Imagine this scenario – you are looking in the window of your local camera shop and Bill Gates walks up to you and says “I’m the richest man in the world, here is £2000 in cash, go into that shop and spend it”. OK I know it is an unlikely situation, Bill Gates would have dollars or gold bars in his pocket rather than pounds, but let’s run with it for the sake of this post. What would you do apart from say “Thanks Bill! Your products are the most bug free and secure software packages the world has ever seen. Not only that but it is great to see that Microsoft actively encourages healthy competition in the marketplace so that no one company can unduly exert their influence at the expense of others”? Or something like that.
Back to the point – what would you spend it on? If, like me, you are DSLR user this question is not as simple as it once was. Until recently if you wanted a quality camera you bought a DSLR (or a film camera if you go back far enough or if you are still that way inclined). Today though there is a spanner in the works called mirrorless cameras.
I think it is generally accepted that mirrorless is the future and that the DSLR as we know it will eventually be replaced. There have even been rumours that Nikon’s next flagship camera to replace the D4s will be mirrorless though I very much doubt this will be the case, maybe the D6 or D7 will. However this does pose a few questions to the DLSR user looking to spend some cash:
- If mirrorless is the future when will the future arrive?
- Is the future already here?
- Will my current lenses become obsolete?
The answer to question one is “it depends”. The answer to question two is “it depends”. The answer to question three is “who knows?”. Excellent! I’m glad we could clear that up.
Let’s look at the first question again – if mirrorless is the future when will the future arrive? I would suggest that for the vast majority of DLSR users the future is already here (which conveniently answers question two). The current crop of mirrorless cameras are already way more than adequate for most people’s needs. They may not focus quite as fast as a DSLR or track movement as well, they may not have the same frame rate, and they may not have quite as good low light performance but they are not far off and for most people these small disadvantages are easily outweighed by the advantages of mirrorless cameras such as the smaller physical size and weight, and the electronic view finders showing you exactly what will be recorded. If the future isn’t already here it soon will be.
Question three is the real issue for a huge amount of users. The vast majority of DSLR users are either in the Nikon camp or the Canon camp. So what these people need to know is whether, when Nikon and Canon do eventually replace their DSLR with equivalent mirrorless products, will all our Nikon F mount lenses or Canon EF mount lenses work with these new cameras? If the answer is going to be “No” then do you really want to be spending your hard earned cash (or even free cash given to you by Bill Gates) on lenses which will soon be useless on future generations of cameras? Obviously the answer is a resounding “No”. If that does happen eBay will become clogged with people desperately trying to sell lenses which only work on old cameras before their value drops to a fraction of their current value.
So what do we do now? Well there are a few options for someone wanting to replace their DSLR:
- Replace it with another DSLR and hope that your lenses will be compatible with future mirrorless cameras.
- Replace both your DSLR and your current lenses with a completely new mirrorless system.
- Wait. Don’t replace anything for the time being. At least until the big players (Nikon and Canon) show their hand.
But that nice chap Bill Gates isn’t going to wait, he is offering you that cash now. Do you go for Option 1 or Option 2? Option 1 gets you a great system now with the advantage that you can use your existing lenses but runs the risk of having a completely obsolete system in the near future. The chances of running into Mr Gates again when the time comes to replace all of your kit are fairly remote.
OK, assuming the minor disadvantages of mirrorless systems don’t worry you why not go for Option 2? The biggest worry is that while mirrorless can no longer be described as being in its infancy the two major players (Nikon and Canon) have only really dipped their toes in the water so far. What is going to happen when they dive in? If there is only room in the current DSLR market for two major players will there be room in the mirrorless market for Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and Ricoh/Pentax? Surely not. So if you were going to take the plunge and go for a mirrorless system now which company would you bet on being here in five or ten years time? If you make the wrong decision you are left with an obsolete valueless system which is exactly what you were trying to get away from by not choosing Option 1.
It’s not an easy decision is it? Even if the money isn’t yours.
The longer Nikon and Canon are not in this market the stronger becomes the position of the other players and the clearer it will be regarding who will survive. I don’t believe Nikon or Canon will enter the market with SLR equivalent products which aren’t compatible with their current SLR lens mounts and so the mirrorless market is due to have a huge shake up when these two major players choose to join the party. When will that be? Who knows, but unless you are willing to take a risk Option 3 – wait and see – is the only alternative.
What would Bill Gates advise you to do? Invest in the future. And what is the future? We don’t know, that’s the problem!