November 27, 2011, 8:00 AM — For serious and professional photographers, digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are the way to go. They offer faster performance, more control over settings, and better image quality than even top-of-the-line point-and-shoot cameras. Most importantly, they give you the ability to change lenses.
Thanks to recent innovations, DSLRs are growing in popularity with casual photographers, too. Many DSLRs now feature preset shooting modes, friendly interfaces, helpful guide modes, and more compact designs.
You can find great DSLR cameras for well under $1,000. Still, a DSLR is a considerable investment. How do you choose the right one? We've got some tips on shopping for a DSLR if you're in the market for one this holiday season. And we've got a few recommendations for the latest cameras.
Understand the basics
Here are a few key points to consider before shopping for a DSLR:
The megapixel myth: A high megapixel rating 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 digital single-lens reflex (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.
Be practical: DSLR prices range from $500 to well beyond $1,000. If you're new to DSLRs, look for a camera in the sub-$1,000 range. They'll have preset shooting modes you can use while you learn how to master the manual settings, and you won't sacrifice much in terms of image quality. And, if you do decide to upgrade to a more expensive camera body later, you can buy a camera that takes the same lenses and accessories.