A quick and anecdotal note about choosing mirrorless cameras or DSLR cameras. What do the people who sell them buy?

Image from this year's Eeyore's Birthday Party in Austin, Texas

I was at our local community college for an advisory board meeting today at which we discussed the state of photographic education as it relates to our school. We looked at short term plans, the architectural drawings for a vast new studio complex that will open to students and faculty in two years, and much more. The photo program is one of the biggest and best in the country for two year associate degrees, it's well funded and well equipped. They've been at the forefront of the technology side in photographic educations for quite a while... but still also teach traditional photographic techniques and even printmaking.

As part of our annual meeting we advisors also pull out our crystal balls and try to predict the future, based on current trends. The overall consensus is that the market for photographers, both commercially and direct to consumers, is improving and that in the future the photographers who will be most successful, financially, will be the ones who are able to incorporate video, motion graphics and graphic design into their business offerings. No miraculous insight there; we've been saying that in the blog since 2010. 

After we covered all the agenda items we moved on to lunch and a less structured and more social give and take. 

The subject of camera technology came up and we looked to our fellow advisory board member, the professional representative from the biggest camera store between Los Angeles and New York City. We were curious what trends he is now seeing in the retail sector vis-a-vis camera sales. More specifically, what's selling now and which market segment is doing better: DSLRs or Mirrorless (or, as I say, "mirror-free")?

He smiled and said, "This should sum it up for you. We have 14 sales associates who work the counters at the store. Of the 14 there are 13 who have gotten rid of other systems in order to move totally to mirrorless camera offerings. There's one person left who still shoots with a DSLR."

So, the take away from this small discussion was pretty straightforward. The people whose full time jobs are to counsel and sell cameras to the general public are themselves strong proponents of the newer technology. Or at least 13 out of 14. 

It's interesting to hear this point of view since what we see on the big sites is a stalwart defense of the traditional camera companies and a minimization of the obvious shift in the markets. 



Jon Porter said...

That's surprising. If I was a camera store clerk, with their employee discounts, I'd own even more than the two EVIL and two SLR cameras I currently have. Both types are so good nowadays and I'm thankful for the variety to select from. Different tools for different jobs!

Joe Reed said...

Once I looked through that WYSIWYG viewfinder the DSLR was history. I can’t imagine a still or video need that hasn’t been bettered with digital. I do think we have reached a point where we might see a plateau in sales simply because almost all needs have been met with the current offerings. The next step might be a basic camera with the option to buy tech modules or maybe the purchase of a key to unlock more software features. That would be similar to the increase in subscription software.such a Lightroom.

Craig Yuill said...

Well, I am both a mirrorless camera and DSLR user. Both types of cameras are from the same manufacturer. If I am shooting video I use the mirrorless camera. If I am shooting stills, especially if there is a fair amount of movement, and I need maximum responsiveness, I mostly use the DSLR. Mirrorless cameras are starting to approach the responsiveness of DSLRs, so I think it will be just a matter of time before almost all interchangeable-lens cameras are mirrorless. Most of us won't have a choice but to adapt. DSLRs will likely fill a niche roll for certain photographers, just like digital rangefinder Leicas do.

But why should one be constrained to buying only DSLRs or mirrorless cameras? You have extolled the virtues of hybrid cameras like the Sony RX10 iii and Panasonic FZ2500. I have been taking a closer and closer look at action and waterproof cameras as well as a variety of cameras with gimbals, like DJI's Osmo+. I have considered pulling the trigger on an Osmo Mobile gimbal, which turns smartphones and GoPros (with adapters) into "steadicams". Gimbals interest me because I like to shoot video while on foot, and I always end up with jerky footage (no matter what technique I use), and I have to "fix" it in post with stabilization software. Waterproof and action cameras in housings interest me because I would like to be able to use a camera to shoot video or stills while in or around water.

Just my $0.02 CDN!

Wolfgang Lonien said...


One of my friends was working as a camera sales guy when the shops were still around, a few years ago. When I came to know him - and some of his friends, it was:

- D800 (my friend the camera sales guy)
- D800 ( a friend of his, same town), and
- Sony SLT (another friend of his from a bit further away)

I know that by now the Sony guy changed to the A7 series, so from a non-moving mirror to none at all. The girl in the middle, I don't know what she has now, but the camera sales friend now has (or at least is selling) Fujifilm XT-2 and the likes. If I include myself, then mirror-free is the majority by now.

In the company where I work my day job, it's different tho - I'm the only mirror-free guy around here, everyone else has some kind of (consumer) Canon or Nikon, one has a D810 (not planning to upgrade).

Myself? If I'd want something bigger than my ยต43rds, I'd probably go for that small Hassy. Also mirror-free, and with leaf shutter lenses - all about the size of a Mamyia 6. Sounds yummy to my ears... but of course I'd also take that Fuji GFX if it crossed my way ;-)

Mirrors? Naaah thanks. These were nice to have, but by now I consider them as dinosaurs, and the newest Sonys, Fujis or Leicas can probably do the same or better without mirrors, at least for me. Even my "lowly" E-M10 (first generation) is more camera than I really need...

amolitor said...

I am pretty sure that my most recent camera purchase is my (mirrorless) sinar f1. But that was at least 5 years ago. My daily shooter is more like 7 years old, and has a mirror.

I am atypical, I think.

Mosswings said...

Over the last 2 years the display mix at my local pro shop changed from featuring post-processing equipment to videocams and drones. The film vault has become a one-on-one mentoring room. And the studio equipment has taken on a profoundly video flavor. The display cases still have the banks of Canon and Nikon lenses and bodies, but if you ask the staff there what they love - and most importantly, what their customers are moving to, it's Sony and Fuji, with some Panasonic for the folks wanting to downsize.

It used to be Olympus for the stills folks. The opinions are very definitely split along generational lines. The now mostly younger salesfolk are all in for mirrorless; the few middle-aged clerks still there straddle the fence, in part because of their significant personal investment in DSLR systems, but also because their customers, who are similarly middle aged and well heeled, don't care to switch.

My long-time salesman, a lifetime Nikonian who just retired, before he left picked up a used D810 to be his "last camera". Regardless of the vagaries of the marketplace, it and his lens kit should be serving him until he can't get around anymore.

If I were to be honest with myself, what I've got now should serve me just as long, and I should stay out of pro shops. But I won't, because I feel the desire to downsize from my "medium body" DSLR (seeing the comparative photo of a D850 and A7rIII in DPR the other day shocked me). I've always wanted a D5500 sized camera, but refuse to accept Nikon's dumbing down of that body. Now it may be close to time to drop some coin on a G85.

But...yet. I remember a recent trip to Cuba and the Everglades. One camera, street shooting, landscapes, and Egrets in flight through dim tunnels of mangrove, all accurately focused, zero waiting time from power off. And although I was using a higher end APS-C consumer camera, this sort of versatility is available from pretty much the entry level to the top end of the DSLR product lineups. While it is true that the top end of Sony's lineup is finally at the point where its AF performance is on a par with higher-end DSLRs (and has won the right for its characteristics to be considered merely "different", not "inferior"), the same can't be said for the lower-consumer end of the mirrorless spectrum. I suspect it is what has kept the consumer DSLRs still selling, though now they may be finally running out of gas.

Then - there's that G9...big ol' viewfinder. Yum.

crsantin said...

I was at my local camera store recently, a big chain here in Canada. Of the 5 people on the floor that evening, all of them had a mirrorless system they used as well as a more traditional DSLR system left over from the past. The mirrorless gear was what they reached for first, with a couple of them in the process of dumping their DSLR gear. I haven't purchased any gear at all the last couple of years except for some lighting equipment. I'm still using a Nikon D300 because I have a nice set of Nikon lenses and the camera still takes nice stills. I think in 2018 I will be ready to finally move away from that and will probably end up with a 1" sensor camera (Sony rx10 model) or perhaps a m4/3. I think I'm ready for a change and the 1" sensors are quite nice. One digital camera only...I still shoot film occasionally.

Unknown said...

In July of 2011 my wife & I were going to France to visit her sister, Ulva & her husband in Belfort. After visiting with them we were going to travel to Paris & Normandy on our own.The travel would all be done by train & Ulvas small car. It is Europe after all. At that time you were experimenting with an Olympus micro 4/3 camera. I was shooting with a Canon system & knew it was not the system to travel with if the amount of personal effects had to kept small. Because of you I decided to try the Olympus & purchase a camera & several lenses. I used it for the trip, with great success & have never looked back. I still shoot Olympus & I thank you for heading me in that direction.

neopavlik said...

As for the store clerks there is a lot of other questions I'd have.
What do they shoot ? What lighting stuff do they have ? What discount do they get ? How receptive is their store to keeping and selling used stuff ? Are they using current generation cameras or not ? Responses to those questions could tilt it to mirror free quickly.

I'm still plugging along with a Nikon D600, I just got my best pictures from the year printed and they look fantastic ( mostly 4"x6" but some 8"x10" ). I randomly think about a Fuji GFX, Nikon D850 and Panasonic GH5... I can afford 2 of the 3 now and in a few more months I can afford any of them but I think I might try putting that $ into ideas or locations I've wanted to shoot for awhile.

This year's resolution which I'll probably carry over to next year ( and might've been overtly stated in one or more of your blogs ) was to try to worry more about ideas than gear and push myself to experience things and explore instead of playing it safe.

Robert Roaldi said...

The one area left where D-SLRs were still superior for a while was in high speed sports shooting. The top of line Olympus and Panasonic seem to be good enough for that work these days, maybe with some argument. But the Nikon 1 series should have ended that debate, as its mirrorless tech was blazingly fast. Too bad Nikon did everything wrong with that product, but it did show the writing on the wall.

I'm not talking about personal preference but actual utility.