Mirrorless vs. DSLR Debate

Started Aug 28, 2013 | Discussions thread
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stevo23
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Mirrorless vs. DSLR Debate
Aug 28, 2013

Folks - this is a mole hill at best. Cameras have always changed - they have never stayed the same. I've used 50 year old Speed Graphic cameras and 40 year old Nikons. I don't care how old they are. But it's clear that things change when they make sense, not when we hype them.

Rumblings predict the "death" of DSLRs and the inevitable rise and takeover by mirrorless systems. Ming Thien had something to say about it. And the dudes at "discovermirrorless.com" go on and on about sensor size and how it doesn't affect image quality.

I've owned and used cameras since an original Yashica medium format TLR. So many things have changed over the years, and yet so many things never change. One of the things that never changes is our love for hype. It's why CNN, ABC etc. are all still here. We love to hype and make mountains out of molehills.

What this debate is NOT about:

- A struggle for supremacy: Nikon and Canon could make a mirrorless D800 or EOS 5V tomorrow if it made sense. The mirrorless makers are not about to take a ton of market share from Nikon and Canon because of some new revolution. Nikon and Canon can become king in mirrorless if demand warranted it.

- Smaller vs. larger: Too much is wrapped up in the term "mirrorless". Mirrorless isn't inherently compact. Olympus OMD is small and light, but not because it's mirrorless, it's because it's M43 and the glass is smaller. (But not cheap.) Mirrorless kind of helps, but Olympus were always small, even when they were coughing out Velvia like carnival tickets. This isn't about smaller sensors somehow proving that they're equal! We all know the plusses and minuses and choose accordingly. It's about changing the path from the image to the eye.

- Returning to the past: Nope. While l love rangefinders and specifically Fuji X series cameras, rangefinders aren't poised to make a huge comeback. Some have said, "they're returning". I don't think they will because it's just as kludgy as it always was. There will always be some. I rather like them myself, but that's not where I think things will head.

- Glass: Glass is plentiful. I know because I used to engineer high purity optical fiber. So this isn't about glass or smaller glass being easier to make or whatever. Quality, full frame glass is no problem to make or improve or design. This goes for resins too.

- Cost: The primary cost involved in cameras seems to be glass and sensors. The guts that go around it all are nothing more than giblets. The Sony mirrorless full frame camera isn't cheap! Neither is the glass! The Fuji XPro1 isn't cheap either. Mirrorless aren't generally cheaper because mirrorless is inherently cheaper. They're generally cheaper because we're not comparing apples to apples. As soon as you put in the larger sensors and glass and add on the features and durable bodies and mounts, it will increase cost no matter what.

What the debate IS about:

- Improving flash sync: I don't need to rehash this.

- Lowering manufacturing cost: Mirrored systems are tricky and costly. Sure, Canon and Nikon have them down to a science. But just like mechanically coupled speedometers have been replaced by easy-to-assemble electronic ones, it's cheaper and easier to directly couple a sensor to an electronic viewfinder. There's less to sync and it's all in firmware. We love writing code these days. This is one force that can drive more mirrorless cameras. It will increase margins for manufacturers and they won't pass this savings on to us.

- Battery life: say what you will, battery life still hurts mirrorless and always will be an achilles heel. But it could improve to the point of being irrelevant. If/when that does, mirrorless for all might make sense. It's an engineering and materials challenge.

- Market forces: this always has and always will drive these things. When people are seeing devices they like, they will demand more. And those who don't make them will start making them.

- Electronic Viewfinders: Electronic viewfinders still aren't as nice to use as pure optical ones (to me). But they could improve to the point that even sports people would use them. But maybe not. It's a pure engineering challenge and is perhaps the main frontier that remains to be conquered.

- Consumer perception/demand: It's not painful for anyone to make DSLRs. It's not painful to own them. They can be heavier, but that's also a function of sensor size, not mirrors. If the public and specifically professional population are asking for more mirrorless, more will magically be made. If they continue to see utility and advantage in DSLRs, DSLRs will remain.

I predict:

- More mirrorless to come, but only when battery life and EVFs improve

- DSLR for the foreseeable future, not sure of the market share, but the utility hasn't gone away. Battery life and viewing quality are still better.

- Large sensors for a long time: Sensor size is king. Always will be. As long as it's cost effective to make full frame sensors (and it appears to be getting more so), there will always be a place for them. They make better images, period. I have a secret hope that they'll get bigger. I'm not from Texas.

So for all, there's nothing to fear. Things will happen when they make sense. It has been happening that way for years.

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