The basics of the DSLR camera.

Explore the pros and cons of shooting and editing photos with this popular type of digital camera.

DSLR camera with different camera lenses and other camera accessories

What is a DSLR camera?

Thanks to cameras that can autofocus and hold thousands of photos on their internal memory card — perfect for both pros and entry-level photographers alike — digital photography is now more accessible than ever. But understanding your camera options before making a big purchase is still important. DSLR is a term that’s become synonymous with digital cameras, but a digital single-lens reflex camera (notable for allowing interchangeable lenses on the same camera body) is just one type of digital camera. Explore more about what makes DSLR cameras so popular and find out if they’re the right choice for you. 

 

How a DSLR camera works.

When light enters the camera lens of a digital SLR camera, a photographer sees their subject in the optical viewfinder via a reflection of that light from a mirror inside the camera body. When the photo is taken, the mirror swings out of the way and the light goes through to the digital image sensor, where the photo is captured on an SD card. This is different from mirrorless cameras, where the light goes directly to the image sensor and the photographer sees what they’re shooting via a rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder.

 

Types of DSLR image sensors.

While different DSLR cameras have different sensor sizes, these sensors are still large enough to capture enough megapixels to blow your smartphone camera image quality out of the water. The two primary sensor types are full-frame and APS-C. Full-frame camera sensors, which match the size of 35 mm film, are the standard. APS-C sensors are slightly smaller, resulting in a lower focal length called “crop factor.” This smaller field of view can be compensated for with specific lens attachments, but it’s definitely a difference to keep in mind when researching your ideal APS-C or full-frame DSLR.

 

The advantage of interchangeable lenses.

DSLR cameras allow you to combine the camera body with lens attachments of your choice, whether that’s a fisheye or a zoom lens. “You’re able to get different types of lenses that serve different purposes and give you different looks,” photographer Ivy Chen explains. “DSLRs are way more versatile in that respect.”

 

Whether your goal is intimate portrait photography or shooting stunning landscapes, understanding the ideal focal length for each situation will help you to select the best lens for going the DSLR route.

Assortment of camera lenses

A few other DSLR advantages.

 

Low light: DSLR cameras are very effective for shooting in dim lighting, as the larger sensor can capture more light.

 

Autofocus: DSLRs have better autofocus features compared to point-and-shoot cameras, allowing you to focus and shoot faster to capture more high-quality images.

 

Battery life: DSLRs don’t require the digital screen to be on all the time, so they use very little power, extending battery life.

 

 

The disadvantage of DSLRs.

While digital cameras allow you to see your shot immediately after it’s taken, unlike film that you have to develop, what you see in the viewfinder still may not be exactly what’s exposed to the image sensor in a DSLR camera. That’s because DSLRs rely on the mirror for some of their focusing, something which photographer Derek Boyd points out can be problematic. You might not get a good look at exactly what your camera captured until you’re editing your shots.

 

With a mirrorless camera, you get what you see — the image you see is exactly what is exposed to the sensor. That allows you to fine-tune camera adjustments better in the moment. While you can still adjust in the moment with DSLR, there may end up being more issues to clean up in editing, due to the discrepancy between the viewfinder and what is exposed to the sensor. 

 

When it comes to editing, becoming accustomed to what your DSLR does can come with a learning curve. “Preparing a raw file before retouching or colour editing took some adjustment when I moved to digital,” says DSLR photographer Stephen Klise. “All the light and colour reacted differently from what I learnt — you get a lot of pronounced reds and that was very new for me.”

 

With Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, there are many ways to edit and enhance your photos, as well as photo filters to help with your camera’s unique colour correction issues.

 

Adjust light and colourSee how to fine-tune white balance, colour saturation and make other tweaks to your photos using Lightroom’s Light panel.

 

Remove photo tints: You can remove a colour cast on a photo, made by the lighting conditions of your shot, in a few quick steps with Lightroom.

 

Make colours pop: Use the Vibrance and Saturation sliders to increase colour intensity in your photos.

 

Mirrorless or DSLR?

Woman taking a picture with a digital camera

DSLRs are durable, versatile in their ability to pair with numerous lenses and attachments, have great battery life and give you a higher shooting speed with better autofocusing — these are the reasons photographers love this type of camera. But there is a difference between what you see in the viewfinder and what is in the exposure, an issue you won’t get with mirrorless cameras.

 

Both styles typically offer continuous shooting (or burst mode) as well as image stabilisation settings, but mirrorless cameras really shine over DSLR when it comes to video recording. To simplify, the mirror in a DSLR makes focusing video more difficult than with a mirrorless camera, which can better capture full HD video. Mirrorless cameras are also lighter and more compact, as the camera body needs space for only a sensor, instead of a whole mirror system. Gain some insight on mirrorless cameras from music photographer Chad Wadsworth, an early adopter of the camera type.

 

The best DSLR or camera for you will depend on the subject you intend to shoot and the situation you intend to shoot in. Different DSLR models and lenses offer different benefits, but armed with this knowledge, the search for the right camera for you should be an easier one.

You might also be interested in…

Headshot of a man in front of a wall of graffiti hearts.

The art of the headshot.

A good headshot tells a story. Here’s what you need to know to hone your skill in this field.

Golden hour in New York City.

Taking advantage of the golden hour.

Explore how to seize the short moment that many photographers call the best time of day to shoot.

Low-light photograph of a model sitting and posing.

Tips for effective hand poses and sitting poses.

Learn methods for effectively photographing human hands and seated subjects. 

Stunning nature photograph of wildebeests stampeding into a river.

Tips for capturing nature photos of all kinds.

Explore the possibilities of nature photography, from animals in motion to sprawling landscapes.

Get Photoshop Lightroom.

Edit, organise, store and share photos from anywhere.

7 days free, then €11,89/mo.