Do DSLRs make sense for everyday photographers?

I’ve been playing around with the Canon EOS 6D — you may have guessed from the 30s Of Tech video yesterday — and it’s a great camera. Really nice, good value for the money in its segment and all that. But using it has me pondering whether the push for consumers to adopt DSLRs is actually all that wise.
This isn’t intended to be a review of the 6D, before I start. Heck, if you want one of those, they’re all over the web, as they should be. Where DSLRs (and SLRs before them) were once the province of serious photography enthusiasts and professionals, they’ve crept down into the broader consumer sphere, with plenty of “inexpensive” (that’s a relative term, something I’ll get to shortly) DLSR options out there from makes such as Canon, Nikon and Sony. It’s not that expensive (on the surface) to get into the DSLR game, and the results can be quite impressive… if you work for them.
I see a lot of DSLRs at things like school events, and it’s nearly always the same scenario. A nice shiny looking camera — in my experience, slightly more on the Canon side of the fence than Nikon. I don’t recall ever seeing a Sony DSLR in the wild in an ordinary punter’s hands — sorry Sony! — that’s almost always sporting the standard kit lens and is sitting resolutely on automatic. Not that you can’t get decent photos out of a DSLR on automatic, but if you’re doing that you’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible.
Now, that can be a powerful itch to scratch. I’m only a very ordinary photographer at best — but I strive to get a little better each time I shoot. The thing is, I get the impression that the vast majority of the people I see using them don’t have those particular urges, at least based on a few admittedly anecdotal conversations, before you leap on my back. They’ve purchased a DSLR “because the man in the shop said so”, but they’re terrified of the prospect of fiddling with the settings. There’s a world of joy in those settings, but there’s also a learning curve, and a willingness to work to set up the best possible shots. I’m not entirely convinced that the billions of happy snaps out there needed a DSLR to be what they could be.
Equally, I’ve seen plenty of the same folks struggle with the sheer mass of a DSLR. I was chatting to a journalist friend of mine yesterday about DSLRs, and he mentioned that he’d just flogged off a lot of his DSLR gear in favour of a professionally tilted compact camera, because, in his own words, “he was sick of lugging all that gear around” and that if he was working handheld “he could get better photos that way”. He’s somebody who’s (to use the old cliché) has forgotten more about photography than I’ll ever know, and he’s entirely serious.

I get where he’s coming from. DSLRs are big heavy beasts, and they’ve been built around the historical model of providing for the pro shooters who want sturdy, reliable gear. That makes them challenging to heft around; I experimentally tried handheld shooting some 30s of Tech footage with the 6D and the lens Canon loaned me, but found it significantly more tiring than my normal shooting methods. Sure, that’s the line between professional production and not, and I don’t pretend that 30 Seconds is anything but quick shot and cut video (for now), but again I’m thinking (or trying to) with a consumer mindset at the forefront.
Then there’s the cost issue. As mentioned, I see a lot of consumer DSLRs rocking the standard kit lenses, which are adequate… but that’s it. I’ve had discussions with owners who were shocked — genuinely shocked — when they looked at the cost of higher grade lenses. They’d bought a DSLR with a couple of lenses, and figured that was it.
Of course, there are solutions to this problem; compacts, micro four thirds, even some smartphone cameras, especially if you’re just taking simple shots. Although I’d prefer it if people gave up on shooting photos on tablets; not only do they gain the awkwardness of DSLR shooting, but the shots are terrible. Please, please… just no.
Compacts and smartphones are still quite prevalent in consumer land, but DSLRs are coming in, and I’m not entirely sold on the concept that they’re not just an upsell to make somebody’s commission package a little fatter, rather than what people actually need.
What do you reckon? Are DSLRs something that everyone should adopt?

1 thought on “Do DSLRs make sense for everyday photographers?”

  1. I don’t think everyone should adopt a DSLR but I do think if you get one you should also sign up to one of the many photo courses around so that you learn to use something other than AUTO (community colleges do night classes that run about 8 lessons which are awesome). I’ve had a DSLR for a year now – my first one – and only just did the course. Wish I’d done it sooner as now 85%+ of my shots are manual and the results are so fabulous by comparison. I’ve also found it easier than I ever thought it would be to carry the camera around – though I have a single lense (18-270 Tamron) so less to cart. I even took it on a three hour mountain bike tour in Bali last week slung across my shoulder and took loads of awesome shots. So big ups from me!

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