There are lots of predictions of what 2010 will bring us and, as far as cameras are concerned, you can be sure that there will be further development in gee-whiz features like we saw in 2009: more and better face recognition, smile detection, hd movie, etc. etc. — all to help make photography easier and more fun but do not affect what really counts in serious photography: image quality and performance.
So, instead of regaling you with attention-grabbing headlines and predictions of ever more smart features, I will venture my neck out on the two important criteria that define whether you are dipping your toes in the kiddy pool or swimming with the sharks.
After using and reviewing both the Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, there is no doubt in my mind that since these two “mirrorless DSLRs” are able to pretty much give us DSLR image quality and performance without the size, weight, and complexity of a DSLR, then the future of digital cameras is going to irrevocably lean toward digital interchangeable lens cameras.
First, let’s get some definitions straight.
DSLR = Digital Single Lens Reflex.
Digital = The camera is digital.
Single Lens = It has only one lens (but interchangeable).
Reflex = It has a mirror to reflect the light coming through the lens up into the viewfinder where a pentaprism (or pentamirror) turns the image the right side up so the photographer can see what the lens is seeing.
The DSLR should really be renamed the Digital Interchangeable Lens Reflex (DILR) camera. The “Single Lens” part is redundant since it’s been a while since we last saw a camera with more than one lens (unless you’re talking about a stereoscopic camera, which is something totally different from what we are talking about here).
DIL = Digital Interchangeable Lens.
Digital = The camera is digital.
Interchangeable Lens = It accepts interchangeable lenses.
It does not need a mirror, but instead makes use of the LCD and electronic viewfinder (EVF) to allow the photographer to see exactly what the image sensor is seeing.
The DIL (pronounced, D-I-L) is a natural derivation of today’s DSLR (or, DILR): since a LCD or EVF can give the photographer an even more exact view through the lens (it shows the photographer not only what’s coming through the lens, but exactly what will be captured on the image sensor), the usefulness of the mirror has passed its expiry date and is not needed anymore. Hence, we can drop the “Reflex” part.
As long as the DIL camera can provide the same image quality and performance photographers expect from a DSLR-level camera, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the future of digital cameras.
DIL cameras incorporate the best of the compact digicam and DSLR worlds: they provide DSLR image quality and performance in a compact and lightweight body without the added complexity of the DSLR. A DIL camera feels and operates like a user-friendly digicam but delivers like a DSLR. What’s not to like?
The Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1 have put DSLR manufacturers on notice that they intend to invade their traditional territory — at least where entry-level and enthusiast-level DSLR models are concerned — with smaller, lighter and simpler-to-use digital cameras that consumers will find much more preferable — and irresistible — to a traditional DSLR.
There is no doubt that other digital camera manufacturers are busily working on their versions of the DIL camera. They would be short-sighted not to. After all, when we desire to buy a DSLR, it is not because it has a mirror inside or a prism in the viewfinder. No, it is because of the image quality, the low light capability, the performance, and the abundance of interchangeable lenses and accessories.
The Olympus E-P1 and Panasonic GF1 are only the first generation DIL models and have already shown that they pose a formidable challenge to traditional DSLRs. What will future models look like? And how will other manufacturers respond with their own models?
Making predictions is always a risky business, but here goes: 2010 will see the introduction of Nikon, Canon and other manufacturers’ versions of the “mirrorless DSLRs” — DSLRs that have had their mirror and prism removed, and instead use a high resolution LCD and EVF for viewing and composing images. These DIL cameras will use the large APS-sized image sensor and will feature the quick performance that advanced photographers demand.
We can expect some traditional digital camera manufacturers to play their usual games, and dumb down their first generation (2010) DIL cameras so as not to cannibalize the sales of their existing DSLR models.
We predict that the DSLR market will eventually (it will probably take 5 years) dry out for entry-level and enthusiast-level models, and only the consumate professional photographers will continue to use a pro-level DSLR. Everyone else will be using either DIL cameras or compact digicams with large sensors, fast AF, high resolution LCD and EVF, and lots of user-friendly features.
Hold on, I hear some say! Rangefinder and compact 35mm film cameras never successfully displaced the film SLRs. So, why are you now saying that 4/3 system, APS-sized, and 35mm digital compact cameras will eventually replace DLSRs?
Simple, first of all, rangefinder and compact 35mm film cameras never contained all the features of film SLRs that advanced photographers needed. And, secondly, their optical viewfinders did not allow you to see exactly what would be recorded on film, especially when you used telephoto lenses.
Digital cameras have solved the second problem with their 100% frame LCD and EVF, and the new DIL cameras target the advanced camera market with all the advanced DSLR features you’ll ever need. That’s why.
The year 2010 will see many photographers ask themselves why they are still dangling a heavy, large and difficult-to-use DSLR around their neck when they can get a compact and lightweight DIL camera that gives them all the convenient features of a compact digicam with the image quality and performance of a DSLR.