How to buy a camera: body design and new DSLR features
Most DSLRs look just like their film-based predecessors, but look a little closer and the latest models offer a host of innovative refinements
All DSLRs tend to feature the conventional range of Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual shooting modes, generally available from a simple mode dial on the top of the camera.
Those aimed at beginner and intermediate users, such as the Canon EOS 60D and the Nikon D3100, also include dedicated modes such as ‘scene modes’ on compact cameras, for portraits, landscapes, sports and the like.
LCD screens are not only important for accessing the digital camera’s menus, but are also vital for reviewing shots to check exposure accuracy and sharpness.
Budget DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 1100D often have relatively low-resolution LCDs of about 230k pixels, whereas upmarket models such as the Canon EOS 60D deliver razor-sharp displays of 1,040k.
The main difference between DSLRs and CSCs is that DSLRs have a mirror assembly that directs the image from the lens up into the optical viewfinder, enabling you to see the exact effects of focusing and zooming with absolute clarity.
The viewfinder itself tends to be more refined on higher-end models, while the reflex operation of the mirror flipping up when you take a shot, so the light can be redirected to the shutter and sensor behind it, is also usually quieter.
Larger numbers of autofocus points enable you to select one that exactly matches the critical point of focus in a shot, and multiple points can track erratically moving objects in continuous autofocus mode.
Cheaper cameras usually feature nine or 11 autofocus points, whereas more sophisticated models often have more. The Nikon D800 provides no fewer than 51 points, for example.
This is an aspect of DSLRs that’s been considerably improved over the past few years, with higher maximum ISO ratings enabling faster shutter speeds in low-light shooting. Increasing the ISO makes the sensor more sensitive, allowing your camera to take pictures in poor light without the need to use long shutter speeds.
The higher the ISO number used, the higher the sensitivity, but the greater the level of digital noise. Older designs, such as the Canon EOS 1000D, usually offered a maximum of ISO1600, whereas current models, such as the Canon EOS 1100D, provide a much higher sensitivity of around ISO6400 in the standard range, with expanded (lower image quality) options of up to ISO12800.
Top pro models, such as the Nikon D4 with its full frame sensor allow you to shoot at up to ISO 204,800. Improved sensors coupled with smarter image processors bring the possibility of high ISO settings with impressively low noise.
PAGE 1: Overview of how to buy a camera
PAGE 2: Body design and new DSLR features
PAGE 3: How many megapixels do you need?
PAGE 4: DSLR video options
PAGE 5: What you want in a viewfinder
PAGE 6: How fast should your new DSLR be?