Is the DSLR Dying?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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