When will DSLRs become obsolete?

Jun 12, 2021

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

When will DSLRs become obsolete?

Jun 12, 2021

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

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One of the most commonly discussed topics in the photography world now is the mirrorless vs. DSLR battle. A common opinion among many photographers is that the DSLR is already obsolete and has no shelf life. However, is this true? Is the DSLR tech really so outdated?

If you’ve been keeping up with my articles, you may very well know that I’m a fashion and portrait photographer. I do a lot of work in the studio, as well as on location. Social media and YouTube create an atmosphere that professional photographers make money by shooting the latest kit, 10-grand packs, and the latest cameras. The reality, however, is very different. Professional photographers own their equipment and use it regardless of any brand affiliations. For example, although I shoot on Canon and light with Profoto, I don’t own their latest kits. Y0u can’t even buy new copies of most of the gear that I shoot with.

Discontinued? Yes, that’s right. The gear that makes me money as a professional photographer is old.  And I’m not upgrading anytime soon. How obsolete? Some of my lights and lenses are from 2001. It is important to note that I am not taking pride in the fact that what I own is old, nor am I telling you to go out and find the oldest kit you can. Old kit does not make you a “true professional photographer.”

I am bringing this up to give insight into what I mean by the word obsolete. I think of “obsolete” as something that is no longer relevant in the commercial world. This will be a severely limiting factor on jobs, to the point where clients would not be happy with the final results. In other words, an obsolete camera is a camera that can no longer produce commercially viable work due to technical factors such as resolution or color reproduction. The same applies to any other kit, anything from stands to laptops.

What has become obsolete and why?

A prime example of a technology that is very obsolete would be old flash generators from the 90s. Although you can use them to create light, the recycle times are awful, while the flash duration isn’t fast enough. The consistency from shot to shot sucks too. These factors are vital in producing high caliber work, making most 90s flash generators obsolete compared to new Broncolor Scoro or Profoto Pro-11 packs. Another example of obsolete technology would be the Canon 1D original. While it is a great camera, you can’t use it in modern sports photography as the resolution is far too small (4 MP), connectivity is lacking (no ethernet), and the ISO range is far too small (up to ISO 1600 max).

Where do DSLRs fit in?

DSLRs are a strange breed now. On the one hand, they are advanced enough to produce commercial work for the next five years, but on the other hand, they have been surpassed by more modern mirrorless options.

One of the biggest red flags in DSLR technology is that there are currently no new DSLRs in the making. Canon has come out to say that “unless the market demands it, there won’t be any new DSLRs.” Same with Nikon and even Sony, who oddly enough produced DSLRs until recently. Developing any new technology is no easy feat. R&D is expensive, and developing a new DSLR is too. So a change in the focus of R&D is signaling that SLR tech is becoming obsolete. Although, it doesn’t mean that the DSLR is obsolete now. Usually, when R&D changes focus, the product takes a few years to become obsolete. Think of OS support for MacBooks or iPhones. I use an iPhone SE from 2016, which still supports the latest IOS, albeit with some problems.

Did DSLRs already reach their potential?

With technology developing faster than ever, there are countless examples of something reaching its full potential. Please think of the differences between the 5D Mark I, and Mark II. Mark II brought video, high resolution, improved battery life, and many new features. Yet, the difference between the Mark II and Mark III was essentially dual card slots and autofocus. The speed at which DSLRs progressed got slower. While some may say that the 1DX mark III is a considerable step up from the Mark II, I believe it is as good as it will ever get with DSLRs. Features such as autofocus and face tracking are impossible to achieve on the same high level as mirrorless cameras. DSLRs are as good as they will ever get: both because they reached their potential and because no new DSLRs are likely to be made.

So, when will DSRLs ultimately become obsolete?

I am a full-time commercial fashion and beauty photographer. Like many of my colleagues and friends, I don’t buy equipment for the sake of keeping up to date. For the work I do, DSLRs provide excellent image quality at a low cost. I can get them repaired or buy more at the used marketplace. The current feature set of most modern DSLRs is more than enough to get me through all test shoots and most assignments. The only times when I need to rent a larger medium format system is when I need more resolution. That said, this is very rare at the moment.

For most fashion and beauty work, DSLRs will be relevant for the next five or seven years. Mirrorless cameras would have to create a new type of work, like digital cameras did back in the day. Shooting ad campaigns on film is rare nowadays as it is limiting on resolution, and no one can sign off on the images at the end.

Closing thoughts

Ultimately, there are benefits of a mirrorless system. If a specific brief will need me to work with advanced face tracking or anything that DSLRs cant offer, I will absolutely rent one. When those briefs make my work reliant on mirrorless features, it will signal the end of the DSLR in professional work for me. If you’re a still-life photographer, that is different. There is no reason to upgrade from a DSLR if you’re using manual focus most of the time. The choice is yours, but the DSLR is not obsolete yet and likely will remain relevant for at least five years in professional applications and quite a bit more in hobbyists and beginners worlds.

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Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar

Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest. For him, photography means painting with light, just as its Greek roots suggest. He can’t tell you the latest camera rumors, but he can go on forever about light. In his fashion work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light.

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42 responses to “When will DSLRs become obsolete?”

  1. Bjarne Winkler Avatar
    Bjarne Winkler

    WHEN WILL DSLRS BECOME OBSOLETE?

    The answer could be: “Just after film cameras are getting obsolete!”

    1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      haha!

  2. Jalan Lee Avatar
    Jalan Lee

    A better question is when will the viewfinder on your mirrorless camera fade to the point of uselessness? I shoot everything from 8×10 collodion to film slr to dslr and mirrorless. None of my cameras is “obsolete” – they all produce images with various tradeoffs…

  3. CanonMinolta Avatar
    CanonMinolta

    When photographers stop caring about their photography
    So far, a DSLR will outperform a mirrorless
    The only advantage is that mirrorless has is that it is lighter weight
    The lenses for mirrorless are no where near what a DSLR uses

    1. Jolyon Ralph Avatar
      Jolyon Ralph

      Uh. I don’t think any of what you say is actually true.

      1. CanonMinolta Avatar
        CanonMinolta

        Hummm I don’t think you are correct

    2. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      It won’t outperform, but there won’t be a night and day difference.

    3. Paul LaNoue Avatar
      Paul LaNoue

      Canon and Nikon have a huge selection of DSLR lens that work flawlessly on their mirrorless cameras. Where mirrorless excels is speed of focus and tracking fast moving subjects. If you shoot landscape and fashion or subject that sits still a DSLR should be fine until it’s worn out.

      1. CanonMinolta Avatar
        CanonMinolta

        Not exactly flawlessly
        To work at all, you need an adapter to mount a DSLR lens on a mirrorless camera
        Or you can just buy a new lens made for the mirrorless camera

  4. Jolyon Ralph Avatar
    Jolyon Ralph

    Haven’t we had enough of these “why my DSLR is still better than your mirrorless” articles.

    Can’t everyone just be happy with what they’ve chosen without feeling the need to tell others loudly why their choice is right and ours is wrong?

    A DSLR will still take photos as well as it did when you bought it – at least until it falls apart. And then, there probably won’t be any more DSLRs to replace it because the rest of the world has moved on.

    1. Shachar Weis Avatar
      Shachar Weis

      Jolyon Ralph It’s clickbait content.

    2. Tomek Prokopiuk Avatar
      Tomek Prokopiuk

      He forgot or ommitted the K3 iii

  5. Mike Shwarts Avatar
    Mike Shwarts

    You can only answer the question if you define obsolete. As long as a camera produces what you want or what you need, then it isn’t obsolete by my definition.. Obsolete becomes subjective instead of objective.

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

      there is actually a definition of obsolete in the article

    2. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      yes, there is and it’s quite similar to what you mean.

  6. Fazal Majid Avatar
    Fazal Majid

    When did, not when will

    What new DSLRs were released lately? The Nikon D780 Is as much a swan song for the DSLR as the F6 was for the film SLR.

    1. moonshin Avatar
      moonshin

      the nikon d6 was released last year as was the canon 850d

    2. kobiemc Avatar
      kobiemc

      Pentax K-3 Mark III. Released at the end of April.

  7. DougWW Avatar
    DougWW

    You need a definition of obsolete. No further development? Sure that works.
    My point is obsolescence doesn’t matter to a photographer, or a builder, or a whatever. If your tools do the job you need done, then all is well. If not you need new tools.
    For the record I shoot mirrorless. Why? Because the cameras have the tools I need to do my job. They were (my opinion) the best I could afford to do what I need to do. Could they have been DSLRs? sure. Could they have been TSLRs? Or film SLRs? Or phones? Sure. As long as the result meets my needs.
    The IMAGE is what matters. The camera is only a tool to create that image.

  8. Robert M Avatar
    Robert M

    “unless the market demands it, there won’t be any new …”
    That is what any for profit company would say about anything.

    1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      yep

  9. Marco Gonçalves Avatar
    Marco Gonçalves

    It will become obsolete when the market cannot provide repairs, spare parts and the needed accessories like lenses, flashes and batteries. Until then, there’s no reason to put DSLR’s down.

    1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      Absolutely!

  10. Motivprogramm Avatar
    Motivprogramm

    You haven’t even mentioned PENTAX due to it’s size and market share but they’ve presented the latest newly developed DSLR this year and they did very much very well:

    Their optical viewfinder is designed as their core feature. Bright. Big. Almost perfect.

    But still they have the latest and probably best AOS-C-Sensor too. And all BT and Wifi connectivity, fast AF, scene recognition by machine learning and so on. No way a camera like that can be ‘obsolete’ in any near future… …as long as you’ll get support, supplies and repairs for it.

    Look at Leica. It’s technically ‘obsolete’ for not even having an AF. But is it really? Certainly not. For it’s unique and offers a way of photography no other brand does.

    1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      Pentax is a reasonable brand, however I rarely work with them, hence the no mention. Is their DSLR any good?

      1. Motivprogramm Avatar
        Motivprogramm

        It is. The new K-3 Mk. III is among the best APS-C-DSLR ever made, probably the best so far.

      2. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar
        Arthur_P_Dent

        And the beautiful thing with Pentax is that all its lenses work on its newest cameras. I’ve used Pentax for decades and I can use my vintage glass on a DSLR. I have to manually focus, but it’s a small price to pay for using good glass. And the screw mounts work if you get an adapter, which is a fraction of the cost people with other brands have to pay for new lenses every time the company comes out with a new line of bodies.

  11. Albin Avatar
    Albin

    The question seems to be defined in terms of a variety of customer demand for professionally shot images. I doubt images shot with DSLRs as compared with mirrorless will foreseeably become “obsolete” at all. The professional demand for new camera bodies is very likely to shrink to challenge profitability, and ultimately the willingness of editing software developers to support the plethora of proprietary RAW formats will end.

    My personal hunch is that eventually all serious multi-lens cameras are going to radically dump their primitive processors, RAM and 1980s desktop PC user interfaces in favor of Android or comparably standard operating system, with software optimized for that body and lens to manage all but extraordinary creative shooting situations. It’s ridiculous that lenses costing as much as any number of flagship cell phones don’t come with apps optimizing them for the cameras they’re fitted to. That gap between marvelous camera hardware with obsolete software and brilliant smartphone software with crummy lenses and sensors has to close, sooner than later.

  12. t.l Avatar
    t.l

    as a nature photographer i did had many mirror house problems. as much as i keep my gear, and i do, it get to be beaten or hit once in while. as i know event photography its the same. so no mirror means less problems for me.
    that said, i will not replace my gear till it will be no good. if u need to replace, u ho up. and I’m sure my gear will have a bayer when needed. not everyone have the big mony to spend.

  13. kobiemc Avatar
    kobiemc

    Just a correction to the article.
    DSLR’s are still being made. Pentax just released the K-3 Mark III and have stated they are staying commited to the DSLR experience.

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

      True. But Pentax was always doing their own thing :)

      1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
        Illya Ovchar

        haha!

      2. willdmo Avatar
        willdmo

        True, but not mentioning them in an article like this is bad, because of incomplete, journalism.

  14. Kaouthia Avatar
    Kaouthia

    “I think of “obsolete” as something that is no longer relevant in the commercial world.”

    I think of it as something that is no longer relevant to me. I don’t care about what other people think of them. As long as they keep giving me what I need, they’ll always be relevant to me. In fact, I’m waiting for their “death” to be firmly cemented so I can pick up a few cheap bargains on the used market for timelapse. :)

    1. Illya Ovchar Avatar
      Illya Ovchar

      I see where you’re coming from. The Mamiya RB67 is a great camera, but not too commercially relevant.

      1. Kaouthia Avatar
        Kaouthia

        The commercial world is only a teeny tiny percentage of one sector of the camera buying market, though. :)

        Also, I prefer the GX680III. ;)

  15. allenwrench Avatar
    allenwrench

    I seldom use DSLR any longer. I have a couple of them (a Canon and Nikon) They are both 24mp models and were roughly $1100 each for bodies. I use them exclusively for circular fisheye work as a Leica replacements for rough shooting in dangerous locales that may wreck the cameras or where things may get stolen.

    As used Leica 24mp cameras have dropped in price so much I just use them now and retired the DSLR for the most part, unless it is really trashy and I know the cams may get ruined.

    The DLSR is very bulky and does not mesh well with my shooting style. But the DSLR has its benefits over mirrorless in some shooting situations. This is how I like to roll when on the street…

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/864d45627fe518f82aae18e9206dceb1d5d9731ca88aa5fd71b654d10acf22f1.jpg

    This is a shot from one of the 24mp DSLR’s…candid
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/75566b47c73bf899b121958821e0a2844af65081239faa61c2508119ace9f97a.jpg

    This is a shot from a 42mp Sony mirrorless…candid (Fashion Shoot on Wall Street)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/138b55d1a675e5a3285fe14893c1562af2e929bd10e492a07895c066387e4ff7.jpg

    I prefer mirrorless due to size and stealth ability. Really, I wish they made a mini M4/3 with full manual controls like the Leica. Make it the size of the old Olympus half-frame film cams. Then you would have a great stealthy street cam! The M 4/3’s produce some great IQ for their size.

  16. jwpulliam9256 Avatar
    jwpulliam9256

    I will continue to use DSLRs for one simple reason. What I see through the viewfinder is optically accurate and not interpreted by electronics. I does go though a prism to get inverted but is still the actual scene that I am shooting. Astronomy is my other hobby and the same type of principles apply to their optics. I prefer optical accuracy and I haven’t seen any other methods to get it yet in the mirrorless cameras I have tried. They also seem to be over saturated and inaccurate.

  17. Coen Zondervan Avatar
    Coen Zondervan

    Regarding to buying equipment, we have a plan and a goal. The plan is replace gear like you replace a car. If you run a business you look at TCO and the life span you need and of course performance.
    It has to last let’s say 6 years and it still needs to hold some value when you sell it.
    The goal is that the new equipment really has to be a step forward in functions andor image quality. And not by a slight margin. A new body for example has to deliver better image quality or better performance in higher iso’s. I want to see the improvement, not believe it. No difference, where not interested. We also wait and see. We use Nikon. We reviewed the Z serie when introduced and where not impressed. And logic says that at some point a more D5 D6 alike model had to emerge. So we are skipping al Z models and start looking at the range again when the Z9 is here. You have to be practical and think in terms of performance and money. Does it get really better for what I’m about to pay. All together we have 5 body’s from different years and a range of glass. It would be a bad return on investment to just trade them in before they are around the end of the financial life span.

  18. Chuck Avatar
    Chuck

    If you were buying a new 35mm FF system from scratch, is there any compelling reason to get a DSLR?

  19. George Avatar
    George

    The first full frame, digital mirrorless camera was the Leica M9, the second was the M240 (that can be connected to an EVF finder). However, some would say rangefinders are completely obsolete.

    It will take a very long time before there’s an EVF finder to match and OVF, maybe never, judging by outlandish expensive latest military technology.

    In 2019 and 2020 it made more sense, for me to buy full frame DSLR’s. In 2021 I opted to test a Sony MIL FX camera, as there’s wider availability of pro used lenses at reasonable prices. It’s very compact system with right lenses, many lenses are really good, but looking trough EVF is not great.

    My next camera will probably be a DSLR (Pentax K-1 or K-1 II), because it’s great for landscapes, and will save you buying an expensive, huge and very heavy German Equatorial Mount. It also has many interesting lenses.

    Will probably get a Leica M camera at some point, but I don’t think that will continue buying EF lenses as Canon has abandoned the system.

    Nikon had recent DSLR’s as the D780 and D6. The D850 always sold well, it may have a successor too. They also introduced F lenses recently, like the 120-300mm 2.8E FL. They are focused on their Z-system, but I don’t think they will abandon the F-mount.

    The best would be a hybrid OVF/EVF camera that that can only be in a rangefinder (like the Leica M or the Fuji X100 and other Fuji cameras) or in a DSLR in the future. But an MIL camera will never have an OVF.

    Pentax made the right call, and I think that with Nikon they will keep selling and developing DSLR’s. There are no reasons why with the mirror up, the DSLR couldn’t do eye AF, if the image sensor is equipped with the same AF from the mirrorless system and the right software.

    The problem with the Sony A system is that it was never good enough vs the DSLR’s from Canon, Nikon or Pentax. Sony had nothing to lose going “all in” with the E/FE system.

    About Canon, I’m not sure they have a good strategy, tbh.

    For Nikon is critical their Z-system avoid being marginal, as most sells will be MIL cameras.

    However, DSLR’s will continue long term, with Pentax and Nikon. And Leica will, off course, continue with rangefinders.

  20. kenyaone Avatar
    kenyaone

    I like my Nikon D850. It works wonders for me. Feels good in the hand, I like it’s weight size and it’s balance with a super telephoto lens is fantastic. It’s fast, accurate and the quality of photos is beyond reproach. What will a mirrorless do for me that my D850 can’t? I see no reason to go for a mirrorless. None at all.