In the Mirrorless Age, Here’s an Argument for a DSLR

Mirrorless cameras might be the future.


In recent months, an interview with an executive from camera manufacturer Ricoh, owner of the Pentax brand, as well, caused a stir in the photography community thanks to the interview subject’s claim that DSLR photographers who switched to mirrorless cameras would eventually switch back to the tried-and-true technology.

Hiroki Sugahara, a marketing executive, argued that the mirrorless cameras were still the newcomer, and largely drawing interest because of that, and that DSLRs have their own benefits – namely, the fact that photographers can see the image as it truly is in real life through the optical viewfinder, as opposed to the processed view generated by the electronic viewfinders used by mirrorless cameras. They can then “think how they can create their pictures and then imagine how they can get [the results they’re seeking],” he said.

Sugahara’s comments may smack of wishful thinking on the part of a company that lags well behind Nikon and Canon in mirrorless products, companies who themselves are lagging miles behind Sony in terms of mirrorless technology development — and indeed, the photo community was largely baffled by the argument. After all, the key benefit of the EVF in mirrorless cameras is the fact that they present the view as your camera is being set up to capture it, based on your settings. You’re then able to tune the image before you shoot it rather than having to keep shooting then looking down at the rear display and adjusting from there. Want to see the image as it truly is? Use your own eyes and just back away from the camera for a sec! Besides, with all the stats pointing toward the rise of the mirrorless camera in dominance, wouldn’t such thinking be, at best, a bit delusional?

For converts — full disclosure: like me — sure. Mirrorless is the way forward, and everything else is old-school. DSLR’s are the gasoline engines to Tesla’s pure electric drive. Except, that is, for a few niggling details. One, DIY Photography ran a survey with their piece referenced above asking readers about switching from DSLR to mirrorless. A perhaps surprising 42 percent said they were sticking with DSLRs, and only 31 percent indicated they’d switched to mirrorless. Seventeen percent said they shoot both, 7 percent said they’ve only ever shot mirrorless, and –– to Sugahara’s point specifically –– only 3 percent said they flipped to mirrorless then flipped right back to DSLR.


Another wrinkle: The simple fact that Canon and Nikon continue to dominate among professional photographers. I attend and/or shoot many events where pro photographers are working — car races and other sporting events, press conferences, product launches, aviation and space events, magazine photo shoots, and more. Overwhelmingly, DSLR’s are still dominant. I see mirrorless Sony A7’s in the mix here and there, but for the most part, it’s Canon and Nikon all the way.

Why is this so? In part, it’s due to the high costs associated with abandoning one system for another, and specifically the pain of rebuilding a large lens collection — even though lens adapters have diminished this onus somewhat. (Professional photographers will always prefer matched lens and bodies, though.) Also, the benefits of mirrorless cameras are, to many, merely incremental. Many photographers are well acquainted with how to expose for a multitude of scenarios, and they are perfectly happy to shoot through optical viewfinders or simply use the live preview mode that essentially does the same thing as a mirrorless camera’s EVF, just exclusively on the rear LCD screen rather than through the viewfinder.

Furthermore, their batteries last much longer, there’s no lag in the image showing up on the EVF, as happened until the tech improved with the more recent mirrorless generations, and they often have a better feel in the hand because they’re slightly larger — even though mirrorless cameras are equally touted for being lighter and smaller.

Finally, there’s no denying the fact that Canon and Nikon — as well as the premium camera makers such as Hasselblad, Leica, and Fuji — they all make fantastic cameras in a great variety of formats. One upstart to rule them all? Not so fast.

If you want an affordable interchangeable lens setup, a DSLR is absolutely still your best bet. If you want a more compact rig, you can find plenty of entry-level mirrorless options at all price points.

But ultimately, even to the converted such as myself, there’s one remaining reason why DSLR’s are absolutely worth hanging onto: Durability. One of the many reasons pro photographers value DSLR’s is that they’re engineered to be exceptionally resistant to dings, drops, shunts, water spray, and any of the multitude of threats working photographers encounter in their daily lives, whether it’s on the street working for a big daily, climbing Everest, or dashing up and down the sideline at the football stadium. DSLR’s are tough.

Mirrorless cameras are getting there, but they haven’t quite passed all the ruggedness tests yet. Furthermore, the fact that their sensors are covered by the mirrors means the dust and debris are far less likely to accumulate on their pristine surfaces. I can attest to this personally — every time I shoot above, say, f/16, where the camera brings closer details, including sensor and lens dust, into focus, I know I’ll have to spend time flicking spots out of each image in Photoshop later. Yes, I keep my sensors as clear as possible with the blower and have them professionally cleaned yearly, but the fact remains that every time you switch lenses with a mirrorless camera, you risk dust getting into the rig. For this reason, I carry a plastic bag constantly if I have to change lenses outside, and it’s one of the (several) factors that convinced me to travel everywhere with two camera bodies. No such complaints from the DSLR crowd.

Of course, an important caveat here is that most of this conversation is focused on professional and advanced amateur photographers, and most also refer to full-frame sensors — the pricier and higher-quality format compared to the average so-called crop-sensor found in most consumer cameras. At the consumer level, mirrorless shooting has already taken hold, mostly in the shape of point-and-shoot and more advanced interchangeable-lens cameras like the Sony A6000 series, but DSLR’s are still everywhere. If you’re navigating the “prosumer” realm for your own choices, it’s a bit easier to decide. Just go with your budget and needs. If you want an affordable interchangeable lens setup, a DSLR is absolutely still your best bet. If you want a more compact rig, you can find plenty of entry-level mirrorless options at all price points.

But as for my own shooting, both pro and recreational, make no mistake — I love mirrorless cameras and will not be switching back to DSLR. My images are simply better than they would be with the older tech, because of the advantages they afford and, I believe, the quality of Sony’s mirrorless sensor. That said, if I ever go up Everest or truly disappear into the wild on assignment, you can bet I’ll also have a DSLR every step of the way.

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