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What is a DSLR? It’s the camera that raises you from amateur to advanced hobbyist

You’ve finally gotten tired of your old point-and-shoot camera. The pictures and videos aren’t so hot and sometimes it moves slower than an old lady with a walker, so you often miss getting that great shot. A great solution is a DSLR, a digital single-lens reflex camera. Basically, DSLRs are like point-and-shoots but the overall quality and response is so much better. Let’s discuss what really sets them apart from basic cameras so you get on the right path.

DSLRs have built-in mirrors (reflex) so the image you see bounces up to the viewfinder. It passes through a focusing screen and a condenser lens, and then reflects off of a prism’s walls to reach your eye. This allows you to see exactly what the lens sees through the viewfinder. When you hit the shutter release the mirror flips up to get out of the way. Once this happens, the shutter opens and let the light pass through the lens to imaging sensor which is rated in megapixels (MP). 

Simply put, a DSLR is just a camera that uses mirrors and interchangeable lenses. One of the best features of a DSLR is the ability to switch lenses. Each delivers a new and invigorating view. There are telephoto lenses, wide-angles, fisheyes and many more. A telephoto lens lets you see farther so you can zoom in on a far away subject, a wide-angle lens allows a wider field of view which is great for landscapes and a fisheyes are extra wide-angle lenses that distort images in unique ways (try to remember you’re sober). A DSLR is one type of interchangeable lens camera. Hold up: A new category of mirrorless Compact System Cameras (CSC) also utilize interchangeable lenses, but as the name suggests, these cameras do not use a mirror and are not DSLRs, even though they are often mistaken as such. (Micro Four Thirds is one type of mirrorless camera.)

Fisheye lens.

An image taken with a fisheye lens. Besides performance and image quality, the beauty of using a DSLR is the option of interchangeable lenses.

Beyond the ability to swap lenses, the biggest advantages of DSLRs vs. a point-and-shoots are photo quality and response. The majority of compact digicams cannot match the quality of a DSLR since the imaging sensors are much larger. The bigger the sensor, the better the photograph – it’s pretty simple. And no compact can match the response or speed of a DSLR. This figure is rated in frames per second (fps) and most DSLRs can capture at least 4 fps. What this means is you’re more likely to capture your kid’s antics on the soccer field or maybe get a good picture of a crime taking place – which is what you bought a camera for in the first place. 

Dealing with low-lighting can be challenging for any photographer. As noted, point-and-shoots have smaller image sensors and lose quality when you increase the ISO (sensitivity). With a DSLR you get a bigger image sensor and the increase creates less noise in the photograph. Not only that, but DSLRs allow much more versatility in how long you expose the sensor by leaving the shutter open longer. In the settings of many point-and-shoots you can adjust how long the camera exposes the image sensor to light but often only up to a minute. DSLRs, on the other hand, literally let you expose the image sensor for as long as you want in most cases. Some experienced photographers will take landscape/cityscape photographs at night that can require exposures of more than five minutes and DSLRs allow this, and they do it well.

The Df is the latest DSLR from Nikon. Other manufacturers of DSLRs include Canon, Sony, and Pentax.

The Df is the latest DSLR from Nikon. Other manufacturers of DSLRs include Canon, Sony, and Pentax.

Lastly, DSLRs let you modify your equipment beyond just the lens. With a DSLR you can attach external flashes, fit filters onto the end of the lens to affect colors and contrast, plus you can upgrade your battery with an extended battery pack. The name of the game with DSLRs is versatility. If you just want a camera for birthday parties and holidays, then you might be fine with your smartphone. If you want a camera that has seemingly limitless capabilities, great quality and speed, then you want a DSLR. Go crazy.

Click here to check out our recent DSLR reviews.

David Elrich contributed to this article.

(Image via Patryck Kosmider/Shutterstock)