If DSLR's are dying then mirrorless cameras will be right behind them. A discussion of the relative merits of hybrid cameras.

What follows is an 'opinion piece' intended to provoke thought and hopefully entertain. (Its primary function after all.)

'DSLR's are dead! The future is mirrorless hybrid!.' Paraphrasing from a spam post that I had to delete in a Google+ group I run. The reference was about some supposed photographic 'guru'. You know the ones who pontificate about the state of photography and who are supposed to have some great reputation as photographers. Interesting that these 'giants' of the industry have the time to put together social media presences, shoot videos and write endless long-winded articles. This blog takes a fraction of the time it takes to put that kind of stuff together and as you will be aware, I have had quite a few days with nothing published recently because I've been busy and haven't had the time to post. So these supposed 'experts' must have a lot of time on their hands, or have decided to change the way they make a living. Whatever the reason, I usually ignore these 'has-beens', who I've never heard of anyway apart from on the photographic internet and refuse to contribute to their income stream.

There is this ludicrous point of view, not borne out by any evidence, that somehow DSLR's are old-fashioned, doomed and about to expire. They will be replaced in some land of photographic milk and honey by mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and everybody will live happily ever after. Which is complete nonsense, because what will happen is if DSLR's disappear, then the cameras that seem desperate to emulate their looks and performance, but differ only in that the fake pentaprism on the top doesn't actually have a mirror in it, will follow suit. Gobbled up as far as the vast majority of the market is concerned, by camera / smart / phone / internet devices that will probably down the line have APS-C and even FF sensors, 8K video, digital zooms, fast add-on adapters lenses and are small, light and cheap AND go out and take the pictures for you, while you stay in and watch the snooker with a few beers.

Ignoring the last bit, I have a strong suspicion that this is what will happen. For two reasons. Firstly that the capability of cameras that make phone calls is rapidly improving as a result of demand and therefore higher R & D investment and secondly that the difference between DSLR's and mirrorless, in terms of those previously mentioned looks and performance, is becoming insignificant and more and more difficult to spot. There is also the fact DSLR's are just as capable (if not more so) of hybrid photography (Stills and Video) as mirrorless cameras and there is an argument that they STILL do it better. Certainly, at a commercial photographic shoot where still images and video footage are being shot for publication and / or broadcast, chances are it's a Nikon or a Canon at the centre of all that bolt-on movie-making gear. Because the camera body is just one small part of the equipment required in that situation and any perceived advantages of Mirrorless over DSLR then becomes totally irrelevant. 

Then there are the obvious ways that mirrorless (in professional terms) falls down on the job. Poor battery life, restricted lens options, slower performance and poor video are problems here. Fuji can't claim to have a hybrid camera of any kind with a camera that only delivers 300 still images per battery and with the (non) quality of the video they offer. And Sony still seem to think that offering AVCHD and 'stretched' MPEGS is a decent basic video offer, which it isn't, at least as far as professionals are concerned. As per usual, the first mirrorless system, m4/3, comes out on top here. The Panasonic GH4 is a very decent stills camera and a superb video camera, with a decent battery life. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and E-M1 are also significant steps in the right direction. But better than a DSLR?

As you may be aware I'm concentrating a lot more on video than I used to and part of that is to get edited clips from all the footage I've shot over the years on line at the stock sites that sell my work. I'm currently battling through hundreds of clips shot in a factory in 2008 with a Canon 5D Mk II, shortly after it was released. And the quality of the 6 year + old footage shows that the majority of mirrorless hybrid cameras still have some way to go to catch up.

Here's another example of how this DSLR's superseded by Mirrorless idea just doesn't have any basis in reality.

Nikon D5500

  • 24.2MP CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter
  • 420g
  • Battery Life - 820 shots
  • Fully articulated view screen
  • 1920 x 1080 (60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps), 1280 x 720 (60, 50, 30, 25 fps), 640 x 424 (30, 25 fps) MPEG-4, H.264 Video
  • Price around the £500 mark (body only)
  • The Nikon lens range (DX and FX)

Fuji X-T1

  • 16MP APS-C X-Trans Sensor
  • 440g
  • Battery Life - 350 shots
  • Horizontal shift only view screen
  • 1920 x 1080 (30, 60p), 1280 x 720 (30p, 60p) H.264 Video
  • Price between £800-900 (body only)
  • The Fujinon lens range

Is it any real surprise that Fuji have a very small market share compared to Nikon? And while Fuji do have a decent lens range, it's not even close to Nikon, in depth, options and dare I say it, quality. Plus the Nikon raw files process very well via all the industry standard apps. whereas Fuji raw files don't.

The D5500 is a 'beginner' camera from Nikon, the X-T1 is Fuji's top of the range pro-spec offering. So it's not difficult to see the problem here. Despite all it's charms and I speak as someone who uses non-DSLR's for the majority of my work, mirrorless is still actually in the process of catching up. And yes I do have an X-T1 (I shot the pictures above with it about half an hour ago) and am unlikely to buy a D5500 (Though the D750 is still very much on my radar)

So all this internet exaggeration and shameless self-promotion has to be seen for what it is, pandering to the internet chattering, hobbyist, enthusiast market. And because a great many of these enthusiasts spend time on review sites discussing various mirrorless options, these ex-DSLR owning and self-promoting supposed pro 'gurus' shamelessly exploit that situation by feeding their acquired audience what they want to hear. i.e. That the expensive mirrorless camera that they have just bought is indeed the future and so much better than those nasty old-fashioned DSLR's. When in fact the real situation is nothing of the sort.

So am I anti mirrorless cameras? Well of course not. They are what I use most of the time. Yes I still own a DSLR (my Nikon Df) and may well get the D750 and I use my camera phones and iPad to shoot stills and video, but the bulk of what I do and the pictures I shoot that make me a living will be taken with mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. And that is likely to remain the case for a variety of reasons and can be summed up by simply stating that these are what I like using. But then I'm not about to attempt to convince you that this choice I've made is the 'one true path' and that you would be well advised to follow my example.

The kind of lazy, ill thought out, photographic punditry that attempts to impose some photographers opinions on us, usually because they can't make a living in their profession any more and turn to the internet to make a quick buck, annoys me intensely. Mostly because it's completely cynical. I would be at pains to point out here that one of the reasons I support and promote the Mirrorlessons site is because they are the complete opposite. Yes they specialise in one kind of camera but you'll find no polemic there. Just a decent, honest set of articles on what mirrorless cameras do well and don't do well, accompanied by lots of interviews with photographers who use mirrorless. And a lot of people who seek to impose their views on us, for financial gain, could learn from them.

And though they don't always get it right these days Dpreview is also a source of information on a wide variety of camera gear, with none of the 'DSLR's are dead' fatuous nonsense peddled by those who have a far too high regard for their own opinions and the effectiveness of their prose.

Now you may think that these are themes that I return to time and time again. And of course, you would be right. But then it's never been my intention to do anything other than write about what I'm doing photographically, what I'm using to achieve that and how I feel about all of that. This blog is mostly all opinion and my thoughts on what I have sitting on my camera / lens shelf at any given time. And ultimately that's all we should expect from photographic internet journalism. But unfortunately it's getting to the point that this is all we have. It is getting harder and harder to get a hands-on with the cameras that we might want to buy. And that is still important, as I found out over the last few days. My laptop stopped working and I was forced to use other options to get my work done. So I went and had a look at some newer possibilities including the 5K 27'' iMac and a Surface Pro 3 tablet computer. In the end after spending some time in a couple of stores trying them out I decided to buy neither and stick with what I have. My repaired laptop being the source of this article.

But where I live it's not as easy to check out cameras I'm considering as it is other technology. For the kind of cameras I buy I have three choices. My local re-opened Jessops which doesn't have that great a stock, a larger well-stocked bigger Jessops in the centre of Birmingham which due to lack of parking is far from easy to get to and a Calumet branch which is close to where my wife Ann works. If I want to look at a Leica I have a 4-hour round trip to my 'local' dealer. And I'm well aware that there are many people who don't even have that choice, with the likelihood that this is going to get worse rather than better. Compare this with the opportunities that we all have to check out the latest smartphone and tablet technology and the 'integrity' and honesty of internet photographic gear reviewing becomes very important. And that is precisely the reason why I will write articles like this whenever I feel that is being compromised.

On a slightly different note, but relevant to what I've been writing about, I was in my local Apple Store a couple of days ago on Apple Watch release day. They had taken over half of the store for this. Now I have no idea whether this is the same everywhere else but here in the West Midlands of the UK there is a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for this new example of pointless technology. Because ultimately, who needs it?

This (like Google Glass before it) strikes me as technology for the sake of it. It's not difficult to see the appeal of the smartphone. A small, pocketable device that is relatively inexpensive that allows us to communicate with each other, via phone, email, text or even Skype, lets us browse the internet, play games, keep up with the news cycle, get us to where we want to go, shoot still pictures and video footage as well as some of the weird and wonderful app. possibilities such as turning itself into a torch, magnifying glass or bar code reader!! And they are understandably popular.

And there is no doubt that the camera element in smartphones is also going to get better and better. The point and shoot compact is well and truly doomed, there's no argument about that, but what abut the level just above the point and shoot compact and the level up from that? It has to be the case surely that the constant smartphone improvements will slowly but surely erode the conventional stand alone camera market. We all remember the (ill judged as I suggested at the time) attempt by the mirrorless camera manufacturers to target upgrading point and shooters. Well they did upgrade, to a smartphone! So what's the latest idea? Well it's lets make mirrorless cameras look like (D)SLR's. And that's the perception problem with this 'DSLR's are dead! The future is mirrorless hybrid!.' idiocy. Because exactly how different are current top end mirrorless cameras to DSLR's? Well not that much and perhaps more importantly, not enough. They look the same, they work the same, they turn out the same kind of pictures and videos. Some are smaller and lighter than a DSLR, but as in my example above that's not always the case. And both Fuji and Sony are doing their best to show that mirrorless lenses aren't necessarily smaller or lighter either. And mirrorless cameras made by companies other than Nikon or Canon are always fighting that well established brand identity that the market leaders have. And I really doubt whether that many people are bothered about whether a camera has a mirror or not. I know I'm not.

I'll leave you with an interesting scenario. My desire to shoot more video and (hopefully) sell it, has resulted in yet another plan formulating in my brain. (So what's new!!) I've been VERY impressed by what my Nokia Lumia 1020 and Panasonic CM1 camera phones and my iPad Air 2 come up with in terms of video footage. For what I shoot and put up for sale on the stock websites I use, I think that it actually looks better and more commercial. There's a really nice crispness and colour 'pop' to what comes out of these devices and the overall quality is also perfectly acceptable. So I could end up with a situation where I'm going out with DSLR's to shoot stills with and my 'smart devices' for video, thus eliminating my mirrorless options entirely. Now I probably won't do that, but it is a genuinely workable 'hybrid' solution and one that has a lot of attraction for me. So this notion that 'The future is mirrorless hybrid!.' is as flawed as it is crass.

Because we all look at what's available at any given time and make our choices accordingly and maybe those who would seek to influence our opinions for their own monetary benefit should 'butt out' and leave us to come to our own conclusions. Because not all of us are so gullible as these photographic internet 'faith healers and snake oil salesmen' would have us believe, because the sales figures just don't substantiate the argument. But then when did reality have much to do with what people write on the internet?!