Is the DSLR Dead?

Ever since the advent of mirrorless cameras, pundits have proclaimed the DSLR dead.  But so far, the rumors of the DSLR's demise have turned out to be greatly exaggerated.

But now that Canon and Nikon have finally released full-frame mirrorless cameras, are we finally hearing the bell toll for the DSLR?

Maybe. Keep reading to see why I think the answer is both yes and no.

Canon EOS R Mirrorless Digital Camera

Canon EOS R Mirrorless Digital Camera

Nikon Z7 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Nikon Z7 Mirrorless Digital Camera

Mirrorless Marvels

There's no doubt that the release of full-frame mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon marks a milestone, perhaps even a Rubicon that can't be uncrossed.

But even the most favorable reviews of the Canon EOS-R and the Nikon Z6 and Z7 seem to agree that these cameras are not quite ready to replace the DSLR in every shooting situation.

For example, the lack of a second card slot in these cameras rules them out for many professional event photographers—a wedding photographer, for example, can't risk even a 1% chance of losing crucial photos due to a corrupt memory card.

In the Canon EOS-R, the lack of in-body stabilization may be a deal breaker for some shooters who want to use older non-stabilized lenses.

And the shorter battery life of mirrorless cameras (due to the drain of the electronic viewfinder) may deter some shooters.

But these shortcomings are temporary technological limitations, and will undoubtedly be improved in future models.  

In the video below, now nearly three years old, I summarized the main differences between DSLR and mirrorless cameras.   

So how is my analysis in this video holding up over time?  

Value - It remains true that you can get more camera for your money with a DSLR.  Extremely capable entry-level DSLR cameras are now dirt cheap. If you're on a budget and looking for the least-expensive way to take professional-looking photos, you still can't beat a DSLR.  Advantage: DSLR

AutoFocus - Mirrorless cameras have made huge strides in autofocus over the past couple of years.  Sony leads the field with its excellent eye-focus technology, and all camera makers have improved the speed and accuracy of their mirrorless autofocus. I think that, at this point, it's safe to say that mirrorless cameras have caught up, or nearly caught up, with DSLRs. Advantage: Tie

Intimidation Factor: As mirrorless cameras and their lenses have grown larger, in order to compete with the optical quality of DSLRs, their professional appearance has also grown. Simultaneously, people are getting used to seeing pro shooters with mirrorless cameras. So, if you're using one of the larger-bodied mirrorless cameras with a large lens, you'll no longer raise eyebrows in professional settings.  Advantage: Tie

Size/Weight: The flip side of the intimidation factor is the smaller size and weight of mirrorless cameras.  Unless you specifically want a larger camera—either for its professional appearance, or its superior features and optics—you can get a very capable mirrorless camera in a much smaller package than a DSLR.  Advantage: Mirrorless

Viewfinder: In the past couple of years, electronic viewfinder technology has continued to improve.  The resolution has become steadily higher and the lag time less noticeable, making the EVF experience almost as good as looking through an optical viewfinder.  When you factor in the EVF's main advantages—showing exposure changes in real time, focus peaking, and seeing in the dark better than a human eye—I think the mirrorless EVF is now the preferred experience.  Advantage: Mirrorless

Battery Life:  I didn't mention it in the video, but one downside of the power-consuming mirrorless EVF is a shorter battery life.  Mirrorless cameras often go through 2 or 3 batteries to capture the same number of shots that you can get from one battery in a DSLR.  While battery technology has narrowed the gap somewhat, this difference remains. Advantage: DSLR

Overall, I think mirrorless has basically caught up with the DSLR.  The technology is finally ready for prime time, and while each system still has advantages and disadvantages, we may be at the inflection point where mirrorless begins to steadily pull ahead.

The End of the Line for DSLRs?

The big question is, will Canon and Nikon continue to manufacture DSLR cameras?

In the short run, I think they need to continue, since their first foray into full-frame mirrorless cameras—while a great start—still doesn't quite meet the needs of many working professionals.

And they both have huge investments in their DSLR pipeline that they may need to wind down slowly for business reasons.

But I think we're probably witnessing the last generation, or perhaps the last few generations, of DSLR cameras.

If the next iteration of mirrorless cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony manage to overcome the remaining hurdles and meet the needs of all professional shooters, then I think the DSLR is basically dead.

At that point, it becomes a personal choice: To continue shooting with a DSLR that you love, or to take advantage of the ever-growing capability of mirrorless going forward.

Fortunately, the current generation of DSLRs will last for the rest of our lifetimes.  These are sturdy machines with timeless lenses. If you love shooting with your current DSLR, and don't want to change, you won't ever have to.

So is the DSLR dead? Probably. Long live the DSLR!