What Is a DSLR Camera?

Digital cameras are everywhere. We carry them in our pockets and purses. They are built into our cell phones. You can buy a decent compact digital camera for under a hundred dollars, but for professional quality pictures, a DSLR camera is a must. DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. It is the evolution of the traditional film SLR camera into the digital age. For a long time film SLR cameras provided significantly better images than DSLR cameras, but DSLR image quality reached the point that any advantage film SLR has is outweighed by the convenience of having a camera that provides digital images a few years ago. Today most professional photographers use DSLR cameras.


The lens on a compact digital camera is permanently attached to the camera. It may be fixed focus or auto focus, but it cannot be removed. DSLR camera lenses are removable. If the lens on the camera is not right for the situation, you simply remove it and install the appropriate lens. By changing the lens, you can shoot macro (extreme close-up), telephoto (extreme distance), portrait, or various special effect photos. With filters you place over the lens the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Resolution and Image

DSLR cameras send the image seen through the lens to the viewfinder using a mirror so what is in the viewfinder is what is in the picture. The mirror swings out of the way when snapping the picture. A digital sensor captures the picture and converts it to a digital file – usually in JPEG or RAW format.

One of the main selling points on high-end compact cameras is the resolution. On digital cameras, resolution is measured in megapixels. The usual assumption is that higher megapixels equal higher image quality. That is an important factor, but it is not the only one. The size of the image sensor is also important. The sensor in a compact camera is usually smaller than the sensor in a DSLR. Because of the larger sensor, a DSLR camera with lower resolution often takes better pictures than a higher resolution compact camera.

DSLR cameras provide greater control over image capture than compact digital cameras. Many compact cameras have basic settings for ISO, exposure, white balance, etc. DSLR cameras provide finer control over those settings and offer control for many more.


The one thing that DSLR cameras can do that film SLR cannot is video. Early DSLR cameras had video capability, but the quality was often much lower than video created by digital camcorders and in non-standard formats. That has changed. Many modern DSLR cameras shoot video in either 720p or 1080p, standard HD video resolutions.


DSLR cameras are currently the camera of choice for professional photographers and hobbyists ready to move up from compact digital cameras. An entry level DSLR kit with one lens costs about the same as a high-end compact camera. A DSLR camera will usually have a larger sensor, greater control over image capture and ability to change lenses to fit the situation. Whether you are looking at a career in photography or ready to advance past the compact digital camera, a DSLR camera is the logical choice.