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Step by step photography lesson & tips for beginner DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Camera users

What is a DSLR Camera?

Nikon D7000
Figure 1: Nikon D7000 - DSLR Camera

So you bought a new DSLR camera or you are thinking of buying one in the near future and now you want to know what a DSLR camera is and why you should get it or why you should learn to use it (if you already bought one). First off, DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. A DSLR camera is a digital camera but it differs quite a bit from your regular "point and shoot" digital cameras. You can say that a DSLR is a more advanced digital camera with more features geared towards photography enthusiasts and hobbyist. DSLR cameras have most of the automatic modes offered by "point and shoot" cameras plus semi-automatic and manual modes that allows the photographer full control of the camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure, focus, and more.

How does a DSLR camera work?

When you look through the viewfinder of your DSLR camera when composing your scene, you see exactly the same view of what your photograph will be. This is one of the main differences between your "point and shoot" digital cameras and a DSLR camera. A "point and shoot" camera's viewfinder is a completely different element from the camera lens so what you see on the viewfinder is not exactly the same view as what your lens sees.

Composing a photograph

How a DSLR Camera Works
Figure 2: How a DSLR Works

Refer to the figure 2 on the right for a quick overview of how a photograph is taken by your digital camera. Light enters through an opening in the lens (1). After the light passes through the lens, it bounces off a mirror (2) which is at a 45 degree angle. The light then goes through a focusing screen (3) and then it gets reflected into a prism (4) which directs it to the viewfinder (5). When you look at the viewfinder of your DSLR camera, you see the image reflected inside the prism and it is exactly the same view that your lens sees.

Taking a photograph

How a DSLR Camera Works
Figure 3: How a DSLR Works

As we have explained above, light enters the lens (1). The lens is made up of many glass elements that work together to focus the light that is coming in. When you press the shutter button to take a picture, the mirror (2) moves up and the shutter (6) opens clearing the path for the light to go towards the digital sensor (7). The digital sensor processes the light and produces the photograph.

Advantages of a DSLR Camera

A DSLR camera is a step above "point and shoot" digital camera and offers a lot more bells and whistles. Below are the major features that a DSLR camera have that "point and shoot" cameras do not have:

  1. A DSLR viewfinder sees the same exact image that the lens sees. "Point and shoot" cameras do not (as discussed above).
  2. A DSLR camera has the ability to change lenses. "Point and shoot" camera have a fixed lens. A DSLR gives you the flexibility to choose the right lens for any given photographic situation. You can use prime lenses, zoom lenses, telephoto lenses, wide angle lenses, etc.
  3. A DSLR camera have a larger image sensor that produces a better picture quality.
  4. A DSLR camera offers better performance over "point and shoot" cameras. A DSLR typically has faster auto-focusing mechanism and faster shutter that is great for sports and action shots and any shots in general.
  5. A DSLR camera offers manual controls over individual camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus, and more. By learning how to use these controls, you can create better and more creative photos.

Is it time to buy a DSLR Camera?

If you are fairly serious about learning photography and want to take it up as a serious hobby, then yes, I think buying a DSLR would be a good idea. However, buying an expensive DSLR camera will not make you a better photographer but a good student of photography will find it much easier to learn and express his creativity with a quality camera.

Related Topic
  1. How to hold a DSLR Camera
  2. Understanding Camera Lenses