If it ain’t dead, don’t kill it.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
AS I WRITE THIS, THE WORLDWIDE CAMERA MARKET IS UNDERGOING THE KIND OF SPASM that always presages either the introduction of a new format or the imminent demise of an existing one. In this case, we are seeing the accelerating death of the DSLR platform as it is being edged out by mirrorless models. The transition from the former format to the latter has been underway for about ten years, but at a fairly leisurely pace, with both legions of adherents billeted in separate but fairly non-contentious camps. That, however is finally coming to a head, in what I see to be an ugly trend.
And it’s all happening because the camera companies want it that way.
The single-lens reflex camera has been the global standard for serious photography for two generations now, and, if you ask its users, that tradition could go on for another two generations and they would regard that as just fine, thank you very much. However, the manufacturers want it gone, and, since that’s happening too slowly to suit them, it’s time, in their estimation, for a little nudge to speed the platform’s demise. Mirrorless cameras are in some ways an amazing advance, and I speak here as a recent convert to them after years of DLSR devotion. However, part of my “seeing the light” is due to my also seeing the handwriting on the wall, as Nikon, Canon and others are simply abandoning the DSLR format: first, by withdrawing more and more models from their product line, and then by slowing and eventually halting the introduction of any new models, especially entry-level ones, onto the market. Time marches on, of course, and old tech is always being obviated by the new, but usually with the eager approval of the consumer, who recognizes the value of the latest and the next and demands it. However, in this case, I believe that the DSLR’s fan base is not jumping: it’s being pushed.
Or, to address the manufacturers in a reverse of the old breakup cliche: it’s not us, it’s you.
Scanning scads of sites and chat forums, I simply do not see a global urge for the DSLR to be summarily discontinued. Certainly, there is plenty of enthusiasm out there for mirrorless, but many people either believe the new systems are either too expensive or too limited in lens choice or both, and many others would be just as content to replace their aging DSLRs with newer ones, if they could be sure that the format would continue to be supported by the manufacturers. And there is a very present fear that the market will be dominated by mirrorless simply because the companies want it that way.
To be clear: I am no Luddite. I believe it is beyond foolish to stand in the way of true progress, and I welcome technical advances that truly work to extend an artist’s reach or speed his progression. New photographic formats can do this. But there is also a lot to be said about being able to make pictures with the tools that work best for you. Tech should serve, not dictate, the terms of artistic engagement. It’s about the painter, not the latest brush. In the case of the rapidly advancing end for DSLR’s, the Big Makers are choosing their own expediency over the desires of their customers. That doesn’t feel like a natural death for the format. More like a murder.