What’s a DSLR User to Do?

Today’s headline is a bit tongue in cheek, because you already know what to do: keep using your DSLR!

Canon’s last DSLR introductions were in 2020 (Rebel T8i and 1Dx Mark III). Nikon’s ditto (D780). Both companies seem to now be in full shift to mirrorless, so any DSLR iteration from either in the future would be a surprise. Thus, what’s on the shelf today are likely your final buy-new choices if you want to stay a DSLR user.

At B&H for example, Canon’s is still selling nine DSLRs (SL3, T100, T7, T8i, 90D, 6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, 1Dx Mark II, 1Dx Mark III), whereas Nikon is down to four (D7500, D780, D850, D6). These numbers have been dwindling by a body or two every few months, as stock clears on older cameras.

My advice if you’re using a state-of-the-art DSLR still being sold (Canon 90D, 6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, 1Dx Mark III, or Nikon D7500, D780, D850, D6) is to just stay put. You have a highly capable camera, and the cost of moving to mirrorless is going to be painful. Indeed, so much so that my top piece of advice if you have one of these bodies is to take a long, careful look at the used DSLR lens pool and bargain hard. You can find lots of low mileage, excellent shape, EF-mount and particularly Nikon F-mount lenses available, and at astonishingly low prices. That’s because of the large number of DSLR owners who decided to take a lot of pain in moving to mirrorless. Your DSLR image sensors are fine and basically state-of-the-art for still photography, so the way you can continue to improve your image quality is mostly through lenses (and user experience/training).

It’s typically the DSLR user that’s got an older (e.g. 7D or D300) or lower end (e.g. Rebel T1i or D3100) body that is scratching their head about what to do. I used 2010 models in those parens for a reason: the longterm-closet-user tends to upgrade every ten or more years. It’s exactly this type of customer that is least present in the current buying market but having the most difficulty deciding whether they should be. 

My advice for these folk is trickier. You have two choices, basically: (1) push higher in the current DSLR lineup for your sensor size (e.g. a D3100 user buying a D7500, or a D600 user buying D850); or (2) move to mirrorless (e.g. Rebel T1i or original 5D model user moving to an R model). 

#1 lets you just keep your current lens set (and maybe enhance it a bit, as I noted above) but get the benefits of a decade of product iteration. 

#2 has you wanting the best-possible-current-camera at your level. Yes, mirrorless is now arguably driving the best-camera debate. 

You’ll note that I used the words “for your sensor size” in #1. There’s a simple reason for that: if you were to, say, move from DX DSLR to FX DSLR, you’re likely buying new lenses. Once you start buying new lenses (i.e. replace both body and lens), you need to look closely at what’s current state of the art, and that’s full frame mirrorless. It’s not just bodies that got better, but as I’ve commented on over at zsystemuser.com, there really isn’t a Nikon Z-mount lens that isn’t clearly better than the equivalent F-mount lens (it's a little murkier on the Canon front). So if you’re coming out of a camera buying coma to buy a state-of-the-art body that forces you to have to also replace your current lens set, why wouldn’t you do that in mirrorless?

Way back in 2011 I made the call on sansmirror.com: mirrorless would take over (>50%) the ILC (interchangeable lens camera) market from DSLRs in 2020 or so. Maybe I was off by a year, but we could argue about what “take over” means and put that marker anywhere from 2018 to 2022 or so. Mirrorless was going to win from DSLRs for a simple reason: fewer parts, simpler manufacturing. That, in turn, should turn out to mean better longevity without need for repair, particularly as we start dropping the mechanical shutter (as the Nikon Z8 and Z9 have done). 

It didn’t help that the mirrorless cameras were designed to be smaller and lighter, too. The traditional dedicated camera buyer has been aging out, and carrying three to five pound necklaces has turned out to be something those folk don’t want to keep doing. 

My sense is that the DSLR users split into two clear camps: 

  1. Those that saw an advantage to moving with the camera companies to mirrorless.
  2. Those that are perfectly fine with DSLR designs and just wanted those to iterate with new features and performance. 

Camp #1 has mostly already moved. Camp #2 is staying entrenched in the DSLR mounts, but I don’t think their wishes for the future are going to be granted. 

Even Nikon, who has tended to hold onto legacy users far longer than the other brands, seems to have decided to move on. I don’t expect a D580 or D790 in the future, though there’s an off chance that a D880 or D7 may still show up someday as a last legacy gift, much like the F6 film SLR once did clearly in the DSLR era. Canon, on the other hand, seems to be done with DSLRs.

We can all hope I’m wrong about this, but I think the pandemic may have put the nail in the DSLR coffin a bit earlier than most expected. Once the camera companies had to rethink based upon a smaller market, that rethinking went towards product line simplification, and DSLRs are not it. 

I’ll have more to say about this in the upcoming holiday season, as I think that year-end sales will tell us a lot about where the DSLR market really is in the minds of the camera makers.

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Bonus: The Nikon D850 is currently US$2800. Even today I’d rank the D850 in my top five all-around cameras you can buy, and it’s the least expensive of that bunch. If you’re a Nikon DSLR user and not moving to mirrorless and don’t already have a D850, you still have a very viable choice at somewhat of a bargain price to consider.

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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