DSLRs continue to dominate in our competition… and keep raking in the prize money


posted Monday, October 30, 2017 at 3:09 PM EST


In October of 2012, I became the editor for IR's Photo of the Day contest, and one of the first things I noticed was that Canon and Nikon DSLRs dominated the competition as the primary imaging tools for the most successful prize-winning photographers. As mirrorless camera offerings continued to grow in popularity over the next few years, DSLRs still remained dominant in our competition. I therefore decided to pen a fairly in-depth report on this in August 2014, including interviewing some of the most successful photographers in our competition about the reasoning behind their gear choices. (Did they "know" something?)

Mirrorless cameras have since continued to make major technological strides over the ensuing three years time, and I started to see the writing on the wall -- surely they would be catching up in our competition in the years to come. It just seemed inevitable that the winners atop the prize-winning podium would become more of a natural balance between DSLR and mirrorless models. I realize as an enthusiast photographer myself that the photographer is the most important aspect of a terrific photograph, but most that I know are passionate about their gear, too, and have strong preferences and reasons for what they choose as their primary imaging tools.

Melissa Anderson won the $300 First Prize by capturing this beautiful image with a Canon 5D Mark III

But this morning after entering the ballots from our team for the month of September, and taking a look at the results, I realized two significant things. First, this marks my fifth year anniversary as the editor of IR's popular contest, having now completed 60 months of manning the competition. And far more important, that the dominance by DSLRs does not seem to be fading one bit. A quick glance at three beautiful prize-winning images displayed the gear I have grown quite accustomed to seeing most every month of the year: A blend of Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

Before I proceed I think it's important to note that as a photographer I love both camps, and own both DSLR and mirrorless cameras, shooting often with each. And as a reviewer, I've shot extensively with both form factors through my years reviewing for IR, and very much have things I prefer about each of them. And as a photographer and not just a camera reviewer, I prefer having access to a variety of gear choices depending on what I'm hoping to capture on any given day. I say all this simply so that you'll be aware that I'm not a die-hard fan of one over the other, and very much appreciate both sides of the debate.

So when I noticed here in my 60th month as POTD Editor that the DSLR dominance trend seemed to be holding, the investigator in me just had to take a look at the numbers to see what they might reveal. Numbers, after all, tend to not lie. And photographers seeking prize-money with their photographs tend to shoot with the models they feel will give them the best chance at the coveted victories.

Abeselom Zerit earned the $200 Second Prize with this captivating image taken with a Nikon D500

I decided to split the results into full frame and sub-frame categories for anyone interested in seeing the division, which certainly proved to be an interesting one all around.

IR Photo of the Day Contest: 5-year winning results from a gear standpoint:

Full Frame
Full Frame
All Other
40 40 37 35 28

These numbers reflect 60 months of prize-winning camera bodies from our
photography competition, with three prize-winners from each month, for 180 total.

These represent a total of $36,000 in Adorama prize money awarded through this time.
Canon and Nikon DSLRs combined for almost 85% of the prize-winning images
during this period, with all other camera models* combining for just ~15%.
*(Mostly Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Fuji models.)


Looking at reader interest on our website clearly shows that mirrorless cameras and DSLRs continue to both be hugely popular. The pendulum swings almost daily these days in terms of what camera might be atop the Most Popular Models on our homepage, for instance. You might see the Nikon D850 one day, and then the Sony A9 the next, followed by the Canon 6D Mark II the third day. And it simply begs the question of why this seemingly shared popularity between form factors doesn't translate into our POTD contest?

We've shown plenty of evidence in our unbiased reviews of mirrorless models catching up in areas such as AF performance and image quality. And yet, to date, we've seen no clear picture that says that mirrorless cameras are now "clearly better" as a whole. LED lighting is now clearly better than fluorescent, as fluorescent had once become clearly better than incandescent, and for a whole host of arguable reasons. This has not yet happened in the camera world, only that the trend has been towards a more level playing field in general.

Glenn Nagel garnered a $100 Third Prize with this awesome image via a Nikon D800

So, when will that level playing field show real results in our photo competition, one that pays out in GEAR TO OUR READERS every single month? I speculated in August of 2014 that the playing field might possibly be level by now. You can see for yourself from the numbers that it's not level at all, but still completely dominated by DSLRs.

If I am lucky enough to still be your POTD editor in 2020, I will run the numbers for you once again! (But I'm not going to start holding my breath just yet.)

• • • • •

(If our readers have any thoughts to add on the DSLR dominance in our competition, either pro-DSLR or pro-mirrorless, please do so in the comments down below. And for anyone who wants to put your images where the prize-money is, make sure and enter our contest today!)