Are DSLRs No Longer the Recommended Cameras for Newbie Photographers?

Are we past the age of entry-level DSLRs? Dan Nosowitz over at Popular Science has written a piece titled “Don’t Buy A DSLR”, in which he argues that DSLRs are no longer the best option for aspiring amateur photographers.

DSLRs are enormous, problematically-shaped gadgets. There’s no other portable gadget with such an unapologetically non-portable shape […] Hell, even giant headphones fold up into themselves. But DSLRs are bulky, heavy, roundish and squareish at the same time […] There’s a reason there’s a thriving economy of DSLR-specific bags.

[…] If you’re just getting into more serious photography, a DSLR’s button layout is a major obstacle to overcome, and, more importantly, an unnecessary one. It’s not that people can’t learn, or even that they shouldn’t–it’s just that for many users, there’s no need. To someone who’s only used a point-and-shoot, you know what a DSLR looks like? A f**king airplane cockpit.

[…] DSLRs should be, and will be very soon, for experts. For pros, or passionate amateurs. Sports photographers, bird-watchers, people who want to build a multi-thousand-dollar collection of lenses. But for those of us who just want to take better pictures, dammit, there are amazing options just for us.

I think the big question is “what does the aspiring photographer want out of their camera?” If it’s simply “better photos”, then a mirrorless should do just fine… but they’d be missing out on the joys of learning how to operate “a f**king airplane cockpit.”

Don’t Buy A DSLR [Popular Science]

  • Renato F Valenzuela

    why does this feel like slander? there are very few EVIL-format cameras that can pull off being a proper SLR replacement. if it doesn’t have an optical view finder, i want nothing to do with it. there’s just something about staring at a tiny lcd screen being that close to your eyes that irks me.

  • E.G.

    NEX, or equivalent.

  • Michael

    So funny. Hard to get upset with someone who’s clueless.

  • oldtaku

    Well, I’m not sure about this guy, but I would never recommend a DSLR for a newbie in the first place. Start with something cheap, portable, and versatile like a Canon S95 that gives you control over aperture and/or shutter speed.

    Play with that for a while. Then if you actually need a DSLR you’ll know it, beyond a doubt. It will claw at your guts, an insatiable need for MORE GLASS. At that point, get your DSLR.

  • Mansgame

    I’ve recommended Canon G12, Nikon P7100 or even mirrorless cameras to people that I KNOW won’t stick to photography seriously and just want a taste. There is no substitute for a big sensor and great lenses though and DSLR’s have no rival there for the price.

  • 0b1w4n

    Dan Nosowitz isn’t a photographer, that is the problem!

  • fuzzywuzzy

    That he thinks the picture he took of his friend “turned out great” should tell you everything you need to know about this guy.

    And statements like, “DSLRs are enormous, problematically-shaped gadgets.”

    DSLRs are not gadgets or toys, they’re tools. Believe it or not, Danny boy, there are people who buy things to
    actually use them, not to show them off to all the other hipster
    douchebags at nearest Starbucks in some sort of silicon and brushed
    aluminum pissing contest.

    They’re not shaped to be pretty, they are designed with function in mind, to fit comfortably in one’s hands to be used for their designed purpose and, most importantly, to have a viewfinder that looks directly through the lens.

    The many buttons exist to provide dedicated controls that are usable without ever taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Real photographers can’t be wasting their time dicking around in a submenu in a submenu in a submenu.

    These factors are invaluable and they will not be changing.

    In this manner, point-and-shoots are far more complicated. A DSLR just gives you one button for one function (sometimes two, but never more) and it just goes. A point-and-shoot makes you dig around a thousand menus in a tiny screen if you want to have any control at all.

    What an idiot.

  • jdm8

    OK. Maybe not beginning, but what is the next step up? While an SLR isn’t absolutely required, but I found it helps me understand photography better by allowing me to adjust shot settings much more easily. Adjusting many settings on a smaller camera is often very cumbersome in comparison.

  • michaelp42

    Utter rubbish. I run Photo Experience Days where I teach newbies to photography. I’ve had over 1000 people come through on my days this year and the vast majority have DSLRs. WIthout question they are better to learn with than anything else available.

  • Alamin Mohammed

    The college kid’s wont agree with this though especially most are familiar with low end point and shoot cameras and the general idea for improvement is to go DSLR. Also It does’nt take long for user’s to figure out their smartphones are’nt the solution either. I’ve shot several school events which turned out good with an entry level DSLR albeit with good glass. When I upload these photos to facebook, apart from the general “nice shot”, “great shot” comments i get, the biggest questions are “what camera are you using?”
    Although I was stunned once by a girl with a new 5DMKII +580EX+24-70L+70-200f2.8 combo and had no idea how to use it,most others end up with entry level Canon,Nikon or Sony and then hardly put an effort in learning the basics of utilising its advantages over a point and shoot. Coupled with the “cool” factor of having a DSLR i don’t see this trend changing and most are stuck with the kit lens and yeah i’ve seen lot’s of “want to sell” post of entry level DSLR kits lately.

  • 343434

    facebook and 500px flickr noobs should stop taking photos at all.. 99,965% are crap anyway.

  • IrisChrome

    I agree with most of what you wrote, however I think you misunderstood Nosowitz’s point. He wasn’t talking about pro or hobbyists or amateurs or enthousiasts nor was he trying to put down the DSLRs in general. He was talking about everybody else who’d rather set their DSLR on auto or scene mode than use shutter, aperture or manual modes. Honestly it’s a shame to for those folks to waste their money on something they’d never use to its full potential.

  • IrisChrome

    Just FYI, I did not intend to place the last “shriek” in the close tags above. It looks like a function of the board to close tags automatically. Wasn’t trying to be overly dramatic with my post. XD

  • Jonathan Maniago

    “ILCs have tradeoffs, of course. … That’s all true, and every photographer will go on at length about it, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter.”

    He makes a couple of valid points, but the heavy bias strains the credibility of the article as a whole.

  • patrick dinneen

    I’ve always recommended a bridge camera as a starter camers.
    It’s smaller so better chance you’ll have it on you.
    It’s a jack of all trade so you don’t need to fork out for lenses
    has a viewfinder (unlike 99.9% of compacts0
    great zoom
    If gives a newbie a good intro and if they really like it can always upgrade to a Dslr.

  • derekdj

    When did DSLRs become a requirement for newbies anyway? As a rule I always advise newbies to buy an affordable “beat around” camera, so they can learn the basics of composition and exposure. This doesn’t require a full blown DSLR, if anything it’ll be more than likely a cheap second hand 35mm or 4×4 film camera or M4/3 camera. Gear lust has taken over the conversation over the basics of photography. My first camera in photography school was a russian knock-off Rollei that costed me $60.

  • Chris

    If that’s what he said, I would agree with you, but it’s not. He starts his column “You want to get more into photography.” If the goal is to get good pictures then a some sort of bridge camera is the way to go. You might not even need interchangeable lenses. But if the goal is to “get into photography” you’re going to pine for those complicated buttons after the 28th trip in a day through 10 levels of menu to switch white balance.

    It underscores his lameness that he has a picture of a D3, a camera for which pro photographers shell out $5000 to get the most complicated button layout available. The sort of DSLR someone actually thinking about what’s in this article would consider purchase would have less than half as many buttons (and the buying may regret purchasing a camera with so few buttons later even at an entry DSLR. I moved from film to digital with the D50 and had to sell it and move to a D90 after a couple of years of going into the menu for things like meter mode)

  • mko

    Canon S95 is not cheap.

  • OllieOh

    I think the most glaring point this article is missing out is the cultural acceptability of DSLRs. Their shape, their familiarity, and the references to professional photographers is what drives new photographers to the DSLR system.

    So what if they keep them on Auto.
    So what if they don’t use protective filters on their lens.
    So what if they’re posers.
    So what if they spend more money.

    They want to be like you. And we should be inspiring them.

    Lets stop making pretentious criticisms around who’s entitled to shoot with DSLRs and actually celebrate the fact that photography is one of the most recognizable art forms today. We should be encouraging them, not putting them down.

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    I agree. He should have suggested something like the Zeikos ZE-KDC31-S.

  • Ano

    The guy writes for Popular Science, a magazine targeted at the masses who have an interest in science and not you typical DSLR crowd. Even then he does acknowledge DSLRs are of use for certain crowds:

    “[…] DSLRs should be, and will be very soon, for experts. For pros, or passionate amateurs. Sports photographers, bird-watchers, people who want to build a multi-thousand-dollar collection of lenses.”

    His sarcastic remark about building a mutli-thousand-dollar collection aside, he does make a point that there is a use for DSLRs for a specific segment. Then he goes on to say,

    “But for those of us who just want to take better pictures, dammit, there are amazing options just for us.”

    I really don’t see why everybody here got their panties up in a bunch. DSLRs aren’t for everybody and that’s all he seems to be saying. A sentiment that’s been stated over and over in countless photography forums all over the net.

  • Ano

    And DSLRs are?

  • Ano

    Then it sounds like a fad. Either way it won’t last. People will either wise-up and figure out that they don’t really need a DSLR for what they want to photograph or they’ll just move on to a new fad.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Whenever I need photography related advice, Popular Science is the FIRST place I look. lol.

  • OllieOh

    I just don’t know what the whole fuss is about. This whole arrogance of who deserves a DSLR and who doesn’t is getting out of hand. Trends and fads happen – deal with it. You don’t see Apple fanboys criticizing noobs for buying a suped up macbook pro. That they’ll never use its full potential. No. They congratulate them.

  • Photo Trail

    Dan’s article could be re-titled “Don’t want a DLSR? Then don’t buy one.”

    I won’t ever try to convince someone who doesn’t want one to get one. If they want a point-and-shoot with a good sensor and good lens, there are options. And they will probably feel really good about their own snapshots.

    Dan also raises issues and concerns with areas that seem to be self-manufactured. People who don’t want to fly planes shouldn’t sit in the cockpit.

  • richmack06

    I think mirrorless cameras offer a proper “bridge” camera system for snap shooters that want better image quality and the familiar handling of a P&S camera w/o the bulk of a DSLR. The author’s overall opinion of the DSLR is pretty consistent among a lot of pro photographers. For the ultimate in image quality, lens selection, creative control, etc. a DSLR can’t be beat (at least for now), but i think mirrorless technology has much more upside and the gap between the two will be even more narrower. There are compromises to shooting with either system, and it’s up to the consumer to decide which will work best for him/her.

  • Mako Koiwai

    What’s wrong with the photo of his cute friend? Color balance … that’s a matter of opinion in that situation.

  • Mako Koiwai

    Canon S95 cheap on Amazon … got one for my gal for something like $250 … now that the S100 is out. Wonderful, truly pocketable camera

  • Sum_it

    Wow, this thread is starting to get a little long. All I wanted to say is: to each is one’s own.

    On his comments about bulkiness and aesthetics: It has evolved over the years to meet professional’s needs. You can’t blame a plane for having wide wings!

    “If you’re just getting into more serious photography”. I think him and I have a different definition of what “getting into more serious photography” means. Serious photography to me = mastery of manipulating shutter speed/iso/aperture to fit an aesthetic and artistic vision by the shooter.

  • Travis Juntara

    I got my start in photography with a superzoom bridge camera. And if there’s one thing those can’t teach a newbie. Shallow depth-of-field. I hadn’t even known it existed outside macro work until I started shooting with film.

    If I were to recommend a camera to a newbie who knows they’ll be getting into digital photography, then: Entry-level DSLR, or large-sensor mirrorless.

    But then again, the glitchy-meter auto mode of the $100 bridge camera does push the user to use manual mode and histograms more often…

  • Felipe Paredes Schulz

    “but they’d be missing out on the joys of learning how to operate “a f**king airplane cockpit.”… love this!!!

  • KLC

    The only reason I originally bought a DSLR was to get rid of the shutter lag on the previous 3 point and shoots we had. I was sick and tired of missing shots because the camera had to think about it after I pushed the button. Do newer non-DSLRs have the same shutter lag they had 5 years ago?

  • Sing141

    Protective filters on their lens – you must be kidding. Why would you put a $120 protective filter on a $6000 lens?

  • doom

    I really disagree with the other article, the guy seems like he doesn’t know anything at all about any kind of DSLR whatsoever. And I wouldn’t classify it as an “enormous, problematically-shaped gadget.”

  • Richard Carbonell

    ASPIRING Photographer – DSLR is the way.
    Only true photographers will lug around with bulky equipment for a full day, and it is not something they would expect you to understand…. Putting it into perspective just imagine you paying a pro photog thousands of $$$ for your wedding and he brings a point-and-shoot and tells you they have DSLR features.

    Newbie photographer – MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera)
    This will either break or make you into taking photography seriously… If you manage to get out of ‘P’ mode and undertand what aperture, shutter, ISO, and is able to shoot in Manual mode then you are starting to get serious into photography. This is the time you ring your bank and ask for a higher credit limit.

    Better photos – Go for hi-end P&S this will do!!!!

  • Jeffrey Sullivan

    Interesting quote…
    “I think the big question is “what does the aspiring photographer want out of their camera?” If it’s simply “better photos”, then a mirrorless should do just fine…”

    A mirrorless system may or may not produce better images than a point-and-shoot. The advantage of mirrorless cameras is interchangeable lenses, a collection of which can easily rise into the thousands of dollars, which was the
    criticism of DSLRs.

    The criticism of “too many buttons” seems based on the photo of the $6000 – 7000 DSLR pictured (not a typical DSLR), and it seems ignorant of the latest DLSRs like the Canon T5i which can be controlled through on-screen menus.

    And what will mirrorless camera owners who want an ultra-wide lens for landscape
    photography do? How will a mirrorless camera owner compose a picture under the stars when live view on a LCD screen is worthless, and what will the quality be at ISO 6400?

    A better “big question” seems to be:

    What will the aspiring mirrorless camera owner who wants to take better pictures and get more serious about photography and take night sky photos do?

    Answer: buy a DSLR.

    Mirrorless cameras may be fine for some people who don’t wish to pursue photography all that seriously. But for the people who really do want to improve, it imposes limits which may simply doom the aspiring photographer to buying an intermediate camera system which will only have to be completely replaced in the future, at a much higher cost over the long run.

  • Max

    Any modern camera including DSLR’s have this problem.
    DSLR’s also can suffer from this if they are in auto mode because they will take time to process the information to focus etc causing so called shutter lag. True shutter lag in past times was actually due to the shutter mechanism, type and speed. DSLR “shutter lag” is a combination of the former mentioned processing time to focus, shutter speed, initial focus length and movement of the camera by the photographer. If you keep the camera steady, use full manual exposure settings along with manual shutter speed and most importantly manual focus you will have minimal “shutter lag”
    As fast as you can press down on the button the shutter will respond, it is all the “smart” technology that can slow modern cameras down. In fact older pro film cameras in full manual mode were often
    faster and more reliable as well.

  • Matthew Fleisher

    Those darn wide wings always interfering with my camera phone shots of the clouds….

  • Dan Tauro

    I like my bulky old SLR. It does what I tell it to. Mirrorless is not there yet. the lenses are not there. They do most of what an SLR does but to me are just too darn small. I like all the buttons they impart a random access that gets old on a touch menu system. I like a TTL viewfinder there is nothing that can replace that, Shooting from a screen I hate that. I compose through my viewfinder (even macro). I use live view to check critical focus. If you are serious about photography today get an SLR tommorow? I’ll leave till later.