The Holiday Season DSLR Angst Guide

It’s the start of the holiday buying season, and the emails continue to pour in: “I have a [DSLR_model] and wonder if it’s time to move to mirrorless?”

This simplest version is joined by a more angst-driven version: “I have a [DSLR_model] and would consider moving to mirrorless, but I can’t see what advantages I’d get and it seems costly to do this.”

So let me try to settle you down a little bit. 

First, there will be a time when you decide you want/need a new camera and the right choice will be to move from DSLR to mirrorless. For many of you, that time is not now. 

Note: Pentax users have no option for moving from DSLR to mirrorless without leaving the brand, so I’m not going to discuss them here.

In full frame, I consider the following cameras to be perfectly fine today and for the immediate future: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 1DX Mark III, Nikon D780, Nikon D850, plus the Nikon D5 and D6. And I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning here. Deciding to move on from DSLRs if you’re using one of those cameras is not going to give you a lot of bang for the buck. It’s not an economic decision to do so at present for most people. 

So what the heck is the feature/benefit of making a change from these full frame DSLRs to mirrorless? You tell me. If you can tell me (and justify that economically), you’re good to go, you don’t need my help. Buy the mirrorless camera of your choice and don’t look back. If you can’t tell me, warning flares were just shot into the sky. You’re in FOMO mode.

With crop sensor DSLRs, my list of similar cameras—assuming you would stick with crop sensor in any mirrorless move—would include the Canon SL3, Canon 90D, Nikon D7200, Nikon D7500, and Nikon D500. Again, I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning. To move from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera if you are using one of these, I’d need a clear feature/benefit you’re going to get and that you can justify economically. Don’t have one? You don’t need a new camera.

So let’s deal with some of the sub-themes going on in the DSLR/mirrorless angst realm.

  • No new DSLRs. I suspect that this is the biggest part of the fear running through DSLR users. Canon and Nikon no longer seem to be iterating DSLRs. I’d say that’s likely true for Canon, but I still expect Nikon might do something in the DSLR arena, just as they put out a top-end film SLR in the early DSLR era. Still, no news is being interpreted as bad news. Nope. Doesn’t make your highly capable DSLR any less capable. It was ten years before the last of the film SLR users gave up and went to digital. Same thing will be true in this transition, as well.
  • Investment panic. As many Nikon users have discovered, the equivalent lenses are indeed better in the Z-mount, which means that if they didn’t sell off their F-mount lenses already, they don’t get as much for them today as there’s a bit of a temporary glut on the used market. Of course, savvy DSLR users should see this as an opportunity to pick up some lenses on the used market, as they’re priced as lower than usual. It’s also a good time to move from crop sensor DSLR to full frame DSLR.
  • Gear dictates outcome. No, it doesn’t. This is the existential problem most people get themselves into. Technically, it’s “New” gear dictates outcome. Still not always true. Yes, sometimes a new product comes along with a new ability or a new level of performance that changes the game, but the current DSLR/mirrorless top end products are both quite good. There’s less “outcome dictating difference” than almost anyone seems to think, though if you haven’t bothered to learn how your autofocus system actually works, the all-auto mode on some—note that I didn’t write all—mirrorless models might produce better results. So might a smartphone. 
  • Toe-dipping temptation. I see a variation of this line in a lot of emails: “I think it might be time for me to sample mirrorless and assess the benefits directly.” Nikon’s about to sell the very competent Z5 for US$1000 again for a couple of weeks (starts on November 19). That’s a really good price for what’s essentially a slightly better full frame camera than the seminal D750. So it’s awful tempting to bite the Z apple and see what happens. And for some of you, that might be the right approach. Still, temptation is just that, temptation. And we all know what happens when you bite the apple...

Finally, let’s note that Canon and Nikon are being somewhat disingenuous. Both need to sell a lot of mirrorless cameras in order to maintain or regain market share. Both want to get you to move from DSLR to mirrorless, because it helps them achieve their goals. Indeed, if they can convince you to migrate before you’re ready, they do better with their sales issue than if they just let you migrate at your own speed. 

While I’m seeing a lot of DSLR angst this year, I suspect it will be nothing like what we'll see in the 2022 holiday season. I would expect Canon and Nikon to both have moved to “trade in your DSLR” programs by then, as they’ll have hoovered up the easy pickings and would now be starting to prod the remaining DSLR herd. And yet, even then, a Nikon D850 would still be an incredibly good camera capable of state-of-the-art results.  

So what is it you’re really worried about? Is it (a) your camera gear is no longer capable of state-of-the-art results? Or (b) you can’t claim to have the latest and greatest? (a) is unlikely if you have one of the current top DSLRs. (b) is what is causing all the DSLR angst. 

Relax. Chillax. Certain types of pills might help. You’re not in a hurry. You can make the DSLR/mirrorless migration decision any time you’d like, and the right decision can still go either way today. Camera makers will get more aggressive about trying to change your mind, so some modest discounts this holiday shouldn’t sway you. 

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
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