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Mirrorless tech comes to the DSLR — or should we say back to the future?

January 08, 2020

We have just been hit by a couple of new product announcements in early January 2020 which have really made it obvious how important the DSLR is to both Canon and Nikon.

Both the Canon EOS 1Dx Mark III and Nikon D780 are conventional DSLR’s at their core — you know, flip up mirrors and pentaprisms that have not basically changed since the 1960’s. However, at the flip of a switch they have new personality that brings pretty well all the features from the EOS R and Nikon Z series to the party (to DSLR's).

So the obvious question one has to ask — why would they do this when they have both committed huge resources to their new (and ever growing) mirrorless camera lines?

The simple answer is there is still tons of life left in the DSLR!

The more complex answer is this is where many of the customers are together with the cost of development for these new cameras.

Lenses, lenses and more lenses!

As of April 2014 Canon had manufactured 100 million EF lenses and Nikon hit that mark for NIKKOR lenses in July of 2016. That means right now there are potentially more than 200* million lenses just waiting to be mounted on a DSLR so that they can get to work. And remember that with the correct (low cost or even included) adapter, these lens can work transparently on both companies’ new mirrorless systems.

Canon and Nikon are not going to stop producing lenses for these formats. With  that in mind, they are not going to stop building new DSLR’s. They might slow down a bit, but they are not going to stop — they can’t! The DSLR has been the goose that laid the golden egg for these companies and they are not going to kill it — in fact, they need to feed it, and that is why we have these new, and honestly rather exciting new cameras hitting the market.

R&D Cost

These 2 new DSLR’s from Canon and Nikon are logical updates to existing lines they have been selling for years. Users want them and they will sell. They slot right into so many photographer’s kits and workflows it is not funny!

Much of what makes these new bodies so great was pretty easy to fit right into them as it is basically the DNA from their new mirrorless lines, which they already invested a "boat load" of capital to develop. It is just smart business to recoup the benefits of this in the legacy DSLR line as there is still great life to be had there.

But what about Mirrorless?

As we know from changes of lens mounts systems in the past, (eg Canon’s FD to EF switch in 1987 and Sony’s A to E in 2010) these changes don’t happen overnight. Lucky for both Canon and Nikon this time around there is extremely good legacy lens compatibly with their new mirrorless lines. This was not the case for Canon and Sony the last time around.

Most likely this is a reason why Canon and Nikon have been playing it pretty safe in their mirrorless offerings vs the “all in” approach of Sony over the last decade.

Canon and Nikon have taking remarkably different approaches when it comes to their overall line up in mirrorless — but it is obvious now that they are not abandoning the DSLR market.

For their customers, it all comes down to choice and flexibility.

You can stay with the tried and true DSLR and they both have state of the art bodies for you to upgrade to right now. If you choose to add in mirrorless to your kit, your legacy glass slots right in (with adapters) and has proven to work seamlessly.

And lucky for everyone, the engineering expertise of both of these heavy weights of the camera industry is being shared across both their mirrorless and DSLR divisions.