So where is this all going? A fair question for sure. Will mirrorless replace the DSLR? Once upon a time many thought film and digital could coexist. From a practical standpoint, I think we know how that turned out. Here’s what I think. For what its worth…
I think mirrorless is beginning to prove itself a worthy contender in the photography landscape. Sony has led the way so far, and the A9 has landed right in the middle of the DSLR party. The truth is that at some point, DSLRs will go away. No one will be using a DSLR 100 years from now. But will they be using one 25 years from now? 10 years? 5 years? At some point, something will come along and change the photography landscape, and mirrorless appears to be the first contender to try to be that technology.
Along the way however, some things will change, and that may remove one of the primary benefits of mirrorless technology. This is size and weight. It seems as though pros are especially committed to a full frame sensor. As a matter of geometry, this will increase the size and weight of both the camera and the lens you attach to it. Bigger sensor means a bigger (and heavier) camera. Bigger sensor also means a bigger square surface to cover with light from the lens. This means the lens must also be bigger (and heavier) to make an image circle large enough to cover that sensor completely with light. It appeared to me that many mirrorless manufacturers tried to sell pros on smaller sensors which results in smaller lighter cameras. Some pros may have jumped at this, but the internet seems loaded with “pros” and “joes” just waiting for a full frame mirrorless sensor. Sony did it, and has won awards (and sales) aplenty for the effort. Now everyone is sitting back waiting for Nikon and Canon to do the same. The rumor sites seem to point to a release within the year.
Another problem that may stall mirrorless is the lens conversion issue. If you own DSLR lenses, you can’t use them on mirrorless without an adapter. Here’s where the physics of light gets in the way. Basically DSLRs have a big flapping mirror in them that swings up and down. The lens needs to get out of its way, so there is a big space between the back end of the lens and the sensor. The lens is designed to assure that the light passing through the lens falls into focus on the sensor after passing through this open space. This open space is called flange distance, and because mirrorless cameras don’t have mirrors (hence the name) the flange distance is significantly smaller. This smaller flange distance allows a mirrorless camera to be thinner and more compact, but it also means you cant put a DSLR lens on it without an adapter. That’s because with the shorter flange distance, the light hasn’t come into focus yet when it reaches the sensor of a mirrorless camera using a DSLR lens. Therefore you need an adapter or new lenses. That’s bad news and ultimately expensive news for a potential Mirrorless owner with $1000’s invested in DSLR lenses, because say what you will about lens adapters, most agree, they are nobody’s friend.
Well, this post went way long and I’m sorry about that. I hope these last few posts have helped increase your understanding on mirrorless vs DSLR. If you’re planning a purchase, I hope this will help you make a better, more informed decision. After all, none of these cameras are cheap. Looking down the road for the long haul, there are more questions than answers on how to best spend your money right now. I’ll admit to being a gear monger wanna be, but I’m also pretty cheap, with a kid in college and mortgage to pay. I want to make good informed decisions, and not break the bank at the end of the day. So I’ll wait a bit before I buy my next camera and see where the dust settles on this one.
Please enjoy another image I’ve taken with my mirrorless camera. These two Ponderosa Pines rose above all their surroundings at Black Horse Canyon in New Mexico. It had been a long day of hiking, and these trees made an incredible sound as the breeze blew through them. I was sleeping in a matter of minutes listening to them, even with that bright full moon. All the best to you.