Minimum Camera Features

Entry-level DSLR features

Written by Bernard Dery

An entry-level DSLR is a good place to begin for those what want to be able to use interchangeable lenses and external flashes, to take better pictures in low light or at high burst speeds, and to have better control over the image output.

Woman with dslrMany people buying a digital single lens reflex camera for the first time start with an entry-level model. Moderately priced models are often larger and may be better suited to someone with large hands or wishing to use heavy lenses. Higher-end models generally offer features that are considered necessary by professionals but might not be useful for the casual photographer.

The main reasons individuals buy a DSLR is to be able to use interchangeable lenses and external flashes, to take better pictures in low light or at high burst speeds, and to have better control over the image output.

When purchasing a DSLR, here are features to consider:

Entry-level DSLR features

While most entry-level DSLRs do not have the build quality, weather proofing, speed and extra features of more advanced models, they are lightweight and less expensive.

Entry level DSLREntry-level digital single lens reflex cameras have a number of the same features as compact digital cameras such as automatic and scene modes. Some new models even offer a video mode, but at the moment, video capabilities on DSLRs are limited at best (no autofocus, for instance).

Entry-level DSLRs have plenty of resolution. Their sensor size is larger than that of a compact, which affords vastly improved high ISO and low light capabilities than those found in compact cameras.

When buying an entry-level DSLR, take a look at some of these features:

Live view: Unthinkable a few years ago, live view is becoming more and more common on DSLR cameras. Not all DSLRs offer it, and its relevance will be based on how the camera is used. In general, live view is not very suitable for low light photography, but can be extremely useful when used with the camera on a tripod, for macro photography and for manually focusing your lens.

Autofocus lenses: some entry-level DSLRs do not have built-in focus motors, and rely on motors placed inside the lens. Some older lenses do not have a built-in focus motor, which means that in some cases, auto-focus lenses will act as manual focus lenses when mounted on an entry-level DSLR. This is generally true for older lenses.

Predictive autofocus: This feature is generally found on all DSLRs nowadays. It allows the camera to track a subject in movement to ensure that it will be sharply focused when the shutter is pressed.

Image stabilization – lens or body: some brands offer image stabilization systems built in the body of the camera so that all lenses become stabilized, while other put the system inside some of their lenses so that the preview in the viewfinder is stabilized. In general, manufacturers have streamlined image stabilization, so that even with an entry-level camera, it remains available at all times.

DSLR viewfinderViewfinder: in general, the viewfinder in an entry-level DSLR will offer a darker and smaller view than the viewfinder of a more advanced model. Comparing viewfinders made of pentamirrors (entry-level) and pentaprisms (advanced) will let you decide which feels more comfortable.

Automatic sensor cleaning: currently, all brands offer sensor cleaning systems on all their DSLRs. These systems help to remove dust on the sensor.

Which type DSLR?

Only you can decide which level DSLR is best for you. Make a decision based on your current level of expertise and your current and future needs. Remember: the best camera is the one that you enjoy using, whatever its features list!

About the author

Bernard Dery

Bernard was born and still lives in Quebec City, Canada. A doctorate candidate in Physics, Bernard works full-time as an optical designer at EXFO, a world leader in telecom tests and measurements tools. His professional interests go from fiber optics to atmospheric data collection and lasers.

His first contact with photography was a Vivitar fixed lens camera that he had purchased at age eight. His interest developed slowly, and for many years Bernard limited himself to family and travel pictures.

Bernard discovered the world of digital photography in February 2004, when he purchased his first digital camera. Developing an interest for composition, he experimented with many subjects: landscapes, nature, cities and architecture.

Bernard
soon began to invest more time and energy into his new found hobby, finding new and beautiful subjects to capture everyday. His challenge is to capture the mood and emotion carried by a scene as it presents itself to him.

A trip to Italy in
September 2004 fueled his growing interest with numerous magical photography opportunities.

Bernard and his wife like to spend free time near a lake at his family's summer house, where he finds new subjects to capture every day. His interests are varied and include hiking, camping, swimming, boating and reading, as well as most winter
sports.

Bernard, known as bdery on forums, uses a Pentax K20D and W80, Canon S2 and a Nikon SQ as a backup.

Thumbnails are of photos by Bernard Dery - used with permission
Copyright Bernard Dery All rights reserved

5 Comments

  • Gail, I find EVIL(Electric Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) is becoming more and more popular today. Cameras like SONY NEX-5/3 , Panasonic GH2/1/GF1 and Olympus PEN series are reasonably smaller than entry level DSLR and have the same operation like compact cameras.

    And SONY release a new kind of camera which is very interesting. These camera have EVFs but they also have reflect mirror like traditional DSLRs. The main difference is the mirror is translucent so most of the light could pass it and reach to the senor. And some reflect to the another senor which is in charge of phase detection.  Here’s the link of dpreview’s review:http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sonyslta55/

  • Hello Manek!

    Depth of field is not related to the brand of camera you select. It is related to the focal length of your lens (20 mm, 50 mm, etc), focus distance and aperture. All things being equal, a lens with a longer focal length (a “tele” lens) will reduce the depth of field, giving you a nicely blurred background. A shorter focus distance (when the subject is closer to you) and a larger aperture will also reduce the depth of field. Doing the opposite (closing the aperture, for instance) will increase the depth of field.
    A DSLR gives you much more control than a compact simply because the focal lengths are longer. For instance, a “normal” field of view with a DSLR calls for a focal length between 35 and 50 mm, while on a compact it’s usually around 6-8 mm.
    Many compacts will not give you control over the aperture, limiting your control over depth of field.
    Most DSLRs will deliver their best results when the user takes control but they will all be perfectly usable in automatic modes. In all cases, you will get a better sensor and better lenses when using a DSLR. However, they are larger, heavier, and more expensive.
    There are many DSLR manufacturers, each offering perks others might not have (weather sealed bodies, smaller lenses, faster autofocus, faster burst rate, the list is very long). I suggest if you decide to go with a DSLR, think about how you plan on using your camera. This will dictate which brand you might prefer. For instance, I do a lot of hiking, so smaller lenses, image stabilization and weather resistant camera and lenses are a bonus for me. Others might have different needs.

  • Because of their small sensors, compact digital cameras aren’t the best to obtain shallow depth of field, however some are better than others. Look for one with a fast lens and larger sensor such as the Panasonic LX3, Canon s90 and G11. The fast lens will let you use a wide aperture allowing for better shallow DOF. They have full manual and semi-automatic controls and do well in low light at higher ISO numbers than most compacts (though not as good as a dslr). As far as I know, Nikon has not yet released a compact digital camera in this class.

  • i was thinking of buying a dslr, but i’m not sure myself if i had enough time or patience to learn about those features! but in the same time i really appreciate ‘depth of field’ feature of dslr. does any compact digital camera have this feature? (Nikon?). Thanks!

  • I appreciate the articles on the different levels of dslrs. Very helpful. I was thinking of getting a dslr but have now decided to stick with a higher level compact digital camera than I currently own. It’s easier to carry with me.