In the early days of digital SLRs they weren’t targeted, let alone priced, at the consumer market and if you wanted digital it would have been a compact of some sort. Canon’s 300D (Digital Rebel in the US) was the first sub-$1000 DSLR and set about a shift in the market, where suddenly your average Joe could just about afford a digital SLR.
Since then all manner of DSLRs have been made available for as little as £300-400 new. Of the traditional camera companies, Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus joined Canon in marketing quality and affordable DSLRs for the consumer and were soon joined by other electronics companies such as Samsung (in partnership with Pentax) and Sony (using the Minolta SLR framework).
Compact cameras have been nowhere near the usability or quality of DSLRs primarily due to the poor quality of small sensors. However, Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung, Sony, Pentax and even Nikon have all released mirror-less interchangeable lens camera systems to challenge the status quo. Panasonic and Olympus have become champions of the Micro Four Thirds system whilst Samsung and Sony have stepped sideways and produced a hybrid of a hybrid. Their NX and NEX systems, respectively, have no mirrors/prisms but retain an APS-C sensor and use lenses smaller than that of their full size DSLR counterparts.
Micro Four Thirds (aka M4/3) took the industry by storm and their cameras sold very well. Panasonic have three tiers of M4/3 bodies whilst Olympus have many variations of their original EP-1, which all appear to be very similar. (I have to admit to not being a fan of Olympus aside of their Trip 35).
The beauty of the mirror-less system is that the lenses are smaller than on full size DSLRs, there is no mirror or prism to bulk out the camera body and since the flange distance (between the sensor and the mount) is a lot shorter than other systems, all manner of adapters are available to use virtually any lens.
All of a sudden people who would have stepped up from a compact to a DSLR are not jumping so far and are grabbing small interchangeable lens systems with both hands. Incredibly there are even those who are trading in their top of the range DSLR systems for smaller mirror-less cameras. Prior to the introduction of the M9, Leica fans were picking up mirror-less cameras and using their Leica lenses as a cheap way to go digital with M-mount lenses without paying over the odds for an M8.
Mirror-less camera systems look like they are the future. Most are reasonably priced, they all allow for the use of third-party lenses of all ages and types and they are the perfect ‘bridge’ between DSLRs and compacts.
My hope is that whether DSLRs or Compact System Cameras end up as the most popular choice, photographers are sure of what they actually need and not what they think they want. The financial pain of buying what you ‘want’ and then switching to what you actually need lasts a long time.
If I could go back to August 2008, I would have bought a Nikon FM3a, a Nikon
50mm f/1.2 AI lens and a bucket load of film.
Don’t do what I did.