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The Fall of the DSLR and the Rise of the Mirrorless

I’m not much into camera porn. I’m not a gear freak and I often don’t know what are the latest releases of major brands. That said, I can’t ignore what’s happening in the photography world: the DSLR is about to die, and Nikon and Canon are dying along with it.

Sony A7r

As you may know, at the end of September I’ve been a guest of Olympus in Ireland to try the new OM-D E-M1. This is an amazing mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera, small, fast and innovative.

The E-M1 has an awesome in camera image stabilization, (meaning every lens is stabilised, even if you mount a lens from the pre digital era), and a handful of great features, among all that amazing Live Time that allows you to watch the image forming during a long exposure stopping when it’s done. Exciting!

The only meh I could find was about a stop of difference with my full frame camera in high ISO low light performances. All the high ISO images, up to 6400iso, were definitely usable for professional work, but weren’t as clean as the ones my D700 produces.

Now Sony has announced the A7r and A7 mirrorless full frame cameras. I still don’t know every detail of this camera and I haven’t tried it yet (Sony? Do you hear me?), but I can already imagine what the verdict would be.

I can imagine myself travelling around the world with a heavy backpack, full of heavy lenses, and a big DSLR with a huge zoom lens hanging from my shoulder, with my back aching. Add to this people looking at me with curious eyes. Maybe they want to steal my gear, or maybe my big “cannon” has just spoiled a great candid image.

Then I compare this vision with one where I go around light, with a small camera nobody notices, and it produces the same image quality and has the same capabilities of a big DSLR. Why would one buy a DSLR?

It’s the evolution of the species. Once there where huge camera obscura, daguerrotype, dry plate and so on. Then Oskar Barnack invented the 35mm and the rangefinders. However, rangefinders weren’t suited for every style of photography and the SLR came up. Now we are going towards cameras that have the benefits of both worlds all in one. (I’m excluding all the plethora of medium and big format cameras).

Also, if you look at the evolution of technology into the digital realm, you can notice the disappearing of mechanical components. If you notice, one of the relics of mechanical parts (if not the only one) left in digital apparatuses is the flipping mirror of DSLRs. Its disappearing is just a matter of time!

In the near future I see more and more photographers switching from DSLR to mirrorless cameras. I already know some professional photographers that made the switch and swear by it. I talk about wedding photographers and documentary photographers: people that makes a living on it. I see myself switching as soon as I decide to change my camera.

In this new horizon, I predict a bright future for brands like Olympus, Sony and Fujifilm. These brands have heavily invested in this mirrorless technology and they are quite ahead. At the same time I feel sorry for Nikon and Canon, the market leaders in the professional camera field.

Both Canon and Nikon are stagnating. They continue making huge DSLRs where the only true improvement over preceding models is the megapixel count. I’m a Nikon guy and I love Nikon products, but I can’t see innovation in them. I still work with a D700 because the D800 doesn’t add anything I need to my photography (I don’t need more megapixels, 4 more would be enough ^_^).

I think Nikon is the brand that risks the more if it doesn’t start to innovate as soon as possible. Nikon is the less diversified brand on the market. If Nikon loses quotes in the camera market, it loses everything.

I wish the recent hype over mirrorless camera, especially the Sony A7r release, could help Canon and Nikon “dinosaur” managers open their eyes, because the world is changing and they’re already behind.

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