Many times photography beginners and enthusiasts alike will feel the frustration of using a camera that doesn’t quite live up to their expectations and needs. Point-and-shoot digital cameras have come a long way since the late nineties, and now offer many of the features once associated with only high end SLR camera systems. However, if you want to capture the best images possible, and be able to do it with a variety of lenses, you’ll need to take the plunge and enter the world of digital SLR photography. Now a days this is easier and more affordable than ever, with all the major camera manufacturers offering a wide variety of consumer and pro level digital SLR cameras. We’ll take a look at some of the advantages of using a digital SLR camera and what to look for when shopping.

Advantages of using a digital SLR.

There are many advantages to purchasing and using a digital SLR versus a point-and-shoot digital camera. Here’s the most important to consider:

1. Sensor Size. One of the most important reasons digital SLRs offer increased image quality, clarity and reduced noise is due to their overall larger sensor size. Most point-and-shoots offer digital sensors in the range of .4″ diagonal, while digital SLRs offer sensors in the range of 1″ or larger. This is important because the more megapixels you squeeze into a smaller sensor, the grainier and less detailed the resulting images will be, and vice versa. Digital SLRs offer large sensors with corresponding larger “photosites” – which results in cleaner, less noisy images with greater detail and quality.

2. Variety of Lenses. When you buy a point-and-shoot camera, you are essentially stuck with one single lens to capture all of your images with. I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we just can’t get back far enough to capture everything in one shot—or the opposite situation—where we just can’t zoom in far enough to fill the frame with our subject. These are limitations of our lens’ focal length, which is measured in millimeters (eg: 50mm or 200mm). With a digital SLR system, you are only limited by the lenses you have on hand. From a 10mm lens, which offers a view much wider than the human eye, to a 1200mm lens, which offers a zoomed in view almost 24x that of the human eye, there are lenses that will capture nearly any situation.

3. Full manual exposure. Digital SLRs all offer full manual exposure control, which allows us to take full charge of our photos. If you’re shooting with a fixed lens point-and-shoot, often times you will have some control over F-Stop, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, but these controls are often buried under a complex menu system, or are simply not available on the camera. By gaining full control over your camera’s exposure settings, you have the ability to achieve a perfect exposure by compensating for back-lit scenes, or scenes where the camera is under or over exposing when using the Auto setting. You also gain the ability to achieve special artistic effects, such as a slow shutter speed with a flash sync, which will freeze some movement while leaving other elements blurry. By gaining full manual control of your camera and photography, you determine the ideal exposure settings for the given subject and can intelligently choose which settings are the best for your desired results.

4. Accessories and add-ons. Digital SLRs offer a wide variety of accessories and add-ons for your camera body, allowing you even greater control over the results of your photography. One of the biggest groups of accessories is the huge range of screw-on filters including: circular polarizers, graduated neutral density filters, UV haze, warming and cooling filters, soft focus and more. Other important accessories include flashes, cable and remote releases, lens hoods, battery grips, wi-fi transmitters, eyecups and many more add-ons that will allow you to take more pictures in different ways with better results.

5. Frames per second. The ability for a camera to take many photos in rapid succession is a big advantage, and waiting for your camera to catch up to be able to take another photo often results in missed opportunities. Digital SLRs offer high FPS (frames per second) rates in comparison to point-and-shoot cameras. This is due to several factors, with the speed of the camera processor and buffer size being most important. Most digital SLRs offer frame rates of 2.5 / fps or faster, allowing you to capture many images in a short amount of time.

What to look for when shopping for a digital SLR

When shopping for a digital SLR, some of the major points to consider include the availability of lenses, price points (consumer level vs. professional), whether or not you need to shoot video with your DSLR, battery life, on-camera flash capability, kit lenses, availability of filters / accessories, warranties offered and memory card options.

Often times great deals can be found on used digital SLRs, allowing you to enter the world of professional photography at a much lower price point. When possible, bring a memory card with you when shopping for a new camera and ask if you can take some shots with your own memory card to examine later at home. Don’t rush, do your research and you will find a great digital SLR from the many brands and models offered. Here’s some good models to consider:

Canon: Rebel Xsi, Xti, 500D and T2i

Nikon: D3000, D5100, D90

Sony: Alpha A390, A580