DSLRs have been the choice of camera for many photographers. They are sturdy, reliable, and have many useful features that allow photographers to push their creativity beyond imaginable. However, in recent years major camera manufacturers began actively pushing Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras, or MILCs, to the market. They have successfully piqued people’s interest with their marketing strategies, and MILCs account for almost 20% of all interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) sales in 2012. There are even debates within the photographer community on whether MILCs will one day replace DSLRs and become the mainstream cameras for photographers.
MILCs and DSLRs are quite similar in design and mechanism, but they each have their own unique, distinctive characteristics and features. These characteristics and features, which set them apart, are what camera manufacturers advertise as their biggest selling points and integrate into their marketing strategies. Before delving deeper, please take a look at the two video clips below. The first one is the TV advertisement for Nikon J1, one of Nikon’s flagship MILCs introduced to the market in 2011.
And here’s the promotional video for Nikon D7100, Nikon’s new mid-level DSLR released in early 2013.
When compared to DSLRs, MILCs are significantly smaller in [highlight2]physical size[/highlight2], which translates into better portability and allows you to bring it with you anywhere you go. Also, despite their sizes, MILCs nowadays come with image sensors that are almost as large as the DSLRs, and you can expect your images to be as clear and detailed as those produced by DSLRs. Another selling point illustrated in the Nikon 1 video is the [highlight2]stylish looks[/highlight2] that are typical among MILCs. MILCs are targeting the younger, more fashion-conscious crowd who are more likely to choose a camera that complements their choice of attires. To them, a small and stylish MILC meets their needs more than the bulky and unattractive DSLRs.
MILCs do have their own downsides. For starter, MILCs have slower focusing speed due to their use of contrast-based autofocus system, making them less ideal for movement shots where the best opportunities last only for fractions of a second. On the other hand, DSLRs’ phase-based autofocus system can focus in on the subjects much faster and gives them an edge over MILCs. Next, MILCs have a rather small selection of available accessories due to smaller market demand. In contrast, DSLRs have quite a few accessories that can assist their users in photography. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of lenses, external flash units, high capacity batteries and many more items DSLRs users may find useful.
Another defining difference between DSLRs and MILCs is the use of optical viewfinder. MILCs have no optical viewfinder, meaning photographers would have to look at the LCD screen on the back of camera when composing a photo. Although this is not necessarily a disadvantage, some photographers do prefer optical viewfinder so they can see exactly what they are shooting. Furthermore, DSLRs can also take a lot of abuse in very unforgiving weather, making them ideal for photography in extreme environments and conditions.
There are many experts on the Internet who claim that DSLRs are a dying breed, and MILCs will soon replace DSLRs and become the first choice among photographers. I really don’t believe that it will be the case, at least not in the foreseeable future. In my opinion, you really can’t replace one with another because their roles do not exactly overlap. You may add more features into the MILCs, but as MILCs evolve, so are DSLRs. Even if the camera manufacturers manage to squeeze all the features DSLRs currently have into MILCs’ tiny body, the same technology can also be incorporated into DSLRs and make room for additional features that will make DSLRs distinctively different from MILCs again. Hence, MILCs may chip away a significant portion of the ILC market, but they will never push DSLRs out of the market.
Just a little more than month ago, Nikon announced that it has cut its 2013 forecast on its Nikon 1 line, citing poor sales in the first quarter. Perhaps someone has been a little too optimistic about the outlook for MILCs?