What is a DSLR Camera? Everything You Need to Know

This is a guide covering DSLR cameras.

In this glossary definition you’ll learn about:

Everyone has heard about DSLR’s. They are basically the standard and have become a very popular choice for many years. DSLR cameras are versatile and also offer high-quality imagery.

But did you know the DSLR definition, meaning, and how it matches mirrorless cameras?

Let’s dive in.

dslr camera

What is a DSLR Camera?

DSLR is short for Digital Single Lens Reflex. So what does each word mean?

The first word “digital” refers to its fixed digital sensor. These digital sensors replace films that were once popular for capturing the image. It’s basically a film, but in an electronic format.

Single-lens means that the camera uses its lens for focusing, framing and taking the image. This is a slightly different change when compared to its rangefinder and twin-lens-reflex predecessors.

The old lenses are unable to set the shot for you, leaving you to use other methods to manually set the shot.

Lastly, reflex refers to the system that directs the light into the optical viewfinder. It helps you preview the exact scene before taking a shit.

This mirror would be either semi-transparent (commonly on SLT cameras) or be flipped during exposure (Usually available in DSLR and SLR cameras).

what is a dslr camera
Photo by Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga

What is 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 would have their DSLR cameras. Canon coming in with “affordable” cameras named as the rebels, there are also many other entry-level cameras that might suit your taste.

But it may not suit the 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 to get 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, and 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.

It certainly is a flexible yet tough camera that you can take for any photography session.

dslr camera example
Photo by Brent Ninaber

How Does 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 it to be.

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

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

  1. Light hits the lens, it then travels through it. This light can then be adjusted according to what you want.
  2. The light now enters the camera, 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? Its 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.

how dslr camera works
Photo by Clément Rémond

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 beside 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 Camera?

Well, the easiest way to tell if your camera is a DSLR is by inspecting it. If you can insert a 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 the images in the 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 its 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
Photo by Lavi Perchik

How Can You Tell If a Camera is a DLSR?

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

You can quickly distinguish it between the SLR cameras by how it captures photos. While SLR uses their film rolls, the DSLR uses a memory card. Truly embracing the DSLR meaning of being digital.

To distinguish it 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 displayed on the camera’s LCD screen.

Oh and maybe the biggest 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. They offer excellent overall image quality. This is caused by its big sensor that helps you take photos with less noise/grain.
  2. DSLR cameras have great sensitivity to light. This advantage lets you take photos in dark/dim alleys and environments in general.
  3. 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. 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 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.

advantages of dslr camera
Photo by Julian Santa Ana

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 the 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 a lot of space. This makes the camera look intimidating to pedestrians and uncomfortable for long walks.
  4. Not only that, but DSLRs 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. Oh, they are also kind of loud because of its construction. Some new cameras have a quiet mode that counteracts its noise

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

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

disadvantages of dslr camera
Photo by Daniel Tseng

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 in 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 by 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.

Final Remarks

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 its 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!

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