Design, Photography, & Fashion

What Is a DSLR Camera? DSLR vs. Mirrorless Cameras

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 6, 2019 • 4 min read

The introduction of the DSLR camera brought about a new age of digital photography. The first DSLR camera was made in 1999, and after only a few years of technological improvements, eventually replaced single-lens reflex cameras. With plenty of choices on the market, the DSLR offers a wide range of options for taking professional camera-quality photos.

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What Is a DSLR Camera?

A digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR or digital SLR) is a type of camera that delivers high-end image quality and is widely used by amateurs and professionals alike. A DSLR camera allows you to see the exact image you’re shooting directly through the viewfinder, allowing you to visualize and capture your scenes better.

How Does a DSLR Camera Work?

A DSLR camera works by use of a reflex mirror (or prism) that reflects light into the optical viewfinder, allowing the photographer to capture the image they’re seeing in front of them. Light passes through the lens and is reflected off a mirror or prism inside the camera body. The mirror moves when the shutter is released, opening up a path to the imaging sensor for the light, resulting in your photograph.

What Are the Benefits of Using a DSLR Camera?

While technology has now advanced even further beyond the DSLR, there are still many benefits to using this particular camera:

  • Interchangeable lenses. Most digital cameras are fixed lens cameras that come with set focal lengths, which means less manual control. A DSLR utilizes a variety of different lenses, allowing more options available for your shots, like customizable depth of field, adjusting shutter speed, or wide-angles.
  • Quick autofocus. DSLR cameras have advanced subject tracking, giving them blazing fast autofocus, which is essential for sports and events.
  • Long battery life. The optical viewfinder requires less power than other cameras, so your battery lasts longer, which means more time spent taking photos.
  • More storage. Unlike film cameras, when you take your photograph on a DSLR, it is stored on a memory card, which can hold many more photos. You don’t have to worry about using up expensive film while you try to get your perfect shot.
  • No lag. Since the light is directed straight into the optical viewfinder, your exact scene can be seen without a delay like on some point and shoot cameras. This means less time spent focusing on your image, and more time capturing it.
  • Large sensors. While megapixels play an important role in good resolution and high image quality, it’s the bigger sensors in the DSLR which increases the quality of your pictures. Unlike your smartphone, the sensor in a DSLR is large, which makes it ideal for low light situations. The bigger the sensor, the more light captured.
  • Many accessories. A DSLR is versatile in its use of attachments and extra gadgets, like mounts, flashes, and triggers, making it a truly customizable experience, and giving you a wide breadth of ways to take your pictures.
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DSLR Versus Mirrorless Camera: What’s the Difference?

Although camera manufacturers now offer mirrorless cameras with changeable lenses, there are still a number of differences between mirrrorless and DSLR cameras:

  • DSLR cameras are larger and heavier, making them more difficult to walk around all day with. Although the additional parts and attachments for a DSLR can benefit the quality of your photos, having to carry them all with you can be a drawback, especially if you’re traveling. A mirrorless camera is more compact and lightweight, and better suited for moving around.
  • DSLR cameras are better for longer shoot days, as their optical viewfinder does not utilize the same amount of battery power that a mirrorless camera’s electronic viewfinder does.
  • DSLRs have an optical viewfinder, which enables the photographer to literally see through the camera lens in real time. However, this also means that a DSLR camera user must take a photo and then examine it to make sure their exposure is correct. With mirrorless cameras, you can preview exposure and contrast settings right on the screen before you take your photos.
  • DSLR cameras can be just as expensive as mirrorless cameras, but with the amount of accessories available, a budget DSLR will offer you more value than a budget mirrorless camera.
  • DSLRs have been around longer, so there is more of a selection of lenses, which means a wider range of options than mirrorless cameras, which are still up and coming in the accessories department.
  • While both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can take photos at very fast shutter speeds, a mirrorless camera’s simpler internal mechanics enable it to take shoot faster than most DSLRs, particularly when it comes to a series or burst of images.
  • Lack of a mirror mechanism means mirrorless cameras offer more image stabilization, and less shaky photos—and with fewer moving parts inside, you end up with a quieter, more discreet camera.

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