Get your free photography lesson plan
Get Lesson Plan
Photography Glossary

What is a DSLR Camera?

September 15, 2023 by

Are you interested in photography but unsure of what type of camera to use? With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for you.

In this article, we’ll explore one of the most popular camera types among photographers: the DSLR camera.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced pro, understanding what a DSLR camera is and how it works can help you make an informed decision when it comes to purchasing a camera.

So, let’s dive in and discover what a DSLR camera is all about!

Learn DSLR cameras From Credible Creators
Lee Iveson
star rating
Keyword Match: 7%
Matching Content:
See More
Table of Contents

What is a DSLR Camera?

DSLR is short for Digital Single Lens Reflex, so a DSLR camera is a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera

The first word “digital” refers to its fixed digital sensor. These digital sensors replace films that were once popular for capturing images.

It’s basically a film camera, but in an electronic format. Single-lens means that the camera uses its lens for focusing, framing, and taking the image.

Reflex refers to the system that directs the light into the optical viewfinder. It helps you preview the exact scene before taking a shot.

Look at this visual diagram of a DSLR and a mirrorless camera for more info.

dslr vs mirrorless camera
DSLR Camera vs. Mirrorless Camera

What is a DSLR Camera Used for?

The DSLR doesn’t discriminate between photographers. Whatever your niche may be, there is a chance that a DSLR will fit your needs.

Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and other large camera manufacturers have their DSLR cameras.

Canon has “affordable” DSLR cameras named the Rebels. There are also many other entry-level cameras that might suit your taste.

DSLRs may not suit documentary, street, and travel photography since they’re heavy and large. The sheer size intimidates people who aren’t used to getting photographed, erasing the chances of getting candid photos.

Besides that, the DSLR is very flexible since you can equip yourself with various lenses that you may need. They also have superior quality in autofocus tracking, helping you catch moments that end in a flash.

Whether it’s an animal flying by or subjects moving at high speeds. Currently, their video auto-tracking is better than mirrorless cameras.

DSLRs are flexible yet tough cameras that you can take for any photography session.

How Does a DSLR Work?

The DSLR camera consists of the camera body and lenses. Both of these parts can be mixed and matched however the photographer wants them to be.

Professional photographers usually own many lenses and cameras. One for every occasion.

Well, its basic concept isn’t too hard, let’s dive in:

  1. Light hits the lens, and it then travels through it. This light can then be adjusted according to what you want.
  2. The light now enters the camera, and most of the light is reflected into the viewfinder using a mirror.
  3. Viewfinders have a “pentamirror” that directs incoming light into the photographer’s eye. This allows you to preview and see through your camera.
  4. If your camera has autofocus, a small amount of light will pass through the mirror and hit a secondary mirror. The light is then reflected onto the autofocus sensor

Currently, there is no light hitting the image sensor. This state is one of the DSLR camera’s key traits.

When you press the shutter button, the mirrors will flip up. All of the light will then hit the image sensor, temporarily causing a blackout in the viewfinder.

Shutter speed is marked by the shutter mechanism opening in front of the sensor. The image is exposed and quickly closes back based on the shutter speed.

After the exposure is finished, every part that moved or flipped up will return to how it originally was.

Did I lose you right there? It’s fine if you didn’t get the “aha” moment right away. Try to grab your camera and match it up with the basic concept that should do the job.

But if you did, great job! Now let’s talk about why people always want a DSLR.

I recommend checking out this visual explanation by Dan if you want a better visual representation:

Do You Really Need a DSLR?

Well, professionals tend to own various cameras.

DSLR cameras have the widest spread in the photography industry, they range from entry-level to high-quality models.

In the case of DSLR cameras, there’s always a place for every budget.

The fact that big manufacturers (Canon and Nikon) provide thousands of lenses just makes it better.

But you should really consider your budget and needs for the camera. There’s no need to own a DSLR camera if you don’t plan on learning and using it anytime soon.

There are still other types of cameras out there besides DSLR cameras, maybe they’ll fit your requirements better. We included several options below that you should consider.

What is the Difference between DSLR and SLR Cameras?

Well, the easiest way to tell if your camera is a DSLR is by inspecting it.

How to Tell if You Have an SLR Camera?

If you can insert film into your camera, then there’s no doubt that it’s an SLR camera.

As you may have read before, SLR cameras use film while DSLRs don’t. If your camera has a method to capture a video, your camera can’t be an SLR camera.

The DSLR camera meaning is centered on the term digital. It is able to save images in memory cards capable of holding thousands of photos. While the SLR camera can only capture a number of photos depending on the length of the roll.

SLR cameras are able to capture images at a better quality than their digital relative.

Aspects such as color, dynamic range, and contrast. It’s quite surprising that the latest advanced DSLR cameras are still unable to replicate the quality of film capture.

Despite their inability to capture videos, some SLR cameras are still more expensive than DSLR cameras. This is probably due to the camera being a collector’s item, but there are some cheaper alternative SLR cameras.

difference between dslr and slr camera

How to Tell if You Have a DSLR Camera?

After the short explanation of how DSLR cameras work, the main difference between other camera models is its system.

You can quickly distinguish between the SLR cameras by how it captures photos.

While SLRs use their film rolls, the DSLRs use a memory card. Truly embracing the DSLR meaning of being digital.

To distinguish between mirrorless cameras try listening to the sound that it makes. Your usual DSLR camera (without quiet mode) will produce that distinguished shutter sound. On the contrary, mirrorless cameras are more silent.

The DSLR mirror system, the way it projects light into the viewfinder is also different from mirrorless cameras. As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras… don’t use mirrors.

Light just goes directly into the digital sensor and is displayed on the camera’s LCD screen.

Oh and maybe the most significant sign is its size.

Yes, DSLRs are infamously known for their size and weight.

This dimension that it has easily differentiates it from mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras.

What are the Advantages of DSLR?

Well, there certainly is a reason behind their price tag.

1. Image Quality

They offer excellent overall image quality. This is caused by its big sensor that helps you take photos with less noise/grain.

2. Sensitivity to Light

DSLR cameras have great sensitivity to light. This advantage lets you take photos in dark/dim alleys and environments in general.

3. Build Quality

Better construction. DSLR cameras are an investment and should last a long time.

These cameras can take a beating from the environment and yourself, even if some parts are made from plastic.

This construction also allows you to shoot in harsh conditions.

4. Depth of Field Control

Maximum Depth of Field control. Powered by the aperture of your lens, you will easily separate the foreground and background.

Want a sharper overall picture? Use AEB and stack those photos up.

5. Interchangeable Lenses

Interchangeable lenses are a blessing and a curse. The huge array of lenses available can easily fit your needs perfectly. Keep reading to learn more about its curse below.

It does sound like a match made in heaven for photographers. Who wouldn’t like a camera with great control over almost every aspect in a photo?

Well, now it’s time to learn about the disadvantages that a DSLR camera has.

What are the Disadvantages of DSLR?

Despite their popularity, DSLR cameras also have some problems:

1. Expensive Investment

Off the bat, DSLR cameras aren’t really cheap, even entry-level cameras will make a dent in your bank account. Even used DSLR cameras are still expensive.

2. Expensive Add-Ons

Did you remember the multiple lenses I mentioned earlier? Yeah, those cost a bunch too.

Accessories such as camera bags, filters, memory cards, etc. will also cost you a lot.

Don’t forget the resources that are required for your camera’s maintenance.

3. Big and Heavy

DSLR cameras are also bulky and heavy, particularly those high-class DSLRs. Their components take up a lot of space.

This makes the camera look intimidating to pedestrians and uncomfortable for long walks.

dslr heavy
DSLRs can get a bit heavy

4. Can Be Complex for Beginners

Not only that but DSLRs are also quite complex to use. The many buttons often overwhelm amateurs that use them. It will take some time to understand how all those small buttons function.

5. Noisy

Oh, they are also kind of loud because of their construction. Some new cameras have a quiet mode that counteracts their noise

But, if you are invested in photography then picking up a DSLR would make it a commitment. It may take you some time to fully grasp its function.

It teaches you patience, and commitment, and gives you a stronger physique.

What are the Other Camera Options?

Well, let’s compare DSLR vs. Mirrorless cameras. Then we’ll introduce you to the Point-and-shoot cameras.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras

The emergence of Mirrorless cameras started the “DSLR Cameras are dying” phenomenon. Although this isn’t fully true, let’s walk through the advantages that the mirrorless camera possesses.

The high-end mirrorless cameras are able to take photos faster and with less noise. Most of the cameras use an electronic shutter system that increases the battery’s life span.

You could say that it’s a lighter compact version of the DSLR camera with various lens options.

Mirrorless cameras are almost suitable for any photographic need.

DSLRs are still better at maintaining autofocus speed on moving fast objects, but I expect that it’s just a matter of time.

The lines between DSLR vs. Mirrorless are almost blurred. Mirrorless cameras can do almost anything that your DSLR can. But they offer substantial advantages that would usually be a DSLRs weakness.

They can even use third-party lenses with the use of a third-party adaptor. It may have half the battery life of your DSLR, but separate batteries fill up the blank for them.

I guess it’s now a battle of technology and preferences.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

These small cameras are cheaper than DSLRs and it’s pretty simple too. How simple is it

Well, you just have to point and click nothing more, nothing less.

They are best for daily use. The Point and Shoot is something that you can bring anywhere, it doesn’t take any brain capacity to use and is small. They’re commonly used in street, travel, and documentary photography.

Its smaller size makes it less noticeable to other people, making it a favorite camera to take candid photos with. They don’t look intimidating and instead look cute.

Advanced point-and-shoot cameras will provide you with better image quality and control. Although this technology will make the price similar to DSLR cameras.

A trusty DSLR camera may be all you need. It can be used on most occasions despite its appearance. The construction is solid, yet provides its own pros and cons. There are also alternatives such as mirrorless cameras that may suit you more since it’s lighter.

Your camera should suit your needs, but the equipment means nothing without skill. Never stop practicing and studying to use your camera. Good luck!

What is the difference between DSLR and normal camera?

A DSLR camera offers more advanced features and interchangeable lenses, which allows for greater creative control and flexibility. Additionally, DSLR cameras typically offer better image quality, faster autofocus, and faster shutter speeds than normal point-and-shoot cameras.

Are DSLRs outdated?

While there are newer and more advanced camera technologies available, DSLRs still remain a popular choice among photographers, especially for those who require more advanced features and greater control over their images. DSLRs may not be the latest and greatest camera technology, but they are far from outdated and continue to offer exceptional image quality and flexibility.