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Why the predicted death of DSLR cameras is exaggerated

Canon DSLR cameras and lens lineup

There has been a lot of talk lately about the fast-approaching demise of consumer DSLRs. The premise for this has been the recent drop in DSLR sales, the first in over a decade.

DSLR Fujifilm Sigma Pentax

Worldwide sales fell by 10-15% between 2012 and 2013. Nikon has seen an 18% fall in overall cameras sales while Canon saw a 23% drop. Sony and Fujifilm had it even worse at 35%.

This has prompted many to predict that consumer DSLRs will be dead within 5 years.

It is an ancient technology after all. The single lens reflex technology behind DSLRs dates back almost a hundred years.

My take is a little different. Yes, it is an old technology, but 5 years is much too short a period. Especially when talking about cameras.

I have friends who still use DSLRs that were released over 7 years ago. My current DSLR, a Canon 5D Mark III that I bought almost a year ago, will stay with me for some time to come. Even if I do get an upgrade, it will likely become a secondary body.

A decade isn’t far fetched when you factor in all the lenses and accessories that photographers have invested in.

Smartphone Cameras

Smartphones vs DSLRs

A crucial factor in the drop in sales are the capabilities and the increasing popularity of smartphones. Almost everyone I know has one.

No doubt today’s smartphones have come very far. They can capture full-HD video and have advanced still photo features sometimes missing from entry to midlevel DSLRs (in-camera HDR, for example). Phones also allow one to almost instantly share images and video with the rest of the world.

While many of these features are generally considered secondary for professional or semi-professional work, many DSLRs now include them. A number of models now include built-in Wifi support, while some have options to instantly publish to social media.

Smartphones are more of a threat to point-and-shoot cameras than anything on the higher-end. If one were to say that these consumer cameras will disappear very soon, I would agree.

Size and Weight

Size and weight are oft-cited reasons for preferring smartphones, point-and-shoots and mirror-less cameras over DSLRs. However, bigger and heavier often translates into a better and more stable grip. The better grip is what convinced me to move to a DSLR in the first place.

Besides the “wow” factor, these bigger cameras are often much more durable than the average smartphone or point and shoot. Perfect for nature and wildlife shoots in rugged terrain.

Olympus E-30 DSLR camera cutaway

For many photographers, myself included, image quality is the ultimate goal. We will literally climb mountains to get that priceless photo. Extra weight and gear are usually minor hindrances when your aim is that perfect shot. A smartphone, no matter how great, simply won’t cut it.

That is not to say that weight and gear are never a factor. I have been in situations where I had to leave behind every extra lens, even my bag, to reach my destination. Still would not have replaced my DSLR with anything less.

DSLR Life Cycle

Canon DSLR cameras and lens lineup

As for the economics, a record number of people I know purchased their first DSLR last year. Probably due to the surge of newer models, as well as more affordable prices. I myself finally upgraded to a full frame after years of contemplation.

That buying cycle has had its turn. In addition, this year has been hard on many people, economically. A couple more years and we should see another upturn. Yes it probably won’t be better than, or even the same as, last year. But it will be there.

DSLRs will die

I’m in no way implying that DSLRs will live on forever. Or even survive our lifetimes. As I mentioned before, it is an almost century-old tech. Technology evolves and these will also, eventually be replaced.

Even manufacturers that went all out and bet their future on DSLRs, based on last year’s figures, may not survive. Nikon, for example, enjoyed unprecedented DSLR sales for 2012 and invested heavily in the technology. So heavily that the current slump could hurt them badly.

Many predict that DSLRs will be replaced by mirror-less cameras. Others may think it will be by smartphones. I think it probably will be with something we have yet to see. Nobody can say for sure what it will be. All I can say is that it isn’t happening within the next few years.

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