How do we know that DSLRs are on the way out, while MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras) are on the way in? It’s fairly simple, in my way of thinking.
DSLRs are complex cameras with all sorts of moving parts that have to be carefully aligned. Not only does a manufacturer have to deal with making sure the back of the lens is exactly square with the sensor, they also have to align a reflex mirror, a prism (or a series of mirrors) in the viewfinder, and a delicate autofocus system. Additionally, mounted lenses are controlled mechanically, with drivers and gears that rotate elements within the lens and move the lens blades for the aperture setting. It costs a company in time (labor costs), quality control (more labor costs), and material parts (lots of extra doodads) to make the rather complex and delicate parts in a DSLR. Not to mention the cost of warranty repairs.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct S lens
On the other hand, a MILC is more like the cameras of old, a simpler box with a light sensitive material in the back. The autofocus system is based on hardware designs right on the sensor, with software-controlled photo sites that can do both phase-detection and contrast-detection AF. There are no mirrors that must be aligned or prisms that must be ground to perfection. Cheap electronics and software take control of focusing the image, taking the picture, and viewing it afterwards.
Newer MILCs use fly-by-wire technology, with no mechanical connections to the lenses (other than the lens mount). Electronic control signals are sent through electrical contacts from the camera body to the lens itself. The photographer must manipulate programmable rings on the lens or dials on the camera, sending signals to the lens that are responsible for focusing and aperture control. No mechanical connections needed. Warranty repairs are cheaper because problems can often be fixed by software updates and logic board replacements.
Nikon Z7 with sensor exposed (a simpler box)
The bottom line, DSLRs will become less and less mainstream, probably in less time than it took digital to replace film. I suspect that, in five years, only a few hardened old (grizzled) pros will be demanding DSLRs. The rest of us will delight ourselves in the extremely fast, programmable, computerized, cheap-to-produce cameras of tomorrow, er, today (MILCs).
Camera companies will convince us (like smart phone companies have), that we need disposable cameras that cost twice as much as those older DSLRs. The profit margins on these simpler devices will be much higher, allowing them to produce cameras in a saturated market and still make money. Lots of it!
The future has arrived and it is mirrorless.
Keep on capturing time…
Darrell Young is an active member of the Nikonians User Community, Nikon Professional Services (NPS), Professional Photographers of America (PPA), North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), and the author of 24 photography books from NikoniansPress and Picture and Pen Press, through Rocky Nook. You may review a few of Darrell’s Nikon books here. He has been an avid photographer since 1968 when his mother gave him a Brownie Hawkeye camera.
This website was created to support the readers of his educational books, photography students, and clients. Visitors to this website will find articles and reviews designed to inform, teach, and help you enjoy your photographic journey.