The Future of DSLRs in a Mirrorless Dominated Market

A Fuji mirrorless camera next to a Nikon DSLR.

The introduction of Nikon’s D6 camera has sparked a significant debate across the Internet, adding fuel to the ongoing comparison between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. However, instead of making predictions about the distant future, this article focuses on the current state of affairs and the foreseeable trends in the next few years.

The DSLR market is facing threats from various directions. On one front, smartphones have already captured a significant portion of the entry-level DSLR sales. Nasim has written a detailed article on this topic, highlighting the impact of smartphones on the market.

On another front, many videographers have already transitioned to mirrorless cameras due to their seamless autofocus capabilities, electronic viewfinders, and often more advanced video features.

While landscape and portrait photographers are adopting mirrorless technology at a slightly slower pace, the shift is certainly happening. The availability of high-quality lightweight lenses, which are ideal for landscapes, and the seamless eye autofocus (Eye-AF) functionality found in many mirrorless cameras, which greatly benefits portrait photography, are among the driving factors for this transition. Additionally, the ability to adapt lenses, coupled with features like in-viewfinder focus peaking and magnification, breathe new life into older manual focus lenses.

With the DSLR market seemingly losing ground, the question arises: Who will stick with these “old reliable” cameras the longest?

A Fuji mirrorless camera next to a Nikon DSLR.

The Sports/Action/Wildlife Photographer

The answer lies in photographers who shoot in fast-paced action particularly wildlife and sports shooters. In this particular market I think DSLRs are not only going to keep their existing customers, but will also welcome new customers to their community at a minimum for the next 3 to 5 years. This is exactly the reason behind the entire debate that has followed announcement of the D6 announcement.

In the moment I shoot wildlife using an Nikon D750 coupled with the Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens. Given that there are limitations to the 200-500’s the speed of AF, I am not even considering placing it on top of a FTZ adapter. There will not be any changes in the accuracy of AF, however I am sure there is a possibility of a longer delay, and possibly worse tracking capabilities. I’d be the last person to sluggish an already quite slow for birds flying or other unpredictability.

A hawk captured in flight with the Nikon D750 DSLR
Nikon D750 + Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6

This isn’t even talking about the mechanical aspect of things. I know a person who has an Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens extensively and has two-way teleconverters. He wouldn’t mount the 300mm f/2.8 on a teleconverter 2x, that is then attached to the FTZ adapter. This is a plethora of failing points, even over the slower autofocus issues I mentioned earlier.

Why Action Photographers Will Stick to DSLRs – at Least for a While

Even if mirrorless cameras offered significant enhancements to motion photography – and I’m not convinced that they are at present wildlife and sports photographers will likely to stay with DSLRs for a long time.

What is the reason? Simple. They have the highest-priced of lenses, and are investing heavily into their DSLR system already. Consider their Sony A9, the best full-frame mirrorless camera in the market for photographers who shoot sports. Sony has been on the market for mirrorless cameras longer than other brands in the last 5 years. What number of wildlife lenses does Sony has today? Two zooms (100-400 and 200-600) and two primes (400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4). This isn’t bad however the options available to Nikon as well as Canon DSLR shooters are simply much more extensive.

When we look at the roadmaps for the future and lenses that are rumored to be coming out to be developed for Nikon as well as Canon mirrorless cameras, we don’t notice a distinct trend. At present, the cameras with the most range of zoom lenses are DSLRs.

Personally I’m an avid Nikon photographer. until the day that Z-Mount’s native telephoto lenses are equal to or perhaps surpass F-Mount equivalents, I’m likely to change. I’m sure many others have been in this situation, and that will suffice to stop the end of DSLRs. In the present when I’m an animal or sports photographer, I’d rather to purchase the D850 instead of Z7 every time.

This tiger photograph shows one of the benefits of DSLRs: good autofocus tracking capabilities.
NIKON D7000 & Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G VR @ 300mm, ISO 1000, 1/400, f/5.6

There are many other advantages to lenses there are other benefits to lenses, too. For shooters who are interested in wildlife or sports the speed of autofocus and tracking capabilities are more important than the actual quality of the lens. Mirrorless cameras are getting better in this respect however they aren’t quite the same level as DSLRs at the same cost.

In addition for wildlife photographers and sports photographers, the smaller and lighter bodies in a mirrorless camera can be a problem. Many wildlife photographers opt for batteries grips to offset with the weights of heavy front lenses. It’s not a secret the fact that using a D5 or D850 equipped with the battery grip feels more balanced when using 600mm primes compared to something similar to the Z7.

It is true that the Nikon D4, D5 and the Canon 1DX bodies are also constructed like tanks. This is because cameras that is used by professional sports photographers often will be subject to lots of abuse and this is the case for numerous wildlife photographers. Do today’s modern mirrorless systems (not only the cameras but the lenses too) endure such a heavy amount of abuse? To me, it remains a debate.

DSLRs will remain popular for sports and wildlife photography for a long time, thanks in part to their autofocus systems. This photo of a deer shows a situation where DSLRs have a distinct advantage over mirrorless.
NIKON D750 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/4000, f/8.0

There are other small benefits as well. Wildlife photographers must dismount their lenses often when they are out in the field in order to remove or add the teleconverter, or to simply switch lenses. In areas with dust it’s beneficial to have the mirror of a DSLR to protect the sensor at the very least, at an appropriate amount. However, this isn’t the case for mirrorless cameras (though it’s the case with mirrorless cameras, such as Canon EOS R, with its shutter curtain that auto-closing, indicates that the camera makers are at least aware of this being an issue that could arise).

The last but not least, AF performance. I’m certain that Nikon’s Z-system, as well as Canon’s RP and R systems will require at the very least a couple of years before they reach the level that Sony’s A7RIV and the A9 are now. As of today, we can say that AF for 1DX and the D5 D5 as well as the 1DX can be described as among the top available, and definitely Nikon and Canon’s top. This is one reason I’m certain there will be a large number of users purchasing the D6 as it will definitely have better AF capabilities than D5 and 1DX, not to mention the Z cameras that have been launched to date. It’s true that the D6 is on the top of the professional market however, its autofocus features will likely transfer into the Nikon DSLRs more than mirrorless cameras as time goes on.

The Ecosystem Problem

There’s a reason Nikon has maintained the F mount in use for more than 60 years now. Many professional Nikon photographers own a plethora of F mount lenses. Until they are convinced that a new system is superior and more efficient, they’re unlikely to change their current setup. I’m not saying that people will stay with DSLRs for eternity, but the majority of us need to give it an honest and thoughtful process before making the leap.

Even if the day arrives when mirrorless cameras will have the same number of supertelephotos I don’t believe DSLRs will cease to exist. Photographers will not just discard their F-Mount lens or let them gather dust. They’ll sell them and, as time passes they’ll sell them at a lower price. The result will be that enthusiasts are going for these lenses. A lot of them will likely purchase brand new DSLR bodies to match the lenses. As the market for mirrorless cameras expands, that doesn’t mean that the DSLR ecosystem should shrink in proportion.

Will DSLRs Face the Same Fate as Film?

In the days of film when film was popular, the cost of the simple process of obtaining a proof of your photos was expensive. Digital, and everything associated costs was a major leap. The term “exponential” is not the same as linear.

The difference in between DSLR and Mirrorless isn’t that big in the sense that it is in the present. While the “DSLRs are advancing the same way of film” statement could be, it’s not an accurate comparison. Yes, it’s true that mirrorless technology is gaining ground and is going to take much longer for DSLRs to cease to exist and for the 99% of professional photographers to change as it did with film.


This article was never meant to be an DSLR Versus Mirrorless comparison, as we already have a lengthy and thorough article on the subject about Photography Life already. The goal the purpose of this post is to provide an overview of where things are at the moment in time, and also to argue that a solution for the inquiry “Is DSLR the DSLR Market Dead Already” is not simply yes however, it could be expanding in specific areas of photography, such as wildlife and sports.

What do you think about this? You can use the comments section below to discuss your thoughts.