, which of course it is.

Pro's use Nikon and Canon DSLR's for many other reasons than than they are better than mirrorless. In fact in many cases these days they are actually inferior to what many mirrorless cameras can offer. Video, AF, EVF, Live View, Connectivity are all better than many pro DSLR's. Plus remember the highest MP count on any Canon is via the somewhat ageing 22MP sensor on the 5DMkII. Canon and Nikon however have long established support and dealer networks. They have a wider range of lenses, repairing and hiring is easier, more people sell their products and they have a reputation for quality and reliability that they have earned over many years. Many Mirrorless manufacturers, Panasonic, Sony and Fuji are either newcomers or haven't made 'serious' cameras for years and don't have that track record. They have yet to prove themselves in the Pro marketplace. Plus it's easier, simpler and less expensive to stay with what you know.

I suspect, in fact I'm pretty sure, that the D4S will be overwhelmingly bought by well-heeled amateurs to impress other amateurs. There are probably less than 100 photographers in the world who will ever use it to it's full capability and in terms of final image quality it is well beaten by pretty much everything else that is out there unless you really shoot the majority of your pictures at ISO 12,800 and above. It's the ultimate specialist workhorse and you can tell from the price that Nikon won't be making that many of them. But as a PR 'look what we can make' exercise it's priceless.
'


More thoughts. 

Warning!!! Contentious statement alert.

The way things are going I don't think it will be long before certain mirrorless cameras are the quality, expensive option and DSLR's, at least the run of the mill 'consumer' models will be the 'everyman' basic cameras bought by Mr, Ms and Mrs Snapshooter. Crazy? Ridiculous? Well maybe, but look at the 'evidence'. I mentioned the Canon D600 deal above. A good deal certainly and one that I can see as being very enticing to people looking for a new, better, serious camera. 

But I wouldn't go near it with a bargepole. Because I would feel that buying and using that outfit would mean that I was seriously compromising on quality. The two lens deal includes the 18-55mm and 55-250mm. Now this looks a great deal on paper to those who spend little time with MTF graphs on the photographic internet. But the Canon 18-55mm kit zoom is pretty much the worst digital camera lens I've ever used. Who needs soft focus filters when you have this. Plus Canon have been recycling this 18MP sensor for years now. And it's not as if it was that good in the first place.

And if I wanted lots of MP's and high resolution then why would I buy a Canon DSLR? The most they can manage is 22MP, and in the case of the 5D Mk III a somewhat soft 22MP at that. A7r type images? No way. And the Nikon D4S, it must be great mustn't it? Superb at high ISO's. Well yes it's better than everything else, but like everything else images shot at ISO 12,800 and above still look pretty terrible, just less terrible than the competition. 

If you remember some of my past I'm buying this, no I'm not, Oh it seems I have, posts then you will have noticed that I pre-ordered a Nikon D3300 then cancelled it. And I'm really glad I did. I found some raw files to have a look at and boy are they noisy, even at ISO 100. Lots of luminance noise / digital 'grain' and not even close to what I get from my Fuji X cameras. But then will said Mr, Ms and Mrs Snapshooter shooting OOC jpgs. of their kids, their holidays, their kids on holiday and the rest of their lives ever bother about that, see the difference or worry or care about it? Well no, why would they? If they bought a cheap(ish) DSLR, they have a decent camera, it's a well-known brand which they feel good about owning and they probably don't have the slightest inclination to pixel-peep their images. And as I endlessly write they don't give a hoot about whether their camera is a DSLR or mirrorless.

And neither do I. If I felt that a DSLR was my best option and gave me what I wanted I'd buy one without a second thought. I am currently using mirrorless cameras exclusively. That isn't a philosophical decision or some kind of quasi religious conversion, it's just the way it is. Operationally and aesthetically these are the cameras that give me what I want at this moment in time. And using one of the current DSLR's available to me would, in my particular current situation, mean that I would feel that I was taking a step back. And that is where the perception that somehow DSLR's are still the 'superior' option doesn't cut it for me. I just don't think they are. They are heavy, bulky, somewhat slow and don't give me the image quality I want. Plus with my GH3, A7 / A7r and X-T1 I have all the handling advantages of a DSLR - which I do like - but in a smaller, lighter and more technologically advanced package.

Eventually and not that long into the future I think this debate will become even more futile than it is now. But (hopefully) it won't matter and no-one will care. Cameras will continue to look like they always have, people will still buy more Nikons and Canons than other brands, though probably in ever decreasing quantities, mirrorless manufacturers will still be trying to convince us that their way is the best, yet DSLR mirrors will continue to slap up and down. There still will be a small minority of camera owners who make a lot of chatter on the internet arguing about the minimal differences between cameras and Mr, Ms and Mrs Snapshooter will still be making their purchasing decisions based on the same criteria they have always and will always use 'How much is it?' And we may reach some kind of equilibrium. And some kind of strange reversal of what has been the case in the past. Mirrorless for the enthusiast and dare I say it, in many cases the professional and DSLR's for everybody else.

But then the massed ranks of press and sports photographers and in terms of sales the much bigger and more important demographic of male photo posers with a size complex will still be buying those 'big boy' DSLR's, monster lenses and happily donning their flak jackets to photograph the sparrows in their gardens. And the gadgeteers will still be complaining that their camera isn't small enough even when they need a magnifying glass to even see it. And the world will keep on turning. 99.9% of the images produced will be a waste of resources in terms of quality but will mean everything to those who took them and are in them and the remaining 0.1% will inspire us and help to influence how we see our world.

Because of all the debates in the photographic firmament isn't this the most trivial, the most pointless and the biggest waste of our time since reality television? And I would love to say that's an end to it and I shall no longer even consider writing about this again. But then where's the fun in that?
  
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