The DSLR—the professional’s go-to camera since the early 2000s—is going the way of vinyl. Canon says sales of its interchangeable-lens cameras, a category that includes the DSLR (short for digital single-lens reflex), are down 17 percent worldwide, while Nikon reported a 19 percent dip.
The two behemoths are suffering, in part, because droves of photographers are buying mirrorless systems instead. These new cameras, which are smaller and more portable, can now take photos and video that are just as good, and in some cases better, than those of their old-school rivals.
The cameras shave weight by ditching the mirror and optical viewfinder of a DSLR, but gain power with ultra-high-resolution sensors. The best of these new devices comes from Sony, which reported this summer that revenue from its mirrorless sales was up 66 percent over the previous year. Canon and Nikon also make mirrorless cameras, and analysts predict those options will keep getting better in an effort to chip away at Sony’s lead.
This is great news for amateurs who want a light, powerful travel camera. It’s even better news for pros, who can use these cameras to shoot video and pictures father afield than ever before. Adam Clark, an outdoor photographer and filmmaker based in Salt Lake City, recently shot part of a mountain bike film and social media campaign with Sony’s flagship a7RII, which enabled him to capture 4K footage and 42.4-megapixel images. “I can go anywhere and do anything with that camera,” he says.
Mirrorless cameras aren’t perfect. At the moment, their main drawback is speed: DSLRs can shoot more frames per second and focus faster. Clark still uses his Canon DSLR whenever he needs to capture high-speed action. But mirrorless cameras will likely close that gap soon, says Barnaby Britton, editor of popular digital photography site DPReview.com.
Give it a couple of years and mirrorless cameras will be the number one choice for both pros and consumers, Britton predicts. DSLRs won’t completely disappear, but the technology will be obsolete.
“Think about it like this,” Britton says, “vinyl hasn’t gone away, but…there’s no real reason it needs to exist. It will be the same with DSLRs. These cameras will stick around, not because they need too, but because people happen to like them.”