The demise of the DSLR

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Five years ago, while I was writing for a local photo magazine, I was mostly in charge of the ‘big’ cameras – DSLRs and the like. There was no mirrorless category, with the exception of Leica; compacts meant serious image quality or lens quality compromises, and every serious photographer was typically also on first name terms with their chiropractor. You could still get film with relative ease, and better still, develop it. Not long ago, my desk had three cameras for review/ testing on it (the Olympus E-P5, Leica X Vario and Sigma DP3M – none of them were DSLRs. I now routinely travel without one; in fact, most of the time I do a lot of personal photography with compacts. And pretty much the only time my D800E comes out is when I’ve got a commercial job to shoot.

How things change.

This may or may not come as a shock, but I’m predicting the slow death of the DSLR has already begun; firstly, quality of smaller systems has caught up; technology is mature enough that there are few, if any, compromises involved in using a mirrorless camera. If my OM-D had phase detect AF and a few more pixels, I’d probably be using that exclusively for my professional work – in many ways, it’s more flexible than the D800E, and for 99% of intended end use, there isn’t enough difference in image quality. It’s not just me, either: a lot of my other pro friends are either using the heavy gear (including medium format) solely for work, and anything personal is whatever fits into a pocket.

The last few bastions held by the DSLR form factor are being slowly overrun: like image quality, EVF quality has passed ‘good enough’ and is well into the realm of very good to excellent, especially with the new Olympus VF-4; it’s so good that I prefer it to any of the non-full frame DSLR optical finders, and that’s before we even think about other advantages like MF enlargement, focus peaking, highlight overexposure warnings and data overlays, or the ability to set things without taking your eye from the finder. Oh, and there’s also the ability to shoot from waist level by swivelling the finders. Full frame optical finders frankly appear to be the victim of severe cost cutting, even at the pro end of the market; the D4 is nowhere near as good as my F6, and let’s not even talk about the Hasselblad’s 6×6 prism finder – now THAT’s live view.

What else remains? Ergonomics, I suppose – even that’s being improved to the point that it’s hard to argue that the larger cameras are more comfortable to carry. My one minor complaint with the OM-D is that it’s tough to use with gloves, but a slight redesign of the buttons would solve that. No such problems with the Ricoh GR or Coolpix A. The elephant in the room is legacy lenses: it’s tough for a DSLR owner to give up his glass collection, because a similar depth of offerings simply does not exist in other smaller formats. Even the most mature of the mirrorless formats – Leica M and M4/3 – both lack any sort of perspective correction lenses, other than using a DSLR lens with a tilt or shift adaptor; there are no native solutions despite them being ideally suited to this kind of work because of live view. And this is a complete non-argument for most of the user base anyway, who have no more than perhaps the kit lens and a fast 50, or no lenses due to upgrading from a compact. In fact, it dawned on me today that I haven’t bought a new lens for my DSLR in over a year: for me, this is unprecedented. But I did add several mirrorless lenses this year alone – the Panasonic 14-42 X pancake, the Olympus 75/1.8 and the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH.

Part of the reason for this is that the matched lens-sensor pairings in the large-sensor compacts are so good, it’s difficult to match them with anything for a DSLR; the optics on the Sigma DP series, Ricoh GR and Coolpix A are at least on the level of the very best DSLR optics, and perhaps even slightly better – simply because the lenses were designed to match the sensors. And the reality is that it’s much easier and more compact to carry two DPs than a DSLR and pair of primes, or as I do, a Ricoh GR, OM-D and two lenses – all of this takes up less volume in a bag than a D800 and one moderately-sized fast prime. Even this assumes that you care enough about image quality to not just use a M4/3 camera and kit or pancake zoom in the first place; as the baseline for sensor and lens quality rises, fewer and fewer people will feel the need to get any more serious. I’m pretty particular about my pixels, and I’m already at the point where I feel I’m getting enough quality for most uses without having to resort to the big guns*. Perhaps Leica was on to something with the X Vario after all.

*But admittedly I do have the Hasselblad and digital back for those situations.

There’s another reason DSLRs are in their twilight, and one slightly more insidious than any of the photographic reasons we’ve discussed above: mirrorless is simply much simpler – and therefore cheaper – to produce, and this of course translates into much better profit margins for manufacturers. Once the camera companies run out of natural evolutionary upgrades – more pixels, more ISO, more fps – all of the things that marketing people can easily hock – we’re going to see forced changes to survive; hopefully with some innovation rolled in. It will be painful, but necessary to move away from legacy lens systems; it’s clear that new lenses designed for digital significantly outperform legacy optics anyway – even Zeiss is redesigning its F and EF mount lenses to deal with increased resolution and corner demands. And these are not small or cheap lenses, either – the forthcoming 55/1.4 is about the same size as a 24-70/2.8! By comparison, even the poorest performers in the M4/3 lineup are pretty excellent by DSLR standards. Full frame mirrorless, anybody?

Put it another way: even the most complex of the mirrorless cameras – the OM-D with it’s 5-axis stabilisation system suspending the sensor – it’s still significantly simpler than the mirror and viewfinder assemblies required for even the cheapest DSLR. I was told by one of the manufacturers that a mirrorless camera has approximately 60-70% fewer parts than a DSLR, and can be produced in significantly less time. Having stripped several Sony NEX-5s for multispectral conversion, I can attest to that: I can strip, remove the UVIR filter pack and reassemble in about fifteen minutes. I tried to do the same to a Nikon D50 once: it took me three hours the second time, partially because of the number of parts, partially because of the testing required during reassembly.

I think perhaps the most interesting consequence out of all of this is that few will notice or mourn the passing of perhaps the most significant era in photography; over time, there will be a decent number of these cameras that survive simply because there were so many produced to begin with; however, unlike mechanical cameras, over time, these may well prove to be unserviceable. Already first-generation D1s are mostly paperweights because of failing batteries or unrepairable IC errors. We’ll see a much more fragmented, niche market – unlike the end of the film era; there are a lot fewer physical/ mechanical constraints with the design of digital cameras. I might not miss my D800E specifically, but whenever I feel like peering through an enormous viewfinder, there’s always the Titan. MT

Cameras mentioned in this post are reviewed and available from the various sources below:
Nikon Coolpix A – review B&H Amazon
Ricoh GR** (Digital V) – review B&H Amazon
Sigma DP1M (B&H, Amazon); DP2M (B&H, Amazon), DP3M (reviewB&H, Amazon).
Leica X Vario (Typ 107) – review B&H Amazon.
Olympus OM-D** – review B&H Amazon
Olympus E-P5 – review B&H Amazon
Nikon D800E** – review B&H Amazon

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One last seat has opened up for the Prague workshop (2-5 Oct) due to a participant’s conflicting work commitments. Now available at the special price of $1,900 instead of $2,150!For full details and to make a booking, click here. Thanks! MT

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Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.

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Comments

  1. All said and done there is an window of opportunity for mirrorless companies like Panasonic/Olympus to capture market through price, size and weight. But for whatever reasons all these companies seem to have loosing focus on advantages mirror less offers. Think about it they are already charging premium on price and if you look at recent cameras and lenses they are loosing size advantage as well. Think GH3 which is as big as Canon Rebel rather SL1 is much smaller than GH3. Ad recent upcoming Olympus 12-40 is 62mm filter size vs 77 for FF C/N. Olympus 75mm is 58mm vs Canon 85mm which is also 58mm but at half the price

    Come on I would rather have FF DSLR with few lenses at slight disadvantage of size and weight but much better value for money and flexibility

    • Yes and no – the smaller cameras are very small indeed, and with pancake zooms or primes, not much larger than the premium compacts.

      You can’t compare the Oly 75 and Canon 85 – EFOV is 150mm vs 85/130mm (FX/APSC). It’s also a much better lens optically and build-wise…

  2. I’m struck again after reading all the comments about the effect that generational change will have. And demographics in general. There’s no question that my own grown kids are perfectly satisfied with current smart phone and web posting photography. Forget printing and mounting on a wall. But what will they do later. Or rather, what will some do later and how many will that “some” be. Life stage matters as well. I set my Pentax SLR aside when I was raising kids and shifted to a very nice Olympus point and shoot with built in flash (the key advantage over the Pentax). Photos were “okay.” But I was happy after they grew up to shift back to the Pentax SLR, then the autofocus Nixon (film), then the Leica M6, M8, and now M9, with the Olympus OMD as a mere “backup” that has gradually taken over. And now the Sigma DPM3, which is so much fun to use. This is a generational as well as a technological trend. They have to match, no. So, forget my kids for now. Too busy to worry about quality. But my baby-boomer friends with old Nikon film cameras are really ready to get back into it again. Asking for advice. What will they buy. Once they pick up the Nikon D800 to replace their old film Nikon, that will be the end of the line for them. Then they’ll follow my advice and read Ming Thein’s and other quality web sites to figure out which way to go. They also look at my photos and wonder what I used to make them. And who want to buy a whole new computer system AGAIN just to be able to process a 36MB photo file. 16-24 has to be the max for most of us as long as the quality keeps improving.

    • Not just your kids; my mum, too. That said, looking at what passed for ‘good’ not so long ago, I’m not really surprised – technology has both moved on and our demands have gotten higher and higher. Both points were driven home when I was restoring some images of my late grandmother’s for my parents, made on 4x5s and printed to perhaps 8×10 – what I thought was a fairly ropy 135 film print I did at 14×20″ looks worlds beyond those 8x10s, let alone the 36″ prints I’ve done from the D800E, CFV-39 and 6×6 film…

    • There is a glass half full (ie. optimistic) model too: phones will kill off the low end, but will expose more people than ever to photography. Maybe some of these people will get sick of Hipstergram filters and want something better because they look at sites like Ming’s and see what is actually possible. They’ll want to upgrade to a serious camera, which might be an entry level DSLR or mirrorless.

      I see this happening with my friends especially as they start families and they want to record important memories. Bokeh, low light capability, and fast AF seem to be the 3 most important features for them when they start, but most end up stuck there because to go beyond that actually starts requiring real work, and a huge proportion of Internet discussion tells them those are the endgame features of a camera.

  3. Michael Matthews says:

    Seems to me the future for the larger market lies with cameras like the Samsung Android device being introduced to great fanfare this week. If one looks at the website devoted specifically to that model it’s clear the people behind the design listen to a wide range of prospective users and (if it works well) manage to appeal to a very broad base of customers.

    For the traveler and occasional shooter the size is right. For the insatiable social networker the combination of Wifi and smartphone capabilities is right. It offers a large screen in the aspect ratio most flatscreen TV viewers and widescreen computer users are used to, making it instantly familiar and therefore “friendly”. And for those enthusiast photographers who can get over themselves and make use of a camera which can also store recipes, play games, and watch movies it’s very possible the image-making capabilities are — or will become — equal to anything short of a full-frame mega-megapixel DSLR.

    The army of professionals Samsung has enlisted to work with its predecessor NX300 have been turning out photography that stands without embarrassment right beside their existing work. And that one doesn’t even offer an EVF. It also looks as if a suite of appropriate lenses will be available at the same time as the camera’s launch; if they measure up, the enthusiast won’t have to grind his or her teeth for two years waiting for good glass to materialize.

    This camera may or may not be the one that sweeps the field. It may be the next model or something similar from Sony. The entire approach may grind to a clanking halt on the vagaries of the operating system. The explanatory new product website may be simply a pack of lies dressed in an attractive looking suit. But I doubt it.

    • Samsung certainly has the money to throw at it, and some interesting/ clever designs, but very little commercial success so far – I attribute that to them not being perceived as a camera maker. You see almost no Samsung cameras here whatsoever; the Android things only get attention from first-adopters and gadget freaks. It’s as shame, because they’re perhaps the only manufacturers who really started with a blank slate and no legacy hangups.

      • Actually, there are many companies without legacy hangups. Off the top of my head (so correct me if I am wrong) Panasonic’s M4/3 line, Sony’s Nex line, FujiFilms X line, Olympus M4/3 line, Pentax Q line, as well as Samsung. The sad part (I am putting my turn signal on here to change subjects) is that all the above have “focus by wire” making nothing interchangeable or future proof.

        • Correct; notice how all of them are mirrorless, too. Correct again on the focus by wire – I can understand it being necessary for the fast direct-drive coreless DC motors we’ve become used to for focusing, but it’s a shame that there’s no mechanical connection at all between focusing ring and lens element motion; not only are we not futureproof, but there’s also no easy way to set hyperfocal distance consistently.

          • Sorry I keep mentioning the E-P5 — I swear I don’t get a commission on them, but I love that little beast!

            I had it set up so the video button on the back would activate AF, and the shutter button did only AEL. The camera also maintained focusing distance, as well as its manual exposure settings, when switched off. Because of this, it was easy to meter the scene once, pre-focus, and then just wait for the right moment to come along. And because it didn’t have a manual focus ring or manual exposure controls, I didn’t have to worry about accidentally knocking some control out of whack: just turn the thing on, raise it to your eye, and take the picture.

            The point is that while perhaps new technology may shut off certain ways of working, it may also open others that are as convenient or more so. Not all cameras are as well thought out as the Olympus — the Fujis for example are said to have a wandering focusing point, and the Sony NEXes have their AF on all the damned time — but there is definitely opportunity to make things much nicer for dedicated shooters.

            • Agreed; nothing is perfect, not even the Olympuses. I wish the 1/2 positions on the switch could be configured, for instance; and that we could choose between AF/ AE lock and AF ON; but I suppose they do that so we’re forced to buy another version. They do get it more right than most, though.

          • I wonder that none of the mirrorless camera manufacturers have implemented a Hyperfocal setting. Perhaps I am incorrect but a focus by wire system should know the focus distance the camera is currently set to. It would then require simple mathematics to calculate the f stop necessary to keep that point as the near focus limit while maintaining focus at infinity. The speed of the AF motors in these lenses ought to then allow the camera to stop down and refocus at the distance previously calculated with minimal lag.
            Alternatively if shooting in aperture priority the camera could adjust the focus point for the given aperture to maintain the subject in either the near or far limit of focus.
            I am just speculating, but given my experience with hyperfocal distance calculators the steps required are quite simple.

            • They are quite simple. I suspect it’s because a) most of the target audience wouldn’t know how to use it and blame the camera for being ‘soft’, or b) they’ll sell it to us in the next one…

              • I agree, there are many features I would love to see implemented. Though the recent Sony announcement to open up a developer API might encourage lots of interesting developments on this front. If it allows me (or others) to add niche features might be enough to get me to invest in their cameras.

                • This was something I was actually looking into as part of another project some years back – we were going to create the first 100% customizable open- source professional mirrorless camera system. But alas, funding was an issue and out local tech partner screwed us over, so it never happened.

    • I thought about this before, that is, cell phones taking over… but I believe that no matter how much technology improves, it will not cut into DSLR or Mirror-less cameras sales — I think it may even improve them. Point and shoots will be replaced by cell phones, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that one coming. But, for ‘real’ cameras, it may be a boost in sales as folks want more.

      A few things will remain true in the future…. Technology will always improve, and photography will always be about light. No fancy new tech can fake or improve light, so… there will always be a need to manipulate light for great photos. It may be in the form of multiple lens elements or treated glass lenses, which cell phone users will not be enjoying. Even if you were to slap the best sensor in a cell phone, the best software, the best processing engine, and the best bokeh, fps, and low light handling — you will still need to walk up close to take a shot of a person, and backup to a door/wall to take a shot of the room. :)

      • I think you’re right about phone cameras – they’re sufficiently far removed from larger sensor formats that there won’t be overlap UNLESS perhaps Nokia’s larger sensors take off.

        Technology advances equally for all similar applications – but it gets applied to those that have the highest returns first. This is why mirrorless and DSLR sensors are seemingly several generations ahead of medium format despite the price differential…

  4. I do believe that the relative market share of DSLRs will shrink when it comes to “serious cameras” (large sensor cameras?) simply because alternatives are in many ways compelling (fooling around with focus fine tuning, focus point selection or guesstimating manual focus is not much fun all the while carrying several kilograms of gear). However, the change seems to be quite slow and DSLRs will most likely still remain the tool of choice in certain kinds of photography for a while.

    I’m actually waiting for something high-end in mirrorless, like a rumoured Sony full frame Nex — would be very compact with M-mount lenses and offer high image quality for the applications that demand it. I’m sure there are other niches to be filled too.

    As a side note, I think that while the point itself is correct, the IR conversion comparison might be misleading; converting a Nikon D70 was really a piece of cake, my Nex-3 was a lot more work with many fiddly thin film cables — a huge difference in disassembly time.

    • I wonder how many of those high end FX mirrorless things they’ll sell though. The price is likely to be prohibitive for most, and the size advantage won’t be that much over a DSLR because the lenses can’t shrink that much either; they still have to cover a large image circle. Even the Leica M9 didn’t sell more than about 45,000 units over the course of its 4-year lifetime – again, fewer than Nikon makes D800s in a month…

  5. I don’t see DSLR’s going away yet. Consumer DSLR’s are still pretty cheap and less than the better mirrorless cameras. Mirror reflex systems still outperform EVF. Mirrorless sales have stalled outside Asia. I think system cameras with sensors smaller than micro 4/3 will eventually fail. Just my opinion. It is a thought provoking piece as always, Ming.

    • But, we’re not comparing like to like. Consumer DSLR performance isn’t necessarily better than mirrorless, nor are the viewfinders better either – have you tried using an entry level C or N APS-C DSLR these days? The finder is like peering through a drinking straw; it’s worse than the film compacts of the 90s. Mirrorless EVFs are not size-restricted, so they at least can be larger than the body size suggests.

      Agreed on smaller sensors than M4/3 though: there isn’t enough IQ advantage, and to go up a sensor size doesn’t change the overall physical size of the system that much. For a compact system, M4/3 or APS-C seems to be the sweet spot both in terms of body size and lens size; any smaller and you run into ergonomic problems anyway; any larger and you lose your advantage over FX DSLRs.

      • A drinking straw, ouch! I must be too spoiled by my D800. Occasionally I get the urge for a Fuji, but raw processing glitches in ACR keep me at bay.

        • Agreed on Fuji and ACR – it’s a shame, since their lens lineup makes the most sense out of all of the mirrorless systems – there isn’t an optic in there I don’t want.

          The D800 is in another league compared to the consumer cameras of course. That said, the Olympus VF-4 has pretty much the same effective size…I was rather surprised, to say the least.

    • I agree, I love my 60d and believe dslr’s will be around a long while for video

  6. I think at the pro level those prisms and mirrors will still be around for many years. Of course those cameras sell in low volume compared to more consumer oriented gear. At the lesser level of gear, I think far fewer consumers read that many reviews, beyond a few high traffic websites. So manufacturers can look at consumer perceptions to guide marketing and manufacturing.

    The number one request in average consumer surveys, done by one of the prominent manufacturers (I have to withhold the name), was “megapixels”. After that was size and weight. Cameras with interchangeable lenses were thought to be higher quality, despite that industry figures show few lenses being bought beyond the kit lens. I think this validates years of marketing, that attempted to quantify differences in cameras through numbers. Just by being able to change a lens, the quality perception is enhanced.

    The other thing is how the average (non-enthusiast) person uses a camera. Often viewing and composition are done with the rear LCD. Hence the importance of Live View, because people want to use cameras at arms length. This also matches the smartphone experience. So whether there is an electronic viewfinder, or optical one, I think matters very little to the average person, just so long as it works quickly without glitches, and allows viewing in bright sunlight.

    My own feeling on this is that the camera makers need to go after the obvious solutions. Making a DLSR shaped and sized camera with electronic viewfinder is one way to bridge the transition. Eventually a move towards more practical designs with electronic viewfinders, and a move away from DSLR-like shapes, will become more common. In the future, seeing someone using a large body DSLR may seem nostalgic.

    • Spot on, Gordon. Consumers may not read reviews, but are influenced by the people who do – serious enthusiasts and pros.

      Megapixels can be applied to any sensor; especially since nobody seems to care too much at the pixel level, especially for consumers. Size and weight – advantage to mirrorless; ditto LCD/ LV composition. It’s a lot easier and more seamless without faffing about having to press a button to put the mirror up etc – plus, for the most part, AF is faster anyway (we’ll see what happens when the on-sensor PDAF battle shakes out). Interchangeable lenses is a no brainer; jack of all trades/ master of none and all that. Plus you can go after two markets – consumers and enthusiasts – with the same base product, and drive higher margins with the accessory lenses.

      Sony tried the DSLR-shape with EVF in their SLT, but I really don’t see that catching on. Maybe a case of too much tech?

      • I think the biggest problem Sony has is that their name is not Nikon nor Canon. At least they are willing to try different ideas.

        Faster viewfinder refresh, faster autofocus, and generally faster operation, is the idea behind Nikon 1. Probably a great example of “negative” enthusiast influence. While the Sony RX100 with 1″ sensor, no built-in eye level viewfinder, and slower autofocus is highly regarded, the Nikon 1 system with interchangeable lenses is universally panned on the internet (quite often by people who have never used one).

        I think the undue influence of enthusiasts on-line has worked the opposite direction too. Recently one of the founders of the RED video camera system stepped down due to constant badgering. If we let rude people dictate choices in gear, we may be in serious trouble in the near future.

        • Quite possibly so. The Nikon 1 failed for two reasons: size and price. The sensor wasn’t big enough for the body and lens size, and the price wasn’t cheap enough. At launch, a V1 was the same price as a D7000 – what were they thinking? Technically, it was a very clever camera though: one of the best AF implementations of any system to date; blistering fast AF and frame rates; ‘good enough’ sensor. If it’d launched with the RX100′s sensor, it might well have done better. The RX100, on the other hand, is a good example of ‘right sizing’ – even if the price is pretty darn stiff.

          As for influences, the people who shout the loudest are almost never those who have anything worth listening to. Most of them aren’t even photographers! Nothing changes, really.

  7. Hi Ming,

    Great article. I think everyone has their reasons for ditching a DSLR but for me it was so that I could take more street and travel photos without carrying a large D7000 and several primes. Aside from saving on space and weight, I feel that people just tend to act differently when you point a large black camera at them, it’s as if they are on the defensive straight away. With my OMD, the only comments I have gotten where questions on why I was still shooting film. I am now more discrete than ever with my OMD at waist level, hiding within my hands, as I use the tiltable screen to click-focus-shoot which has given my great and more intimate results.

    • I think those are reasons enough for most people – if the smaller size isn’t enough motivation, then the spontaneity and lack of perceived threat definitely is.

  8. I don’t know… this reminds me a little of people who predicted the end of the laptop when tablets (read: iPad) really demonstrated their viability. I just don’t see that happening anytime soon… and the reality is, what may be happening is simply the creation of a market where people assume the need for both, because of the distinct advantages each has. I use my iPad a LOT (and have since the first gen came out) – but have never questioned replacing my laptop (which I use for distinctly different purposes and ‘convenience’ when I have to do serious work). If I can travel knowing I don’t have much actual ‘work’ I’ll need to do while gone – the iPad may suffice. But if I need to actually get real, productive work done… laptop is the only option. I feel similarly with the DSLR/mirrorless debate. If I have the time or need, I think I’ll always default to a DSLR – if for nothing else, the aesthetic feel of a DSLR is vastly preferable to me for creating images, as is the flexibility and creative control with interchangeable lenses (which I don’t think we’ll see soon with mirrorless). If I HAVE to travel light, or just want to grab something small to take out on a date night, or have ‘on the fly’ for a shot that might catch my interest – then mirrorless is perfect.

    To me, the benefits of lenses and the increased size (allowing for more robust control layout & easy adjustment) is to a DSLR the ‘keyboard’ and ‘more robust software/application support’ that is missing in a tablet/iPad (which, of course, are made up for in the convenience of reduced size/weight). Each has created its own function and need in my life and workflow… and I would see the same trend converging for both DSLRs and Mirrorless systems (at least in my future). That being said – I’m not pro… and as mentioned above, pro/prosumer/consumer opinions on this may vary… interesting article though!

    • I think the emergence of tablets has certainly changed the laptop landscape though. The evolution of the laptop into today’s form – ultrathin, all-day battery, desktop power – is certainly something that wasn’t expected ten years ago. My 11″ Macbook Air has replaced a 15″ Pro with more power, more speed, and better battery life. Sure, I could go for a new 15″ pro, but I’d never carry it around – I might as well buy something more fit for purpose, i.e. a desktop unit.

      Bottom line: we’re seeing more options, and more specialization. There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn here:
      Tablet = compact/ fixed lens – the scalpel
      Compact laptop = mirrorless – the Swiss army knife
      Big laptop = DSLR
      Desktop/ workstation = medium format.

      Pick the best tool for your needs…I agree that none of them will disappear entirely, but the balance will probably shift significantly.

  9. The word Demise seems harsh & brutal for our close to heart & beloved piece of creativity equipment & Technology served entire two generations of Photographer.. Whilst I appreciate and understand new shift , unable to accept and come to term with a thought of composing a picture on a Screen or without a SLR Viewfinder which seems to real and tangible –
    - Unable to welcome Brave New World

    • Reality is harsh. Who’d have thought ten years ago we’d be editing all of our images on a LCD panel, and seeing proportionately almost zero hard copy? But that’s precisely what’s happening today, even for pros. I print more than the average photographer, but even then it’s a tiny fraction of what I shoot. Make the most of the new technology, I say; there will be things it can do better than the old, and things that are worse. It’s the same with the SLR…we choose the right tool for the job. When that balance shifts, the new tools dominate.

    • Iskabibble says:

      Don’t worry Ajay. There is very little to no evidence that SLR’s are in a state of demise. They still sell millions of SLR’s each year and what’s more, unlike mirrorless SLR’s produce profits.

  10. John Leung says:

    I like taking night time photography, so that means tripod. I am a Pentax shooter, and have found myself using the controversial and defunct K-01 more than my DSLR since it’s easier for me to shoot from the LCD vice a viewfinder when mounted on a tripod.

    • Agreed on tripod mounting – I use live view all the time when I’m on a tripod so I can precisely control the focal plane; especially useful for work with tilt/shift lenses or tricky exposures. The optical viewfinder is not so critical for this, and actually less useful.

  11. I’m afraid, Ming, you just tested a new Oly E-M1 and this article is under its impact ;)

  12. I have been shooting SLR for 30+ yrs, and DSLR for about 7 yrs, and I LONG for the day they come out with a mirrorless camera that makes me fall in love and never look back. The D200 made me leave film as I could achieve a similar quality to film with the extreme flexibility of digital. The D800 I use today was purchased because of the herculean advances over the D200, not to mention the ability to blow up to 24×36 with no loss of detail.

    We’re almost there with 4/3 and mirrorless, but I think there is a ways to go. I wonder what the financial and business analysts at Nikon, Canon and other manufacturers of DSLRs (not to mention the marketing and sales people) are arguing about cannibalizing a market that has served them well for MANY years, not to mention the stockpile of DSLR lens’ they have accumulated. The shift will happen, but it will be Fuji and Olympus and Ricoh that will drive the change because they have very little to lose and so much to gain.

    So while I came very close to buying the Fuji x100s after playing with a friend’s for a while, I just couldn’t pull the trigger because I felt like there were still too many compromises. Once those are reduced or eliminated, and I’m talking about: focus speed and accuracy, YES megapixels matter to those of us looking who enlarge LARGE, lens options (I’m talking 1 good 14 or 20 prime f/1.4 or even 2.8, 1 good 35 or 50 prime at least f/1.4, and 1 good 85 or 100 prime at least 1.4 with a lovely telephoto zoom), and a large sensor at least 1.5/6, with the option to add a body at full frame. And yes, I’m describing Leica, but Fuji and others are gaining on them quickly.

    And why do we think the form factor should look like a camera today? Anyhoo… ending my stream of conscious. Bottom line, not yet.

    • I think those analysts are the very reason we’ve yet to see a truly competitive offering from C and N: there’s too much legacy at stake in the way of sunk development costs, installed user base, etc. I’m sure the technology exists for them to make a very compelling case to go mirrorless if they want to; eventually they will have no choice as the existing DSLR markets reach saturation and the only way to make people buy more cameras is to artificially engineer a paradigm change.

      It’s not happening now, but I think it’s coming…

  13. After over four decades of photography, including a brief spell earning a living with it, and acquaintance with a dozen or so people who still do or are just retiring from it, I can only praise your analysis as spot-on. Canon and Nikon will, of course, try to pretend that nothing has changed as long they possibly can offering oblique solutions like their smallest-ever DSLRs’s and pushing existing technologies to their limits (this is what gave us the D800′s amazing resolution and the 70D’s two-sided pixels.) But the handwriting is on the wall – the DSLR is well on the way to becoming a specialist and a niche product.

    I actually started with a Leitz M4 and a single 50mm lens. Had to sell that ca 1973 to buy Om-1′s and macro, and fast WA (24 and 35f2) and fast short tele (85f2) and tele (200 f3) lenses. All the resolution, bouquet, etcetera in the world could not compensate for the need to “get the shot” from a distance of very close, “to see what I was getting* and also to properly meter it. (Leitz rangefinders did not offer TTL metering until the M-5 and the Leitz/Minolta compact CL).

    This is why serious photographers – especially pros – moved to Nikon and Pentax and soon also Canon single lense reflex in the late sixties and early seventies. Maitani and Olympus leapfrogged ahead with a small, light SLR system in 1973, that forced nearly other dslr maker (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Fuji) to develop similar model, but fell behind because this could not be adapted to AF.

    Digital photography started with expensive Kodak and then also Fuji sensor systems grafted onto and into Nikon and Canon SLR’s and then evolved into both makers finding ways to modify their film camera chassis to somewhat smaller/more affordable sensors. Olympus was, again, revolutionary in pioneering a designed-for-digital system tied to a somewhat smaller still Four Thirds sensor for which Kodak promised much. It was less of a flop than Sigma’s somewhat similar attempts, but failed to allow another technology that Olympus pioneered, Live View, for which Olympus had to turn to and partner with their supplier of medical sensors, Panasonic.

    Live view, initially derided, has become an essential DSLR technology, both because it allows for video (a feature Olympus was aware of, but decided not to implement because of the extra cost) and – its, as you point out, more comprehensive ability to show the photographer exactly what she or he will get, It also poses the simple question of why one should ALSO need a complicated and bulky flip- mirror and expensive and heavy pentaprism system in order to see the same image as it comes into the camera.

    Olympus and Panasonic – whose DSRS had failed – took the logical step of eliminating both, to produce a much shallower flange that allowed smaller camera bodies and lenses, and Sony trying to find a way into a market its DSLR’s were penetrating incompletety, and Samsung trying to find a way in from the outside soon followed.

    In the 1930′s, W. Eugene Smith was fired from his first real photography job because he violated Newsweek policy by using a 35mm roll film camera rather than ia 4×5 Speed Graphic. There are many other examples. At every stage of photography there was resistance, as there has been to every innovation. Japanese cameras, SLR’s, through the lens metering, auto-focus, digital sensors, etc, etc. Every new develo0pment tended to be derided

    And the old, to some degree, does live on. There is the huge Clyde Butcher trudging through the everglades with his 16×20 camera and .75 ton enlarger making his huge, beautiful prints.There are a dozen or more Ansel Adams work-alikes (and sometimes look-alikes) photographing Yosemite and such. And there are even still a Beseler 45 (coverted from a 75) and a Leitz Focomat enlarger, trays. etc still in pieces in boxes in my basement.

    But time marches on, and the great majority of serious photographers – whether they earn all or a part or none of their living from it – will, inevitably, seek the most practical, trouble-free and convenient device to realize the images they want to show others. This will, in four or five years, only occasionally be a dslr. And within a decade,seeing a photographer using a DSLR may well be as unusual as seeing one using a twin-lens reflex is today.

    • Thank you Erich – very well said and referenced! Time advances. Technology changes. Some stay the same, but the bulk move on. And there will always be resistance and denial…

      • Iskabibble says:

        The denial is from the mirrorless advocates as there simply is no data to support their suppositions. Sales data supports SLR’s, profit data supports SLR’s, marketing budgets, support SLR’s. It’s endless and getting worse as all of the major mirrorless companies are in serious financial difficulty.

        “But time marches on, and the great majority of serious photographers – whether they earn all or a part or none of their living from it – will, inevitably, seek the most practical, trouble-free and convenient device to realize the images they want to show others. This will, in four or five years, only occasionally be a dslr. ”

        I’ve iCal’ed this quote. 4 years is a short time to wait and I strongly suspect that the prediction here will have fallen flat on its face. I predict many millions of SLR sales in 4 years from now and one or two failed mirrorless companies which have closed up shop.

        See you in four years for the review!!

    • Good article! I wouldn’t be surprised if the DSLR disappears in 15 years. I still think that pros will be shooting the Super Bowl with big cameras for quite a long time. Those folks will probably be using mirrorless Canons and Nikons with flange distances that are identical to today. The EVFs will be crystal clear with no lag. New battery technology will allow thousands of shots per charge. There might not even be a physical shutter, and the flash sync speed will be virtually unlimited. 99.9% of people don’t need a 600mm f4 or a 400mm f2.8. Heck, 90% of people don’t need a 70-200mm f2.8. But, what those highly visible pros use has a halo effect for those brands. More than a few people dream of shooting the Super Bowl or other major sporting events. There is often an impetus to buy into a lens system with great future upgrade possibilities.

  14. Remember when the great yellow father ( Kodak ) didn’t want to jeopardize it’s film business. They ( the stock holders ) pressured Kodak to put digital on a slow back burner so digital wouldn’t cannibalize it’s film business. They were not willing to sacrifice a few quarters of dividends in order to insure bigger profits in the future. I just hope Nikon and Canon have seen the handwriting on the wall!

    • Iskabibble says:

      This analogy does not work. When digital arrived, the high price kept people from migrating over and away from film. Once the price dropped, the exit from film was pretty fast. Mirrorless right now is affordable, yet there is no stampede away from SLR’s. In the last two years we have seen mirrorless sales stall heavily and prices on barely 1 year old cameras drop substantially, indicating to the consumer that the quality just is not there. Further, the mirrorless manufactures are *ALL* in serious, and I mean serious, financial trouble.

    • The Kodak debacle is recent enough that I think it won’t be forgotten. That said, Canon did the great big mount change once – FD to EOS – and it’s possible that was responsible for its current dominance.

  15. Hi Ming. Thanks again for spending the time to write this article and promptly answer all the comments! I feel like I have gotten quite an education on photographic history/systems/usage and the possibilities going forward just from the high quantity and high quality commentary here from you and your readers. It’s refreshing to read such thoughtful, mature discourse on a photography blog.

    Cheers,

    Greg

  16. IMHO, things like depth of field, versatility and quality are still better in DSLRs than compact cameras.
    Compacts maybe will catch up in DOF when they use a bigger full frame sensor (cause I don’t foresee a compact with a 1.2 or a 0.95 :P), in versatility when a wider range of lenses become available for them and quality, back again, to the sensor of the camera. We can already see pros working with compacts, like Ming, Zack Arias between others but if it’s just a trend or it is the future is yet to be seen.

    • Mirrorless and compacts aren’t quite the same thing; we can get reasonably large sensors in mirrorless that have the same rendering properties as larger cameras…tiny sensors have significant technical and image quality limitations that restrict their practical usefulness.

      • And what are your thoughts about the rest of things I said as well? Versatility is still an area of development I think.

  17. There should not be any doubt that DSLRs are dying, though very slowly. It is just a matter of how slowly. 5-axis IBIS, VF-4, PDAF sensor, and other high-end features in the best mirrorless cameras can only get even better with technology. No need to dump all your lenses onto the market, but the days of mirror flapping cameras are numbered.

  18. plevyadophy says:

    Well, with today’s announcement by Sony, along with commentary from Sony system guru, David Kilpatrick, it appears that the demise of the DSLR will be much sooner than we think.

    And the announcement seems to tie in with what i said earlier in one of my comments above, namely that Sony seems to have the camera market completely surrounded; no matter which way the market eventually goes, Sony are already there with a product or the “embryo” of a product.

    http://www.photoclubalpha.com/2013/08/27/alpha-3000-has-nex-mount-20-megapixel-aps-c/?fb_source=pubv1

    By they way, just in case anyone is thinking it, no I am not a champion for Sony; I won’t EVER buy a Sony system camera, I am just giving my impartial view of the state of the camera market.

    • Iskabibble says:

      This Sony has a 1.44 mp viewfinder. Hardly good enough to replace an optical viewfinder.

      I’m sure it is a good camera but I am not even remotely interested in looking at a tiny tv screen as a viewfinder.

      • And of course it means you can’t make a good image with it, right?

        • Iskabibble says:

          Not if you cant see. The 1.4 mp viewfinder in my X100 is pathetic.

          • I had an X100 and agree; I think it’s because that EVF has to be reflected off a couple of prisms, projected onto something and has issues with both size and clarity as a result. But like OVFs, there are EVFs and there are EVFs…

      • plevyadophy says:

        Well, yeah, one can resist change and pick holes in this minor flaw and that minor flaw, just as no doubt film cam diehards did; and I am sure the stagecoach man picked flaws in the first motor car; now both the horse drawn carriage and film cams are relics brought out for special occasions.

        I happen to own both dinosaur technology flip-flop mirror DSLR cams and live view cams, not only do I find the advantages of a glass viewfinder minimal to non-existent but I can clearly see the demise of the DSLR; really there is only one, and arguably two, benefit/s to a glass viewfinder that might remain an advantage for a good while yet. The main, and in my view, only, real flag waving advantage for a glass viewfinder is the ability to see things at the speed of light i.e. fast moving things get seen in real time (but given the limits of human reaction time, when the refresh rate of EVFs gets to say four times faster than the best ones of today, this advantage will be of no practical relevance). The other minor advantage I have encountered when shooting say a catwalk show, is that the OVF of a DSLR gives me a better 3D view of what’s in front of me so I can more easily time shots where for example I want an image where two models are positioned at a certain angle/distance from each other (but I can do a similar thing with an EVF if I change my technique slightly, but admittedly it’s not as easy).

        But for those two advantages, an OVF has no advantage over an EVF; all the important advantages lay with the EVF.

        The bigger is better mindset of some camera buyers can easily be addressed by keeping the width and height of medium format and 35mm SLR cams the same, whilst ridding them of the dinasour tech flip-flop mirror and replacing that antiquated mechanism with a live view system; the peeps who have that bigger is better mindset will still buy the cams, and benefit from all the advantages that come with an EVF.

        I remember having this kinda debate with desktop PC fans. To me it was patently obvious, way back in 1993 or thereabouts when I got my first laptop, that an ugly bulky desktop computer was on it’s way out as the mainstay of computing. The desktop brigade would have all these arguments about not being able to change this or that on a laptop, nearly all of which have now been addressed. Well, not long ago (in 2009 I think it was), for the first time, sales of laptops outstripped sales of desktops; something that was a ridiculously obvious outcome in my view. Now, that time span (1993 to circa 2009) of 16 years, if played out in the camera world is quite a long time and gives many lovers of dinasour tech many more years to enjoy their gear; the only thing is though, when I got my first laptop (an Amstrad PPC) I was buying first generation kit but live view cams have gone way beyond first generation so I doubt DSLRs have 16 years of life left in them.

        The writing, in big ten foot/3 metre high letters, is on the wall for DSLRs.

        • Tom Liles says:

          Plevyadophy, you’ve been on fire in this thread. I’ve enjoyed your comments. But listen, I think you overlooked one thing about optical finders that is so large it’s hard to believe you over looked it –> dynamic range.

          The optical finder isn’t transducing anything [not going light --> signal --> digitize --> remap --> output as light again]; the optical finder just redirects light into your eye, which in combination with your brain has unbeatable [literally unbeatable] dynamic range. I can’t see how EVFs will ever outdo this.

          The best they could do is match it. And then, congratulations, you’ve invented machine vision equal to the human eye. And still the optical finder wins –> zero battery, only the cost of glass. Would human-grade machine vision be as cheap? Doubt it. Perfect machine vision is completely impossible so pointless to even consider, at any rate.

          I’ve read some pretty convincing stuff, on both sides of argument, in this thread. I fall on the “SLR will not die out or become a minor niche” side of it; but the good arguments, like yours, from the other side definitely give me doubt.

          Be interesting to come back in a decade and see where we’re at.

          We might be on a completely different sensing medium which transcends all these formats yet again by then. I plan to move in the opposite direction, and hopefully by 2023 I’ll be making wet plate collodion photographs or something :)

          • plevyadophy says:

            Hi Tom,

            No I didn’t overlook dynamic range (DR).

            I regard that claimed advantage of OVF as nonsense.

            The only thing that matters is that your EVF should have a DR equal to that of the sensor to which it is mated; I have an EVF cam where the DR of the EVF is nowhere near what I can produce with the cam, so I am always having to have a mindset that second guesses what I am seeing through the VF.

            Use a slow lens, in low light on a DSLR and an OVF’s DR ain’t that great.

            Furthermore, what on earth is the point of having such a huge DR via the OVF if you can’t record that?!!

            I often hear some, usually landscape photographers, talking a pile of junk about how the OVF is better because they can see the wide DR of the landscape in front of them. But my question to them is: for what purpose? How does that help you? And with an EVF, I can see exactly the same wide DR of the scene before me, before looking through the EVF. So the real question is, what on earth is the supposed super duper benefit of being able to see the wide DR through the OVF before capture rather than seeing the DR prior to looking through the viewfinder where one is using an EVF, especially if the EVF and OVF cams have sensors with similar dynamic range and if one is lucky enough to have an EVF with a DR that matches the capture device?

            With the greatest respect, I find it a silly claim of OVF lovers; just clutching at straws.

            The best thing in my view, is to be able to see like the camera sees; being able to see with the world’s best image processor (the human eye + brain combo) isn’t that helpful if the device I am using can’t match what the world’s best image processor can see. In my view, it’s best to look at the scene before you with the naked eye, and then look through the viewfinder and see exactly how the camera will interpret that scene prior to capture (rather than the irritating old-school method of shoot-chimp-shoot-chimp-shoot-chimp, delete, delete, delete, delete).

            So like I originally said, the OVF has nothing on an EVF except for viewing at the speed of light (but human reaction times often makes that of little benefit) and the 3D look.

            In my tabloid style summary of the differences I would say that: OVFs are the best for LOOKING through, and EVFs are the best for WORKING with.

            Warmest regards,
            plevyadophy

            • The EVF is limited by the same tech as normal displays – and these at best have 6-8 bits per color channel, which is a far cry from the 14 bits of dynamic range captured by the sensor. Yet we can still manage to allocate out those 14 bits rather well…by extension, if the tonal response of the EVF is well calibrated, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do the same…

              Being able to see like the camera sees takes the guesswork out of the result (and somewhat devalues the skill of being able to previsualize your end result) – but remember that the final image of course also depends on the output medium…

            • Tom Liles says:

              No, that’s a very reasonable point, Plevyadophy: the EVF’s DR only has to match the DR of the sensor. Will it ever though? We were talking about shadows on screen and in prints—light emitting diodes or whatever just will never be able to do your shadow areas as the sensor senses them… But I get what you mean and think your point stands.

              Furthermore, what on earth is the point of having such a huge DR via the OVF if you can’t record that?!!

              Well, we could just turn this argument against the entirety of photography itself, couldn’t we? Wouldn’t stop me taking photos.

              But, I suppose some people might say: so I can make a decision about where to put what tones [i.e., zone system]. Though the response to that is: get your head up and eyeball the scene then!
              These arguments and resistance is a kind of Luddism. You’re right. I’ll be honest and say though I’m usually quite forward looking, I’m firmly a luddite here. EVF is the photographic equivalent of making coffee in a microwave to me; but I am supremely comfortable with technology marching on and people being free to choose what they want and voting with their wallets.

              I dropped by a camera shop today because my friend Andre Y has been talking hotly about the Olympus Pen E-P5. I went into Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo, had a play. The display E-P5 had the VF-4 attached. To me these VFs are wow in every way except one. Nothing I don’t like there. Except that it just doesn’t sit right, to me. I want to look at what I’m looking at.

              Not work tools to me, so maybe this explains a lot.

              Cheers Plevyadophy :)

              • plevyadophy says:

                Yeah, like I said: “OVF for LOOKING through, and EVF for WORKING with”.

                The thing is, when you are working with EVFs you don’t notice the difference, but as soon as you use a OVF side-by-side with an EVF you soon hanker after the view of the OVF …………………until you start using the damn thing and then it’s irritating that you can’t see White Balance, clipped highlights, exposure compensation etc etc.

                I think for the studio type situation, where you may be shooting at X-sync and at a fixed aperture and your strobes are doing the “exposure” I would much prefer the 3D look of an OVF and really in such situations an EVF doesn’t have any advantage at all really (well, there is the exception of macro work and perspective control work where EVFs still have an advantage).

                I think Fuji got it right with their fancy dual OVF EVF X Series viewfinders. That viewfinder is the only reason I want one of those cams; I think I will need physiotherapy for severe muscle pain due to smiling so much whilst using one of those cams (I am holding off though, until all the major software vendors have got raw processing of the X-Trans sensor sorted out; it’s got much better but it still needs fixing in my view).

                Wouldn’t it just be too cool, if Fuji could get the optical part of that fancy viewfinder to work TTL (through the lens)?! :-)

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Morning Plevyadophy, morning Ming and morning all :)

                  With you on the Fuji. At first it was the idea behind the X-Trans that impressed and interested, for me, but as time has gone by I don’t think it’s actually different enough [as Foveons are]; to dull the luster even more, yet still the RAW issues persist. A real head scratcher. Someone somewhere at Fuji must have a bloody clue: this is priority #1 –> the reason more high value users don’t pick up and buy into the system. Sort it and that’s a major reason for not buying one kicked right away from under everyone’s feet. The IQ is there, no doubt. The lenses are gold. The haptics are good. Maybe they could make them a bit heavier and less flimsy feeling [real pro grade build]; but that’s small compared to the other stuff that helps it fill its purpose in life (good pictures). I just don’t get how they haven’t done something about the RAWs… I mean the camera obviously knows what it’s doing: it makes those great jpegs.

                  TTL OVF would be the holy grail (especially for the consumers like me). I have a Panasonic DMC-L1 which tried to ape RFs and dropped the SLR hump for a “poro poro mirror” and flat top plate. The result is a very handsome camera and a HIDEOUS viewfinder: tiny, dark, plenty of blackout seconds when you make a frame… but I love that camera and forgive it everything. True love if you like :)

                  Now that I understand the concept, twin lens reflex makes a lot of sense to me. Just as a design concept, I mean.

                  I think the feature I’ve liked most so far and really want to see more of is another Fuji x-pro thing: the digital overlays on an optical finder in hybrid mode. That is awesome. Unrelated but another finder feature I think I’ll do hard to live without now is the focus box implementation in the clear finder space of the single digit Nikon flags: F6/D3/D4 etc…
                  All the data in the EVFs, overlayed on an OVF—the holy grail for me. I’d always want the option of turning everything off and just having a clear MF fresnel & split prism screen. I wouldn’t be against them simulating it with overlay. If it was convincing enough!

                  Been a pleasure Plevyadophy. And let me just finish on how useful it is to hear the thoughts of working pros in the game. Always an eye opener [pun intended] :)

                  • plevyadophy says:

                    Hi Tom,

                    I am in agreement with you except where you talk of the goodness of the Fuji X-Trans JPEGs.

                    Under close scrutiny, you see they too have the flaws in them that are found in conversions from a raw workflow, just to a much less obvious extent (Lloyd Chambers (www.diglloyd.com), and a few others (in the face of hostility from fanboys) have pointed to these flaws in both raw and out-of-camera JPEGs).

                    So clearly, even Fuji can’t get it right.

                    It’s something that HAS to be sorted out. Once sorted, I am first in the queue to buy one!! :o)

                    I’d be like a little child; i’d be flicking that switch back and forth from OVF view to EVF view whether I needed to or not, just for the sheer fun of it. I bet Leica (once described as being a company with “decades of tradition unhampered by progress”) were kicking themselves when that clever viewfinder first appeared in the X100.

                    But if Fuji could do a TTL version of that viewfinder, then I think I would need to be placed on medication due to the excitement. :o)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      I was guilty of repeating second hand hype there. I’ve never critically inspected Fuji jpegs myself, up close, in the detail necessary. My Boss owns an X-E1 which he let me play with a few times. Couldn’t get into it, and it was before I knew what I was looking at/for when opening files up on the computer [iPhoto at that time]. I still don’t, I suppose. They looked very nice and the internetz were raving about them, so like most beginners I just took it for truth. So it’s interesting to hear that the jpegs are not actually all that: it’s reassuringly bad actually. It certainly makes the whole ACR issue a lot more understandable. And even still, as we’re all saying JUST SORT IT ALREADY FUJI!

                      If I were the camera honcho there, I wouldn’t spend a penny on another thing in the meantime; get it done—everything you have pointed at this issue. There’s a huge business chance at the end of this rainbow, I’m sure.

                      I’d be like a little child; i’d be flicking that switch back and forth from OVF view to EVF view whether I needed to or not…

                      Ha :) Wouldn’t we all! Even, maybe especially, those stoic “tool for the job/means to an end” people. You know they would!
                      Anecdote time –> I got a toy watch some years ago, a rip off of the Rolex Daytona. When you stopwatch, the reset sends the second hand swirling back to twelve in THE most satisfying way. Every time that watch comes out, much pointless and uncalled for stopwatching goes on. This kind of stuff is what we live for. Christ, that Arca cube Ming reviewed: all the precision machined metal with marked gradings and knobs and gears and the NASA looking feel of it. I went weak at the knees—and I didn’t even know what it was for :P

                    • Some of the watches I get to photograph make the Cube look positively Victorian in engineering…also, they tend to make you wonder if your bank balance suddenly got translated to a high-inflation high-zero currency like Vietnamese Dong…

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      What a start of my day. That anecdote really made me laugh. Brilliant! Thanks Tom!

                    • plevyadophy says:

                      Ha, ha, ha.

                      Don’t mention that Arca Swiss Cube, PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAASE!!!

                      When I first saw that thing (unfortunately, not in the flesh, but in reviews), I thought I died and went to heaven. God only knows how I would cope if I saw the thing in real life. I don’t think i could be held responsible for my behaviour!! :-)

                      As well as being extremely functional, in my view, It’s also a piece of engineering art. If I bought one, and I think I probably will one day, I would just have it on display in my living room (as I don’t need all that wonderful precision). I reckon, sat in the middle of your living room, it would arouse the curiosity of one’s guests and be a great topic of conversation; and I think kids would love it, especially boys who would immediately spot the clever mechanics of the thing.

                      It’s just soooooooooooo awesome. Yeah, it could do with one or two little tweaks but it’s awesome all the same.

                      Now, owning that thing AND a Fuji X Pro (with the raw conversion issues fixed) would be just too much excitement for me; I think I would need to be placed on medication. :-)

                      Well, actually, there is also something else that would cause me to to be on meds, and that’s a Leica S with electronic viewfinder.

                      And having all those three may lead to me being detained under the Mental Health Act as my excitement would be a threat to public safety. Ha ha ha!! :-)

                    • Well, the same thing happened to me. I made the mistake of requesting one to review, and now my credit card has a truly enormous hole in it. If it makes you feel any better, after replacing the QR clamp with a simple screw clamp, this thing is near perfection.

                      If it was a piece of playable art – I’d be worried about my guests’ children getting their fingers caught in things…which is why it stays on top of the Gitzo 5-series in my study instead, for me to appreciate :)

                      Perhaps I should put the F2T or ‘Blad on it permanently :)

                    • plevyadophy says:

                      Hey Ming,

                      OMG!!

                      The Cube atop a Series 5 Systematic; that’s just way too much awesome engineering.

                      Do you find that you need to take a sniff of some smelling salts to stop yourself from fainting as a result of the awesomeness you encounter upon entering your study and glancing over at that rig?!! :-)

                    • I have a geared column to top things off too ;)

                    • I have to agree with plevyadophy: the Fuji JPEGs are nothing special. I don’t think their film simulations are all that true to the actual films themselves either. I’ve read a couple of academic papers that talk about the theoretical goodness of a 6×6 non-uniform color filter array like Fuji’s, and everything makes sense, but I haven’t seen that come through yet, and the papers were a bit coy about the proper way of interpolating the colors from the array.

                      Having said all that, Iridient’s converter is said to be the best out there, and having seen a couple of samples on the Internet, it does look much better than either Adobe or Silkypix. The other advantage of Iridient is that it can also convert Foveon RAWs. Its one big weakness (for some people) is that it only runs on Mac OS X.

                      The user interface of their cameras are fantastic though, and I never thought its menu system was confusing. My two favorite features of the X20 are being able to review pictures without turning the camera on, and being able to turn off the LCD screen for normal camera operations, except when chimping. That last feature made it a truly stealthy camera.

                      So Tom, what did you think of the E-P5?

                    • They’ve come a long way from the earlier models. The original X100 was very usable until you had to enter a menu…

                      Agreed that whilst the jpegs are pretty darn good, they aren’t very faithful to the actual films. I think that’s more of a limitation of digital technology and sensor response, though.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      E-P5 was good, Andre. I think a certain someone in my circle recently liking it has completely colored my opinion on it. If one of my friends says “good” to something then even if it’s not for me, that thing goes down in the book as being good. This said, I did actually think the E-P5 was good! :)

                      1) Surprisingly weighty, in a good way. Solid feeling [as digitals go]. As I was telling you over at Flickr, my muscle memory is tuned for Charles Bronson and the D3, which I carry about, no strap, in hand, for hours and hours at a time. So when I handle a D800 or something they just feel like hollow toy cameras. And this said, I still love tiny little things like the DPMs. I guess I have a very polarized sensibility with not much room for grey –> give me man-sized and reassuringly heavy, or give me solid little one hander boxes; but don’t give me plasticy middleweights. The E-P5 body definitely felt like the small solid box type [more like a tightly packed, heavy wallet, actually] and right at home in my hand, but… but… the lenses. Are too small and toylike for my liking. I’m not talking IQ — the only thing that actually matters — just plain aesthetics. I know it’s stupid. But I’m stupid, so there it is. These little silver things would just grate at me and I’d end up shunning the camera [with one of them on]. As you know though: I’m only interested in these bodies for compatibility with my 4/3 Leica-Panasonic glass: which have proper aperture rings and searingly sharp images and luxurious, but not over saturated, rendition. They’d look silly hanging off the u4/3 body, but — in true hypocritical fashion — I wouldn’t care. I would care about the autofocus system incompatibility. Well, not incompatibility, but certainly not optimal function. So, yeah, no problems with the body [don't even need to interrogate the IQ---I already know from MT's reviews this sensor is way way, way better than me].

                      2) EVF [VF-4] was prettay prettay good. But not for me. No rational or interesting spiel here. I’m a luddite. That’s all there is to it.

                      3) Handsome

                      4) Quick. You couldn’t operate it one handed, but in rear-screen LV mode my right hand was trying to go solo and use it P&S style. The same thing that the GR/Coolpix A size encourages you to do [wrongly, as with sensors this dense that's shot discipline and critically sharp images all out the window, isn't it... a bit of blur and energy is nice every now and then though]. I’m a bit ambivalent about this. When using the Bronson and looking down into the WLF, I get all serious and painstaking and patient. Shooting with film that costs 2,000JPY+ for 5 rolls of 12 has something to do with that; but I wouldn’t discount the heft and presence of the machine itself. The tiny little E-P5, doing the same thing [rear screen folded out horizontal, camera held down near the waist] doesn’t feel like this at all, and I’m not sure it would outside of the camera shop either. I think you’d just be endlessly “snapping” in this configuration rather than it inculcating routinely stopping, slowing down, and taking a measured controlled exposure. Again, this is a “just me” thing and not a mark against the camera. It’s a plus for the camera, if anything—I couldn’t have this nitpick with the non-articulated and washy refresh of rear screens in other cameras, to even start with.

                      The new OMD with a battery grip [to cut the tall, house-like figure I like most in cameras] and its PDAF system is probably the one for me, should I go for it. Though as you know, Andre, I’ve a hell of a shopping list to get through before that! :)

                      P/S Andre, Ming, all: please commiserate with me. The F2 is in the wars. Using its neat little timer yesterday for some flashed portraits [with PanF 50; roll goes to lab tomorrow], Cromagnon wouldn’t reset to normal shutter button operation after the timed shots. Shutter button just dead. Fiddling about with the back open got the shutter back to life again. Tested the timer release once more. Shutter button locks and fails again. Repeat, same fix and same fail again [and that fix is useless to me because it involves opening the back up!]. So Cromagnon is out of commission :( :( :(
                      This and some other small stuff—film sprocket slipping? –> sometimes mid-roll when I wind on I notice the rewind crank not turning. Yes I make sure it was turned to be taut when film was first loaded, etc. But it just seems to get looser and looser as the roll progresses. I usually find I have to twist it taut again every few shots as lots of play appears, usually followed by it not turning when I wind film on. I’ve managed to catch it a few times; but been stung last couple rolls :(
                      So I’m taking it out to Shinagawa this afternoon — in ten minutes in fact — to a little camera repair shop run by seven Nikon retirees who fix up Nikon film cameras and lenses and are very reputable. The official Nikon Service in Japan still accepts Fs, F2s, etc., etc., for full service and repair, even now in 2013 [part of why I like Nikon] and I could take it there. But I’d just like to try these old guys. Especially with the older camera—I dunno, just another of my non-rational aesthetic choices.

                      If I had a shield, I’d rest Cromagnon atop of it, and solemnly make the procession to the camera shop. Maybe murmuring some rites as I go…

                      [and here I go, wish me -- and Cromagnon -- luck!]

                    • Good luck with the repair! First dead F2 I’ve heard of; I suspect it’s nothing more serious than a worn part not engaging something properly. Despite the extremely tight tolerances required, they tend to be pretty darn robust.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Yep, just got out of there. Simply a component not clicking back into place after the timer fires; but they are thorough guys and love these cameras so will take Cromagnon in and give him an overhaul [with my permission]. They old chap who served me said my F2 looked barely used and it’d be fine for another fifty years. And I believed him.

                      Really great fellas in there, and an wealth of Nikon knowledge and experience. Eight (not seven) ex-Nikon engineers, all lifers, who just couldn’t sit idly in retirement and take care of the film Nikons of Tokyo and beyond. They can do the more serious digitals too, but not really their preference.

                      Amazing though, I stood and had a good chin wag for 20 minutes. Been the highlight of my day—from such lows come such highs eh ;)

                    • Awesome. Glad to hear it wasn’t anything serious. Could you do me a favor? Ask them if there are any good MF screens they can modify and swap into a D800E…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Plevyadophy> Hahahaha :)

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Peter> you’re very welcome! Let’s get stopwatching :)
                      What are you packing? Breitling? One of those Swedish Air Force things? The Heur? The ‘lex? Oh god, not a Panerai!? Seiko Astron? Something digital? What’s a man without his stopwatch!! :D

                      [a: half a man!]

                    • Oh no, not another one into watches! I use a Speedmaster 9300 coaxial to time my film. Or a $1.50 Daiso beeper. :P

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Ming> re: focussing screens = will do.

                      Going back next week and will ask then. I was actually going to be asking after F2 screens so that ties in well :)

                    • Thanks!

                  • Peter Bowyer says:

                    Hi Tom,

                    If you’re on a Mac, can you try this RAW converter? It’s not perfect by any means but it’s taking a different approach to processing the Fuji files compared with SilkyPix, LR, PH etc: http://www.raw-photo-processor.com/RPP/ According to its author there are more artifacts int he result, but they often don’t show when resized for the web or printed.

                    I don’t own a Fuji X-camera yet (AF too slow, shutter lag, all the rest that is missed in the hype) but I’m a software engineer and RAW decoding is a fun little problem!

                    • Hi Peter,

                      I’m sorry, I completely missed your kind reply. And it’s so late after the fact now, I’ll probably miss you again.

                      But thanks for that Peter. The Fuji I had access to was my Boss’s; an X-E1 he’s since traded. I’m a hopeless gear nut though and will probably have a Fuji in the future (I’m also a movie nut and have deep respect and admiration for the word “Fujinon”). The X-Pro would probably be the one to go for, though an X100s, if they only made them in black, would be ace. And the price would have to be right. Give it another couple of years, perhaps.

                      I own a Sigma DP1m and a 2m, too. X3F RAW issues have caused a lot of consternation online; I don’t find the Sigma software (Sigma Photo Pro) too bad myself and can’t see many faults with its mapping of the RAW; though my eyes are completely untrained and incapable, it has to be said :)
                      Iridient Developer apparently supports the Merrill Foveons now. And the Fujis too, if I remember rightly.

                      RPP looks interesting—I’d like to see if he can add the Foveons to his list in the future ;)

                      4 Channel WB though? Does that mean balancing for the Luminance channel as well as RGB? Didn’t compute.
                      It’d be fun to ask you while I’ve got you Peter — someone with a clue! — why is WB the first step in the RAW workflow? I do it first unquestioningly and recently wondered about it –> before I convert that RAW to a more permanent format, mostly usually jpeg for web, isn’t it all up in the air? I could just as well do it last…

                      In actual fact, this is pretty close to how it plays out for me because curves — especially the highlight to high end — definitely alters saturation and color balance (one part of that seems to be because digital sensors clip color channels independently; or more noticeably so than the rolling shoulders of film). Do an ETR shot of a blue sky; load up in ACR or whatever; now stretch of the highlight area of histogram –> highlights pulled up lights pulled down (putting lights darker into mud tones, lights lighter); you see blue skies go aqua or cyan even, magenta tints in clouds => this hue shifting is thanks to the way digital captures and clips? So, anyway, back to RAW workflow, I find it’s:

                      1) Set WB –> but precision is not the word, “ballpark” more like it
                      2) Tonal adjustments, curves, etc., –> “make” the picture I want. Colors mostly right, light and shadow areas basically the finished article by here…
                      3) The WB will definitely have shifted so go back and season to taste; also attention to HSL, especially reds and greens (on my Nikons)… [I find the red of a traffic light or car's tail lights is nigh on impossible on Nikon, you always get orange, unless you've exposed for the red lights and so the rest of the pic is dead! With film cameras and the Foveons, you get a nice true red, often blown, but at least red :) I digress again]
                      4) Ready for export

                      Why can’t all the makers just get around a standard RAW description? I know there’s DNG. It obviously hasn’t worked… Can’t we try again??

                      Inquiring beginners would like to know!

                      Cheers Peter

                • Wouldn’t it just be too cool, if Fuji could get the optical part of that fancy viewfinder to work TTL (through the lens)?!

                  Mechanically impossible without a mirror – and we go back to a DSLR again – but YES. Parallax is a pain, and that’s one problem EVF cameras do not have.

              • None of the clip on EVFs do; in addition they’re all made to tilt which adds another 5mm or so of height to the whole thing. I’m always afraid I’m going to break one of them off.

    • I’m just worried I buy a Sony system product and then in a year or two, it’s an evolutionary dead end and no longer supported…

      • plevyadophy says:

        Well, Ming, you may well have read in between the lines of my remarks about not wanting anything Sony. Sony do tend to suffer from extreme attention deficit disorder; they just can’t seem to stick to a theme for any length of time. Their other major problem is that if you buy any of their gear (cams, laptops etc), you better also have a sum of money equal to three times the amount the main item costs; because, Sony accessories are ALWAYS expensive and they NEVER have the accessories inventory available for any great length of time; so don’t be thinking to yourself “oh I will buy this now, and save up and by the accessories in say eighteen months time”.

        Having been stung by Sony far too many times, I now give anything Sony a wide berth; I now don’t care what Sony make, I ain’t buying.

        • Not reading between the lines at all; it’s my personal opinion. That ADD – as you so accurately put it – together with the truly abysmal support here means that it’s a no go for anything other than stand alone items like compacts.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Yeah, I know it’s your personal opinion.
            What I meant was, you may well have ALSO read between the lines of my remark and realised that I share the same opinion as you.
            Sorry for the confusion.
            Regards,
            plevyadophy

            • Ah, no worries. :)

              • Agree about Sony and their 2-year ADD, pre-mature evolutionary dead-end, and vastly overpriced accessories. I actually vowed a long time ago to never buy a Sony product ever again, but RX1R is a niche version of a very niche RX1 which actually meets a specific photographic style that I’ve been developing, so never say never. Now that I’ve taped up every part of the body with the word “Sony” and bought a Leica-style lens hood to use it as a “poor-man’s Leica” I don’t feel that bad anymore :D

  19. Daniel Bliss says:

    How about mirrorless F-mount? I don’t think the idea is as crazy as it seems, given the huge base of F-mount lenses, and given that it would save Nikon an immense amount of trouble in manufacturing while improving overall performance of the system and maintaining support for old lenses on new bodies.

    Nikon 1 and the Canon 70D show what’s possible. On-sensor phase-detect AF that blows away the conventional variety. Live, 100 percent EVF viewfinder coverage that doesn’t require expensive alignment in the factory. Seamless transitions from stills to video and back again. Silent use, previously inimaginable capture rates, and almost no shutter lag or viewfinder blackout. All while leveraging the largest base of lenses in the history of photography.

    • I don’t think it would make any sense: the mount to sensor distance would have to be the same if you want to retain compatibility. The cameras wouldn’t be much smaller, if it at all – that dimension dictates thickness. You’d still have to have a similar size handgrip for ergonomics with larger lenses, and the flash and EVF would still have to go somewhere.

  20. Surprised that there is not more mention of the RX1 in this thread. Mine has showed me just how great and just how much fun mirrorless can be. I have barely picked up my 5D3 since it came through the door.

    Curious about your take on the RX1R Ming. Slightly OT but would you mind a couple of quick words?

    • Can’t say much about it because I’ve never used one! Requested a loaner to review after the first RX1 was released, but to this day Sony has not replied. They are a pain to work with here and frankly, it’s not worth my time for a camera that doesn’t interest me – 35mm is not at all my preferred focal length…

  21. I would have agreed with you, until I spent a week in Paris earlier this month. With the exception of one man with a Leica, I only saw people with DSLRs, compacts, iPads and phones.

  22. Hi Ming, you wrote “I wish [...] that we could choose between AF/ AE lock and AF ON”. Do you mean this: http://pcurious.com/om-d/em5-highlights/ , then look at “The Perfect Auto-Focus Setting”.

  23. For who do not use medium format, it is probably hard to understand what Ming says here…

  24. Eskimo Micronian says:

    I recently traded in my last Nikon, a D3X, and a 24-70mm for my E-P5 and a bunch of other equipment. I now own the GH3, the E-P5, and all of the Olympus fast primes. I don’t miss my D3X, D3, D700, or any of my old Nikon cameras. As a video shooter, it makes so much more sense to shoot with a hybrid camera. I actually stumbled into mirrorless by accident, when I bought a Lumix G5 as a play camera because it used the same lenses my AF100 does. I quickly found I was shooting with it a lot more than I was with my Nikons, or my Panasonic HMC150 video camera. What is amazing is the E-P5 has image quality worlds better than the G5, and the E-M1 is better still.
    That being said, I don’t think DSLRs are going anywhere anytime soon, at least not in the U.S. and Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I think they should be obsolescent, but the truth is, they aren’t. I say this because Nikon and Canon are so deeply entrenched in the U.S. market, U.S. photographers own tons of Nikon and Canon glass, and because Americans like what we like. Just look at V8 pickup trucks. We like things unnecessarily big.
    When the industry made the transition to digital, photographers could carry over most of their 35mm lenses. In turn, new digital lens could be mounted on older film cameras. The transition was relatively painless and carried with it a streamlined digital workflow.
    When I transitioned to mirrorless, I was getting pennies on the dollar in terms of what I bought my FF equipment for. For me, it was more than worth it. For most U.S. photographers, they can’t see the wisdom in it.
    I have tried to evangelize to my photographer friends, burdened under their heavy equipment, mostly to no avail. They think I am nuts for trading in my FF equipment for MFT. The only success I have had has been with working photojournalists who shoot with office equipment and didn’t have any equipment at home. They see the light. It will be a long time before others do.

    • I think the only way to believe it is to try it for yourself…go in with no expectations, and suddenly the big gear is left at home or packed only for assignment when you’re going by car.

  25. Hmm I’ve thought about these issues before when the G12 first came out. Apart from international/national print advertisements, I thought that even a G12 would suffice in most studio settings. Added benefit was higher flash sync speed and greater DOF i.e. less watts for studio strobes outdoors and indoors.

    But nowadays the more I think about it, the more I doubt that it can or would be done – not any time soon at least. You certainly have more experience with international clients than most of the readers here, but how would these clients feel if you brought an OM-D to shoot their high budget adverts? Added to the fact that mirrorless is so much cheaper than DSLR, it might become so commonplace that pros will be distinguished by using the DSLR. Benefits in photographic terms may be negligible, but the association of DSLR to professionals may still compel most photogs to stay with DSLRs. Isn’t that pretty much why medium format still persists?

    Objectively speaking none of the everyday shopper would be able to tell apart an advert that’s shot with a D800 versus a Hasselblad. I know my ex-client can’t even tell her current photog’s studio images vary 100-200 kelvins shot to shot…

    That all said and done, I’m very interested in using the EM-1 for event shoots. The thought of clients cringing in my face, and the inaccessibility of ISO 4000 that I’m used to with my D700 are the only things stopping me now. It’ll definitely be interesting to have as a silent alternative/backup.

    • Actually, they don’t really care so long as the file is sufficient for their intended uses. I’ll use the OM-D for reportage work; the expectation for the file there isn’t as high as a studio/billboard shoot, and I’ve never had any complaints. My clients don’t cringe so long as I deliver the images they want.

      Sometimes medium format is required because of the intended output use: large size and close viewing distance. Here, there’s no substitute for resolution.

  26. How true is this! My dad’s D90′s kit lens stopped working recently, and I advised him to look for a nice mirrorless like the E-PL5 mad forget about repairing the lens/ buying another kit zoom. With micro 4/3′s image quality being so damn close to APS-C’s, there’s no need for enthusiast shooters to lug around big and heavy DSLRs anymore. Meanwhile, I can complement my Nikoon film SLRs with a digital body :)

  27. Enjoyed your article. But one thing you said doesn’t make sense to me. You said ” mirrorless is simply much simpler – and therefore cheaper – to produce.” If this were true, why is the OM-D E-M1 body $300 more expensive than the Nikon D7100 body? Mirrorless should be cheaper for the reasons you state. But the fact is, APS-C bodies are still cheaper than mirrorless generally.

    • Partially because of marketing, and partially because you’re not suggesting a direct apples-to-apples comparison. The D7100 does not run at 10fps or have full weather sealing that can withstand showers and standing water. It’s closer to the E-M5.

  28. Jeff Allen says:

    I dont know whether this is just me or the way it will spin but I was an early adopter of Olympus 4/3rds and then Micro 4/3rds after being Canon for years. I have the wonderful Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a raft of micro & regular 4/3rds lenses from Olympus and the system is great for casual photography. However I was never completely satisfied with critical landscape shots so bought a Canon 6d full frame camera. Wow what a difference this camera is with L glass it leaves the OM-D E-M5 for dead. This camera has GPS and Wi-Fi and is smaller & lighter than the Canon 5d MKIII.
    The Sony A7R / A7 is not much different in size to Olympus & Panasonic Micro 4/3rds cameras, yes the lenses are larger but a 36 / 24MP camera will always outperform the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 so I would not be so quick as to write off DSLRs I think they still have a lot of legs and CSCs equally have a place for different reasons.

Trackbacks

  1. […] deal with increased resolution and corner demands. Well worth a read, and good food for thought – The demise of the DSLR Personally, I concur with his views. I'm traditionally an early adopter, I get in at the earlier […]

  2. […] “The demise of the DSLR” – interesting read (including some of the readers’ comments). If you’re thinking about buying a camera, you should probably read this. […]

  3. […] Source: http://blog.mingthein.com/2013/08/24/the-demise-of-the-dslr/#more-6329 […]

  4. […] a recent article on the future of the DSLR, one of the sticking points was viewfinder technology: I think those arguments are losing weight […]

  5. […] or FF DSLR other than absolute resolution or extreme low-light? I opened a can of worms with an earlier article on the demise of the DSLR; now I’m going to pour that can out onto the table and spread it around a […]

  6. […] and performance. You may also have read a handful of posts that go as far as to claim that the demise of the DSLR is on the near horizon. While it is easy to make claims and predictions, they only become credible […]

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