Updated: May 23, 2015

How to Buy a Digital SLR Camera? What is the best DSLR Camera?

One of the biggest sellers in the camera market these days are prosumer Digital SLR cameras. What is an SLR camera? SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. In the days before digital cameras, SLR cameras were the tools of professional photographers. Basically the design is such that light entering the lens is reflected by a mirror up into the viewfinder (eye-piece), allowing the photographer to see exactly what the final picture will look like (focus, depth of field, etc.). In a regular camera, you just see what your eye sees looking through the viewfinder window -- not the same as what the camera and film is seeing. You've seen pictures where an object in the front is in crisp focus, while the background is blurred behind them -- that is what you see when looking at a DSLR screen as you get ready to shoot the picture -- you see exactly what the photo will look like. So a Digital SLR is just a computerized version of the mechanical SLR, using digital memory cards and light sensor chips instead of film. SLRs also use interchangeable lens, all with different focal lengths, allowing for closeup macro photography or long distance telephoto photography.

So how are Digital SLR cameras different from regular point and shoot digital cameras? Apart from the interchangeable lenses, SLRs are: must faster at starting, focusing, taking pictures, taking multiple pictures; better at taking pictures under low lighting situations by using higher ISO speeds (no graininess); offer more professional control over light, depth of field, responsiveness. And of course they cost more. The lower end Digital Rebel from Canon will set you back about $500, while the professional versions can be more like $3000-$4000 (and that is before lenses, which often end up costing you more than the camera!). Digital SLR cameras are usually larger and heavier than point and shoot models, meaning you probably won't always have your camera ready in your pocket or purse when a photo opportunity comes along (SLRs are the type you might wear around your neck with a strap, you don't carry one in your pocket!). The big advantage that Digital SLRs have over standard film SLRs are the quick feedback you get by being able to view your shot on the LCD screen after taking it, and the fact that you no longer need to buy or develop film - take 10,000 pictures, doesn't cost you anything extra. You can browse the up-to-date list (updated hourly!) of best-selling digital SLR cameras here.

Best Consumer, Prosumer, and Professional DSLR Cameras - Nikon, Pentax, Canon, Sony, EOS, Olympus

Digital SLR Cameras to consider. These are the leading models (2008-2009) that we have broken into good, better, best. In general, price and features go up as you move up the categories, as you would expect. For a consumer/prosumer DSLR, expect to pay $500-$1000. Buying any one of these cameras is a safe bet -- you will be getting one of the top models in their category, with the capability of taking spectacular photos. If you have not owned an SLR camera before, we suggest buying a lower end one first to confirm your commitment to photography, before blowing $2000 or more. You can take great pictures with these cameras, but photography is also a skill to be learned and not just something magic that happens by pushing a button. If you don't spend the time and energy learning to take better photos, you might well be just as happy with a $250 point and shoot camera. That being said, all of these cameras come highly recommend from many professional sources.
Instead of film, Digital SLRs use a light sensing CCD (chip) which converts the incoming light rays into a digital picture which is stored on a memory chip. The SLR sensors are much bigger and have higher resolution that point and shoot models, meaning any picture you take is generally clearer, crisper, and with better detail and color reproduction. Very high end cameras will have sensors as large as 35mm film, and capture up to 20+ megapixels of detail. The larger sensors gather more light, so a 6MP point and shoot camera actually has lower image resolution that a similar 6MP Digital SLR camera with a larger sensor.

So who needs an expensive Digital SLR camera? Anyone who takes pictures for a living would not be able to live without one these days. Anyone who is a photography hobbyist and interested in taking better, more professional photos. Anyone who doesn't mind carrying around a bigger camera on trips and such in order to bring back top of the line photos. The truth is, most of us are served quite well by a $200 or $400 7MP or 10MP point and shoot digital camera - you get the convenience of a small camera you can throw in your pocket, you get instant review capability to check for blinks or blurs, and you get high resolution images that can easily be printed at 11x17 sizes, and you get acceptably good photos under almost all conditions. As with all electronic and computerized gadgets, digital cameras tend to get better and cheaper over time, so much of the high end functionality of DSLRs will eventually migrate down to consumer cameras - quick response time, ability to take bursts of 10 frames in a few seconds, higher resolution image sensors, quick, accurate auto-focus, etc. The only thing that won't change are the laws of optics - you can't get the same kind of results from a fingernail-sized lense as you can from the larger, professional lenses. So start with your photography needs first, then consider budget, then consider quality available at that price.