Overwhelmed by the ocean of DSLR camera features to wade through? Can’t decide on which top DSLR camera to buy? Not sure how a DSLR camera even works or why it’s better than a mirrorless camera? Fear not! We’ve done all the research for you and put together this guide to help beginner DSLR camera users navigate the professional DSLR camera market.
What is a DSLR Camera?
DSLR stands for “digital single-lens reflex”. DSLR cameras use digital storage rather than the film older cameras used, and a single lens rather than the older rangefinder cameras. The reflex refers to the ability to direct light entering the camera to either the viewfinder or the sensor.
DSLR cameras are some of the most highly complex camera types technologically, as they contain many advanced features and settings that were not able to be adjusted on older cameras. To understand the features of a DSLR camera, you must first understand how a DSLR camera works.
How Does a DSLR Camera Work?
A DSLR camera uses a mirror to direct light through the viewfinder, so the photographer captures the image they are actually seeing. When the shutter is released, the camera shifts to direct light to the sensor inside the DSLR camera. The ‘R’ in DSLR refers to ‘reflex’. This describes how the mirror reacts to the shutter to create the image.
The reflex allows for less lag than an older camera. The process DSLR cameras use to capture photos also allows for more storage, better battery life, and sharper images than older cameras. The advanced features, better quality, and ability to adjust settings to very specific desires are what make a DSLR camera the ideal device for professional photographers and videographers alike.
Basic DSLR Camera Features to Consider
The battery grip of a DSLR camera allows more space for more batteries, which in turn increases the amount of power a DSLR camera can hold. This extra battery area also serves as a grip, which allows the user to maneuver the position of the DSLR camera more easily. The battery grip is known to make portrait shooting, also known as vertical shooting, a lot more manageable. This is also often the section of the DSLR camera that holds the basic control buttons, such as the shutter control.
The mirror in a DSLR camera displays the preview image in the viewfinder and directs light to the sensor. The shutter will make the mirror flip up to direct the light to the sensor for a given amount of time. In most DSLR cameras, the mirror can be locked up towards the sensor. The locking mechanism makes internal cleaning easier and prevents the mirror from shaking during movement.
The Mount of a DSLR camera connects the body of the camera to the lens. Lenses will most likely have to be compatible with the body, which means no brand mixing.
The sensor of a DSLR camera is larger than the sensors on older cameras. This allows for the photos and videos to be more accurate as more light can be absorbed. Larger sensors also prevent excessive electronic noise and allow for better quality photos to be taken in low-light settings.
Ultra-Sonic Motor (USM)
DSLR cameras have ultra-sonic motors, which are faster, more accurate, and quieter when focusing.
Top DSLR Camera Settings
These three DSLR camera settings are known as the “three pillars” of settings. They are widely regarded as the most important settings to pay attention to, so it is vital to understand what they do and how they work. DSLR cameras offer wider ranges for these settings, so it is important to recognize what levels of each setting will produce the type of image you are aiming for.
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in a lens, which determines how much light enters the camera. Aperture controls two things: depth of field and exposure. Lower aperture settings equate to wider openings, which allow more light to enter the camera and blur the background around the focal points.
Lower aperture is usually ideal in low lighting or night shots. Higher aperture settings equate to smaller openings, which allow less light to enter the camera and sharpen the entire frame rather than just the focal points. DSLR cameras will usually have an aperture ring, which allows you to manually adjust the aperture, but it can also be controlled automatically based on other settings.
The shutter of a DSLR camera determines how long the light is exposed to the sensor in the camera. The shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. The lowest speed most DSLR cameras offer is around 30 seconds, whereas the highest can range from 1/4000th to 1/8000th of a second. Lower settings allow light in for longer, and higher settings only allow light in for a short time.
When light is exposed to the sensor for a longer time at a lower setting, motion can be captured, causing motion blur. Less exposure at a higher setting freezes motion and captures a single still frame of motion without blur.
First off, it’s pronounced “eye-so” instead of pronouncing all three letters like in DSLR. Some professionals can get pretty touchy about the mispronunciation of this setting, so keep that in mind when asking for advice.
ISO controls a DSLR camera’s light sensitivity, which controls how bright or dark a photo is. The lower the ISO setting, the higher the quality of the photo, so it is important to pay attention to the other two top settings. Usually, the ISO setting should not be raised unless the aperture and shutter speeds can’t brighten the photo. The average range for ISO values (also called speeds) is between 100 and 6400.
High-quality DSLR cameras will allow different focusing mode settings; usually single point and spectrum. Single point, as the title states, focuses on a single point. Spectrum mode can focus on multiple points, which is ideal for group photos. DSLR cameras also allow you to move the focus points outside of the center.
Shooting modes will allow you to adjust the aperture and shutter either separately or together.
Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture priority mode allows you to control the aperture manually while adjusting the shutter speed automatically or leaving it on a particular setting. This allows easy control of background blur and brightness.
Shutter Priority Mode
Shutter priority mode allows you to control the shutter settings manually while adjusting the aperture automatically or leaving it on a particular setting. This allows easy control of motion blur.
Manual mode allows you to control both aperture and shutter manually.
This is a ring around the barrel that allows for manually fine-tuning the zoom.
This is a ring around the barrel that allows for manually fine-tuning the aperture.
Live view allows you to see what the camera sees live on the screen rather than having to squint through a tiny window.
Top DSLR Camera Models
As a beginner, it is more practical to start with slightly older DSLR camera models to get a good feel for all the new features and avoid breaking the bank. But for those of you with a more flexible budget and an eye for perfection, we’ve added the best-of-the-best as well.
Canon EOS Rebel T7
Amazon’s best-seller is the Canon EOS Rebel T7 at an affordable $549. It combines top features with a user-friendly operation to transition beginners from using their smartphone cameras to using a professional DSLR camera. It comes equipped with built-in Wi-Fi for fast online sharing, a 3-inch screen, a shooting speed of 3fps, and an ISO range of 100-6400. With an average customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars, this one wins the title of best introductory DSLR camera on the market.
Canon EOS 90D
This is a mid-level DSLR camera that has every feature you could ever want. It averages around $1,200. It has a 3-inch screen, a shooting speed of 10fps, and 4K Ultra HD. With extra features and some updated specs, This reliable camera deserves its customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Although better than an introductory DSLR camera, this camera still doesn’t top the best available DSLR camera features.
This showstopping DSLR camera offers a live digital viewfinder and multiple shooting modes, giving it even more features than the last DSLR camera. Coming in at a whopping $2,500, this DSLR camera is only for the most dedicated photographers. It comes equipped with a 3.2-inch screen, manual and automatic focus types, and faster action. Meeting its competitors on Amazon, this DSLR camera also achieves a customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The BEST DSLR camera on the market today is the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. It is considered one of the most technologically advanced DSLR cameras on the market, with the best resolution, battery life, and focus available. The best DSLR camera of the best does have a pretty hefty price tag, though, coming in at $6,500.
Canon and Nikon are the obvious top brands in the DSLR camera market, but they are not the only brands to pay attention to. Other brands can also provide top-quality DSLR cameras at reasonable prices.
Top Digital Camera manufactures around the globe
Canon has been producing digital cameras and film since 1937. They are known for their wide variety of third-party lenses for various photography types and budgets. If you are looking for a reliable fan-favorite brand, Canon is the way to go.
Nikon has been around longer than Canon, starting in 1917. They are known for creating top-level DSLR cameras while also catering to beginner photographers. While they may not have as many third-party lens options, the options they do have are more than enough. Loyal Nikon customers will always recommend starting with a Nikon DSLR camera and staying with the brand as you move up in terms of experience and exposure.
Panasonic also started around the same time as Canon and Nikon. They provide a wide variety of DSLR cameras with high qualities that match up to Canon and Nikon. These cameras are very popular among videographers.
Unlike the other brands, Leica began in Germany rather than Japan. These are regarded as top-quality DSLR cameras, but they come at a hefty price. This brand is popular among professional photographers who are willing to drop tens of thousands of dollars for the best quality available.
Our final brand was also founded in Japan in the early 1900s and provides top-quality DSLR cameras. They produce a wide variety of their own lenses to cater to any photographer. Although they may not be as loud in the marketing world as Canon and Nikon are, the quality is comparable and reliable for beginners and professionals alike. They even cater to the DSLR camera enthusiasts with a little more of a retro taste in aesthetics.
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Now that you know all about the features a DSLR camera can offer and some of the best DSLR cameras on the market for a range of budgets, you can step back and make the right decision for your niche of photography and/or videography.
Each feature may range in importance for each artist, so taking the time to find the best DSLR cameras for each feature could also steer you towards the best DSLR camera for you. But for those of you who want an easy one-stop guide for top-rated DSLR cameras, trust our list above. You won’t be disappointed!