Friday, December 4, 2009

The SLR Market and Photography Part 3

The Last Fruit of Summer

Yesterday, I ended my post talking about the future of entry level, and consumer level DSLRs. I'm going to post a few more thoughts on that level of cameras, and why I think they will be replaced by mirrorless cameras in the not so distant future. After I've finished that part of my look at the SLR market, I will my attention to what these possible shifts will mean for photographers, with the focus being on amateurs.

The SLR Market and Photography Part 3

Consumers are the primary buyers of cameras, and because of that the camera makers have to design and build cameras that are not just easy for them to use, but also cameras that are appealing in terms of look and overall quality of images that can be produced, all without the camera costing an arm and leg. If you look at the most popular cameras being sold today, and in the recent past, they were the budget entry level, to mid-range cameras, like the Nikon D40, the Canon Rebel XSi and such bodies, both of which came with 18-55mm kit lenses. With those cameras being the top sellers, camera makers have to look at what made those cameras successful. If the people that I know who own those camera bodies are any indication, the reasons are simple, price and weight. The buyers wanted a quality camera, that could produce high quality images, while avoiding the high cost and heft of semi-pro cameras.

So, why do I think mirrorless cameras will take over this entry level, to mid-range consumer level camera sector? The same reasons I gave above, price, weight and improvements in image quality over compact cameras. Right now the price of such mirrorless cameras is far to high, but the amount of interest the Olympus E-P1 / E-P2 and the Panasonic DMC-GF1 have recieved tells us that this area of camera market is not only going to be popular, but also offer lighter weight, compact cameras, with quality image output that consumers want. When the price of mirrorless 4/3s cameras get down to the price point of the D3000, E-450, Rebel XS, we could easily see a shift in what consumers buy. The question is, will Canon and Nikon enter this market any time soon, and if/when they do, will they stick with 1.5x/1.6x sized sensors, or something smaller? If they did, what would that mean for lenses? Would they make newer lighter lenses, or just offer bodies with updated versions of their current 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lenses?

So does the growth of mirrorless cameras in the near future mean we will see a shift in how photographers work? Maybe, right now many pro photographers keep a smaller DSLR, like a Nikon D40 or a Rebel XS (1000D) as a camera to carry when they don't want to lug around their pro gear. Will these pro photographers move towards getting the even smaller and lighter mirrorless cameras, I think that it is likely. I doubt a pro would use such a camera as a primary camera mind you, because the cameras would likely not have the build quality and weather resistance of the likes of the Nikon D3s or Canon 1D Mk IV. Not to mention the difference in resolution between current pro cameras and consumer cameras, which can be important for some pro shooters.

So, what about the future of the DSLR market, for cameras like we see today? I do not see a mirrorless version of the Nikon Dx or Canon 1D line in the near future. I say that because pro photographers have a lot of money tied down in these types of cameras and lenses for them. Remove the mirror box and they would need new lenses, or at the very least at least some crazy adapters for their current lenses. There will always be advantages to the mirror based SLR, in that a mirrored camera does not have the constant draw on the battery, that an electronic viewfinder does. Until such a time that the EVF does not draw very much power, while offering the speed and clarity in all weather and lighting conditions, the optical viewfinder will remain king for pro shooters. As for me, I think I'll be sticking with modern DSLR cameras for the time being. I would not mind having a mirrorless camera, with improved image quality to replace my E-410 though, as having a camera I could throw in my jacket pocket, with decent image quality in lower light would be nice.

I think that is enough about cameras for now, I might come back to these thoughts more down the road though.