Is it easier to build a Pentax DSLR today than it was building a Pentax 35mm SLR in the 70's? I know, I wrote Pentax in the title, but now that I have your attention, of course this applies to any brand.
I have an old Asahi Pentax K2 (circa 1975-1977) that was no longer functional. It wasn't worth repairing, so I decided to take it apart. It took me several weeks to take it apart, working on it a little every night. Actually, I didn't completely take all the parts off. Some cluster of gears, levers, springs and circuit boards were left intact. I wanted to conserve the intricate mechanism that were incorporated in these older 35mm cameras.
These cameras were precise and built just like a fine watch. I actually wore protective eyeglass during this project, as I never knew when a spring would fly off. Can you imagine designing one of these? Today's engineers all have computer aided drafting tools like Auto Cad, 3D modeling software, animation, etc. In those days, all design and drawings were carefully and precisely hand drawn to a larger scale, on paper. Some were even drawn in ink on special paper. I didn't count, but I took at least 100 tiny screws off. The camera had to be built manually, for the most part, as there was no way to build with that precision using the automation technology that existed back then.
Note that the frame was all metal, the prism was pure solid glass, there were no computer chips and the circuit boards were simple current conductors, used in lieu of wires.
These cameras are still used today by many photographers and hobbyists. It seems that every home had a Pentax camera during the 60's and the 70's. Built like tanks, an SLR from those days was expected to last twenty years or more. There was no "New Models" coming out every year.
Were they better than today's DSLRs? Well...No, just different and technologically limited to what was available at the time. The concept of digital cameras wasn't even imaginable. Like the old TV ad said, "We've come a long way baby!".
Now, about the question of whether today's DSLRs are easier to build than the 35mm SLR cameras of Yesteryears, I don't know the answer. I don't know the answer because I'm not about to dismantle any of my Pentax DSLRs. However, I suspect that it is indeed easier. More molded plastic parts are used, electronics and computer chips take little space and are all pre-assembled with some kind of automation. There are much less mechanical parts. I'm pretty sure that you will not find as many tiny screws holding parts together.
Will the current DSLRs last for twenty years? I think not. On one hand, too many models are being introduced, with new features, and the current generation of upcoming photographers want all the gadgets. On the other hand, technology is expanding at an exponential rate and who knows what next year alone will bring!
We live in a great Century, and taking pictures has never been easier...and more complicated than today, all at the same time.
Thank you for reading.