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The DSLR Is Dying. What's Next?

Canon has quietly stopped developing DSLRs, now Nikon maybe be doing the same.

man shooting with a nikon d6 camera

Individual cameras can basically virtually forever. A well-kept dry plate camera from the 1860s or a 1960s SLR can still capture images here in 2020. But inevitably, any given camera tech slips off the cutting edge and slides into "vintage" as development stops. That moment may have finally arrived for the DSLR.

In 2020, rumors bubbled up that Canon's EOS 5D Mark IV, the camera juggernaut's affordable workhorse of a full-frame DSLR, will be the last of its breed. Now, fresh rumors come that competitor Nikon will also be abandoning the future development of Single-Lens Reflex cameras.

The result? DSLR's might not quite be "dead." You can still buy and use them after all. But they've almost certainly reached their technological peak.

Released in 2016, Canon's Mark IV is the most recent in Canon's line of full-frame DSLRs that dates back to 2005. It was (and is) popular with DSLR die-hards for it more manageable size (and lower price point) compared to Canon's full-frame flagship 1D line.

Nikon's last DSLR, the D6, was released in 2020 and is still for sale, while some of the company's more entry level DSLR offerings have been discontinued. Nikon, for its part, rejects the notion it has abandoned DSLRs. But, as Ars Technica observes, the statement refers to continuing support and sale, but not continuing development.

DSLRs, which share the Single Lens Reflex design of their film-based SLR predecessors, have a host of advantages over smaller "mirrorless" cameras. Their optics allow the operator to see through the viewfinder and directly out the lens for a lagless, high-resolution, no-batteries-required alternative to mirrorless cameras' "electronic viewfinders" which replace an SLR's bulky optical mechanism with a tiny screen.

sony a7 mark iii
Sony A7 Mark III

And camera bulk is under assault from every angle. On one side, smartphones are encroaching on dedicated cameras for everyday users, while the compactness and performance of highly capable full-frame cameras like the Sony Alpha a7 III are peeling away professionals who aren't purists when it comes to mirrors.

While cameras devoted to smaller sensors, like the Olympus OM-D line, are not finding success purely by virtue of their size, photography giant's abandonment of DSLRs speaks to a waning demand for anything but the biggest sensor in the smallest package.

It'd would be premature to call the code on DSLRs right this second, as both Canon and Nikon have professional-grade full-frame DSLRs for sale. And both companies will no doubt continue to pump out 5D Mark IVs and D6s so long as demand holds despite the cameras' increasing age. If the rumors are true, and no new flagships are coming, it's a harbinger of leaner times to come when it comes to up-to-date DSLRs. Though diehards will surely keep using them through then, and beyond.

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