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In 2008, Panasonic introduced the first modern mirrorless ILC, the Lumix G1 (Micro Four Thirds). This was followed up by Olympus in 2009 (Micro Four Thirds), Sony in 2010 (E-Mount), Nikon in 2011 (Nikon 1 System), Pentax in 2011 (Q Mount), Fujifilm in 2012 (X-Mount), Canon in 2012 (EOS M System), and Leica in 2014 (T-Mount/L-Mount).
Over this time period, the only mainstream DSLR companies were Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax. It’s interesting to note that Canon’s EOS M, Nikon’s System 1, and Pentax’s Q-Mount were all pure consumer models. They were specifically designed to not complete with DSLRs. Sony’s E-Mount was not being positioned against DSLRs in the early days, but it wasn’t crippled. So a funny thing happened:
- Sony offered the semi-professional A7 full frame E-Mount camera series in 2013, followed by the pro-grade A9 in 2017. In 2021, Sony ended their A-Mount line of DSLRs.
- The Nikon 1 System was ended in 2018. Also in 2018, Nikon introduced their Z-Mount, which was sold as a major improvement over their DSLR F-Mount from 1959. They discontinued their D3500 and D5600 DSLRs this year, their consumer offerings, as well as the D500, their pro-grade APS-C model. That’s 1/3 of their DSLR line. Rumors have suggested they are doing no new DSLR development, but the company has not confirmed this.
- Canon introduced the EOS R system and RF mount also in 2018. They have yet to cancel the EOS M System, but there’s a strong belief they will. They did not kill the DSLR yet, but they did announce that the EOS 1D Mark III is their last flagship-level camera. They announced that no new EF lenses were in the works, and they stopped production on most EF lenses.
- The last Pentax Q System camera was introduced in 2014. They have no mirrorless products or announced plans.
It’s pretty clear that the camera market is shifting from DSLRs to MILCs. For me, anyway, once the EVF got good enough, I was sold on the advantages of mirrorless. For me, that was 2015. Some folks are late to the game.
Today, Nikon is making about 50% of their income from their Z-Mount MILC System and 30% from the F-Mount DSLR System. However, their own projections put the F-Mount sales at 3% by 2025, while mirrorless will constitute 82%. Here are all of Nikon’s current DSLRs, and I have two observations. First, Nikon likes the investment in a DSLR body to pay off over enough time to make it worthwhile. If they’re expecting to see sales drop to next-to-nothing over the next three years, it makes no economic sense to introduce a new model.
The second thing is that, watching the history of DSLR and MILC systems, I have a general observation: the market tends to know a camera system is “dead” before the manufacturer makes any final announcement. A defining characteristic of a living system is new gear being designed and released. If your system hasn’t seen a new introduction in about three years, there’s a pretty good chance the manufacturer has written it off but isn’t quite ready to announce that fact.
Nikon and Canon were late to the professional mirrorless race
Finally, Nikon and Canon were late to the professional mirrorless race. I suspect they were in denial for awhile, believing that the DSLR market was sustainable in the face of increasingly advanced MILCs. Despite serious offerings from Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, and Fujifilm, it probably took Sony’s A7 line to convince the big two of the advantages of mirrorless. Particularly as Sony started to make it a three-way race, and got their autofocus good, then great, and started doing things with it that don’t work well, or at all, on a DSLR. As well, Panasonic had demonstrated that mirrorless was a big advantage for still cameras doing video, and OMDS/Olympus added a bunch of features (ProCapture, Focus Stacking, the “Live” computational functions, Starry Sky Autofocus, etc) that don’t really play on a DSLR unless you lock up the mirror.
Pentax simply can’t afford to jump to a new mirrorless mount, but Nikon and Canon could. But they could not afford to be distracted by a fading DSLR market. They both went all-in on MILCs. I’m not sure, in 2018, when they both started emphasizing MILC and scaling back DSLR plans, that either knew it was a permanent shift. After all, that’s really up to the customers. And the customers have spoken: most want MILCs.
The other thing to note is that today, in mid-2022, Nikon’s Z System is complete enough to attract new users who will never own an F-Mount lens and a lens converter. They have their flagship MILC, the Nikon Z9, which is fantastically innovative, capable as any professional DSLR, and so sought after there’s a 6–9 month wait for one. Canon doesn’t have a true flagship out yet, but it’s not a secret that they’re working on an R1, perhaps out in 2023. Neither company needs their DSLR line to allow them to compete with Sony and other MILC companies.
The only DSLR introduced in 2021 was the Pentax K-3 Mark III. No new DSLRs were introduced in 2022. Unless Nikon or Canon introduce a new body very soon, everyone is going to believe the DSLR is dead, even if they like them. No one wants to buy into a dead system.
One word on Pentax, as the lone DSLR supporter these days. For quite some time, Pentax has successfully added features that have otherwise been only found on mirrorless cameras. They were an early adopter of IBIS, they’re so far the only ones with an “Astrotracer” function (the sensor, essentially, stabilizes the shot against the turning of planet earth, very cool), high resolution shots, etc. Maybe the remaining DSLR purists switch to Pentax? It would be very nice to see one DSLR system remain viable, and it seems Ricoh, Pentax’s parent company, is running Pentax more like a hobby than a business… a thing Olympus was accused of before they split their imaging division off as OM Digital Systems