Is the DSLR Dying?

By Cory Disbrow on October 17th, 2013   |    Posted in:  Camera Gear   |    19 Comments

What do dinosaurs, VHS tapes, and the local neighborhood milkman have in common? They’re all extinct. And today, I ask the question: is the DSLR soon to join them?

My Canon 5D Mark III in its smallest setup - with a 40mm pancake lens.

My Canon 5D Mark III in its smallest setup – with a 40mm pancake lens.

The DSLR camera was revolutionary in many ways. It was a logical progression from the big and bulky film cameras that only allowed us to shoot 24 frames per roll. The DSLR helped us be able to view what we shot before taking it to the local shop to get the film developed, only to find out that 23 out of the 24 shots were out of focus. The digital age also made it possible for the mass consumer world to get their hands on quality image making devices, and with every generation, things kept getting better, whether it be ISO performance, HD video, autofocus speed.

Shot with the E-M5 and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4.

Shot with the E-M5 and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4.

But, fast forward to a few years ago. A concept called a mirrorless camera came out, and was seen as revolutionary. Why? Because it was a new way of designing a camera that could have the capabilities of producing high quality images, but in a much smaller package than a DSLR. When they first came out though, they were pretty awful, as most new product lines are. They were slow, had bad AF, and image quality left something to be desired. As the years went by, companies like Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic started to hit their strides with their fancy new mirrorless cameras, and arguably the two biggest hits were the Sony NEX-7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5, which is one of the camera I am currently shooting with. This is what my Olympus system currently looks like.

My current mirrorless family.

My current mirrorless family.

That is a camera, and lenses that are focal length equivalent to 15mm fisheye, 28-82mm, 80-300mm, 50mm, and 90mm. And I can fit all of them in either a small bag, or a few of them in a cargo pocket on a pair of shorts. The zooms aren’t fantastic, but the primes are excellent.

A 50mm equivalent that sees at f/1.4 and renders at f/2.8, in the palm of my hand.

A 50mm equivalent that sees at f/1.4 and renders at f/2.8, in the palm of my hand.

Seems like a perfect world situation, no? Well, there are some compromises here. The OM-D E-M5 is limited to a 1/4000 shutter speed, so if you want to shoot at f/1.8 or f/1.4 in the daylight, you need to bring ND filters. While the images are super sharp and render beautifully, with the Micro 4/3 system, you are giving up the capability of extremely shallow depth of field, as a f/1.4 lens on M43 is actually giving you a ‘real life’ look of f/2.8 when shooting at f/1.4. Also, mirrorless cameras are pretty notorious for being bad at tracking in continuous AF mode, so sports shooting is pretty difficult. Mirrorless cameras also normally use electronic viewfinders, which in the past had bag lag and were hard to see through.

E-M5 and PanaLeica 25mm

E-M5 and PanaLeica 25mm

Well, just in the past few months, we’ve seen a huge change in the mirrorless world. Olympus announced its new flagship OM-D E-M1, which has a hybrid autofocus system that makes it better at tracking subjects. It also bumped the shutter to a 1/8000 maximum speed. Even better, it came out with a new sensor that loses its anti-aliasing filter, which means we will be seeing even sharper images than on the E-M5. The camera is becoming more and more something that can compete with a DSLR, or even replace it for some people.

Saving the big bomb for last, just yesterday, Sony announced its new Sony A7 and Sony A7R cameras, which are about the same size as the OM-D. Thing is, they have full frame sensors. That’s right, the same high numbers like 24mp that D600 shooters know and 36mp with no anti-aliasing filter that D800E landscape and studio shooters swear by. Whether or not the AF will be up to par on these guys, or if the new line of lenses will perform up there with Nikon G or Canon L lenses remains to be seen.

E-M5 and the Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye. Look at those starbursts!

E-M5 and the Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye. Look at those starbursts!

But, this begs the question. Is the DSLR starting its final act? How much longer will people want to buy big and bulky cameras when the image quality out of something much smaller is comparable, or even better? Think about when you head out to the parks on your vacation. Wouldn’t it be liberating to take a smaller kit, knowing that you won’t be sacrificing anything in regards to quality? I know that at PhotoMagic next week, I’ll be shooting primarily with the OM-D. I think that Olympus and Sony’s announcements this past month have been very specific in the camera industry, and I’m very excited to see where we go from here.

I should mention here that every Disney photo in this article was taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

If for some strange reason, you want to purchase anything you read about here in the article, please click on the links in the article to head over to Amazon. That way anything you buy will help out the site. Thanks for reading!!


  1. Peter Gibbons   |   Oct 17, 2013

    I like the way a DSLR body and lens feels in my hand. Not quite ready to fumble with little or no viewfinders, etc.

    The subject seems to be coming up a lot lately now that DSLR’s are so popular. I can appreciate new technology but in this area I’ll use a nice point and shoot when I need to travel lighter.

  2. Larry White   |   Oct 17, 2013

    I think it is years away. I know my personal experience with the OM-D, I just did not enjoy the feel of it and really did not like the EVF. But maybe I’m just an old dog not willing to try new tricks.

    • Cory Disbrow   |   Oct 17, 2013

      Old man jokes aside… ;)

      I think the new OM-D would fit your style a bit better. It has Contrast and Phase Detect autofocus, so the tracking mode is much more responsive. It also has a new grip for when handling the camera, which I know was the issue for the E-M5 with some people. It also apparently has a much bigger and faster EVF.

      But, I think that in today’s age, the DSLR still has a place, and will for some time in the future. I shoot both systems and love both, but for different reasons. I just think that with every new mirrorless model, we get closer to seeing the DSLR going away, especially in the consumer market.

    • Adam Hansen   |   Oct 17, 2013


      Since it was the OM-D itself you did not like, are you thinking of giving another mirrorless camera a shot, specifically the Sony FF that was announced? The reason I ask is because I know you enjoy the “lighten up and shoot” idea and not having to carry a bunch of gear when on vacation. I believe that was part of the reason you tried the OM-D in the first place, so it seems like this Sony might be a good fit for you.

      Just curious to hear what you think based on your past experience.

    • Kala   |   Oct 31, 2013

      My BFF gose there to dance

  3. Alan Rappaport   |   Oct 17, 2013

    I’m with Larry here – I think DSLR’s will remain king for several more years at least. Mirrorless cameras are making great strides, but they have yet to catch up to the behemoth DSLRs. Then again, Sony’s new FF mirrorless might just be turning the tables.

    I enjoy shooting with my mirrorless. It is my primary camera, but I have not yet been able to pull the trigger and sell my DSLR. I’ve sold off some lenses in favor of picking up more for my mirrorless, but not quite ready to quit my DSLR completely.

    I really should though, because I never use it anymore – and it’s not doing me any good just sitting there with my VCR and dinosaurs.

    Edit: My buddy Dan made a good point. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was to the extent that DSLRs are waining in popularity among non-photographers as the quality of smartphone cameras improved.

    I have to agree with this, as I see less and less DSLRs in the parks these days, though more and more people shooting with their phones… and yes… with their iPads too.

  4. Michael Besant   |   Oct 17, 2013

    Really?!?! I think not! IMO these little cameras make nice travel cameras for the average consumer who wants to pack light and feel like they have a DSLR with them. Or for those people who are seriously into hiking and need something lighter, though a Canon G1X would be better for that IMO.

    No, these cameras will never out perform a DSLR on their BEST DAY! Ask any real pro. I will put my Nikon D3S up against ANY of these for low light and speed, and my Nikon D800 will tower above any of these mirrorless in resolution, color & image depth! This is one area where bigger IS better!

    Mirrorless cameras have a place, but they will never replace a DSLR.

    BTW, Old 35mm film cameras never shot out of focus…only their users. Back then we would think before we pressed the shutter to make sure of our composition and focus. I started with Minolta, a SRT-201, then my first AF, a Minolta STSI, then a Maxxum 7. After that I switched to Nikon where I bought and still have an F5. I also used a Pentax 645 medium format film camera…that never took out of focus shots either. What film camera(s) did you use?

    • Cory Disbrow   |   Oct 17, 2013

      Perhaps back in the film day, you may have nailed all of your shots. But when I look back at family photo albums and I see the number of shots that are out of focus that my parents took, I always wonder how much better their memories would be preserved if they had digital.

      Perhaps I should edit this article and preface it with it being consumer based. I shoot both DSLR and Mirrorless, and for most people now a days, even people who take photography seriously, a full frame speed demon DSLR is not necessary. Do we really all need 12fps in burst mode? I don’t think we do. Lots of people also don’t have $7000 laying around to be able to own both a D3S and a D800. The new Sony A7 that gives them a full frame sensor in a small, easy to use package comes with a general purpose lens for $2000. That’s much easier to swallow.

      On the subject of resolution and color depth, the new Sony A7R has the exact same amount of resolution as a D800, 36mp of full frame. It also even gets rid of the AA filter, which in theory should make the images even sharper than that of a D800, and more like a D800E. And it fits in the palm of your hand.

      Am I saying that the DSLR is dead? No. I’ll leave that to people like Zack Arias, who is a ‘real pro’ that is making his money by shooting Fuji mirrorless cameras. It doesn’t say that anywhere in the article. The article is simply asking the question of if we are headed in a direction with our technology where these smaller systems will soon be as powerful as their big DSLR counterparts, and if they will start replacing them soon.

      I’m hoping that the points I bring up here are not taken as spiteful or argumentative towards anyone, and just continuing the discussion.

  5. Hal miller   |   Oct 17, 2013

    I’m one of those “photographers” that knows just enough for all this technology to be frustrating. I have a Nikon D90, Canon t3i, Canon s95. I yearn for the latest and greatest but it comes at an ever increasing speed and price. I really love the idea of mirrorless full frame but especially with Sony I’d be starting all over again and then there’s the $$$ I only view and save photos on the computer. Any suggestions ?
    Really what I want is a quality camera that takes consistant, clear,color correct photos…help
    I love the WDW and Disneyland Photo a Day. It’s the first thing I dowhen turning on my ipad.
    Thanks, Hal

    • Cory Disbrow   |   Oct 17, 2013

      Thanks for reading, Hal. If you’re looking for something that will take a clear photo that is good for saving on your computer and sharing on the internet, pretty much anything out there will be great for you. There is a pretty common saying out there now that there really aren’t any “bad” cameras now. In my experience, I think in most cases I could get by with my Olympus kit, and I think I only need the Canon full frame kit for certain situations. Hope this all helps!

  6. Kristi Creed   |   Oct 17, 2013

    As some of the others have already stated, I agree, it’s years off.

    While the size and weight may be a benefit, the mirrorless have their limitations. It is nice they are close to the size of an iPhone. But I could just use my iPhone if I’m concerned with size and weight and for capturing the here and now and let my DSLR be my workhorse. However, I’m not that concerned about the weight. My DSLR with a prime lens is my most common combo and really not that weighty. I do carry other lenses to switch out, but the added weight does not concern me.

    I’ve known several trade their omd back for DSLR.

    Also, I take photo-sessions. I think the DSLR is better for that for me. My husband captures landscapes with his mirrorless and his camera performs well for that. He does mention issues with the settings and desire for manual.

    All in all you have to look at the type photography you capture and where you want to go with your photography in your journey and decide on what fits your journey best. For me right now, it’s a DSLR. One size does not fit all.

  7. Joanie Eddis-Koch   |   Oct 17, 2013

    Through out the history of Photography shooters have craved the one device that will take care of ALL of their needs… WITHOUT making any compromises. It’s sort of like having your cake and eating it too… it just can’t be done. Sure you can get closer to fulfilling those needs, but there are always some compromises that will have to be made.

    When cell phones started to come with better cameras there was a belief that it was the end of the DSLR. What we saw was a surge in the DSLR’s popularity when photography became more accessible via the cell phone and people rediscovered photography and craved more from their cameras.

    Today, photography is more fun and more user friendly that ever before but there will always be a stratification due to technical considerations in the types and abilities of cameras. Each shooter must make decisions about what they want from a camera and what sacrifices they will have to live with.

  8. Ryan Pastorino   |   Oct 17, 2013

    These new mirrorless cameras are specifically targeting the consumer and pro-sumer photographers who want high end quality in a small, easy to carry package. Before these became available, if you wanted top quality you had to buy top end professional equipment. Now these companies are going after that huge consumer/pro-sumer/hobbyist market by offering options better suited for them. Most people in this community fit that bill which is why there is so much buzz and this article is definitely posing the question from that point of view.

    The DSLR will continue to exist as long as there is demand for it, especially from serious pros who have different needs. And a quick note about size. Size is very important to pro photographers, but being able to fit in the palm of one’s hand is not the concern. So if mirrorless tech does enter top pro-level cameras, I wouldn’t be surprised if the physical camera dimensions don’t change much.

    • Cory Disbrow   |   Oct 17, 2013

      I say this to you often, Ryan, but how dare you bring logic into the conversation?!?

  9. Norm Lanier   |   Oct 17, 2013

    Cory I agree that full size DSLRs will become what your dad shot with. Look I get that there is a lot of romance and history wrapped around SLR and DSLRs. And just like there are people that still shoot film and will never change I’d put money on the fact that DSLR camera sales have been on the decline and will continue and even more steeply in the future. There also lives this mentality that bigger is better and the bigger the hunk of glass you have the more professional you are.

    Keep in mind that for people in their 20s the only camera many of them have ever owned is built into there cell phone. When these 20 somethings want a “real” camera they will want small and with as few moving parts as possible.

    I used to carry around a camera bag the size of a suitcase. When I bought a little cheapy Canon all-in-one camera what I began to realize was that I was shooting a lot more because i could literally throw the thing in a coat pocket. A couple of years ago I bought an Olympus E-P3 and loved it. Last Christmas I upgrade to the OM-D E-M5 and love it even more.

    I will agree that one thing you give up is the beautiful shallow depth of fields you get with big glass but that a sacrifice I’m willing to make for the ability to have every lens I need fit into a camera bag the size of a large lunchbox.

  10. Kyle Sherman   |   Oct 17, 2013

    I don’t think DSLR’s are dying – but I think they’re evolving. People LIKE viewfinders, there’s still a lot of plus sides to them when compared to an LCD screen (like viewing it in sunlight).

    I think the DSLR is just becoming a bit more niche as options are changing. Let’s face it. Digital cameras and cell phones are still shaking the market. It’s a fact that the point and shoot is dying, and camera companies are trying to figure out what’s going on there too.

    It’s likely that the cost of DSLR equipment will go up as it becomes more specialized. And that will “kill” it for the average consumer. But as long as DSLR’s are more flexible and reliable than mirrorless cameras they’ll continue to thrive.

    I’m sticking with my DSLR for now… but yes, I can see the advantages of going mirrorless, and it is becoming more of an option every day.

  11. Samantha Decker   |   Oct 17, 2013

    Cory, my thoughts “mirror” yours (couldn’t resist the pun!) more or less on this topic. I have a basic mirrorless camera with a 30mm pancake lens that I keep handy for those ultra-rare occasions when I don’t have a DSLR with me, but eventually I’d like to switch over to full-frame mirrorless. I’m hanging on to my DSLRs for the time being because I’d like to see what other options become available and also because I love the lenses I have, but once I see some comparable lenses for full frame mirrorless, I’ll probably make the jump.

  12. Mitch   |   Oct 19, 2013

    It all comes down to the availability of affordable high quality lenses. I just picked up a nikon 55-200mm VR lens for $100 for my nikon DSLR, and went out to the nature trail and came back with some really fantastic images. For $100, I was able to get high quality optics and plenty of zoom. There is NO WAY you will find a lens like that anywhere near $100 for these mirror-less systems.

    I’m certainly not thrilled about carrying around a larger camera, but as long as great optics means large lenses then I feel like the DSLR is king for cost and performance. To be honest, the iPhone 5S is a phenomenal camera for the times that I don’t want to use my DSLR. Otherwise, I’m fine with using my DSLR body with my 30mm 1.4 prime which I picked up for about $215.

    In 7-10 years, DSLR cameras will be dinosaurs. For now, it’s the sweet spot for photographers who can’t afford to use multiple systems.

  13. Rob   |   Nov 1, 2013

    As a digital media producer who works mostly in video production, I can say, assuredly, that DSLR is showing no signs of slowing down. It is the number one video system that I have been, and still am, seeing in every job I work. I see no better (reasonable) option for video producers in the near future.



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