For professional photographers and advanced hobbyists, digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are the way to go. They offer faster performance, more control over settings, and better image quality than top-of-the-line point-and-shoot cameras. Most importantly, they give you the ability to switch lenses.
Thanks to recent innovations, DSLRs and compact interchangeable lens cameras (also known as compact system cameras) are growing in popularity with the hobbyist and enthusiast crowd.
Many DSLRs now feature preset shooting modes, friendly interfaces, helpful guides, and more compact designs. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are proliferating and growing more popular than ever with their lightweight, sleek, stylish looks and advanced functionality.
While you can find consumer DSLR and interchangeable lens cameras for well under $1,000, they are a considerable investment. How do you choose the right one? We've got some tips on shopping for a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera if you're in the market for one this holiday season.
Understand the basics
Here are a few key points to consider before shopping.
The megapixel myth: A high megapixel count doesn't mean better image quality. However, it does give you more flexibility when cropping or making enlargements. These days most cameras offer a resolution of at least 10 megapixels, which is overkill for most shooters. A 5-megapixel image is enough to make a sharp 8-by-10 print. An 8-megapixel image is enough to make a sharp 11-by-14 print. A 10-megapixel file can produce acceptable prints of up to 13-by-19 inches, though they may lose some detail. Images from a 13-megapixel camera look good at 13-by-19 inches and can be pushed to 16-by-24 inches. Many DSLR cameras today exceed 13 megapixels—all the better to creatively zoom in and crop your images. Keep in mind that higher megapixel counts also produce larger files, which in turn take up more space on your camera's memory card and computer's hard drive.
Pay attention to sensor size: Cameras with larger sensors and better lenses normally take better shots, regardless of megapixel count. Bigger sensors normally create better images, as do higher-quality lenses; this is why DSLRs take such stunning photos. If you can't get any hands-on time with a camera before deciding whether to buy it, make sure to check the specs to see its sensor size, and compare it with any other camera you are considering purchasing. Typical terms you'll run into when examining camera sensor types are CCD (charged coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor). When considering sensor size, you'll confront terms like Four-thirds and Micro four-thirds, APS-C, full-frame, and more. Large sensors are not confined to interchangeable lens cameras anymore, either. Sony, Nikon, and Canon have all come out with large sensor fixed lens cameras, too.
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