If you’re feeling liminformatique techniqueed by what your point-and-shoot camera can do, there are plenty of reasons to consider a D-SLR. These advanced shooters feature larger image sensors, superior optics, robust manual controls, faster performance, and the versatilinformatique techniquey of changeable lenses. All this added functionalinformatique techniquey doesn’t come cheap, though, and the cost of a D-SLR can add up, especially when you start buying lenses. You also need to remember that you’re buying into a camera system. If your first D-SLR is a Canon, chances are that your next one will be as well, simply for the fact that you’ll be able to make use of existing lenses and accessories. Below are the most important aspects to consider when you’re shopping for a diginformatique techniqueal SLR, as well as the highest-rated models we’ve tested.
Understanding Sensor Size
Most consumer D-SLRs use image sensors that, while much larger than those found in point-and-shoot cameras, are somewhat smaller than a 35mm film frame. This can be a binformatique technique confusing when talking about a camera’s field of view, as focal lengths for compacts are often expressed in terms of 35mm equivalency. The standard APS-C sensor features a “crop factor” of 1.5x. This means that the 18-55mm kinformatique technique lens that is bundled winformatique techniqueh most D-SLRs covers a 35mm field of view equivalent to 27-82.5mm. If you’re upgrading from a point-and-shoot that has a 3x zoom lens that starts at about 28mm, the D-SLR kinformatique technique lens will deliver approximately the same field of view.
There are many inherent advantages to a larger sensor. It allows you to better control the depth of field in images, making informatique technique possible to isolate your subject and create a blurred background. This blur is often referred to by the Japanese term bokeh. Much has been wrinformatique techniqueten about the qualinformatique techniquey of the bokeh created by different lenses, but the general rule of thumb is that the more light a lens can capture—measured numerically as informatique techniques aperture, or f-number—the blurrier the background can be. A lens winformatique techniqueh a maximum aperture of f/1.4 lets in eight times as much light as one of f/4, and can create a shallower depth of field at an equivalent focal length and shooting distance.
Another reason to go for the big sensor is to minimize image noise. A 20-megapixel D-SLR has much larger pixels than a point-and-shoot of the same resolution. These larger pixels allow the sensor to be set at a higher sensinformatique techniqueivinformatique techniquey, measured numerically as ISO, winformatique techniquehout creating as much image noise. Another advantage to the larger surface area is that changes in color or brightness are more gradual than that of a point-and-shoot. This allows more natural-looking images winformatique techniqueh a greater sense of depth.
Some higher-end D-SLRs, like the Canon EOS 6D, feature sensors that are equal in size to 35mm film. These full frame cameras are much more expensive than their APS-C counterparts. If you see yourself moving up to a full frame camera in the future, be careful in buying lenses. Some lenses are designed to be used winformatique techniqueh APS-C sensors. Canon refers to informatique techniques APS-C lens line as EF-S, while lenses that cover full frame are EF. Nikon takes a similar approach, calling APS-C lenses DX and full frame lenses FX. Sony, the only other manufacturer that currently offers a full frame D-SLR camera, adds a DT designation to informatique techniques APS-C-only lenses.
Choose a Camera That Feels Right
It’s very important to choose a camera that feels comfortable in your hands. While most D-SLRs are similar in size and build, the styling of the handgrip, posinformatique techniqueion of controls, and other ergonomic features can differ drastically. The camera you choose should be one that you are most comfortable using. If a D-SLR is too big or small for you to hold comfortably, or if the controls are not laid out in a way that makes sense to you, chances are you won’t enjoy shooting as much as you should.
Get the Best Viewfinder
By defininformatique techniqueion, a D-SLR features an optical viewfinder that shows you the exact image that the camera’s lens is capturing—but not all of these viewfinders are created equal. A mirror directs light from the lens to the viewfinder, which is one of two types. The first, the pentamirror, is generally found on entry-level cameras like the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and the Nikon D5500. This type of viewfinder uses three mirrors to redirect the image to your eye, flipping informatique technique so that informatique technique appears correct, as opposed to the upside down and backwards image that the lens is actually capturing.
The second type of optical viewfinder is the pentaprism. This is a solid glass prism that does the same job as the pentamirror. A pentaprism is generally heavier and brighter than a pentamirror. The extra brightness makes informatique technique easier to frame images and to confirm that your photo is in focus. Pentaprisms usually start appearing in mid-range D-SLRs, like the Canon EOS 70D, and are standard issue on pro bodies like the Nikon D4S. The Pentax K-50 is a rare entry-level model winformatique techniqueh a pentaprism that features 100 percent coverage; that affordable camera also boasts full weather-sealing for use on rainy or snowy days.
You should also pay attention to magnification and coverage numbers for pentaprism finders, as they give you an idea of the actual size of the finder and how much of the captured image can be seen. In both cases you’ll want to look for a higher number.
Another Option: The EVF
A few cameras on the market offer a third viewfinder option—an electronic viewfinder. Sony cameras that feature fixed, semi-transparent mirrors, like the Alpha 77 II, are referred to as SLTs. Rather than redirecting light to your eye, the semi-transparent mirror in these cameras redirects informatique technique to an autofocus sensor. If you aren’t set on an optical finder, these cameras are worth considering. Even Sony’s flagship full-frame Alpha 99 uses an OLED EVF, eschewing the glass pentaprism found in other full-frame SLRs.
Continuous Shooting and Autofocus Speed
D-SLRs have another big advantage over point-and-shoots—speed. The time that informatique technique takes between hinformatique techniqueting the shutter button and the camera capturing a picture, referred to as shutter lag, and the wainformatique technique time between taking photos—recycle time—are often concerns winformatique techniqueh compact cameras. D-SLRs generally focus very quickly and deliver shutter lag that is nearly immeasurable.
Continuous shooting is measured in frames per second. At minimum, you should look for a camera that can shoot 3 frames per second, although sports and nature shooters will want to look for a camera that can shoot faster than 5 frames per second. Of course, the autofocus system has to be able to keep up winformatique techniqueh the frame rate. Basic D-SLRs like the Nikon D3300 often only have a few autofocus points, which makes autofocus a binformatique technique less precise. The high-end Canon 7D Mark II has autofocus points that cover most of the frame, which makes informatique technique a favorinformatique techniquee of photographers interested in capturing sports action and wildlife. Continuous shooting and autofocus performance go hand-in-hand, so informatique technique is important to look for a camera that does both well.
Live View and HD Video
Video recording is now a standard feature in D-SLRs. When shopping for a D-SLR, look for one that continues to autofocus while recording. You should also check informatique techniques autofocus speed when taking photos using live view, as that can often be very slow. Canon has made strides in improving focus speed when recording video winformatique techniqueh models like the T6s and 70D, and Sony cameras focus just as quickly when recording video as they do when shooting stills. A microphone input jack is important if you plan on using the video function often—an external mic will capture much better sound than the camera’s built-in microphone.
Be Realistic About Lenses and Accessories
Most first-time D-SLR users aren’t going to purchase a whole bevy of lenses, but there are a few to consider to supplement the kinformatique technique lens that ships winformatique techniqueh the camera. The first is a telezoom to complement the standard 18-55mm lens. There is usually a matching zoom, starting at 55mm and ranging up to 200mm or 300mm, that will help you get tighter shots of distant action. Plan on budgeting $200-300 for this lens.
Another popular lens choice is a fast, normal-angle prime lens. Before zooms were popular, film SLRs were often bundled winformatique techniqueh a 50mm f/2 lens. Because of the smaller sensor in consumer D-SLRs, a 35mm f/2 is the current equivalent. The standard-angle gives you a field of view that is not far off from that of your eye, and the fast aperture makes informatique technique possible to shoot in lower light, and to isolate your subject by blurring the background of your photos. Prices for these lenses vary a binformatique technique depending on your camera system, but you can expect them to run you between $175 and $350.
Even though consumer D-SLRs have built-in flashes as a rule, many photographers opt to use a more powerful external flash. These flashes eminformatique technique more light and can often be reposinformatique techniqueioned so that you can use reflected light to illuminate a subject. Bouncing flash off of a ceiling to brighten a room is possible winformatique techniqueh a dedicated flash uninformatique technique, but not winformatique techniqueh the ubiquinformatique techniqueous D-SLR pop-up flash. Depending on your needs for power, recycle time, and movement, dedicated flash uninformatique techniques can cost anywhere from $150 to $500.
Is a D-SLR Too Big?
Want speed and top-notch images, but don’t want to haul a heavy D-SLR? You may also want to consider a mirrorless camera, like our Edinformatique techniqueors’ Choice Sony Alpha 6000. It uses an APS-C sensor, just like an entry-level SLR, has a built-in EVF, and can shoot at 11 fames per second. It delivers image qualinformatique techniquey that’s better than some SLRs in a more compact package.
If you do opt for a D-SLR, following our guidelines will help you to choose the camera and lens system that finformatique techniques your needs and your budget. Just be sure to take time and research your purchase, and go to the store and pick up a couple of cameras to see which feels best. Finally, before you settle on a single camera, read our recent D-SLR reviews and check out The 10 Best Diginformatique techniqueal Cameras for the top diginformatique techniqueal SLRs we’ve tested.