How to Select the Best Features When Buying a DSLR Camera

How to Select the Best Features When Buying a DSLR Camera

Digital SLR Cameras are more than just a step up from your basic point-and-shoot digital camera.

That may seem like a large intimidating step to many, but for many others a DSLR camera represents the camera every enthusiast or professional photographer should have. They’ve also become easier to use and increasingly more affordable, so no matter who you are there’s nothing stopping you from stepping up your game.

If you’re wondering what’s the big fuss about DSLRs – in this article we’ll see what features distinguish Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras and if you’re ready to move on from your basic point-and-shoot camera.

1) Much Larger Image Sensors

DSLR Camera

DSLR Camera

It’s not just megapixels that make a great picture. In many cases, a manufacturer packing in more megapixels just to excuse the higher price or a feeling of ‘good value’ only gives you a much larger, yet still grainy image.

If image quality is important to you, don’t fall for this cheap trick.

DSLRs instead have physically larger sensors that capture and process more of the incoming light before saving it to the memory card. This means true-color, flawless shots that look even better when compared to a compact camera with more megapixels. For example: even a 14 MP DLSR will always take better shots compared to a 16 MP compact camera.

2) Interchangeable Filters and Lenses

by  Emilian Robert Vicol via (CC) Flickr Commons. DSLR Camera

DSLR Camera

While most point-and-shoot cameras these days come with nice 3x optical zoom, nothing beats the most suitable lenses for the type of shots you want to take. This adaptability, along with different flashes and filters, means you’re always ready to take the perfect shot in any conditions.

Changing lenses allows you to alter the depth of field (yielding that characteristic blurry background of Hollywood and wildlife photography), achieve super-clear distance and panoramic shots, adjust shutter speed (for capturing  fast-moving objects) and overall a ‘what you see is what you get’ due to being able to focus exactly upon what the lens sees.

3) Longer Value Retention

DSLR cameras tend to have stronger casings and can take rougher handling, often able to take 600 shots out of a single battery pack, and as such is perfect for outdoors photography. Indoors, they take advantage of fine manual controls for different lighting and focus conditions. You can expect them to be useful for many years without the need for firmware updates.

Lenses are also always a good investment, and the kit that comes with your purchase is often compatible with many other cameras bodies. Good optics can improve the performance on a medium-range camera, and vice versa buying a new DSLR camera means you can still use your old lenses.

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“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”
― Ansel Adams


Quick Run-Down on DLSR Terms

Photography jargon getting too much for you? Here’s a few of the terms most important to what you’d look for in a DSLR camera.

Aperture – The hole through which a lens allows light through into the sensor. It is measured in “F-stop” numbers, a ratio between the diameter of opening and the focal length of the lens. Higher means a smaller aperture. Aperture influences how much of the image is in focus. DSLR cameras have much greater range of apertures compared to fixed-lens compact digital cameras.

CCD – (Charge Coupled Device) The most common image found in video cameras. It is known for taking higher image quality with less noise, but also has as much as 100X power consumption compared to a CMOS sensor. It is also slightly slower at processing images. It is still used by some high-end DSLR cameras.

CMOS – (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductors) Many digital cameras and smartphones now use CMOS sensors because they have on-chip circuitry, which are cheaper to produce, and are much more power-efficient.

Depth of Field – This refers to how much of the image is in focus, adjusted by the lens apertures. Images with a blurry background and very near foreground have “shallow” depth of field (and high F-numbers), while “deep” depth of field (and low F-numbers) is more suited for wide landscapes.

DSLR – (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera) A DSLR camera reflects the light coming in from the lens onto a viewfinder so you can more accurately frame your shots. Using prism and mirror instead of image processing for previewing shots is much more truthful during low-light conditions and for capturing moving subjects.

File Format – Digital Cameras can save images into the Flash Memory Card in different formats. JPG files have low file sizes, but it is a ‘lossy’ format that corrupts details in compression. The most common ‘lossless’ format is TIFF, which is often much larger. For unprocessed images straight from the sensors, the camera might save it as RAW. A camera that can’t save as anything other than JPG/JPEG is often a budget camera.

ISO – These numbers represent the light sensitivity of your camera. Increasing ISO improves shutter speed and compensating for low light – in exchange for introducing more noise to the image. Lowering ISO saturates image colors and introduces blur similar to those in time-lapse photography.

Resolution – The number of pixels in an image or available to the sensor. This is the source of the Megapixel numbers in a camera. For example, a camera that takes images at 3000 pixels horizontal and 2000 pixels vertical has 6 million pixels. Hence, it is a 6-MegaPixel camera. Remember that high-megapixel will of course save correspondingly much larger files to your memory card.

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By Nhelia, taken with an Olympus C720uz


Guide to Buying a DSLR Camera

However, there’s still plenty more to consider if you’re thinking of buying a DSLR camera. There are a host of manufacturers touting great features that promise to give you great shots every time. All of this comes at a pretty hefty price tag.

Photography remains as much about timing and skill as it is about hardware. Don’t get too starry-eyed by the list of features. The best camera is the best fit for you – so think carefully about your goals, what sort of pictures you like to take, and why you want a better camera.

There are three types of people who use DSLR cameras. Read on and check if the cameras they use are the type that will best complement your needs.

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Beginners

Those who wish to upgrade from simple point-and-shoot cameras don’t need the most expensive or most feature-laden DSLRs. If you take pictures mostly indoors, for special occasions and to capture your family moments, to take better HDR photographs to use and share in your blogs and websites; then ease of use and reliability should be the highest priority.

1. Size and weight

DSLR cameras tend to be larger and heavier than most point-and-shoots, true. So, it’s important to find one that feels right in your hands, and small enough to pack inside a bag.

2. Good automatic modes

All other things in the shooting modes being equal, DLSR cameras would provide better results. Look for a camera that allows you to take photos in the way you’re already comfortable. See if your prospective new camera supports shooting HDR photos and videos natively. Auto focus and face recognition are significant pluses.

You want to just click the shutter to capture the memory in a hurry, so there’s no need to be intimidated by the manual controls on a DLSR camera. Just get one that feels the same to you as your old point-and shoot, you can learn about how to use the different filters and lenses later.

3. Price

The main benefit of a starter DLSR camera is its price. The best value for your money is a good general-purpose camera that will give you consistently good results, whether you’re taking still photos or capturing video. Just remember, the megapixels is probably the least important product feature. Shutter speed to keep up with kids and pets, a range of lenses for outdoors or night-time photos, and long battery life for shooting while on vacation – get a camera that grows with you.

It’s probably best to spend a little more for a DSLR that comes as a ‘kit’ with lenses. This way, as your photography skills mature you unlock more and more of your DSLR camera’s possibilities.

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Hobbyists

Those who deem a camera important to their hobby look for the balance between ruggedness and performance and the price point. If you find yourself taking lots of pictures outdoors, or your vacations take you to places and people that deserve being captured at high definition, then a mid-range DSLR camera is your best companion. Bright sun and neon lights, lively city scenes, starkly contrasting shadows, and skittish wildlife – they’re not a challenge if you’re comfortable with manual modes.

1. Better lenses

If you owned a previous camera, it is likely your lenses will work with your new DSLR camera (specially it’s by the same manufacturer). However, buying new kit is comparable to buying new lenses at a highly discounted price.

Most starter kits are offered with lenses in the 18-55mm range. These are good for most intermediate shooting conditions, but the first thing most budding photographers look for is a telephoto zoom lens. You can either pick up a 55-200 mm lens, or a pricier one at 18-200mm if you don’t want to have to keep switching lenses.

Then there’s the wide-angle zoom lens for photographs that capture all the detail in a scene, which means going below the standard 18mm aperture. A 10-20mm lens makes foreground objects pop out while distant details remain crisp.

2. Image Stabilization

The longer the sensor is open, the greater the chance for any jostling of the camera will lead to blurry over-exposed images. Shutters must open for longer in areas where using a flash is not allowed. Few have perfectly steady hands, specially with the weight of larger cameras and lenses, so a camera with image stabilization is a must.

However, manufacturers call this anti-shaking feature by different names. Nikon calls it Image Stabilization; Olympus with Shift Stabilization, Nikon has Vibration Reduction, Pentax and Samsung Cameras have Shake Reduction, and Sony with Super-Steady Shot. Look for these terms when inspecting the camera’s list of features.

3. Larger LCD Screens

Many people are puzzled why DSLR cameras don’t offer convenient live views on their LCD screens. This is because the mirror and lens inside the camera blocks the light from hitting the sensor, driving it up to the viewfinder. The screen is used for reviewing, not previewing, the shot.

Major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Sony have recently solved the issue by mounting a second sensor in the camera body, allowing for simultaneous live preview and framing the shot through the viewfinder. Live View cameras are not actually all that pricey, available in models meant for beginner and intermediate users.

A bigger LCD screen does wonders for working with a scene. If you are serious about using your DSLR camera for taking video, then you may find that smaller screens are not enough for you. Because LCD screens are often such battery hogs, you may consider buying an external LCD monitor screen with its own battery pack.

 However, looking for larger LCD screens built-in to the DSLR camera also serve well. Most DSLR screens are on a pivot mount, so you can view them from different angles – from the top is the most common, so that you don’t have to bend down to see the image if the camera’s on a tripod.

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Professionals

Pros rely on a DSLR camera’s strengths to pull off the perfect photos in the most adverse conditions, specially in the fields of nature and news photography; and for fast and color-true shots, such as for fashion and sports photography. Because DSLRs use an optical viewfinder, not only do they rely on the judgment of the human eye seeing the scene as is for resolving colors and contrasts, but they also consume less power compared to previewing on an LCD screen.

To a professional the most valuable thing is time, and timing is everything. They must always be prepared to take the shot when the priceless moment presents itself.

1. Best Sensors Available

As you already know, sensor size is directly responsible for image quality, low-and-bright light performance, the dynamic range of your photographs, and getting the most out of your lenses. There’s a confusing alphabet soup of sensor types, such a Full Frame, APS-H, APS-C, 4/3rds, Micro 4/3rds, CX, and so on.

For the pro that doesn’t care about the price, it’s Full Frame or go home. This sensor size is the same as a frame of 35mm film, and twice as large as the more common APS-C sensors in prosumer and enthusiast cameras. What you see through the lens is exactly what you get without crop factors.

APS-H is more affordable while still being appreciably large, with a 1.3x crop factor applied to what you see through the lenses. It is about halfway between Full Frame and APS-C in sensor area. Right now, it is Canon that most often uses APS-H

2. Brand Reputation

At this point you may already have a preference for the brand of camera you prefer. Do you like Canon and Nikon’s hundreds of lenses? Sony’s technological sophistication? Pentax and its lighter, more compact cameras for shooting on the go?

Different cameras now show their own unique strengths, and some photographers even have different cameras just for better capturing skin tones and portraiture while another one for the travel and the outdoors.

High-end DSLR cameras have a broad range of capabilities, and it is their special quality in one area that sets them apart. If you’re looking for a camera to serve all situations, reflect first on your own habits as the most important deciding factor between brands.

3. HD Video capability

The ability to shoot HD 1080p video is available in most high-end cameras, and while it may be more cumbersome to take videos compared to a camcorder, a DSLR camera grants the power of its lenses and filters to take videos well outside a mass market videocam’s ranges. Most DSLR cameras can shoot video at 30fps, but some have the shutter speed for full 60 fps.


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photo credit: nSeika via photopin cc

We hope you have a clearer picture now about these amazing picture and video capturing devices. However, good as your camera may be, it still remains that you’re limited by how much you can store on your memory. Don’t let that cramp your style – why not have a look at our Ultimate Guide to Buying Memory Cards, SD Cards, USB or Pen Drives.

Please leave us a comment below about your experience in choosing a DSLR camera, or if there’s anything more you wish to know before purchasing one.

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About: Carlo Marco

Carlo Marco is a web author and cartoonist. Also check out his quirky new illustrated web serial at http://newtribez.net/merstory.

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