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Are DSLRs on borrowed time?

Is the rise of mirrorless cameras threatening the future of DSLRs, or is it already over?

If you are in the market for a new camera chances are you would say you are looking for a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. To be fair this was the consumers go-to abbreviation for a decent digital camera for years. This is less true today with the rise of Mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix range or offerings from Fuji and Olympus. Is it therefore safe to say that the DSLR cameras days are now numbered?

In order for you to answer that question you need to consider why the mirrorless camera was created.

The purpose of the mirror in a DSLR camera is to project the image that the camera sees to the Optical Viewfinder (OVF). This was you know exactly the image your cameras sensor will see, allowing you to compose and focus accurately.

mirrorless vs dslr

With mirrorless cameras you don’t have a traditional viewfinder (with a few clever exceptions such as the Fuji X-Pro). You instead use an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) which is essentially a small, high resolution screen. This works the same way the LCD on the rear of your camera does. The EVF uses the information direct from the cameras sensor. As a result there is no mirror to move in order to shoot, meaning less noise. there is no moving parts inside the camera aside from the shutter (and in some cases this is omitted also) and it is easier to find the correct exposure.

The drawback of EVFs is they require the processing of data from the sensor in order to show you an image, meaning lag. A traditional OVF redirects the light from the lens to your eye, meaning it requires no digital processing (or time) to show an image. In older EVFs the lag could induce motion sickness or make use in low light impossible, this is no longer the case. Modern EVFs have such a high resolution and refresh rate that lag is now next to non existent.

Another nail in the DSLRs coffin is servicing. With more moving parts comes complexity, and with complexity comes failure. To remedy failure you have to service your DSLR, meaning money. With a mirrorless camera there is no mirror box mechanism to fail, meaning it does not require any routine servicing apart from a sensor clean every now and then. Another perk of mirrorless systems is that they feature some of the best in built sensor cleaning systems created, meaning you often never need to clean the sensor yourself.

A real sticking point for DSLRs is size. Mirrorless cameras can be much smaller than their DSLR cousins, as there is no mirror box to account for. This means smaller Flange Focal Distances (FFD) and no need to have a viewfinder on top of the camera. This is why you will find a lot of mirrorless cameras now have flat tops, with EVFs off to a side or not at all. By positioning an EVF to one side you remove the age old adage of a well used camera has a dirty screen (from your nose) making use more comfortable. Some smaller mirrorless cameras don’t even have an EVF as the rear screen is your viewfinder. Taking photos in a similar fashion to a smartphone, arms out in front, these cameras feel natural to use if not untraditional.

The final straw is price. With no mirror box to manufacture and less material required for the smaller bodies, mirrorless cameras are typically much cheaper than DSLRs to manufacture. This translates to cheaper retail prices which is often the reason for consumers choosing one system over another.

Are the DSLR cameras days now numbered?

In short, yes.