Photo: Sonny Abesamis via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Photos from mirrorless cameras made up just three percent of all the photos uploaded to Flickr in 2015.

As one of the biggest photo sharing platforms, Flickr is often a good representation of photography on the internet as a whole. But when Flickr published their annual year-in-review, there was a big collective gasp from the photography community when they saw the statistic above.

But wait, isn’t the mirrorless camera supposed to be the saving grace of the camera market?

What does it mean when the camera that’s supposed to salvage the market takes up just three percent, while the camera phone hogs 39 percent?

With stats like that, it’s safe to say the mirrorless market isn’t booming yet.

So what does that mean for photographers?

Most—like me—will be a bit surprised. As the editor of a camera review website, I’ve seen my fair share of mirrorless cameras and many of them are perfectly capable of handling the same demands as a DSLR.

So why are so few Flickr photographers using mirrorless cameras?

While smartphones take up the biggest chunk of the photos uploaded to Flickr this year at 39 percent, DSLRs are in second with 31 percent. Point-and-shoot or compact cameras take up 25 percent and mirrorless, again, barely makes a blip at three percent. Flickr also divided the information up by brand, with the iPhone taking the most photos, followed by Canon and then Nikon DSLRs.

But, it’s important to understand a few things.

While Flickr is the largest image sharing site, it certainly doesn’t represent every image taken. The image sharing platform is used by casual shooters and professionals alike. There’s no data to show what percentage of Flickr photographers are actually pros or serious enthusiasts, but the number of photos uploaded from camera phones may indicate that a big chunk of Flickr users doesn’t fall in that category.

The numbers are also based purely on the volume of photos. Consider how long it takes to take a photo on an iPhone, and how long it takes to shoot and process a RAW file from a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Of course, it makes sense that there will be more photos from camera phones because it’s also much easier to share images.

But even when the camera phone is taken out of the equation, DSLRs shot ten times more than their smaller mirrorless counterparts.

So why hasn’t the mirrorless market picked up like many thought it would—or has it?

While mirrorless cameras certainly aren’t a brand new concept anymore, they’re still the new kid on the block and cameras aren’t being replaced every year. Buying a new camera is expensive—and a good camera will get several years of use.

When you look at a list of the top cameras being used on Flickr, the top camera phones are new, but most cameras are a few years old. For example, the most popular Nikon cameras are the 2010 D7000, 2013 D7100, and the 2008 D90. Canon’s top models on Flickr are the 2012 5D Mark III, the 2008 5D Mark II, and the 2011 T3i. While 2015 has seen the release of some great mirrorless models like the Sony a7RII and Olympus OM-D E-M5, mirrorless cameras from the same years as the D7000 and 5D Mark III weren’t quite up to par.

There’s also still a lot to be said about brand loyalty. A new photographer is probably much more likely to pick up a mirrorless camera than a photographer who has several thousand dollars invested in lenses, flashes, and accessories that will suddenly become useless if making the switch to mirrorless.

The biggest DSLR manufacturers, Canon and Nikon, have yet to create a mirrorless camera considered to be a professional grade option—those are coming from companies like Fujfilm, Olympus and Sony.

While the mirrorless camera certainly has caught up in terms of image quality, there are still some pretty big differences between the two.

Cameras like the Sony a7 offer a lot of resolution in a small body, but the usability isn’t the same—the battery dies after just a few hours, where most DSLRs can easily shoot all day.

It’s also impossible to have an optical viewfinder without a mirror (though electronic ones are improving). Larger camera bodies can actually be more comfortable when using larger lenses, and DSLRs often offer more features for the same price.

While the difference between between the two is becoming more personal preference than a quality issue, there are still a lot of reasons to choose a DSLR.

I upgraded my camera just a few months ago—and I went with the trusty DSLR. Switching to mirrorless was certainly on my radar, as I briefly considered picking up a Fujifilm. But replacing all my lenses and flashes would have been a major expense and one that I wasn’t willing to undertake just for the sake of having a smaller camera. The battery life is also still a big issue for me—I can get well over 1,000 shots from my Nikon D7200 without having to switch batteries in the middle of a wedding.

What about the camera market?

Despite the relatively low use of mirrorless cameras on the social photo sharing site, the camera market actually appears to be stabilizing. But because of factors like cost and battery life, the mirrorless rise is just happening slower than many expected.

After seeing decreases in camera sales since about 2010, this year has actually seen fewer dramatic drops, suggesting that the market may finally be leveling out. Data released by the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) shows that fewer cameras are being shipped this year, but it also shows fewer dramatic drops than just two years ago. Where 2012 and 2013 showed steep declines, 2015 sees just marginal quarterly changes. It’s a bit too early to tell—but the charts appear to finally be leveling out.

Focus just on the mirrorless market, and the numbers appear even brighter.

This summer, Sony reported record sales for their mirrorless products, thanks largely to the full frame a7 line. How big of a boost? A nice 66 percent increase, according to a study by the NDP Group. The same study showed a rise in the overall sales of mirrorless cameras of about 16 percent. At the same time, DSLR sales fell by about 15 percent, so mirrorless cameras do appear to be taking up a small chunk of the sale of traditional interchangeable lens cameras. While mirrorless has yet to make an impact on the Flickr community, the actual sales numbers are increasing.

Mirrorless cameras have made huge improvements since they first entered the market, but they haven’t quite taken hold of the photography community—or at least the Flickr community. DSLRs are still a top choice among professionals and enthusiasts, and with mirrorless cameras starting to increase sales, the camera market is showing signs of leveling out.


Post by Hillary K. Grigonisa Michigan-based lifestyle photographer. When she’s not taking pictures, she’s writing (about taking pictures).