Are you wondering whether it makes sense to buy a DSLR in 2020?
You’re not alone.
With the rise of mirrorless and advanced smartphone cameras, there are plenty of questions about the value of DSLRs–and whether it even makes sense to purchase a DSLR in 2020.
And that’s what this article is all about.
I’m going to give you 4 compelling reasons to purchase a DSLR in 2020. And, if at the end of the article, you’re still not sure that a DSLR is right for you, then it probably isn’t.
Because here’s the thing:
DSLRs aren’t for everyone.
Yes, they have their place, and they’ll have their place for a while longer (possibly even for decades). But DSLRs offer a different set of features compared to mirrorless cameras, and smartphone cameras, and even medium format cameras.
So to find out the four biggest reasons to buy a DSLR in 2020, read on!
1. DSLRs Offer an Optical Viewfinder for Crisp, Clear Viewing
For many photographers, this is the single greatest reason why you should stick with a DSLR over a mirrorless camera:
The optical viewfinder.
You see, when you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR, you get a direct look through the lens. You’re seeing what the lens sees (by way of a mirror that’s positioned in front of the camera sensor).
And this setup is referred to as an optical viewfinder.
Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, don’t include a mirror. Which means that an optical viewfinder is pretty much out of the question.
That’s why many mirrorless cameras include an electronic viewfinder.
An electronic viewfinder mimics an optical viewfinder in that it gives you a feed through the lens. But an electronic viewfinder is digital–it’s a projection of the camera’s sensor onto a tiny screen. So if you’re photographing with an electronic viewfinder, you’re basically looking at a version of your camera’s LCD.
For some, electronic viewfinders are a great thing, because they give you an instant preview of your shot. You can see things like depth of field and exposure, which allows you to immediately correct issues.
But electronic viewfinders come with a number of problems. First, many electronic viewfinders just aren’t very high quality, which means that they don’t look at all real. This creates a problem for photographers who enjoy really taking in the scene through the viewfinder; if it doesn’t look real, the process of photography can feel forced and unpleasant.
Electronic viewfinders can also have color issues, with problematic color casts plaguing the screen. And they can have lag issues, where the viewfinder moves more slowly than the photographer (making wildlife tracking next to impossible).
While these issues are becoming less and less common, electronic viewfinders just can’t compete with the clarity and crispness offered by DSLR optical viewfinders. Optical viewfinders offer the most accurate look at the scene, and if that’s important to you, then a DSLR is the way to go.
2. DSLRs Offer a Lot–for a Great Price
If you look at the cost of the quality mirrorless cameras out there, you’ll notice a trend:
Sony’s APS-C mirrorless lineup comes in at around $1000+, while lower-end mirrorless cameras like the Canon EOS M50 still sit at around $600. Nikon’s cheapest mirrorless offering is the Z 50, which retails for around $1000.
The same is true of high-quality smartphone cameras. At around $650, the Google Pixel 4 is hardly cheap. And it’s one of the more affordable options; check out the iPhone 11 Pro and you’ll see what I mean.
But then turn your attention to the (all good quality) DSLRs offered by Canon and Nikon.
The excellent Canon Rebel SL2 (200D) costs just over $550, and that price includes a kit lens. The Canon Rebel T100 (4000D) is even cheaper, at around $350 with a kit lens. And the Nikon D5600, D5500, and D3500 all clock in at under $800, often with kit lenses included.
In other words, if you’re on a budget but still want excellent image quality, an entry-level DSLR is a fantastic option. You won’t have to pay out $1000+ to get great low light performance and a nice array of features. Instead, you’ll be able to capture stellar images–all with a sub-$1000 kit.
By the way, I haven’t even mentioned the mirrorless lenses, which often cost even more than their camera counterparts. While mirrorless manufacturers are steadily coming out with new mirrorless lens options at lower and lower price points, the progress is slow.
So if you’re unable or unwilling to shell out a lot of cash for a mirrorless camera, you should definitely consider your DSLR options.
And speaking of lenses:
3. The DSLR Lens Lineup is Better Than the Competition
Mirrorless cameras are relatively new.
Whereas DSLRs have been around for decades.
This time difference has given DSLR manufacturers years and years to put out lenses and then optimize them several times over, so that the DSLR lens lineup is full of sharp, well-built, fast lenses (all for very reasonable prices).
Mirrorless manufacturers, on the other hand, are latecomers to the lens game. This means that, while the existing mirrorless lenses are excellent, there just aren’t that many of them. Plus, as discussed above, they often cost far more than their DSLR counterparts.
If you look at DSLR-centric companies such as Canon and Nikon, they have an astounding amount of high-quality glass.
Whereas a mirrorless pioneer such as Sony doesn’t have a shabby lens lineup, exactly–but it’s not huge, and it’s certainly not cheap.
Sure, pretty much every camera company is producing mirrorless lenses, these days. Even Canon and Nikon are focusing on their mirrorless glass.
But they still have a long way to go before they reach the breadth of their current DSLR lens lineups.
So while there may come a time in the future when mirrorless lens lineups meet (and even surpass) DSLR lens lineups…
…that won’t be for a while.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the current mirrorless lineups is the lack of budget-friendly lenses. Many mirrorless lenses are at least $1000, which is just far too much for a photographer hobbyist to be paying–especially when they have much cheaper DSLR-lens choices.
To combat this issue, Canon and Nikon have both issued adapters that allow you to mount DSLR lenses on their mirrorless cameras.
But these adapters cost money, and add an element of inconvenience to your mirrorless photography.
So, at least for now, DSLR lens lineups reign supreme.
4. DSLRs Include Longer-Lasting Batteries for Longer Shoots
If you’re the type of photographer who does a lot of shooting in a single day, or you just like to take your camera around everywhere without stopping to charge batteries, then you’re going to want a DSLR.
Because mirrorless cameras offer terrible battery life.
And when I say terrible, I mean really, really bad.
For instance, one of Sony’s top mirrorless cameras, the A7R IV, features a battery life of…
530 shots per charge.
(670 if you don’t use the electronic viewfinder.)
Canon’s best mirrorless camera, the EOS R, is rated at an unimpressive 370 shots.
Nikon’s top-of-the-line Z7 mirrorless camera is rated at 330 shots.
Compare these specs to Nikon DSLRs such as the Nikon D850 (rated at 1840 shots), the Canon 5D Mark IV (900 shots), and even the enthusiast-geared Nikon D5600 (820 shots).
Of course, you can always buy multiple batteries and take them with you into the field. But the more batteries you have, the more you have to carry. Plus, batteries are expensive, and a stash of batteries adds up.
Why do mirrorless cameras have such poor battery performance?
For one thing, mirrorless cameras are compact compared to DSLRs. This means that the battery is built to be smaller than DSLR batteries. And the smaller a battery is, the worse it performs.
But mirrorless cameras also use a lot of power-draining electronics. You’re either using the LCD or the electronic viewfinder–whereas DSLR optical viewfinders require very little power.
Regardless, if battery life is important to you, then a DSLR is your best bet.
4 Reasons to Buy a DSLR Right Now: Conclusion
If you’ve been struggling to decide between a mirrorless camera and a DSLR, hopefully this article has been helpful.
Because you now know the four key areas where DSLRs are better compared to mirrorless offerings.
That’s not to say that DSLRs are totally superior. For some photographers, a mirrorless camera is the better buy.
But if the reasons in this article really speak to you, then a DSLR is probably the way to go.
Neither type of camera is really better than the other. They’re just good for different things. There are still plenty of reasons to shoot with a DSLR in 2020–but there are also quite a few reasons to switch to mirrorless. It all depends on the type of shooting you want to do.
That depends on your needs. Mirrorless cameras are more compact, plus they’re better for video and for previewing images before you take the shot. But DSLRs are cheaper, offer more lenses to choose from (at better prices), feature excellent optical viewfinders, better battery life, and more. In terms of image quality, you’re going to get gorgeous shots with either type of camera. So the key is to weigh the pros and cons of each and decide what makes sense for your shooting style.
DSLRs are still relevant, but only for some photographers. DSLRs offer features that you can’t find in mirrorless, such as an optical viewfinder–for crisp, clear viewing–as well as a long battery life, a lower price tag, and a better lens selection (generally speaking). But mirrorless cameras are now the focus of most camera manufacturers, so don’t expect many updates to the current DSLR lineup.
That depends on your preferences. Some photographers love the clarity of optical viewfinders, and refuse to use anything else. Other photographers prefer the preview function offered by electronic viewfinders. Personally, I appreciate both, but would take a good electronic viewfinder over an optical viewfinder–though I’d much rather have an optical viewfinder than a low-resolution electronic viewfinder, because those are very frustrating to shoot with.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.