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Why we still recommend a DSLR for Landscape Photography

Posted by Todd Sisson



Look Mum - no mirror! The days of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras are indeed numbered, and the Sony a7r (pictured) is the first truly viable step towards a mirrorless replacement for DSLRs.  Despite this I still believe that the DSLR remains the best option for serious landscape photography.


There are big changes afoot in the camera industry at present with the long-anticipated ascendency of  interchangeable lens 'mirrorless' camera systems finally occuring.  You can expect to see many more of these 'next generation' camera systems on the shelves over the next couple of years - primarily because they are cheaper to manufacture and offer camera makers one last roll of the dice (on the marketing departments foosball table) before everyone admits that 90% of their photographic needs are met by their iPhone...  

It would be easy to assume that the future arrived late in 2013 with the release of Sony's 36MP full frame a7R ir.gif - a camera that has led to angina, twisted bowels and sleepless nights amongst tech freaks and the bleeding edge early adopter set.  The hype radiating from some over-saturated and chromatically aberrated corners of the web could easily convince the credulous and uninformed photographer that the DSLR is in fact dead (their words not mine) - so dead in fact that its bloated corpse has already been converted to crude oil, extracted and resurrected as a Sony mirrorless camera.

I think it should be fairly obvious that I do not share this viewpoint. If you want my honest opinion, high end interchangeable mirrorless cameras like the a7r will never achieve the sales numbers that DSLRs have clocked up over the past decade.  That's right - never (well maybe in 20 years time).  I have absolutely no market intelligence to underpin this belief  but I do know one thing for certain - owning and using interchangeable lens camera systems (regardless of how compact they are) is a giant pain in the arse.  Most rational people avoid giant pains in their arse; ergo interchangeable lens camera system sales will rapidly become the sole domain of professional and enthusiast photographers who understand the creative advantages of multi-lens photographic techniques. Everyone else will just use their phone.

But hold on! people love their DSLRs don't they?  Not really.  DSLR's have historically sold by the boatload because they were the only game in town. Once upon a time (six years ago) if you wanted to make a printable image and pursue photography as a hobby you needed a DSLR  - there was no other viable option.  These days an iPhone makes printable images and careers have been launched on compact cameras and smartphones.

The other big traditional driver of DSLR sales was ego - DSLRs used to be a status symbol.  There was a time when revealing your lenses in public struck innocent bystanders with 'shock and awe'.  As the price of entry to DSLR systems plummeted, millions of (mainly) men  finally got to realise their dream of owning a camera that appeared to be teleported directly from a two page (advertising) spread in a 1999 edition of Playboy magazine.  Just like a Playboy magazine collection, most of these DSLR's have been gathering dust in a closet - too good to throw out, worthless to sell and really awkward to lug around on holiday for a variety of reasons...   DSLRs are so ubiquitous today that nobody is interested in your camera system - the ego incentive to buy big hulking cameras has greatly diminished.

But all of this is is discussing future sales prospects and market trends - not photographic performance and affordability. It is my belief that, for the moment, the DSLR remains today's best solution for serious landscape photography. Here’s why:

  • Format maturity – The worst kinks have been ironed out of DSLR's over the past decade and they are robust and reliable as a result. DSLR changes are evolutionary not revolutionary and true functional obsolescence is not an issue.  In contrast, you could still back the wrong horse with mirrorless and be left with an orphaned format in two years’ time.
  • Entry level mirrorless cameras suck. If you are serious about your landscape photography the only mirrorless options worth considering are the flagship models. A mid-level DSLR will do more for much less. Speaking of spending less…
  • Second hand options. Millions of DSLR lenses, cameras and accessories are hocked off second hand every year.  In almost every instance the seller is losing a demoralising amount of cold hard cash on the deal.  This means that with a little patience you can bag bargains on almost everything you need.  Look out for a flood of bargains from gear-freaks who have worked themselves into a paranoid lather and are ‘up-grading’ to mirror less at any cost.
  • Lens choice – there are literally hundreds of DSLR lenses available at a range of prices from multiple producers - including some really interesting specialist lenses. Unlike camera bodies - which are all virtually the same these days, lenses actually offer creative options and alter the nature of an image. Most importantly,  there are a large number of options available for DSLRs at the wide and ultra-wide end of the lens spectrum - where so many great landscape images are made.  Almost all of these DSLR lenses will remain usable on the mirror-less formats issued by your camera brand (with the help of adaptors) so you will be able to carry most of them across to a new format when the time is right for you to move to mirrorless.
  • Accessories – a massive range of well-priced after-market accessories are available for DSLR systems.
  •  Bang for your buck – the DSLR market is so saturated that today's entry level camera bodies offer image quality that is superior to the flagship cameras of two years ago.
  • Viewfinders – I am not a fan of the current crop of electronic viewfinders – I love the analogue clarity of vision offered by mid-to-top of the line DSLRs.
  • Auto focus (AF) - AF speed remains the archiles heel of the current crop of mirrorless cameras.  If you are planning to shoot action DSLR is the way to go - Nikon and Canon have been honing the current AF technology for over 20 years and you can bet they won't be ditching DSLR until they can match or exceed it's AF performance in a mirrorless format.
  • Information – the DSLR format is so ubiquitous that almost any issue or query can be resolved with a quick Google search.

 If you are starting out in landscape photography by all means consider a mirrorless system (wary of the above considerations) but don’t discount the many advantages of the DSLR - they have have plenty of life left in them yet.

Some final thoughts on vested interest… 

Some of those high profile 'early-adopters' that you come across online have very compelling incentives to wax-lyrical about the superiority of mirrorless systems and the need to switch now!!! 

Ask yourself a couple of questions before purchasing based on such advice; 

  • Do I actually like this person's photography? 
  • Has the promoter's photography improved significantly since 'upgrading' to mirrorless? 
  • Is there a single image that this person has made on their expensive (to switch to) mirrorless system that couldn't have been made on a three year old second hand DSLR?  

If the answer to the last two questions are a resounding yes then by all means look at switching to mirrorless - if the answer is no just save your money and get out shooting.  


Check out Sarah's Lightroom Presets! 

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