Guide to Buying a DSLR Camera

Digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have become the standard in high-end and professional photography. They're also a great choice for aspiring photographers, visual artists and people committed to capturing the best photographs possible of their families and special events. What sets these cameras apart from other digital models is the ability to switch out lenses. Changing lenses allows for a greater degree of control, highly specialized effects and more artistic images.

Understanding how a DSLR camera works will help you understand if they're the right choice for you. A mirror is placed behind the lens to direct the light while a photograph is being composed. When you release the shutter, the mirror moves out of the way and light goes to the camera's sensor. A prism in the viewfinder helps position the image so the photographer can see it as the image is taken.

Technologically, this set-up allows a single camera to work with a very wide variety of lenses and allows the photographer to see the same image that hits the sensor. That translates into a DSLR camera that gives you the ultimate flexibility to take or compose just about any type of photo and work under a variety of conditions by simply switching out lenses. There are two primary reasons to choose a DSLR over a point-and-shoot camera: flexibility and image quality.

What features should I look for in a DSLR camera?

Sensor size: The camera's sensor determines how much of the scene you're looking at will actually be captured in the photo. Most DSLR sensors come in one of three sizes: full-frame, APS-C, and four-thirds. Full-frame cameras photograph the widest space, and tend to take great photos in very low light conditions. However, they're often the largest and most expensive models in the DSLR class. ASP-C is the most common format and takes in a medium amount of the scene. Four-Thirds sensors make telephoto and ultra-zoom lens photos more focused and are great for sports and wildlife photography.

Image stabilization: When you're taking photos in rapid succession (also known as a high burst rate) or using big lenses, it can create a very subtle vibration in the camera. As a result, images can be distorted by these very small movements. DSLR cameras compensate for this by having image stabilization features. These are sometimes also called anti-shake or vibration stabilization, and it's important that any DSLR camera you purchase has this feature.

Speed and performance: Speed and performance are two of the hallmarks of DSLR photography. There are two specs to consider when making the most of this camera's power. The first is the time from "power on" to the point you're ready to shoot. This should be less than two seconds. Cameras should have the ability to focus quickly and possess a reasonable speed for continuous shooting at high burst rates. Look for models that allow for 5 shots per second in a more basic model, and expect that to increase as cameras become more sophisticated.

Body design: The areas that differ for every model is size, shape and weight. It's important to decide how compact your camera needs to be, how much weight you can carry and whether the shape of a specific brand is comfortable for you. Other aspects of body design that matter include a comfortable button configuration and the size and position of the viewfinder. These small details can make all the difference in your long-term satisfaction of your camera.

Which accessories should I consider purchasing with my camera?

Unlike point-and-shoot cameras, DSLR cameras typically require the purchase of some additional accessories. Many digital cameras come in a bundle that include items like power cords, memory chips, lenses and filters to create different effects. It's also important to choose a padded camera bag to protect your investment and haul your gear around. Everyone's needs are a little different, but you'll likely want to purchase at least one zoom lens with your DSLR to get the full advantages of the camera.

If you're ready to invest in a DSLR camera and take your photography to the next level, Sears offers a wide selection of entry-level and professional models to put you on the road to taking top-rated photos today.

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