What Will You Be Using Two Years From Now?

One recent dpreview post included a survey asking the question in the headline about Nikon cameras, but it’s a good overall question for any DSLR user to be asking themselves in general. 

The answer for most of us, of course, is “the camera I currently use.” In fact, you might be able to change the question to four years from now and get the same answer. After all, the cameras introduced in 2016 and 2017 include the Canon 6D Mark II and 5D Mark IV, and the Nikon D5, D500, D7500, and D850. Uh, those are really good cameras even today. You need a new one why? I’m pretty sure that these all have another four productive years of life left in them. Heck, you can't buy a better crop sensor camera than the D500 today, and I still believe you can only buy one better all-around full frame camera than the D850 even today.

I wrote recently on bythom.com that "FODE (Fear of Dead End) is gripping many of you.” 

Even if a camera model comes to a dead end—and I shouldn’t need to remind you that every camera will—your photography doesn’t need to. 

Unfortunately, I can come up with a couple of reasons to be slightly fearful of the future of DSLRs, the primary among them being repair or replacement should you drop yours. Of course, you can drop a mirrorless camera, too ;~). I just had someone send me the Z7 II that they managed to submerge briefly in the ocean so that I could do an autopsy teardown. He was able to get a new copy at considerable expense because the Z7 II is a current camera still. Had this been a Nikon D3 he dropped in the ocean, he would have found that it wouldn’t be true that he could get a new replacement.

However, even that problem can be dealt with, and guess what, it may be a less expensive solution! A D3 in excellent condition goes for about US$800 at the moment, not the US$6000 that the original cost. If you’re using a camera for 13 years (the D3 was introduced in 2007), that was the equivalent of US$500/year in average cost. US$800 to replace it would imply that you need to use it for another two years to level out your costs, which seems perfectly do-able.

So I’m not really fearing dead ends, myself. As a(n infrequently) working pro, I really only fear not being able to do something that my competitors can, and not much else. It’s a rare piece of gear that causes that to happen, though. Very rare. 

So let me talk about the camera pair that comes up the most in my emails at the moment. In particular, D850 users wondering if they need to shift to the Z7 II. 

My answer would be no. In terms of image quality, I’d judge them to be as near identical as possible, subject to sample error. Yes, the 14-24mm f/2.8 S in the Z mount is a better lens than the 14-24mm f/2.8 in the F mount, but not enough for me to start mortgaging the house over. With my 19mm PC-E, the results are essentially the same, and that’s my goto landscape lens for full frame at the moment. 

Are there things that the Z7 II does better than the D850 that make my life simpler and my work faster? Yes. The Z7 II’s Live View EVF allows me to adjust the PC-E faster and more reliably than using Live View on the Rear LCD of the D850. 

Are there things that the D850 does better than the Z7 II that make my life simpler and my work faster? Yes. If I need faster than 5.5 fps, the D850 is just easier to manage and keep focus with. No, this isn’t “focuses faster or follows subjects better”. It’s solely due to the ability to handle the camera better with moving subjects above 5.5 fps (the Z7 II viewfinder changes to a slide show at faster speeds, and you can't keep your focus sensor properly positioned, let alone compose well).

You’re probably already starting to see where I’m going with this: each of these two cameras has a slight edge over the other at one type of work. But if you’re looking for a general purpose camera, I’d say those slight edges just cancel each other out. Simply learn the camera you choose as well as you can. They’re both excellent all-around cameras.

Nikon wisely chose to put out some really excellent lenses for the Z mount. Basically all the S-class lenses outperform the G/E versions in the F mount in some easily observable way. This, of course, tempts the DSLR user to make the switch to mirrorless, this time due to Fear of Missing Excellence (FOME). 

In my experience of watching thousands of photographers over the years, I’m not sure that the majority of them would see the real difference the Z-mount lenses can make over the F-mount ones. After all, the F-mount ones weren’t slouches to start with. What quickly comes into play is how you handle the camera. Handheld? Unstable support system? Poor choice of shutter speed? Missing focus? The list of things you could improve in your handling before you see optical gains at the level we’re now getting in mirrorless goes on and on. Indeed, “always on” stabilization is actually the bigger contributor to the gains many people are seeing, not the lens optics. 

Focus and stabilization are what really have been driving mirrorless sales. Focus as in “I didn’t take the time to really learn the DSLR focus system and master it and thus the all-automatic focus mode on a mirrorless camera achieves better results than I do.” Stabilization as in “not all my DSLR lenses were stabilized, but I didn’t take the time to improve my camera handling, while the mirrorless camera just always stabilizes things so I think I don't have to." 

Okay, I get that. But why are you reading this site? ;~) Buy the best all-automatic camera you can find and enjoy taking photos. Stop obsessing over “latest and greatest.” 

Those of you not taking that advice—which is probably most of you reading this—need to answer the headline question, and specifically be able to illuminate why your answer is what it is. 

Nikon full frame DSLR users probably should always answer the question with “one of the current Nikon full frame DSLRs.” Current, as in Df, D750, D780, D850, D5, or D6. If you have a D810 or D4/D4s, I’d still tend to say just stick with what you’ve got. Canon DSLR users have a more restrictive list: current as in 6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, or 1DX Mark III. 

Will you eventually move to mirrorless? Maybe. But you shouldn’t be in a hurry. 

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The camera makers think differently than you, unfortunately. I believe they are thinking incorrectly. Nikon, in particular, has plenty of runway left for DSLR takeoffs. I've stated it before, but Nikon should quickly create D580 and D880 updates, even if that would only bring the Live View components of mirrorless over to the cameras. Both are state-of-the-art cameras today, both still sell in modest quantities, so why would you let them age into irrelevance? Moreover, a D580, D780, D880, and D6 lineup would say to DSLR aficionados that Nikon is there for them. Nikon already dominates that range of DSLR now that Canon has shut down their new offerings, so why not continue to cater to them? It's low-hanging fruit for Nikon, but they're currently not picking.

Canon, though, seems to have taken the approach all the previous camera makers have made: don't let the user decide. Simply drop your DSLR development and go all-in with mirrorless, forcing the customer to follow. That's a risky proposition, as the cost of replacing a DSLR system with a mirrorless one is high enough to allow the customer to consider starting over in a competitor's system. I suspect the reason why we have approximately ten <US$1000 lenses already in the RF lineup has to do with the fact that Canon knows they need to give their user base more affordable migration options, or risk losing them to Sony.

Pentax, of course, stopped marching in the camera parade a long time ago. The few DSLR drummers still beating in the aging heart of Asahi, are working at such a slow, faint beat now that if you're not listening for it, most people don't hear them.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com


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