Digital Camera Tips and Tricks: 10 Reasons to Buy A DSLR

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are the serious photographer’s tool of choice. These units are also a world apart from point-and-shoot digicams, offering far superior performance… although sadly, they do have prices to match. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider investing in one, however – beyond, of course, the fact that it’s a better camera that’ll take fine pictures for years to come.

Faster Response Times

There are BB guns, and then there are machine guns. Press the shutter of a DSLR in burst (or continuous) mode, and the camera will start clicking away like an automatic weapon. This rapid-fire image capture capability highlights a startling difference between 1 frame-per-second point-and-shoot digital cameras and DSLR models, which are at least three times faster. Since the latter has more processing power, DSLRs can also take more than a handful of shots before slowing down. In fact, most DSLRs keep going until you fill your memory card. This almost instant response lets you capture the fastest action—especially kids on the run. We recommend parents should purchase DSLRs for this reason alone. As anyone who’s ever tried to snap shots of a moving object or sporting event can attest, you’ll appreciate this lightning-fast response time.

 

The Nikon D3 is one of the fastest DSLRs available
The Nikon D3 is one of the fastest DSLRs available

Better Picture Quality

When is 10 megapixels better than 10 megapixels? When you compare the images taken with a 10MP compact camera and a 10MP DSLR. Although the pixel count is the same, digicams use smaller imaging devices which introduce digital noise (visual glitches) into the photo—especially in low light conditions. The vast majority of DSLRs use much larger APS-C sized imagers with bigger pixels which improve color accuracy and help tame the noise monster. Using a DSLR, you can grab higher-quality photos in the dimmest available light. It’s a winning feature.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 and Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 both offer 10 megapixels DMC
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 and Sony Alpha DSLR-A330 both offer 10 megapixels DMC

Sharper Images

Ever use a digicam and twiddle your thumbs waiting for it to grab focus? Since the smaller cameras typically use a single focus point that’s usually dead center of the frame, if you don’t have a sharp edge, the camera keeps searching for something to hold onto before you can click the shutter. DSLRs uses far more sophisticated multi-point focusing systems so there’s rarely a delay. More important, you can take super-sharp shots with the focus point almost anywhere in the viewfinder. Look for more points when you shop and cross-type points which help DSLRs focus even faster.

Canon EOS Rebel XSi features a multi-point focusing system
Canon EOS Rebel XSi features a multi-point focusing system

Longer Battery Life

You should get a bonus for carrying around a DSLR, since they’re so much bigger and heavier than cute, compact cameras. Here’s a good one: Owners enjoy much longer battery life, which is quite helpful as you fire off bursts of 10 shots at a clip. Battery life is measured by the CIPA standard, and a decent DSLR has a rating of 500 shots… point-and-shoots boast half that. There’s no mystery here, as manufacturers fit much larger batteries in the grip for more juice. So click away, folks – a DSLR keeps on snapping.

Nikon D700 with battery pack
Nikon D700 with battery pack

More Lens Options

If you opt for a DSLR, you open the door to a world of optional lenses which feature finer quality than the glass used by lower-priced digicams. Canon and Nikon each have over 60 to choose from. These lenses offer everything from macro ultra close-ups to powerful telephotos. Whatever your artistic vision, there’s a lens to help capture it. Granted, this is a mixed blessing, since the optional glass costs a lot and is much bulkier than, for example, a compact point-and-shoot with a built-in 12x zoom rated 25-300mm. DSLR kit lenses are equivalent to around 27-83mm, so to make up the difference you’ll have spend a chunk of change. On the bright side, millions think this investment is worth it, though, as do we.

Canon EF lenses
Canon EF lenses

Greater Control

We’re all for the convenience of point-and-shoot digicams, what with these devices’ aim-and-forget intelligent auto and scene modes which automatically make focus and lighting adjustments depending on the subject. Still, a DSLR’s more extensive range of manual settings put you in total control of any given image, letting you adjust aperture (f/stops), shutter speed and focus to an extreme degree. While many point-and-shoot digital cameras offer these options, they’re typically limited. For example, DSLRs have top shutter speeds of 1/4000 or 1/8000th of a second compared to around 1/1000 for a lower-end digicam, so DSLRs can readily capture speedy subjects. More importantly, you gain greater creative control over your pictures. Naturally, it’ll take practice to truly realize your vision, but who cares? With a digital camera you can take thousands of shots and not go broke making prints.

Controls on top of a Nikon DSLR
Controls on top of a Nikon DSLR

Tons of Add-Ons

Buying cools toys for your DSLR is just part of the fun. Flashes, filters, tripods, GPS units and loads more additional accessories will keep you online for days on end searching for the best deals to outfit your new camera. It’s the rare point-and-shoot camera that boasts an accessory hot shoe—almost every DSLR does. Now you can buy a more powerful and accurate flash to give your shots a pro touch, or add a GPS unit so you can geo-tag your images. And, of course, you’ll need a nice, new camera bag to hold everything in, but that’s another story…

Nikon DSLR Accessories
Nikon DSLR Accessories

Better Movie Modes

Although point-and-shoots cameras are closing the gap, select DSLRs take the best video clips this side of a high-definition camcorder. While many digicams record 720p footage, the best DSLRs shoot in higher 1080p resolution. Not only is the quality better. You also get all the pluses of a DSLR such as the ability to use interchangeable lenses and really tweak your settings. If video is a key concern, a HD camcorder is still the best way to go, but it’s nice having this option nonetheless.

The Canon T1i can capture 1080p video
The Canon T1i can capture 1080p video

Rugged Construction

Since you’re making a hefty investment in a DSLR, it’s good to know these units are built much more ruggedly than the typical digicam. That’s not to say that you can drop them on concrete, but many have metal alloy frames so they can take the wear and tear of continuous shooting and knocking about for years. And like select digicams, several companies offer ruggedized models that are sealed from water splashes and dirt.

The Pentax K-7 claims to be weather, dust and cold resistant
The Pentax K-7 claims to be weather, dust and cold resistant

Optimum Performance

A handful of expensive DSLRs use imaging devices that are the same size as a frame of 35mm film – the peak of photographic quality. Called Full Frame by Canon or FX by Nikon, these cameras deliver absolutely stunning images with the richness of 35mm film and the convenience of digital. (And those larger imaging devices reach stratospheric ISOs of 25,600!) Starting at $2,699 (the Canon EOS 5D Mark II), these DSLR models are serious pieces of hardware for hardcore shutterbugs, but man are the pictures beautiful.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II features a full frame 21.1-megapixel sensor
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II features a full frame 21.1-megapixel sensor

In the end, while we’ve detailed 10 reasons to upgrade to a DSLR, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overall benefits to be had from taking the plunge. Once you live with and use one of these superior digital camera models, well… Let’s just say that we’re certain you’ll easily come up with dozens of reasons of your own.