Nikon Df - The DSLR isn't quite finished yet - the 'mirrorless' dilemma.

Nikon Df - Nikon 20mm f/1.8G

We see the quotes all the time. "DSLR's are dead' 'DSLR's are dying' 'Mirrorless is the future' 'Nobody wants DSLR's any more' etc. etc. But then then there is this - Somehow these 'dinosaur' DSLR's still get made and mirrorless cameras (which are of course the vast majority of all cameras made) have yet to wipe them out (far from it). And using my Nikon Df, after a burst of mirrorless interchangeable, shows me why that is. So I wouldn't go writing any obituaries for those silvered glass slappers anytime soon. 

Because my Df is just lightning fast. Focusing and what gets ignored these days, an instant (or pretty damn near it) shutter response. Most times, shooting what I do, I don't need it, but if I do need a camera to 'get the shot' under all circumstances, this is the one. Even ignoring the fact that with my Df + 20mm f/1.8 lens, as you can see above, I get fantastic dynamic range and the ability to shoot straight into the sun, top end DSLR's are just so slick to use. That 'old-hat' SLR design with the much reviled mirror, sure gets the job done and the image captured. And that's surely the point isn't it?

There are also other reasons why I believe DSLR's are far from done. Firstly, they are a minority camera. All point and shoot compacts are mirrorless and last time I looked smartphones don't have them. Significantly less people own a DSLR than a mirrorless camera, thus actually giving them that 'exclusive' designation. There is also the point that while there are small(er) DSLR's, there is nothing equivalent to those point and shoot cameras. Whatever their cost and feature set, DSLR's look 'serious'. I've often wondered how sales people attempt to convince people that the m4/3 or NEX camera that looks just like the compact camera they are wanting to upgrade from is really just as good or better than that cheaper Nikon or Canon DSLR. I would imagine it could be a pretty hard sell. This of course may explain why the mirrorless interchangeable manufacturers seem to going in the DSLR direction in terms of design.

Because there is no getting away from the fact that on television and in the movies, serious photographers use Nikon and Canon DSLR's. It's a point I make repeatedly and the 'mirrorless mafia' seem to ignore it. Because not everyone looking to buy that first 'serious' camera spends most of their waking life trawling the photographic internet. Now the forums may be full of mirrorless interchangeable chatter, but I suspect that the market for a beginner DSLR is much bigger than that. And it's an error for DSLR detractors to assume that just because there is a lot of internet noise about the latest m4/3, Fuji X or Sony FE camera, that is reflected in what people choose to buy. 

Of course there is also the point that it's not really that important a part of a camera to get so hot and bothered about. DSLR's have been around for a while now and Nikon and Canon know how to make them reliable, efficient and at the beginner level, relatively cheap. And there is a lot of choice for both camera bodies and lenses as well as the fact that there are always great deals on models that aren't the latest. So you get a camera that has the logo that all those photographers on the TV use, looks like a serious piece of kit and costs less than that compact camera lookalike that someone is trying to persuade you to buy.

I always thought that pitching the mirrorless interchangeable concept at upgrading compact camera point and shooters, wasn't going to break it in the marketplace. The smartphone 'revolution' has seen to that. I suspect the tech. in smartphones and the other options those devices have is far more attractive to prospective buyers than a bigger sensor or access to a lens range. I'm convinced it's much more important for many people to have the connectivity and ease of use options that a phone camera can provide, rather than any perceived improvement in image quality. Again, trying to convince a smartphone user to buy a mirrorless interchangeable camera and fiddle about with it to attempt to send a picture to their phone, so that they can then share the image with friends and family on social media is also a pretty hard sell. Particularly with recent improvements to phone cameras.

I was always of the opinion that the market for mirrorless interchangeable was for the discerning enthusiast photographer, who firstly would be aware of what that concept offered and secondly was looking to use something that was either an alternative to or a complement to what they had already. More than likely a DSLR. And for this audience, there is the perception issue. "I was using a Canon DSLR and people saw me as a 'proper' photographer' took me seriously and gave me my due respect. Now I'm using a small mirrorless interchangeable camera and they walk in front of me when I'm taking a picture. That didn't happen when I used a DSLR!!' Sound familiar? I get that all the time. Peasants!! Don't they know it's a Leica!!!!

Because when we take something up, chances are we want to try and 'do it right' and be taken seriously. For example, in the UK, due to recent successes, cycling has become very popular. It has the unfortunate consequence that a lot of people who really shouldn't, kit themselves out with all the appropriate gear, including of course skin tight lycra. Now I have to say, I'm surprised by the fact that you can get XXXXXXL cycling shorts, but then the people who make them aren't going to miss any opportunity to cash in! And this is my roundabout way of saying that the DSLR is still an 'aspirational' camera. Now it's certainly true that there are less people who aspire to be regarded as serious photographers these days, hence the overall drop in camera sales. And it's also true that many who would previously like to have been seen carrying some camera bling around, have now switched their attention to being seen in the right places with the right phone or tablet. (Usually with a picture of a piece of fruit on the back!)

As I mentioned briefly above, the answer to this has finally been embraced by the mirrorless interchangeable manufacturers. It's simple really. Make them look just like DSLR's. I wrote a previous article about the increasing size of mirrorless interchangeable cameras, in it I made it clear that much of what is offered these days is TOO big and misses the point of what, for me, mirrorless interchangeable is all about. But, ignoring my personal preferences, it has to be a way to convince potential camera owners, either up or downsizing, that they can get the advantages of mirrorless, which may still be something of mystery and most importantly still look like they know what they are doing with that impressive looking camera. Because there is no denying that an Olympus E-M1 + battery grip + 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, taking just one example, looks very serious indeed. People won't walk in front of you when you are taking a picture with that held up in front of your face. 'Stand in line and wait your turn, you smartphone plebs!!' The Sony FE system, the Fuji X-T1 and now the Samsung NX1 all have the capacity to impress and while some may attempt to assert that isn't important, we all know that in fact, it is exactly the opposite.

So, though this article is somewhat light hearted in tone, the points I'm attempting to make are serious. Whether DSLR's survive or not, there is no doubt in my mind that cameras that look like DSLR's, whether they are or not, will be around for a long time yet. Because this is what a camera is supposed to look like in the minds of many (most?) people. And there really is no getting round that. 

Finally, if you are looking (heaven forbid!) to impress the hell out of the general, non-photographic gear savvy public, then don't bother saving up for a Leica. Get yourself a Nikon Df. Boy does it attract peoples attention. I took it out the other day, admittedly carried by a leather strap that's got gold plated hooks and trim and I was almost tempted to hide it away, since it seemed everybody who passed me grabbed a look. And of course, I was made very self-conscious by this as I totally disapprove of showing off with a camera. And if you believe that.....................