Goodbye to reflex cameras

reflex cameras

An article in Nikkei Asia, later denied by Nikon, announces the end of the development of new models of DSLR or SLR cameras by the company, which so-called mirrorless cameras would replace.

According to Nikon, which has published a denial, the article is “merely speculative”. It does not correspond to any official announcement made by the company, which will continue the production, sale, and service of its SLR cameras, but it is evident that when these types are leaked on the news, they have some basis.

We are facing the end of reflex camera technology, which has been the queen of photography for almost a hundred years. In an SLR camera, the viewfinder and lens access the same image with the direct optical view, eliminating the parallax correction required when the viewfinder and lens use different optics. Still, a mirror or pentaprism allows an image to be displayed before the button is pressed, they are retracted by a swift spring and the shutter is released. This mechanism, which also has to be very robust to withstand tens or hundreds of thousands of camera shots (many more since the popularization of digital photography), is conditioned by the size of the mirror and the space required for its rotation.

In mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, light is taken directly from the lens to the sensor. They offer the user an electronic viewfinder often located on a large rear screen. This allows for a much more compact camera body design and features such as advanced person recognition through machine learning and other enhanced focus or video features. In return, mirrorless cameras tend to have shorter battery life, partly due to the difficulty of fitting a large battery into a more petite camera body and the heavy use of larger electronic viewfinders, which consume more energy. It is typical for a mirrorless camera to be capable of taking half or fewer pictures per battery cycle than an SLR camera. On the other hand, a mirrorless camera takes between one and two seconds to turn on, compared to an SLR that is ready to shoot immediately.

However, the arrival of mirrorless cameras has followed the classic process of technological diffusion that occurs in many industries: the prototypes, created by companies such as Epson or Leica, were marketed in 2004, for a market in free fall due to the increasing popularity of smartphones with increasingly powerful cameras. While the camera market was declining, one company, Sony, became the first to achieve commercial success associated with new technology after the NEX series was released in 2010, eventually becoming the leading company by the number of units sold in that segment.

When brands like Canon or Nikon entered the segment, they found that Sony had taken advantage of its opportunity very well and aggressively and comfortably reigned in it. A segment of professionals previously clearly of Nikonist or canonist “religion” began to prefer these new cameras. Since the launch of  full-frame models in 2018, Nikon and Canon have struggled to compete with Sony and its advantage in the mirrorless segment .

Eliminating the reflex mechanism significantly reduces the cameras’ size and provides them with much less mechanical simplicity, resulting in more excellent durability and far fewer breakdowns. During these years of transition, I have even seen professional photographers use mirrorless cameras with special grips designed to make them more significant because they felt the new cameras were “too small”, and to accommodate a little more additional battery. Technologically, there is little doubt about the future of cameras, although there are still many who are nostalgic for the SLR mechanism as in any technological transition.

Camera sales have dropped drastically recently, from 11.67 million units sold in 2017 to 5.34 million in 2021. This drop forces many companies to focus on the most cost-effective models, with mirrorless cameras winning due to their greater manufacturing simplicity and much lower mechanical complexity. In the case of Nikon, it is estimated that the company generates about half of its profits from mirrorless cameras. At the same time, traditional SLRs represent around a third and are clearly on a downward trajectory.

We will continue to see SLR cameras for quite some time yet. But, after the revolution brought about by digital photography, we now find ourselves with the transition to mirrorless cameras and with the progressive abandonment of SLRs. At the same time, a good part of the non-professional market limits itself to directly dispensing with the camera, and He chooses to use the smartphone he carries in his pocket at all times. Without a doubt, an exciting evolution.