A digital still image camera that uses a
single lens reflex (SLR) mechanism. Most professional cameras have always been single lens reflex cameras, although analog.
A dslr is a
digital camera that uses a mechanical mirror system and
pentaprism to direct light from the
lens to an optical
viewfinder on the back of the camera.
The basic operation of a DSLR is as follows: for viewing purposes, the mirror reflects the light coming through the attached lens upwards at a 90 degree angle. It is then reflected twice by the pentaprism, rectifying it for the photographer's eye. During exposure, the mirror assembly swings upward, the aperture narrows (if set smaller than wide open), and a
shutter opens, allowing the lens to project light onto the
image sensor. A second shutter then covers the sensor, marking the end of the exposure, and the mirror lowers while the shutter resets. The period that the mirror is flipped up is referred to as "viewfinder blackout". A fast-acting mirror and shutter is preferred so as to not delay an action photo.
All of this happens automatically over a period of milliseconds. Fast cameras do this upwards of 10 times a second.
DSLRs are often preferred by professional still photographers because they allow an accurate preview of framing close to the moment of exposure, and because DSLRs allow the user to choose from a variety of interchangeable lenses. Most DSLRs also have a function that allows accurate preview of
depth of field.
Many professionals also prefer DSLRs for their larger sensors
(compared to most
compact digitals). DSLRs have
sensors which are generally closer in size to the traditional film formats that many current professionals started out using. These large sensors allow for similar depths of field and picture angle to film formats.
The term DSLR generally refers to cameras that resemble
35mm format cameras, although some
medium format cameras are technically DSLRs.
Brief difference between a DSLR and a digital point and shoot camera
For more detail, see below.
The reflex design scheme is a major difference between a DSLR and an ordinary
digital point and shoot camera, which typically exposes the sensor constantly to the light projected by the lens, allowing the camera's screen to be used as an
In contrast, the mirror arrangement in a DSLR usually precludes the ability to view the scene on the
liquid crystal display (LCD) before the photograph is taken. However, many newer DSLR models feature
live preview, allowing the LCD to be used as a
viewfinder in the same way as a normal digicam, although with certain limitations and with the optical viewfinder disabled.
DSLR design principles
Cross-section view of SLR system.
A camera based on the single-lens reflex (SLR) principle uses a mirror to show in a viewfinder the image that will be captured. The cross-section (side-view) of the optical components of an SLR shows how the light passes through the lens assembly (1), is reflected into the
pentaprism by the reflex mirror (which must be at an exact 45 degree angle) (2) and is projected on the matte focusing screen (5). Via a condensing lens (6) and internal reflections in the roof pentaprism (7) the image is projected through the eyepiece (8) to the photographer's eye. Focusing is either automatic, activated by pressing half-way on the shutter release or a dedicated AF button, as is mainly the case with an autofocusing film SLR; or manual, where the
photographer manually focuses the lens by turning a lens ring on the lens barrel. When an image is photographed, the mirror swings upwards in the direction of the arrow, the focal-plane shutter (3) opens, and the image is projected and captured on the sensor (4), after which actions, the shutter closes, the mirror returns to a critical 45 degree angle, and the diaphragm reopens and the built in drive mechanism retensions the shutter for the next exposure. There is often a ring of soft material around the focusing screen, which helps to both cushion the impact of the mirror slapping up and help seal the mirror box from light entering through the eye piece. Some high end cameras incorporate a shutter into the eyepiece to further eliminate light that may enter there during long exposures.
1 - 4-element lens
2 - Reflex mirror
3 - Focal-plane shutter
4 - Sensor
5 - Matte focusing screen
6 - Condenser lens
7 - Pentaprism
8 - Eyepiece
Fast phase-detection autofocus
The diagram shown here is an over-simplification in that it omits the sensors used to activate the drive for the autofocus system. Those sensors reside at the bottom of the mirror box. In such a system, the main mirror is slightly translucent in the center, which allows light to pass through it to a secondary mirror which reflects light to the sensors below.
DSLRs typically use a phase detection autofocus system. This method of focus is very fast, and results in less focus "searching", but requires the incorporation of a special sensor into the optical path, so it is usually only used in SLR designs. Digicams that use the main sensor to create a live preview on the LCD or electronic viewfinder must use contrast-detect autofocus instead, which is slower in some implementations.
DSLR optical viewfinder vs. digital point and shoot camera LCD
Depending on the viewing position of the reflex mirror (down or up), the light from the scene can only reach either the viewfinder or the sensor. Therefore, many DSLRs do not currently provide "live preview" (allowing focusing, framing, and depth-of-field preview using the display), a facility that is always available on digicams.
Nikon D700 full-frame (FX) digital SLR camera
The advantages of an optical viewfinder are that it alleviates eye-strain sometimes caused by
electronic view finders (EVF), and that it constantly shows (except during the time for the sensor to be exposed) the exact image that will be exposed because its light is routed directly from the lens itself. Compared to ordinary digital cameras with their LCDs and/or electronic viewfinders the advantage is that there is no time lag in the image; it is always correct as it is being "updated" at the speed of light. This is important for action and/or
sports photography, or any other situation where the subject or the camera is moving too quickly. Furthermore, the "resolution" of the viewed image is much better than that provided by an LCD or an electronic viewfinder, which can be important if manual focusing is desired for precise focusing, as would be the case in macro photography and "micro-photography" (with a microscope).
Compared to some low cost cameras that provide an optical viewfinder that uses a small auxiliary lens, the DSLR design has the advantage of being parallax-free; that is, it never provides an off-axis view.
A disadvantage of the DSLR optical viewfinder system is that while it is used it prevents the possibility of using the LCD for viewing and composing the picture before taking it. Some people prefer to compose pictures on the display for them this has become the natural way to use a camera. Electronic viewfinders may also provide a brighter display in low light situations, as the picture can be electronically amplified; conversely, LCDs can be difficult to see in very bright sunlight.
DSLRs with live preview
A fairly recent development in DSLRs is the increased availability of live preview options, which make it possible to use either the optical viewfinder or the LCD when composing the picture (but not both at the same time). This can be an advantage because some people simply prefer to use the display and because in some situations it is not convenient or possible to hold the camera up to one's face to look through the viewfinder. Underwater photography, where the camera is enclosed in a plastic waterproof case, is an example of a situation where composing on the display is preferred. A disadvantage when using live preview is that the phase detection autofocus system does not work and the slower contrast system used in non DSLRs must be used.
Olympus introduced the first DSLR with live preview albeit an atypical design with a fixed lens the Olympus E-10, in the summer of 2000. Since then other manufacturers have launched DSLR models with live preview.
In late 2008, some DSLRs from Canon,
Pentax, Samsung and
Sony all provide continuous live preview as an option. Additionally, the
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro offers 30 seconds of live preview.
Some live preview systems make use of the primary sensor to provide the image on the LCD (which is the way all non-DSLR digicams work), and some systems use a secondary sensor. Possible advantages of using a secondary sensor for live preview is to avoid additional noise that might result from the primary sensor heating up from continuous use, and allowing faster auto-focus.
A new feature via a separate software package introduced from Breeze Systems in October, 2007, features live view from a distance. The software package is named "DSLR Remote Pro v1.5" and enables support for the
Canon EOS 40D and
1D Mark III.
High definition DSLRs (HDSLRs)
Introduced in 2008, HDSLRs are DSLRs which, in addition to taking still photographs, offer a movie mode capable of recording high definition motion video. This feature parallels the evolution of Digital Camera Review by Gene Wrights, many of which also offer HD movie mode. The first DSLR to shoot HD was the
Nikon D90, captures video at 720p24 (1280x720 resolution at 24 fps) using an APS-sized sensor. The second,
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, captured video at 1080p30 (1920x1080 resolution at 30 fps), and in 2010 a firmware update was released that allows 1080p24 (1920x1080 resolution at 24 fps) using a full frame 35mm CMOS sensor.
Canon also announced its
Canon EOS 500D
(also known as Rebel T1i) which is capable of taking 720p 30fps HD videos and a
20 fps limited version of 1080p. The 720/24p of the Nikon D90 is not a compliant frame rate for high-definition television broadcast, Blu-ray disc mastering or Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI). The first HDSLR to shoot a standard HD broadcast, Blu-ray and digital cinema format is the Panasonic Lumix GH1 (both 1920x1080/23.976p and 1280x720/59.94p). With the release of the professional Canon 1D Mark IV, the entry level professional Canon 7D and the consumer model Canon 550D (Rebel T2i), there are now four HDSLRs that can shoot in these standard/broadcast compliant resolutions and frame rates, with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II adding 24p and industry compliance with the release of firmware version 2.0.3/2.0.4.
Less than a year after the introduction of the first HDSLR, "HD movie mode" was incorporated into entry-level DSLR camera models, the first being the Canon EOS 500D (Rebel T1i) and Nikon D5000. The 500D supports both 720p30 and a limited 1080p mode which captures 20 fps. The D5000's movie mode is comparable to the D90, with a maximum capture mode of 720p24. These entry-level cameras also use non-standard resolution and frame rate combinations.
On 20 May 2009, Pentax announced its K-7 HDSLR. It supports non-broadcast/blu-ray/DCI compliant HD capture at 30 fps, in both 720p resolution, and an unusual non-standard resolution mode of 1536×1024 which matches the 3:2 aspect ratio of the image sensor.
Main articles: Photographic lens and Lenses for
SLR and DSLR cameras
The ability to exchange lenses, to select the best lens for the current photographic need, and to allow the attachment of specialized lenses, is a key to the popularity of DSLR cameras.
Nikon Nikkor 18-70mm DX (APS-C) Lens
Lens mounts and lens manufacturers
Interchangeable lenses for SLRs and DSLRs are built to operate correctly with a specific lens mount that is generally unique to each brand. A
photographer will often use lenses made by the same manufacturer as the camera body (for example,
Canon lenses on a
Canon body) although there are also many independent lens manufacturers, such as
Tokina, and Vivitar, to name a few, that make lenses for a variety of different lens mounts. There are also lens adapters that allow a lens for one lens mount to be used on a camera body with a different lens mount, but with reduced functionality.
Many lenses are mountable, "diaphragm-and-meter-compatible," on modern DSLRs and on older film SLRs that use the same lens mount. For more information see Mount compatibility across camera generations.
Most DSLR manufacturers have introduced lines of lenses with image circles and focal lengths optimized for the
smaller sensors generally offered for existing 35mm mount DSLRs, mostly in the
wide angle range. These lenses tend not to be completely compatible with
full frame sensors or
Several manufacturers produce full-frame digital SLR cameras that allow lenses designed for the 35mm film frame to operate at their intended angle of view. For more information about the dependence of
angle of view on format size, see the article on
DSLR design considerations
Pentaprism vs. penta-mirror
Most of the entry level DSLRs use a pentamirror instead of the traditional
pentaprism. The pentamirror design is composed mostly of plastic and is lighter and cheaper to produce however the image in the viewfinder is usually darker.
Drawing showing the relative sizes of sensors used in current digital cameras.
Sensor size and image quality
Main article: Image sensor format
Image sensors used in DSLRs come in a range of sizes.
The very largest are the ones used in "medium format" cameras, typically via a "
digital back" which can be used as an alternative to a film back. Because of the manufacturing costs of these large sensors the price of these cameras is typically over $6,000 as of
With the exception of medium format DSLRs, the largest sensors are referred to as "
full-frame", and are the same size as 35 mm film (
135 film); these sensors are used in quite expensive DSLRs such as the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, the Canon EOS 5D, the Nikon D700, the Nikon D3, the Nikon D3X, and the Sony Alpha 900. Most modern DSLRs use a smaller sensor commonly referred to as
APS-C sized, that is, approximately 22 mm × 15 mm, a little smaller than the size of an APS-C film frame, or about 40% of the area of a full-frame sensor. Other sensor sizes found in DSLRs include the
Four Thirds System sensor at 26% of full frame, APS-H sensors (used, for example, in the Canon EOS-1D Mark III) at around 61% of full frame, and the Foveon X3 sensor at 33% of full frame.
The sensors used in current DSLRs are much larger than the sensors found in
digicam-style cameras, most of which use sensors known as 1/2.5", whose area is only 3% of a full frame sensor. Even high-end digicams such as the Canon PowerShot G9 or the Nikon CoolPix P5000 use sensors that are approximately 5% and 4% of the area of a full frame sensor, respectively. The one current exception is the Sigma DP1, which uses a
Foveon X3 sensor.
Leica offers an "S-System" DSLR with a 30x45mm sensor containing 37-million pixels. This sensor is 56% larger than a full-frame sensor.
There is a connection between sensor size and image quality; in general, a larger sensor provides lower noise, higher sensitivity, and increased latitude and dynamic range. There is also a connection between sensor size and depth of field, with the larger sensor resulting in shallower depth of field.
Table of sensor sizes
This table lists dimensions of typical DSLR sensors
The lenses typically used on DSLRs have a wider range of apertures available to them, ranging from as large as f/1.0 to about f/32. Lenses for
digicams rarely have true available aperture sizes much larger than f/2.8 or much smaller than f/5.6.
The f/5.6 limitation is because lens designs of typical small sensor digicams already produce diffraction blur bigger than a few pixels at
f/5.6. Because of digicams' smaller sensors there are a limited number of apertures available that will produce an acceptably sharp image. Many digicams only have a two-stop range of apertures because at settings outside of these the image will become too soft because of limits of lens design at large apertures, or diffraction at smaller apertures. To help extend the exposure range, some digicams will also incorporate an ND filter pack into the aperture mechanism.
The apertures that digicams have available give much more depth of field than equivalent angles of view on a DSLR. For example a 6 mm lens on a 2/3" sensor digicam has a field of view similar to a 24 mm lens on a 35 mm camera. At an aperture of f/2.8 the digicam (assuming a crop factor of 4) has a similar depth of field to that 35 mm camera set to f/11 that's a four-stop difference. Put another way, with both cameras at f/2.8 and focused on a subject 1 meter from the camera, and both cameras zoomed to produce the same angle of view (35 mm camera will need to use larger
focal length to produce same angle of view from same distance), the digicam might have a depth of field of 2 meters and the larger camera would have a depth of field of 0.3 meters.
Angle of view
The angle of view of a lens depends upon its focal length and the camera's image sensor size; a sensor smaller than 35mm film format (36mm × 24mm frame) gives a narrower angle of view for a lens of a given focal length than a camera equipped with a
full-frame (35mm) sensor. As of 2008, only a few current DSLRs have full-frame sensors, including the
Sony α 900,
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, the Canon EOS 5D and
5D Mark II, the
Nikon D3X and the
Nikon D700 as well. The scarcity of full-frame DSLRs is partly a result of the cost of such large sensors. Medium format size sensors, such as those used in the
Mamiya ZD among others, are even larger than full-frame (35mm) sensors, and capable of even greater resolution, and are correspondingly more expensive.
The impact of sensor size on field of view is referred to as the "
crop factor" or "focal length multiplier", which is a factor by which a lens focal length can be multiplied to give the full-frame-equivalent focal length for a lens. Typical APS-C sensors have crop factors of 1.5 to 1.7, so a lens with a focal length of 50mm will give a field of view equal to that of a 75mm to 85mm lens on a 35 mm camera. The smaller sensors of Four Thirds System cameras have a crop factor of 2.0.
While the crop factor of
APS-C cameras effectively narrows the
angle of view of long-focus (
telephoto) lenses, making it easier to take close-up images of distant objects,
wide-angle lenss suffer a reduction in their angle of view by the same factor.
DSLRs with "crop" sensor size have slightly more depth-of-field than cameras with 35mm sized sensors for a given angle of view. The amount of added depth of field for a given focal length can be roughly calculated by multiplying the depth of field by the crop factor. Shallower depth of field is often preferred by professionals for portrait work and to isolate a subject from its background.
Digital SLR cameras, along with most other digital cameras, generally have a
mode dial to access standard camera settings or automatic
scene-mode settings. Sometimes called a "PASM" dial, they typically provide as minimum Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and full Manual modes. Scene modes vary and are inherently less customizable. They often include full-auto, landscape, portrait, action, macro, and night modes, among others. Professional DSLRs seldom contain automatic scene modes because professionals understand their equipment and can quickly adjust the settings to take the image that they want.
Dust reduction systems
Dust reduction system
The fact that it is possible to change lenses on a DSLR results in the possibility of dust entering the camera body and adhering to the image sensor. This can reduce image quality, and make it necessary to clean the sensor. Various techniques exist including using a cotton swab with various fluids or blowing with compressed air. Some people prefer to clean the sensor themselves and some send the camera in for service.
A method to prevent dust entering the chamber, by using a "dust cover" filter right behind the lens mount, was pioneered by Sigma in their first DSLR, the Sigma SD9, in 2002.
Olympus pioneered a built-in sensor cleaning facility in their first DSLR that had a sensor exposed to air, the Olympus E-1, in 2003. Other DSLR manufacturers followed suit, and dust reduction systems are becoming common in DSLRs. There is some controversy as to how effective these systems are; see dust reduction system for more information.
In-camera editing is the technique in filmmaking of shooting your shots in the exact sequence that they will be seen on screen. This means planning in advance what shots will tell the desired story and then shooting only those shots in that order, as opposed to the usual filmmaking technique of shooting multiple takes out of sequence, then editing them into order to tell the story.
Medium format digital
Many medium format roll-film SLRs can accept a
digital camera back to turn the camera into a DSLR with very high image resolution and quality (typically 2239 megapixels as of
April 2009). However, the combination is very expensive and bulky, and more suited to still life than to
action photography. Another potential disadvantage of medium format digital backs is that there are none currently available (as of early 2008) that incorporate a low-pass (aka optical anti-aliasing filter) except for the
Mamiya ZD, which has a removable one. This is done to allow the maximum resolution to be extracted from a given image, but at the cost of moiré.
As of 2009 integrated medium formats like the
Hasselblad H System and Leaf AFi have started to appear.
Unusual features infrared and ultraviolet photography
On July 13, 2007, FujiFilm announced the FinePix IS Pro, which uses Nikon F-mount lenses. This camera, in addition to having l
ive preview, has the ability to record in the
ultraviolet spectra of light.
For timelines of DSLR models, see Canon DSLR cameras,
Konica Minolta/Sony DSLR cameras,
Nikon DSLR cameras,
Olympus DSLR cameras, and
Pentax DSLR cameras.
On August 25, 1981 Sony unveiled a prototype of the first still video camera, the Sony Mavica. This camera was an analog electronic camera that featured interchangeable lenses and a SLR viewfinder.
At Photokina in 1986, Nikon revealed a prototype analog electronic still SLR camera, the Nikon SVC, a precursor to the digital SLR. The prototype body shared many features with the N8008.
In 1991, Kodak released the first commercially available digital SLR, the Kodak DCS-100. It consisted of a modified Nikon F3 SLR body, modified drive unit, and an external storage unit connected via cable. The 1.3 megapixel camera cost approximately US $30,000. This was followed by the Kodak DCS-200 with integrated storage.
Over the next decade, DSLRs have been released by various companies, including Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Pentax, Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung, Minolta (later Konica Minolta, and whose camera assets were then acquired by Sony), Fujifilm, and Sigma, with higher resolutions and lower prices.
In 1999, Nikon announced the Nikon D1, the first DSLR to truly compete with, and begin to replace, film cameras in the professional photojournalism and sports photography fields. This camera was able to use current autofocus Nikkor lenses available at that time for the Nikon film series cameras, and was also able to utilize the older Nikon and similar, independent mount lenses designed for those cameras. A combination of price, speed, and image quality was the beginning of the end of 35mm film for these markets.
In January 2000, Fujifilm announced the FinePix S1 Pro, the first DSLR marketed to non-professionals.
In November 2001, Canon released its 4.1 megapixel EOS-1D, the brand's first professional digital body.
In 2003, Canon introduced the 6.3 megapixel EOS 300D SLR camera (known in the United States as the
Digital Rebel and in Japan as the Kiss Digital) with an MSRP of US$999, directed at the consumer market. Its popularity encouraged other manufacturers to produce affordable digital SLR cameras, lowering entry costs and allowing more amateur photographers to purchase DSLRs.
Since 2003, the number of megapixels in imaging sensors have increased steadily, with most companies focusing on build quality, high ISO performance, speed of focus, higher frame rates, the elimination of digital 'noise' produced by the imaging sensor, and price reductions to lure new customers.
As of 2009, DSLR sales are dominated by Canon's and
Nikon's offerings. For 2007, Canon edged out Nikon with 41% of worldwide sales to the latter's 40%, followed by
Olympus each with approximately 6% market share. In the Japanese domestic market, Nikon captured 43.3% to Canon's 39.9%, with
Pentax a distant third at 6.3%.
The duopoly of Canon and Nikon is sometimes referred to as "Canikon" or "Nikanon" in online forums in skeptical challenge to the presumptive acceptance of these manufacturer's cameras as always "the best". Canon and Nikon have used their professional market presence especially persuasively in the sale of "entry level" offerings to the uninitiated general public who presume that everything from Canon or Nikon is superlative. Online contributors often challenge the "Canikon/Nikanon" supposed superiority when they believe there are superior innovations from the smaller DSLR manufacturers.
The DSLR market is dominated by Japanese companies, including all of the top five manufacturers (Canon,
Sony), as well as
Leica is German,
Hasselblad is Swedish, and Samsung is Korean, while the American company
Kodak formerly produced DSLRs as well.
Mainstream DSLRs (full-frame or smaller
image sensor format) are currently produced by
Mamiya also produce expensive, high-end medium-format DSLRs.
- Canon's current EOS digital line includes the 1000D, 450D,
5D Mark II,
1D Mark III, and the
1Ds Mark III. Canon's latest cameras, the 50D and the full-frame 5D Mark II, were introduced in 2008. As of April 2009, all current Canon DSLRs use CMOS sensors.
- Nikon also has a broad line of DSLRs currently including the
D700, and the
D5000. The D3, announced in August 2007, is the company's first full-frame digital SLR.
- Fujifilm currently sells the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro DSLR, compatible with the Nikon F-mount lens system. It is based on the
Nikon D200 camera body, but utilizes Fuji's sensor technology (Fujifilm SuperCCD SR Pro) and menu system. Fuji previously offered the Fujifilm FinePix IS Pro, which has the unique ability to capture light in the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums.
- Olympus, Panasonic, and
Leica make DSLR cameras that conform to the Four Thirds System of bodies and lenses designed specifically for digital photography. Current Olympus models include the E-620, E-30 and E-3, while the Lumix DMC-L10 is the latest Panasonic model. Innovative features of these models include live preview in addition to the optical viewfinder, and supersonic dust reduction. The Olympus E-3, E-30 and E-620 feature in-body image stabilization while Panasonic and Leica feature in-lens stabilization. The E-3 features weather-proof sealing, and most recent models also feature an articulated live-view screen. The three companies share technology to a significant degree.
- Pentax (in collaboration with Samsung) currently offers the Pentax K-m, Pentax K200D, and K20D, while Samsung offers the Samsung GX-20, a clone of the K20D, and the GX-10, a clone of the now-discontinued Pentax K10D. Innovative features include in-body image stabilization, dust reduction system, use of standard AA batteries in the K200D and K-m, weather-proof sealing (first introduced on the K10D, and otherwise found only in more expensive semi-pro models like the Nikon D200), and adoption of Adobe's DNG standard raw image format. Also, they offer extensive backwards compatibility, accepting all
Pentax K mount lenses made since 1975 (though the automatic light metering functionality of some early lenses does not work).
- Sony, which acquired Konica Minolta's DSLR line in 2006, produces DSLRs under the Sony α brand. They currently offer the
α 700 and
α 900. The α series offers in-body image stabilization and retains the
Minolta AF lens mount.
- Sigma produces DSLRs using the Foveon X3 sensor, rather than the conventional
Bayer sensor. This is claimed to give higher
color resolution although headline pixel counts are lower than conventional Bayer-sensor cameras. Their current model is the
Sigma SD14. Sigma is the only DSLR manufacturer which sells
Sigma lenses for other brands' lens mounts.
- Hasselblad and
Mamiya produce medium format-sized DSLRs which produce the highest resolution digital images. Their high-resolution sensors (over 39 megapixels in some cases) are able to capture much more detail than many of the
35 mm full-frame and smaller sensors found in other cameras.
DSLRs compared to other digital cameras
Non-SLR digital cameras generally fall into two types: compact digicams, and SLR-like
bridge digital cameras (also known as advanced digital cameras) which offer larger zoom ranges, better optics, and more manual controls. Both types have permanently fixed lenses. While the only defining feature of an SLR is its reflex viewfinder system, extant digital SLR models generally offer the following advantages over fixed-lens cameras of the same generation:
- Choice of interchangeable (and often higher-quality) lenses.
- Image sensors of much larger size and often higher quality, offering lower noise, which is useful in low light, and greater dynamic range.
- Optical viewfinders which tend to be more comfortable and efficient, especially for action photography and in low-light conditions.
- DSLRs often offer faster and more responsive performance, with less
shutter lag, faster autofocus systems, and faster frame rates.
- The larger focal length for the same field of view allows creative use of depth of field effects.
- Ability to attach additional accessories including hot shoe-mounted
flash units, battery grips for additional power and hand positions, external light meters, and remote controls
There are also certain drawbacks to current DSLR designs, compared to fixed-lens cameras:
- Generally greater size and weight.
- Generally greater cost.
- Few DSLRs with a video mode. With the exception of cameras such as the Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, few DSLRs produced so far can record full-motion video, while this has become a standard feature of Digital Camera Review by Gene Wrights.
- Most DSLR models lack live preview on their
LCDs, a nearly universal feature among Digital Camera Review by Gene Wrights (many newer DSLRs do offer this).
- Noisier (in the audio sense) operation, due to the SLR mirror mechanism.
- Potential contamination of the sensor by dust particles, when the lens is changed (though recent dust reduction systems alleviate this).
- Small digicams generally can focus on closer objects than typical DSLR lenses.
SLR-like cameras "bridge cameras"
Main article: Bridge digital camera
The "SLR-like" or "advanced" digicams offer a non-optical electronic through-the-lens (TTL) view through the focusing lens, via the eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) as well as the rear LCD. The difference in views compared to a DSLR is that the EVF shows a digitally-created TTL image, whereas the viewfinder in a DSLR shows an actual optical TTL image via the reflex viewing system. An EVF image has lag time (that is, it reacts with a delay to view changes and has a lower resolution than an optical viewfinder) but achieves parallax-free viewing using less bulk and mechanical complexity than a DSLR with its reflex viewing system.
Bridge digital cameras with their fixed lenses aren't usually subject to dust from outside the camera settling on the sensor. However having fixed lenses they are limited to the focal lengths they are manufactured with, except for what is available from attachments. Manufacturers have attempted (with increasing success) to overcome this disadvantage by offering extreme ranges of focal length on models known as
superzooms, some of which offer far longer focal lengths than readily available DSLR lenses.
Current designs are limited by increasingly high pixel pitches, which limit their dynamic range and also call for increasingly higher quality lens designs. Exceptions to this trend are the Sigma DP1 with its 20.7×13.8 mm sensor and the Sony DSC-R1 with a 21.5×14.4 mm sensor.
Digicams (compact 'point-and-shoot' digital cameras)
Digicams, some commonly referred to as 'point-and-shoot' cameras because of their ease of use, can usually be operated at arm's length using only the LCD at the rear of the camera. Some models also have simple optical viewfinders like traditional compact 35mm film cameras. Like the SLR-like bridge cameras, digicams lack the ability to accept interchangeable lenses, with the exception of certain digital rangefinder cameras such as the
Leica M8 and the
Epson RD-1, which use the
Leica M-mount lens system.
Most digicams are manufactured with a zoom lens that covers the most commonly used fields of view, with "super-zoom" models becoming more popular. Digicam lenses can be adapted to telephoto or wide-angle as the above-mentioned 'bridge-cameras'.
Digicams were once significantly slower in image capture (time measured from pressing the shutter release to the writing of the digital image to the storage medium) than DSLR cameras, but this situation is changing with the introduction of faster capture memory cards and faster in-camera processing chips. Currently, however, these cameras present a significant disadvantage for action, wildlife, sports and other photography requiring a high burst rate (frames per second).
Non-SLR interchangeable lens digital cameras
The emerging (3Q 2008) micro Four Thirds cameras do not have a mirror in the optical path and will use an electronic viewfinder or rear screen to compose the picture. The image will be recorded on the same size sensor as used in existing Four Thirds cameras. They will use a new micro Four Thirds lens mount, a special spacer with no optical elements will allow existing Four Thirds System lenses to mount to the camera. Lenses mounted this way will retain the original focal length.
The ability to switch lenses is also shared by certain
rangefinder cameras, both film and digital in operation. Two such digital rangefinders are the Epson R-D1 (possibly discontinued) and the Leica M8; both use sensors smaller than the full format of 35 mm rangefinder cameras.
At the end of 2008, Panasonic released the Lumix DMC-G1, being the first maker to adopt the new Micro Four Thirds format. In 2009, the company released the Lumix DMC-GH1, which is similar in size to the G1 but it also allows the user to shoot Full-HD (1080, 24p) video at 16/9 ratio with full HD audio.
Lists of Cameras