Will the DSLR die? Will small cameras rule the world?

   (edit: for people who don't know the basic history of digital cameras:  The camera above is not a film camera, it is a digital camera from Kodak that was marketed in 2001-2002 and was one of the first "affordable" interchangeable lens digital SLR's to offer a whopping 6 megapixels. About $7,000 on introduction.)

I've just read several blogs wherein the writers pose this very question and then take the middle of the road argument that, "there's room in the camera cosmos for everyone..."  Which is a nice way of side-stepping the intellectual honesty of actually taking a stand, but might just be the wrong answer.

Not to enrage the creationists of photography who feel that all cameras are locked into whatever form they exist in now by some edict,  I'd like to make the case that, in order to survive, today's big, hungry and macho DSLRs will evolve by co-opting the best features of their current predators and keeping the goofy and lovable features that marketers think we all want...

I think that much of what we accept as necessary in a "professional digital single lens reflex camera" is there via precedent, vestigialism and ritual.  Most of the voodoo of bigger SLR's is based on what we needed in the early days of digital.

Consider this, in 2002 if you wanted a camera to shoot with professionally at six megapixels (or thereabouts), with the capability of changing lenses (itself partially a conceit from the primitive film days...) and the throughput or frame rate to follow even rudimentary action (buffer), you had very, very few choices.  In fact, you had the Nikon D1x and the Kodak DCS760.  Both were large body styles.  You had to be happy with a large body style because no one had anything else on offer with the same features.  Really.  So, marketers presumed in their "looking forward calculus" that, since the big bodies were selling well (remember, they were the only form factor widely available with the feature sets needed) consumers must like the big bodies and therefore it was good marketing to offer more big bodies in the future.  No matter that the cameras were widely considered to be too heavy and too unwieldy to be comfortable...especially for most woman and men with smaller hands...

It's kind of like being GM in the 1960's and presuming that everyone needed a big, V8 motor because you built lots of big V8 motors and put them in most of your cars and people bought the cars, ergo they must want big V8 motors.  And would never change.

I look at the Kodak DCS 760 as one of the seminal, professional, digital cameras because, well, Kodak (using big Nikon bodies and making them even bigger) was there first.  And since some of them sold well their competitors, not wanting to take chances, followed suit.  I think the first few generations of Kodak digital behemoth cameras were big not because the engineers wanted them to be but because nearly every part, including the electronics, was made by hand and breadboarded circuits take up a lot more space than VLSIs.  I also think the engineers were constrained to use a certain body size in order to accomodate the enormous (relative to today's technology) primitive batteries and the large sized industry standard connectors of the day.  Not to mention the big, dual slots required for PCMCIA memory constructs.

So, in early big camera engineering form indeed followed function.  Now form follows convention.  Form is following history.  Form is part of marketing that plays on a nostalgia for the past in the field of cameras, to the detriment of your pocket book.

My Kodak DCS760 batteries weigh more than my entire Panasonic G3.  One PCMCIA hard drive is bigger than the biggest LCD screen on my best camera. And yet those cameras didn't shoot faster than my current consumer cameras, didn't have as big buffers, don't have the same resolutions and on and on.

I fully believe that Canon and Nikon could both make a camera with the same capabilities as their D3's, D4's and 1DX's, etc. that are much smaller than the ones they currently make, without making any engineering sacrifices.  Same waterproofing, same basic handling and the same performance but they choose to make them big to connote their level of professionalism.  Size is now analogous to the fins on a sedan or raw horsepower.  Making the cameras bigger and heavier adds to the weight and the cost but not to the usability for most buyers.

In the ten years since the introduction of the big professional digital cameras the top models have remained the same size and weight even as technology has advanced considerably in every metric.  The batteries have ten times the capacity of the early ones (measuring in shutter actuations).  They weigh less than half of their predecessors.  SD cards hold hundreds of times more files and write them thousands of times more quickly than their predecessors. And the engineers have had a decade to leverage the efficiencies of scale for processors, shutter mechanisms, etc.  So why do people still think they need to tote a brick to be taken seriously?

Well, as I said above, I think we're about to see the big dinosaurs evolve instead of just capitulating and becoming instantaneously extinct.  If the camera makers are smart they'll make "smaller" a new luxury feature (as Pentax did with their LX system back in the days of film...).  You're already seeing that in coveted cameras like the Fuji X1-Pro.

The next step (look to Sony)  will be for Canon and Nikon to "reinvent" the finder.  They'll move to EVFs but they'll rename the EVF and make it a professional feature.  A "must have" for pros who need to see all the information.  How will they sell it?  With fear and uncertainty.  You'll hear over and over again that all still photography is  nearly dead (and it might nearly be for commercial applications) and that you MUST be shooting video and "we're putting this EVF here to help  you be successful!!!!!"  And, they'll create (make up) some new feature set that can be construed to be even better than seeing stuff through an "outdated" OVF.  You watch them.  When they tip the point for sports shooters the marketing will go into overdrive and no one will ever want to go back to the "bad old days" of glass pentaprisms ever again.  Not because 99% of buyers need what sports photographers profess to need but because halo advertising works...

The next thing to go will be the mirror.  No need for a mirror if you're looking at the image directly as it appears to the sensor.  Right?  But again, it will be couched as an advantage because of "high speed performance" metrics.  Faster and more reliable.  Who doesn't want that?  Nikon has already mastered the focusing issues in their lowly V system.  They'll roll it up (as they always do) into their pro-sumer and then pro cameras just as quickly as they think you're ready for it....from a marketing point of view.

In a short time we'll have a professional, weather-sealed, mirrorless, EVF'd live view camera with a full frame sensor and a whole raft of new marketing "miracles."  How about this information that lens designers have known for decades? :  The shorter the flange to film plane distance the easier it is to design higher performance lenses.   And it's true.  The moving mirror made/makes for many optical and mechanical compromises.  Another linchpin for marketing.

Think it will never, never happen?  Look to the moving picture industry where real money changes hands.  Real directors and their directors of photography (DP's)  have abandoned the moving shutter, moving film cameras of just a decade ago to embrace (now 50% or more of all new movie production) digital video cameras with EVF's and direct-to-sensor technology.

So, the process will look more like evolution.  It might start with a lowly Canon Rebel Eyeview.  That camera will use an EVF because it's cheaper to build and looks bigger and better than the current tunnel vision optical finders on entry level cameras.  The consumer sees a bigger image.  And it's brighter!  And the camera is lighter! And it's a little smaller so it fits in a purse or a man bag.  And the marketing...

A giant campaign.  NOW YOU DON'T NEED  SEPARATE CAMERAS FOR VIDEO AND PHOTOS.  THIS ONE CAN DO IT ALL!!!!! Make a movie, shot an ad.  And the ads will extol being able to see what you get, before you even get it.  Once the great mass of the market speaks with their Visa cards the prosumer market will follow.  And when people embrace the new products the pro stuff will come out at the next big sports event (Formula One?  World Cup? The Superbowl?) with tremendous and heartfelt testimonials from a whole new generation of content creators, who will gush about being able to follow action at 15fps with no vibration, while seeing a perfect image and never loosing an opportunity because of the ability to pre-chimp!

Blogging photographers are just as susceptible to nostalgia and tradition as everyone else.  We grew up with a certain form factor and we're well acculturated to believe it's the holy grail of camera designs.  But we actually exist in a giant swirling cosmos of alternate designs that are presaged on the evolution of technology as well as consumer taste.  When the vast majority of buyers used point and shoot cameras as their daily recorders of events and milestones the DSLR was seen as the "step up" to professional quality.  Working photographers knew that the medium format cameras were the magic beans.  Now the vast, vast majority of people who snap photographs do so with cellphones. Even for rudimentary business use.  Their perception of stepping up, big time, in quality is to step up to a 16 megapixel camera with interchangeable lenses. (the interchange of lenses being the driving metric...).  And now the momentum goes to the mirrorless sector.

And, ultimately, we have to look at our societal shift for every image's final destination.  The prevailing use is also fundamental in determining the form.  (Form still follows function).  If the end destination is a screen, even a high res screen, then ultimate image quality is no longer the marketing driver.  If photography is becoming relentlessly homogenized then sophistication of the instruments takes a back seat to convenience and functionality.  That means using equipment that's easier to handle and easier to shoot with.  It also means that fast access to the web trumps ultimates in image size and resolution.s

As the number of full time professional photographers relentlessly shrinks more and more photography will be that of opportunity.  And I think you'll agree that opportunity favors those who have A camera with them over those who own incredible stuff that requires multiple sherpas for transport.

Finally, there really is a melding of video and still photography in the image making of generations under us. My readers and I represent generations that straddled the shift between film and digital.  Most of us (not all, I get that) had opened up the back of a film camera and dropped in a roll of something and made sure the film was progressing through our cameras as we shot.  But we also were there for the birth of widespread digital and if we are honest with ourselves we can see the thread of yet another change that is all about the rejection of a useful but used up paradigm of "Big, Expensive, Complex" that is being replaced by a new paradigm of "Small, Agile, Useful, Egalitarian."  Especially if the quality is maintained at a constant.

If you really think that we'll never de-embrace from big, OVF, professional DSLRs try a bit of introspection and after some painful probing you might find that it's the mastery of past camera and photography traditions and the growing irrelevance of those mastered traditions that causes us to emotionally reject the inevitable evolution.

Finally,  I don't want to get side tracked by sensor arguments. I've written a lot here but I am NOT making the argument that we all will be using smaller sensor cameras.  Not at all.  Sensor size is a whole other issue and one that still speaks to aesthetic elements of the differentials.  I won't deny that a larger sensor camera has different "drawing" characteristics (based on object distance and depth of field, combined).  I'm presuming that Nikon and Canon and Sony and Pentax will also come out with evolutionary, EVF, mirrorless cameras that use all three of the major, consumer sensor sizes just as I am certain that medium format digital will continue to sell to service the tiny subset of user for whom perfection and ultimate control trump issues of size, cost and usability.

No one is trying to pry your hands off a full frame (e35mm) sensor.  We're just gently suggesting that form factor changes, driven by technology, are inevitable.  Just as cellphones shrank from big ugly boxes in cars to slender, pocketable products while expanding their power at the same time.

It's fun to be in the middle of a swirling set of changes.  Never fun when your own "ox" gets gored but change is amoral and nothing if not anti-nostalgic.  We'll get over it if we have the intellectual strength to change with our culture.


  1. A Sunday sermon on photography :-)

    A couple of thoughts on points you raised: Yes, I shoot w/ big & heavy bodies. But not because they look professional, but because for me the ergonomics work better. Especially if they're attached to heavier lenses or if I have to handle them for a whole day, a 1 series bodies is more natural than a 5 series. And the extra weight helps to steady the shot at times under some conditions.

    The other trend worth mulling over is where the line between the camera and the mobile / smart device travels. We've had apps for a while now that allow tethered shooting and remote control. When do we get to where we don't use a body - we use a lens w/ an integrated sensor and an iPad for all the processing and user interface. If you shoot raw, it's really just storage and user interface. Scratch that EVF, your iPad or your iPhone is your future VF (call it iVF?).

    It's been interesting to shoot w/ an older digital back lately which has an LCD that leaves you guessing how the image looks at best. It's useful to see the histogram and check for highlight alerts, but gives no resembles of the actual image. Which forces you to rely on your head a lot more (which is a good thing).

    1. Ahhh. ergonomics. I'm not buying it for a second. I've held a 1 series camera and a big L lens in my hands for day after day and the weight alone will suck the creativity out through your biceps. Steadier? Try some five axis IS and tell me if you think that's still true...

      I've shot tethered on every generation of Apple Power books, Mac books etc. and I'm still going to want to put my eye up to a finder. Think of all the materials and hoods and stuff it would take to see the iPad screen clearly as you're walking up and down the pool deck in the Texas sun. EVF is a good, current solution. No guarantee in the long run.

      You might not be affected for a while, as a working pro, but believe me, the trickle up it inevitable.

    2. True, the current smart phones don't do well in sunshine (a selling point for the Kindle for the eReaders). But it's less about the display, then about leveraging CPU capacity that already exists in your everyday device rather than duplicating it.

      Look at printers. They used to have big CPUs in them that could crunch PS code. Nowadays most printers are just dumb print engines relying instead on rendering engines in the Windows/Mac driver stacks. A lot cheaper, and putting the processing where the work happens.

      Today user interfaces migrate to the web and smart phones. The rest is just physical interface. That's one way cameras could go - just dumb image capture engines that provide raw pixels to the rest of our workflow.

    3. I've used 1-series bodies, and strongly preferred the ergonomics of the 5-series... (shrug)...

  2. Good analysis. I think you make some very good points here.

    Another feature that I think will eventually disappear is the automatic aperture, which was invented for SLRs (rangefinders, TLRs, etc. don't need it, nor do they benefit from it in any way) to provide a brighter optical viewfinder image and to support TTL focusing aids such as split-image rangefinders. But with an EVF, you are better off if the lens is always at the shooting aperture, because it allows you to compose with proper DOF preview at all times, and the EVF can easily brighten the image if necessary.

    Over time, electronics and software tend to replace other technologies where possible. OVF to EVF is merely one example. Film to digital is another. If someone ever figures out how to use an electromagnetic field to bend light, and manages to fit it into a camera-lens-sized package that can be sold at reasonable prices, then even the glass in our lenses will go away. Whether or not this will make our lenses better (to say nothing of our photography) is another question, but if it can be done, it will be done, simply because the first company to do it will be able to patent it and get brownie points for innovating.

    1. Once we get ultra high speed sampling down we'll also make image stabilization totally software, eliminating another moving part. The video software is making improvements in that field by leaps and bounds.

  3. This was the most excelent analysis on the subject that I've ever read. Thank you sir, you really made my day.

  4. If in the future compact cameras don´t have apps like hipstamatic the canon s100 will probably be my last camera.

    1. I think you're on to something. Software will/is playing a bigger and bigger part in imaging.

    2. That's actually my personal desire for a compact camera, an ipod or android device that isn't a phone, that takes good photos, plays music and runs apps. Basically my current ipod touch with a better camera than the current iphone (which my wife has and I think is over-rated camera wise). A larger sensor like the Nokia and in-body IS would likely do it. Someone will make it, I hope.

  5. Speaking of ergnomics, and with the caveat that I'm no pro, but I do shoot some things where I have a camera in my hand for a long time at a stretch....

    For some of the shooting I do, I wish I could give up weight but not size. This is for the same reason that some guitar players like a little bit meatier neck profile: it can actually reduce fatigue to have the hand "filled" rather than having to pinch a bit to grip. I won't mind if the balance of the camera/body shifts a little bit forward where the glass is. I'd still be happy to give up some of that weight. I found it interesting that the D800 is lighter than the D700. In this case, it's not a major difference, but it's suggestive of the trend you're talking about above.

    1. I agree. When I talk about size I'm more or less suggesting that weight and unnecessary complication and construction are a waste. Cameras should be customizable for people's individual grip.

  6. Interesting...

    I think the change will first come when the first manufacturer abandons the standard form factor that we all know/love/hate and realize that you really can break the camera up: sensor and lens together, a viewfinder that clips to your glasses so that you don't have to hold it up to your face to look through it, and the hardware bits in a belt pack, all connected by fiber optic (or something like a future BluTooth that handles the data rate over short differences to make it wireless).

    Sure, it'd be a different way of doing things. But give me a 4/3 sensor module attached to a pistol grip, with a viewfinder that clips to my prescription glasses and is corrected for my vision (you non-glasses folk have to figure out another way of dealing with that), feeding to a belt-mounted processor and control unit. Sort of like a vastly shrunken version of the old press Linhofs from the early 1970s.

    The death of the mirror box frees up design folks like crazy. Needs to happen.

    Oh, and I spent the last two hours working with my DSLR (Olympus E30), mounted to a robotic tripod head doing large-format macro work. Got three hours of rendering time in front of me now... :-)

  7. If you consider all the metallic stuff videographers bolt on to get their DSLR's to look like a 35mm film camera I wouldn't be surprised to see still photographers do the same thing in the future to create the look of something professional with the small for factor you foresee. Heck they are bolting stuff on to the iPhone for crying out loud. I can just see the amount of stuff that will be hanging off of a pair of Google Glasses!

  8. The principle reason for a big body in an SLR used to be the 100% coverage, bright, clear viewfinder. So great for accurate manual focusing. But then in the 1980s and beyond, the cameras became feature happy and the Nikon F3 ballooned up into the F4, F5 and then F6. Fer gosh sakes, I hated those later F pro cameras. I didn't need a motor drive all the time, but I wanted the viewfinder. And AF? piffle, waste of time and money far as I'm concerned. That's one of the reasons I kept my F3/FM Nikon kit all the way up to 2001, and was shooting more with Leica M than anything else in 35mm.

    Then the digital generations began and it's been a fast, steep ride to get a camera as capable as a 1981 F3 in an SLR. And with quality EVFs and direct from the sensor TTL imaging, who really needs the floppy mirror and big pentaprism anymore? I applaud the E-M5 and GH2 ... taking advantage of what can be done now that actually works better.

    Equipment does often get in the way of Photography.

  9. I think the EVF is one of the most useful advances in a long time. However they market it is not important, I just wish they would build it more into the current designs. Eliminating the mirror, its moving parts and the associated focus variances that come with it will be a big step forward.

    I may be wrong here, but I thought one of the physical design limitations was sensor size, in that the physical size of the sensor dictates the physical size of the lens (focal length), which, to some degree, dictates the physical size of the light chamber (body). It's a domino effect, especially when you want wide apertures in the lenses.

    For me, reducing the weight factor is most helpful. I do a lot of run-and-gun event stuff, so carrying and lifting a camera or two several hundred times in a couple hours can stir up the tendons and muscles. Especially with a flash and bracket. Ouch. So every ounce can make a big difference.

    The physical size is pretty significant, too. I found the Pen bodies a little too tiny, and even after adding an after-market finger grip, still difficult to handle easily. The Panasonic G bodies are about the smallest I can use. I am not happy with the battery life on these (guessing the EVF contributes to battery drain, even at minimal usage) and the nasty yellow cast comes up at times with the G3.

    So far, the Canon Rebels are the sweet spot for me for event stuff. Light enough, big enough, and the controls are still pretty tactile, compared to using menus. If/when they make an EVF Rebel (with decent battery life), I'll probably be one of the first to jump on it.

    1. The lens AF motor and IS system uses a lot of power. When shooting MF lenses on my GH-1 battery life extends dramaticaly.

      Excellent article, Kirk.

  10. Give me a FF sensor (à la D700), capable continuous AF (I could care less whether it's phase or contrast focus, as long as it works !), a bright viewfinder (I'd rather have a large EVF than a tunnel OVF), lots of external controls (including a large and bright efficient touchscreen), in a GX-1 sized body, and that's the last camera I'll ever need or buy. For me at this point the two only missing things from high end m4/3 bodies are reliable continuous AF and same DOF control as FF. The rest is irrelevant for me.

  11. For me there is a point where a camera becomes too small. I've tried shooting with the EPM-1 and similar sized cameras. I have rather large hands and I end up simply fumbling with the cameras. My EP-2 is about as small as I can comfortably go. Less weight is nice but camera size is an important factor for me as my hands tend to prefer larger grips, buttons, and dials. I still prefer a good OVF over an EVF, though I don't have a lot of experience with a good EVF so that could easily change. Old habits die hard I guess. Funny, you never hear computer nerds desiring the operating systems and specs from last year, let alone 20 years ago, yet us camera people seem to be very much caught in the past. When is the last time a computer programmer sat and longed for the days of floppy drives?

    I agree with several of the responses above. Software is going to be the next big thing in photography. The equipment can't really get much faster, sharper, smaller etc (well it can and will, but we might me near the limits of how much spec we can cram into a camera or lens), but I think photography software/camera software is only in its infancy.

    1. Funny, you never hear computer nerds desiring the operating systems and specs from last year, let alone 20 years ago, yet us camera people seem to be very much caught in the past.

      Oh, you're so very, very wrong in that. Most of the reason behind Linux' and the BSD family's popularity is the fact that they resemble UNIX at its apex during the early '80s. And there's a reason why the two most popular "programmer's editors" date back to the mid-'70s with design philosophies to match.

      Floppy drives? no, not floppy drives; we hated those even when they were current, no way we'd want them back now. But command-line interfaces with powerful scripting facilities, memory requirements measured in kilobytes and kernel so small its source code comfortably fit on the appendix of a normal textbook? why yes, thank you very much.

      Now, I agree with the rest of your comment, but I am mentioning it so you don't feel too bad about your nostalgia; it does exist in other fields, and nowhere is it as strong as in IT.

  12. Put the EM5 electronics in the E-1 body and I would be a very happy camper!

    Bruce Bodine

  13. I love your blog entries but you do confuse me some on your stance. One entry is talking about how much you love the a77 (which I have and love as well). The next is talking about how you should buy a (rather large) Domke F2 bag. Then your next entry is how you should only have one lens and sell the rest (no need for the F2 anymore). And this one seems to be bashing larger cameras (a77 included?).

    So I'm curious, do you just have differing opinions depending on the day, am I reading your entries wrong, or what?

    As for this particular entry, I agree with others on ergonomics. I had an a55 for a couple of years between my a700 and a77. There were a few times where I was using it for a couple/few hours at a time and since my pinky didn't fit on the grip it was getting uncomfortable. Now if we could get everything in an a77 package including a fast zoom lens into a package like a Canon G1X then I'm sold. But with fast lenses being as big as they are, ergonomics play a big part.

    Other than that, I do agree with your points overall. I remember the transition from film to digital and embraced it fully. I loved the Sony change to EVF as well and look forward to whatever changes they come up with in the coming years.

  14. I am generally writing about how things are or will be. Let's start at the tip. I do love my a77. I love it because it's half way to where I think cameras are headed and represents a "sweet spot" right now. It has an EVF (which I find very useful) and it has a fixed mirror (which I find very sensible). I sold bigger and heavier cameras (canon 1Dmk2's) in order to use the a77's. Seems sensible to me.

    At this point you have to understand that I wear three hats in my career. I am a commercial photographer. That's where the bulk of my income derives. So I need to deliver what my clients want. And all of my clients are different. You should know that if you see the range of jobs I talk about on my blog. One day I'll require (but not love) the use of very wide angle lenses. Two examples are: The images of the new Whole Foods store I shot a week or so ago for an architect and also a highway annual report with sweeping landscapes that I shoot every year for a highway agency. I also shoot interiors for some clients that requires detailed files and wide angle lenses. So I'm pretty happy with the range of lenses I can use on the a77 and the detail I get in the files.

    When I work, and when I'm working for a client I always bring a back up body. Always. And I generally bring a range of lenses, just in case. And a flash, and a Power Bar, and some extra batteries and so on. I can't (won't) carry stuff in my pockets and I think photographer's vests are nasty in urban and corporate environs so that means I need a bag to put my stuff in so I can haul it to the location. The best bag for that is the Domke bag I mentioned. You should buy one right away. BUT when I get to the location I put the bag DOWN on a chair or the floor and take out the one lens and one body I'll be using and hold them in my hands. I don't ever like to shoot with a bag hanging over my shoulder...

    I own smaller Domke and Leica camera bags and I might choose one of those if I'll be walking around in a foreign city for 12 or 15 hours so I can bring along a faster lens or extra whatever, as well as a passport, phone, Power Bar, sunglasses, etc.

    Most of the time, when I'm not shooting for someone else I am strolling down streets in my town (Austin) or San Antonio. If it's just for me I generally have an idea in mind and part of that idea is a specific lens. Today, I am heading out with a tripod, an a77 body and a Hasselblad 150mm f4 lens to make images with very little depth of field and lots of compression. I'm only taking the one lens. If I see something that might make a good wide angle shot I'll have to pass it by and put it into the memory banks for another day because I'm balancing pleasure, comfort and a guiding idea, not a Swiss Army knife mentality when I shoot for me.

    Confession, I do have an extra camera battery in my pocket but only because I'm too much of a boy scout to leave home without one. The Sony's do like to chomp up batteries. The tripod is something just for today. Yesterday I went for a walk with a G3 and the 25mm Leica lens. I had all the speed I wanted.

    The third hat is my profession as a professional book writer and semi-pro blogger. I like to understand trends. I like to look down the road and see what's next and write about that. A lot of my readers seem to be in high technology fields or technical professional fields and I think problem solving and innovation are equally important hobbies for them. I have been writing about the benefits of micro four thirds, and by extension, mirrorless tech and EVF's since the early days. One of my favorite cameras is the Sony R1 with has both and was introduced in 2004. Part two immediately follows.

    1. (sorry, two many characters) Part two: I predicted, pretty accurately, that m4:3 would give conventional cameras (DSLRs) a run for their money nearly three years ago and I think they now have ample momentum and consumer acceptance. I pitched a book about LED lighting for photographers over two years ago and this year (along with the publication of my book) all major lighting companies are throwing tons of resources into bringing LED lighting into the market for general photography.

      My point is not that I hate big cameras or I hate OVF cameras or I hate mirrored cameras. My point is that this is all changing and changing quickly and in my capacity as someone with a foot in three professions it's important to me to understand and report and assimilate the changes. I can only do that if I keep and open mind, try the stuff as it comes out and compare it to my mental data bank of all the stuff I've already used over the past thirty years of shooting.

      I have different opinions about gear depending on what I'm going to use the gear for. If I'm headed out to shoot architecture I want wide angle lenses and big files. For vital jobs in that field I'd probably rent a Canon 1DSmk3 and the new 24mm shift lens for the job. I certainly would if I didn't think the a77 was adequate for the project in front of me.

      But I'd HATE to use a Canon 1dsmk3 and a shift lens to shoot on the streets. For fun. Too heavy. Too tiring. Not necessary.

      But one thing is certain. I'd never use a big, squarish, ultra padded Tamrac or Kata bag on any shoot.... :D

      I'm an adherent of choosing the tools you need when you head out the door, not making every job and every day of hobby shooting mold itself to one system only. That's the height of folly. Hope this explains your confusion.

    2. And I should say, "it is the height of folly for me....." Everyone else's mileage will vary. But I assume we are all self-aware adults and are factoring person to person differences into our own understanding of the practice.

    3. Appreciate your response very much. I'm fairly new to your blog and trying to catch up and your response helped me put a lot of the dots together. Thanks again for your posts, I enjoy reading all of them.

      Now to go get that Domke. Wax wear or no?

    4. I like the wax wear. It's water resistant.

  15. I have often wondered why full-frame DSLRs couldn't be made the size of an SLR like the Nikon FE or Canon AE-1. I'm under the impression it's a lack of will driven by a lack of necessity to change things. As long as new big products, like the D800, are in such high demand companies won't change the form factor.

    I realized the potential of the EVF as soon as I took one look through the EFV of the Panasonic GH1 a few years ago. It wasn't quite as bright and sharp as the best OVFs, but it was pretty darned good. In fact one of the things that bugs me about DSLRs is the disconnect between the OVF and the rear LCD screen. I find phase-detect AF system of my DSLR in the "easy" mode makes bizarre choices on where to focus. If I select the AF sensor myself it does a great job of nailing focus. If I pass it on to someone not familiar with how DSLRs focus the I put the camera in live view mode. Most people these days seem to be more familiar with using an LCD screen rather that a viewfinder to compose shots. Anyways, the CD AF system is much better at selecting where to focus when in "easy" mode than the PD AF system.

    I'm all for a move from OVFs to EVFs. But camera manufacturers might have to rejig their lenses. AF in live view is slow as molasses. While they're shrinking camera bodies I'd like to see them work on doing the same with the lenses.

  16. The perfect camera is the Pentax K-5 with the mirror removed.

  17. I think you're absolutely right about the trend and the forces that are guiding it. I also think that the comment above about software being important is also very, very important. Camera makers know they are up against people with smartphones who don't want to carry a camera with pretty much the same capabilities. They have to stay ahead of the game...

    Part of this rapid change, though, is resulting in paralysis on my part - I'm holding onto the old paradigm with both hands and really wondering where it will go in the next few years...

    1. I should be the most paralyzed since I grew up with film and big cameras and bigger lenses. But I can see the shift so clearly and I don't want to be on the wrong side of the divide, mentally. Flexibility is the keep to not being swept away by the winds of change...

    2. Should read, "...the key to not being swept away by the winds of change..." Can't figure out how to edit posted comments... Damn technology.

  18. All I want is a digital full frame Nikon FM with no junk on it - no video, no horizon leveling, no pop up flash, none of that crap. Just give me some in camera metering and a hotshoe and I'm good to go. It can have a mirror - I'd actually prefer it.

    I have no problem with big bodies - I can one hand a Kodak SLR/n (aka Fat Bastard) even with medium female hands with no problems. My favorite body as far as handling and fit for me was the old Nikon f4.

    I now have a PEN and a mirrorless Panasonic - They've put the fun back into snapshooting for me. And I even want the EM-5. But in some of the environments that I shoot in, I just don't see a small mirrorless holding up to abuse. I want a reasonably sized tank I guess.

    We saw similar complaints on the shift to our common DSLRs today from people who feel the need to keep up and chose to abandon Oly OMs and Canon AE. Chunky started to become the norm. And then the bag companies went nuts all in the interest of "protecting our investment".

    The tide is shifting, yes. The question is, can they make a good mirrorless that is tanklike? Because the small cams can be problematic for me when climbing a 30 foot ladder onto a rooftop or in a plant. I know when the DSLR bangs into the side of a ladder, it can take it. I know the small plastic mirrorless wont.

    1. Actually, the elimination of a moving mirror and a stop down mechanism increases the potential operation durability of any camera. Far fewer fragile, moving parts. And as I understand it the OMD is built out of the same kind of magnesium alloy as the bigger cameras. Might just make getting up the ladder easier. And the smaller profile may prevent it from banging on the ladder.

  19. Kirk, nice, thoughtful article and I agree with your thoughts the directions digital camera will be taking in the future. Technology and convenience will drive the changes and some where someone is toiling away to replace glass electronically. It will happen, it's just a question of when. My first serious home computer was an Epson QX10 in 1985, ran at the blazing speed of 4MHz and a giant RAM capacity of 256K. Lots of technology progress in many areas of computer design have contributed to getting us where we are today with state-of-the-art laptops. Digital cameras are moving along a parallel path.

  20. I've been thinking that the most significant thing about cameras like the Fuji X-100 and the Leica X2 is that they demonstrate how big the functional part of an APS-C camera really needs to be. That is to say, not very big at all.

    Adding an interchangeable lens mount would add some bulk, as would some of the other features we expect, but overall there's no reason that a digital DSLR (or the EVF wielding equivalent) should need to be any bigger than the now defunct, but quite small, Olympus E-620.

    That said, as a (ahem) larger person, with larger hands, I think something like the Canon Rebel is a pretty good compromise for size. I love my OM-D, but I think I'll love it even more when the add-on grip becomes available.

    The other size issue has to do with the lenses. There's a lower limit on how small a lens can be, and still cover the format.
    Mirrorless designs may allow the lenses to be a bit smaller, but I suspect that optics may determine the size of the overall package.

  21. Interesting ideas here. Here are a few observations from my shooting experience:

    1) I love my Leica M6. When I recently picked it up after shooting fairly extensively with my Ricoh GXR M-module (evf), I let out a sigh of relief/joy and the feel of it.

    2) I really like my Ricoh GXR M-module. So much that I rarely grabbed the M6 from the bag on my last trip to China. That's more of a film vs digital thing, though. One thing that I hated on the GXR was EVF lag. Every moment had passed before I saw it in the EVF. The camera itself had very little shutter lag, but the EVF lag caused me to miss many shots. I wish the camera could buffer that fraction of a second and record the moment represented in the viewfinder and not the out-of-sync reality.

    3) I recently shot a mountain bike race and grabbed my old 1D Mark2. Much like the M6, a whole sigh of relief and joy passed through me working with that camera. Yes: ergonomics. It is a camera that you just become one with. Everything is right about it. Using it that one day has postponed me getting rid of it yet again. (I run two camera systems: Canon with a 5D2 and 1D2, and Leica with the M6 and Ricoh. Well, there's a 4x5 in there but that's a whole different can of worms.) Theoretically, the 5D2 should have made the 1D2 useless years ago.

    Anyway, I love my 1D2- weight, bulk and all. Almost BECAUSE of the weight and bulk. I wouldn't trek it up to Everest base camp again (Ricoh!!), but I don't think it no longer has a place in the world of pro photo.

    Also, I work as a cinematographer. We are all lamenting the demise of film. Digital definitely has some advantages, though. That being said, ARRI just released the Alexa Studio, which has an optical reflex viewfinder (on a digital camera.)

  22. I like reading your articles from the bottom up...

  23. Good article, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. However, the comment on Halo marketing is only wishful thinking on the part of Canon and Nikon. Both have watched their home market shift to mirrorless at an incredibly fast adoption rate.

    It would be really nice if you moved your blog to another service. Google's blogspot does not work with iOS devices. Probably some sort of anti Apple silliness.

    1. Here's the work around. When you can't scroll it means that the pop up and the back (whole) page are not sync'd up. Scroll the underlying page up to the very top and you will see the window and the underlying page "bounce." At that point you will be able to scroll on the top page (pop-up) to your heart's content. Really.

  24. Eye, Which device is giving you problems? Runs well on all three of our iPads, our phones and six or seven laptops. & The blog isn't moving.

    1. The template has some issues on the iPad. You can't scroll down in an article since it wants to scroll the whole page, not the popup.

      Also, the template seems to randomly not display comments on some posts. Refresh usually solves this. Must be a API timeout that's pretty tight.

    2. Here's the work around. When you can't scroll it means that the pop up and the back (whole) page are not sync'd up. Scroll the underlying page up to the very top and you will see the window and the underlying page "bounce." At that point you will be able to scroll on the top page (pop-up) to your heart's content. Really.

  25. Hi, this is Eye,

    I just tried to load the site with an alternate browser, Atomic Web using desktop Safari as the agent. First time it crashed, second time it loaded slow. I then went to basic Safari, crashed three times. Went back to Atomic and after a crash, it loaded. Issues are scrolling, entering text (you do not want to make a typing error) and responsiveness. Tried it on both an iPad 1 and a 3 while on a 20 mbps line. Same issues with both. I have noticed this behavior on all blogspot sites and usually avoid them.

  26. Kirk, another fascinating and entertaining post. From a great lack of technical knowledge I propose the next direction for digital cameras: shutterless. For, if the sensor is an electronic device, could we not simply "switch on its sensitivity" for a certain instant? Even better, we might switch on the sensor for a longer interval but at varying sensitivities, and then select the moment with the best exposure. -Julian

  27. I read this after reading the announcement and preview of the Canon 650 with on sensor PDAF in LV. Kirk the Seer strikes again! Canon and Nikon will "trickle up" technology that may be considered "consumer" now, but will be the "pro standard" in a few years. They know that many pros, and even more "enthusiasts" who buy their high end cameras are resistant to change. They have a lot at stake in maintaining their higher end cameras in a sort of "limited development stasis" wherein only those aspects of the camera that make headlines on lab tests are consistently improved. Because there are so many people who do expect pro cameras to be big, and also are more concerned about DXO ratings than ergonomics, it pleases the manufacturers to follow the GM formula Kirk mentions.

  28. I love reading opinions on the future of cameras. I think all of us photographers have a tender spot in our hearts for our cameras which the average image capturer does not necessarily share. I agree that smaller lighter cameras are the way to go. I do think that ergonomics are important. Currently that creates an opportunity to sell an accessory in order to satisfy those that are interested, so I don't think it's a real consideration. But I don't think the OVF will die very quickly. I do hope that hybrid viewfinders become the holy grail. They add cost, complexity, and size, but they are excellent tools for the still photographer. A craft that I think at least a few people will always want to learn, although it may become more of a fine art business in the decades to come. Whatever happens I'm excited to see it! The Fuji x100 has been a revelation for me, and I know the mirrorless I've always wanted is likely to come along in the near future too. Now I just want smaller strobes!


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