DSLR (digital single lens reflex) photografy is dead. Here's why.



I've noticed, when i talk to people who aren't into photography that there's still that standard, that "DSLR cameras are the high end of photography", which certainly was true in the past but is not true anymore. in a strange twist in the history of technology, they have become inferior to a technology that is technically older: Digital Cameras. Here i wanna go into the differences and variants of Contemporary cameras as well as into the reasons for this paradigm shift


So most of you will probably remember SLR cameras. they are vintage analog technology that in it's later stages got some electric and even digital enhancments. SLR means Single Lens Reflex which decribes the fact that you can see the image you are going to take through the exact lense that you will take it through.

The latest SLR Cameras look and function basically identical to the Digital variants
The latest SLR Cameras look and function basically identical to the Digital variants

As you can See in the image, behind the lense, there is a mirror that reflects the image that comes through the lense up through a mirror and a prism behind the viewfinder into your eye. the second you take a picture, the mirror flips out of the way and the film is esposed to light which makes the picture. the DSLRs work exactly the same, except in place of an analogue film, there's a digital sensor that takes the image. the rest of the tech is mostly identical, even up to the lenses. the last analogue Canon and Nikon cameras for example had the same lens mount as the first digital ones.

At the same time, there were alternatives like Range finder cameras where you only had a framing preview sometimes just by a square hole in the camera body, sometimes through a tiny extra lens as you see in the top right in the following image:

the Laica "M" series is Probably the most famous rangefinder camera
the Laica "M" series is Probably the most famous rangefinder camera

then there were twin lens reflex cameras, that had two identical lenses, one you could see the frame through and one the photo was taken through.

Probably the most iconic twin lens reflex
Probably the most iconic twin lens reflex

Those died out fairly quickly tho, as interchangable lens systems that got popular would require you to buy 2 lenses each time and what non photographers may not realize is: the lense is (except in case of cheap, low quality lenses) actually more expensive than the actual camera body.

Digital Cameras

One of the first somewhat serious digital cameras
One of the first somewhat serious digital cameras

of course DSLR are also "digital cameras" though they historically existed way later than the first digital cameras. that has one simple reason: image quality. the first "serious" digital cameras that weren't just stupid novelty items (or the first smartphone cameras) had resolutions of around 1024x768 pixels (below 1 megapixel) and even lower than that. Meanwhile the physical molecules that make analogue film work would roughly translate to around 19 megapixels in digital photography. that made analogue film way better than digital photography for a long time.

Digital System Cameras

Some also call them "dslm" for digital single lens "mirrorless", which i personally find stupid, cause the first digital cameras were also mirrorless, so that does not help distinguishing them from those cameras. To me, the distinquishing factor is an interchangable lens system via bayonett with digital contact pins, which the first digital cameras and modern "digital cameras" (of which your phone technically is one) do not have. Though digital system cameras are technically mostly identical to the DSLR cameras except they do not have the mirror flipping and prism system (and another difference which i will go into later). instead the sensor is just read out digitally and the picture in the view finder is not "you looking through the lens" but you looking at a tiny digital high resolution screen that is showing you what the sensor sees through the lens.

As you can see, there is nothing in between the sensor and the lens in digital system cameras
As you can see, there is nothing in between the sensor and the lens in digital system cameras

The Paradigm shift

So why did the older technology suddenly become the modern standard in digital photography? 2 reasons:

  • Autofocus capability
  • Battery capacity

First off, reading out the sensor and running a screen is battery intensive. first digital cameras wouldn't run for long on a charge, cause the technology was not very energy efficient and the battery technology was not good enough at the time to deliver adequate run times for digital cameras. A DSLR does not need power to show you the image through the viewfinder. it only needs power in the split second that it needs to take the image.

The other distinguishing Factor between DSRL and Digital System Cameras is the focus sensor. in the bottom of DSLR cameras, there is actually a separate sensor with the only purpose of finding focus. it exploits physical properties of light to figure out if the contrasting edges of a particular point are in focus or not and can very efficiently adjust the focus, which digital cameras were not as good at for the longest time.

Sony was the one who single handedly caused the revolution in the digital camera world. At a point, Canon and Nikon basically dominated the camera market with no other significant competition. That lead to them slacking on innovation for years and years to come.

Meanwhile Sony invested heavily in better digital photography. Their mirrorless sony alpha series started out slightly wonky but competitive and quickly silently overtook Canon and Nikon, which the photography world did not even take note of till much later. in 2016, Canon and Nikon were actually 4 or more years behind in development compared to sony. and they barely managed to catch up today in 2021.

Digital computing got to a point where it was as quick or quicker in finding the focus digitally than those old sensors who relied on the physical properties of light, making those completely obsolete, as you could just integrate their function into the main sensor.

Also modern phones are so good, that in the most daily use of amateur photos, you won't even see the difference between a Professional camera and a phone camera due to digital quality reduction in applications like whatsapp, facebook and instagram. that's a large part of the reason, why the camera industry started to die and helped sony get an edge over the established giants.

Strengths and weaknesses

i wanna close this by showing advantages and disadvantages that each has over the other to show how obsolete DSLRs will become soon.

DSLR Strength:

  • Low battery Consumption

DSLR Weakness:

  • heavy and bulky; tough to travel with, hard to hold for longer times, if you're weak
  • The image you get is not what you see through the viewfinder, which some older professionals will scoff at, as in analog, you needed "skill", cause you didn't get to see what the image looked like till after it got developed, which may be weeks after you took the picture. It was expensive, so taking a picture was more of a science than just "messing with settings till you get what you want"... However i say that's just an unneccessary inconvenience and that skill can be acquired anyway if you choose to do so.
  • Longevity: The mechanics in a DSLR are more prone for wear. they will survive roughly 150.000 pictures on average.

Digital System Cameras Strength:

  • Lighter camera body
  • Smaller flange distance (distance between the sensor and the point where the lense ends) = Lighter Lenses + nearly infinitely adaptable for vintage lenses.
  • What you see is what you get: the Viewfinder shows you exactly what your image is gonna look like with the current settings you have.
  • Less camera shake: the mirror physically flipping up in DSLR cameras actually introduces camera shake which can become a problem in certain situations. (it can be circumvented but sill).
  • Better Lenses: the small flange distance makes engineering excelent lenses way easier.
  • There are less mechanics involved. so Digital System Cameras survive around 300.000 pictures on average.
  • Cheaper to produce
  • Since they have more computing power than DSLRs, computational photography will amplify their capability in the future as it does now with phones.

Digital System Cameras Weakness:

  • High battery consumption which is mostly compensated by new battery technology and more efficient electronics
  • their compact size sometimes comes at the cost of good ergonomics.
DSLR (digital single lens reflex) photografy is dead. Here's why.
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Most Helpful Guys

  • MrOracle

    It's definitely true that "mirrorless" cameras are being taken seriously, finally, as successors to DSLRs. The fact is that they've been so for at least 5 years, but photography is a very conservative hobby - people tend to not like a lot of change, and those with decades of SLR experience just "knew" that SLR/DSLR was "the way to go". Except SLR existed because of the needs of film, and DSLR existed because it was an adaption of analog SLR and because of battery life - NOT because it was the best way to go per se.

    But the advantages of modern mirrorless systems are just too big to ignore anymore. You lose nothing at all in quality or features, but you safe space, weight, and cost, and these cameras are also much better at shooting video, since video cameras have always been mirrorless - and shooting video is actually a common duty for "DSLR"-type cameras today, because you can invest in a single set of lenses for both still and video work, which is in itself a significant savings if you need to do both.

    Canon and Nikon have trimmed their DSLR offerings and are adding more mirrorless options this year, and this trend is expected to continue. DSLRs will still be offered for a few more years, because, as I said, the wheels turn slowly in the photography world and many are very reluctant to change, but I'd be shocked if you can buy a new DSLR a decade from now - mirrorless will have completely taken over the market before then.

    Is this still revelant?
    • Dslr was the best way to go for quite a time, cause processing power and digital display technology wasn't quite there yet.

  • Likes2drive

    You sure know a lot about cameras and I understood just about everything since I was in into photography for years and still have a lot of old cameras and even my Polaroid camera that I bought new almost 40 years ago

    Is this still revelant?
    • thanks :D i use a newer digital system camera but with lenses from the 60s-80s. i only recently dabbled into analogue cause a lens i bought came with a body xD it's such a hassle

    • It’s interesting all the improvements on cameras in the last hundred years

    • Yeah, specially if you look at recent documentaries like earth at night. Shocking how much light those new sensors can catch without screaming with noise.

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • ODC2112

    I have been using a DSLR for 3 years and have been using a mirrorelss system for five years until now. The camera market is now saturated. So there will be no big news in the future. Those who use reflex cameras do so because they are basically a moving mirror fetishist. There is a different feeling in using a reflex than a mirrorless. But it will remain a niche market probably occupied only by Pentax, the only brand that will continue to produce reflex cameras.
    Different scenarios open up on the mirrorless market. On the one hand, there is a huge disadvantage of MLs in using FF lenses. In this way, great weight loss benefits are lost compared to Reflex. Because what weighs is the goal more than the body. The Mirrorless in itself are born for sensors different from those that are now used, the Micro Four Thirds sensors that remain a niche format. However they are the ones that reflect the only mirrorless philosophy.
    The market will shrink further in the coming years. Also because people have gotten used to shitty photographs made with smartphones that completely deform the face and now they are starting to say that they are beautiful.
    Furthermore, there will be a very strong push towards computational photography which will cause the larger sensors to lose their weight in the market.

  • erandal

    When I first saw this post I though you might be going off on a half-arsed attempt as to say why cameras on phones are as good as a professional DSLR but thankfully that wasn't the case and it was a well written comparison article for which I thank you.

    You have reminded me that I really should be looking at replacing my old Canon DSLR with something more modern although I still love to use my old film SLR at times.

    • Thank you :) i appreciate it.

      Yeah if you give an amateur a camera, they will not be able to shoot better pictures than with their phone right away. But there's still a huge distance between pro camera and phone. Ai does a lot to compensate but the physical properties of light and tiny lenses/sensors don't work well together.

  • allaboutyou2

    I'm not sure who thinks that they are high end, they are popular because they are easy to use with decent results.

    Like 1 Person
    • lot's of people i privately talked to. but they don't even know what "dslr" means. they use the word like "camera" xD

    • I'm old school from when there were SLR before digital. They are simple to use because what you see in the view finder is exactly what you capture in the picture.

    • well actually no. you have to dial in the settings precisely to get what you see with SLRs. if you fuck up really bad, you can get a completely black or completely white picture xD

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  • exitseven

    Thsnk you for the informative MyTake.. I use a 20 year old Sony digital camera. This uses a rear display. It was pretty expensive when i bought it but it still works great. Digital photography is analogous to digital music. Years ago analog music on vinyl and open reel tape were the standard and you could spend thousands on amplifiers, tuners and turntables. It really did make a difference in the sound depending on how much you spent. Now with CD's and MP3 files You can get good results with an inexpensive playback device. Same is true for cameras. A smart phone will yield good results.

  • Anonymous

    Can many people make good or decent money as a photographer anymore or is it mostly dead as a career for most people

    • We're in the transition phase. You can still use DSLR professionally but there are not gonna be "new models". "Dead" was a bit exaggerated for effect. I mean people still use analog photography and that has been dead for probably decades.