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Digital photography has come quite a long way since its humble beginnings in the mid 90s. While you can get a great shot with just about any camera on the market today, if you really want to up your game, you want a DSLR.
DSLR – or Digital Single Lens Reflex – cameras offer components of a much higher calibre than their point-and-shoot counterparts. They're also packed with more features and options with increased shooting flexibility. But with all these amazing features come a longer learning curve and a higher price tag. One thing's for sure, though – investing in a DSLR will bring your photography to the next level.
Whether you're new to DSLR photography or thinking of buying one as a gift, this guide will walk you through some of the basic features you'll want to consider when purchasing a DSLR, look at some of the newest technology available in the DSLR world, and touch on must-have accessories.
When people shop for digital cameras, the first specification they’re likely to look at is megapixels (MP). A camera's listed megapixel number dictates how much detail the camera is capable of capturing in each shot. Generally, DSLRs have 10MP or more. It's important, however, to note that a higher megapixel count isn't necessarily indicative of a higher quality camera. Unless you're a professional, it's unlikely you'll ever need more than 12MP.
The sensor in the camera is essentially its "film"; it captures light to create the image. DSLR cameras will have one of two sensor types: CCD sensors or CMOS sensors. The argument as to which of the two sensor types is better is as old as the technology itself. As each technology is constantly improving, there's no verifiable consensus on the topic. The best way to compare is to do some research and test out a few different cameras in-store.
Rather than looking at the sensor technology to define what's better, let's look at the sensor sizes to see what might better suit your needs.
The most common sensor size – called an APS-C sensor – will satisfy most users and still produce amazing shooting results. Because of its size, it has a varying conversion rate of 1.4 to 1.6 depending on the brand of camera (meaning in order to get a 35mm equivalent, you have to multiply the focal length by the conversion rate).
Larger full frame image sensors don't have a conversion rate and will capture more image data. They're an exact 35mm equivalent, and as such are compatible with a very wide range of lenses both old and new. Though a full frame sensor can add to the price of the DSLR, advanced users most often opt for them.
Finally, cameras employing the FourThirds sensor are generally built smaller and lighter. They offer a longer focal length for telephoto shooting, but have limited options for wide angle lenses.
LCD Display and Live View
One of the huge advantages of Digital SLR technology – and digital photography in general – is the introduction of LCD displays on the rear of the camera. As you'd expect, the LCD lets you review your images immediately after you've taken them, so you can choose to keep it, discard it, or shoot another in real time. Newer DSLRs have a feature called Live View which lets you frame your shot in the LCD.
The most important consideration for LCD screens is their size; sizes range from 2-inches to 3.5-inches. The larger the LCD screen, the better you'll be able to frame shots, see your pictures, as well as view and navigate through the camera's menu options.
Many DSLR models come equipped with Live View which lets you frame your shot using the LCD screen instead of struggling to see it through a tiny viewfinder. This feature is incredibly handy for a number of different reasons including shooting from awkward angles where you can't bring your eyes close to the camera's optimal shooting position.
Every brand of DSLR has a proprietary lens mount. That means that if you buy a Brand X camera, you'll most likely have to purchase a Brand X lens. Third party lens manufacturers exist, but can void the camera's warranty if used. If you plan on using a third party manufacturer's lens, make sure it's approved by the camera body's manufacturer first. If you have a collection of older lenses that you'd like to use with a new DSLR, be sure to first verify that they are in fact compatible with them.
Things constantly change, evolve and improve. Let's take a look at the latest advancements in the DSLR realm.
HD Video Shooting
Gone are the days of requiring both a digital camera and camcorder. Many of the latest DSLR cameras are equipped to shoot full high definition video footage – up to a Full HD 1080 resolution – allowing you to record your memories in incredible detail that you can enjoy on your big screen HDTV.
Cameras that shoot high definition footage are often equipped with an HDMI or mini-HDMI output, enabling a simple, single cable connection between the camera and your HDTV so you can view all your footage directly from the source.
It becomes immediately obvious the moment you look at a DSLR; they come ripe with features. Here are a few other things you want to look out for when shopping for one.
All recent-model DSLRs come equipped with image stabilization. What type of image stabilization, however, differs from model to model. Some cameras have it built-right into the body, where a small mechanism ever-so-slightly shifts the image sensor to compensate for hand-induced camera shake.
Another way to stabilize images is having image stabilization built into the lens. This technology is called Optical Image Stabilization mechanism, and it's implemented by the automatic adjustment and optimization of the optical path to the sensor.
Many DSLR camera brands employ both technologies in their lenses and cameras, giving the user the best of both worlds when used in tandem. And both offer a great alternative to lugging a tripod around with you everywhere.
Dust gets into everything – including your camera. That nanosecond the camera's open while you're changing lenses is the perfect opportunity for dust to make itself a new home right on your image sensor. While a miniscule amount may not be anything to worry about, it will accumulate over time, eventually diminishing the quality of your photos. Look for a DSLR that uses some sort of dust reduction system to prolong the life of the camera's sensor.
High Speed Continuous Shooting
This feature is popular with everyone from sports photographers to parents with young children. High speed continuous shooting works by shooting a series of rapidly triggered photos of a fast-moving subject simply by depressing and holding the shutter release button. Once the pictures are captured, you can review them and choose to keep very specific pictures that would have been virtually impossible to capture with a single shot. Most DSLRs have high speed continuous shooting, but higher quality DSLRs will be able to use this function with a higher megapixel count on each shot.
ISO measures the image sensor's sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO capability, the more sensitive the sensor is to light, and as such, the easier it is to shoot in dimly-lit environments. Previously, setting the DSLR to a higher ISO level came at a cost – digital noise. However, today's high-quality image sensors come equipped with noise reduction for this very reason. With high ISO levels you can easily shoot fast-moving images, shoot in dimly lit environments, or both, with outstandingly clear results.
The beauty of DSLR photography – aside from your soon-to-be-thick portfolio of frame-worthy pictures – is the ability to enhance its functionality through interchangeable lenses, flashes and other must-have accessories.
The first and most important accessory you can get for your DSLR is a lens. After all, you can't take pictures without one. Future Shop offers a number of DSLR kits that come with a standard all-purpose 18-55mm lens right out of the box. However, if you're just buying the body, you'll need to purchase a separate lens to start shooting. We carry these, too, with a wide selection of lenses – from wide angle to telephoto and macro – to suit all of your shooting needs.
While a DSLR's built-in flash is suitable for day-to-day shooting, a more powerful external flash can give you endless lighting possibilities. An external flash can brighten a larger area, soften the burst of light, and more. Furthermore, using the built-in flash with a long or wide angle lens sometimes causes shadowing in your pictures. In these cases, having an external lens is a good idea.
Cases and Bags
If you're buying a DSLR and plan on actually using it anywhere, picking up a case or a bag is a very wise investment. Their soft interior and durable exteriors protect your gear and make it easy to carry around the body and multiple lenses, while keeping your accessories in separate, easy-to-access compartments.
Memory is another must-have. With today's high-resolution/HD video capable DSLRs, the more memory you have, the better. Consider using multiple high capacity (4GB and up) memory cards which can help prevent losing all your data in the rare event of card failure or card loss.
Today's image stabilization technology does an excellent job of producing beautifully clear shots, but a tripod guarantees them. They're a necessary tool in every professional's arsenal, and a great idea for the enthusiast shooting portraits, macro shots, portraits, or long exposures. Nothing makes a shot more clear.
Nothing ruins a shot faster than not being able to take it. An additional battery lets you swap out for longer shooting excursions.
Purchasing technology can be a daunting process – especially if you're not well versed in it. We know this and hope that reading this guide has helped clear up some of the technological mystique surrounding the features, functions, add-ons and jargon associated with DSLR cameras. Visit a Future Shop near you to discuss DSLRs with one of our Product Experts. Or visit our Community Forums where you'll find tons of valuable information and discussion about DSLR cameras right now.
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