Sales of digital compact cameras are stagnating now that the market has been saturated and most casual snappers own a decent camera phone. So manufacturers are looking to more comprehensively featured SLR-style cameras – on which you can swap the lens to best suit your chosen subject and so achieve more professional results – to generate fresh consumer interest.
And it seems to be working. Thanks to prices falling while performance increases, and take-up moving beyond photography enthusiasts and early adopters, you can now be shooting like a pro with a digital SLR (DSLR) and standard lens set up – typically a versatile 18-55mm – for a street, or internet, price in the region of £400. As lenses are not always automatically supplied with a DSLR, and the lowest price you’ll see is usually ‘body only’, it’s worth a little research beforehand to earmark the set up that best suits your needs and budget.
With a DSLR you don’t get a memory card included in the box, but should aim for at least a 512MB capacity to make the most of the specification on offer. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you can’t shoot video clips on a DSLR like you can on a digital compact, but the leap ahead in image quality will more than make up for it.
Unlike all but the highest-end compacts, all DSLRs offer the ability to shoot in best-quality Raw file format – unlike common JPEGs, the camera does not apply its own processing to the file and so in effect provides a ‘digital negative’ – while some allow the capture of Raw and JPEG simultaneously for the utmost convenience.
Because Raw files are larger, more memory hungry, and require specialist conversion software, JPEGs are easier and faster to access – and you can also store more of them on a memory card. Ultimately, it’s a case of horses for courses and users should select either format mindful of the end use for their pictures, and the amount of post-processing they wish to undertake.
This won’t be a consideration for many, as DSLR resolution and image quality is improving all the time. Whereas a year ago, 6 megapixels was the standard resolution for a consumer-level DSLR, with the likes of Sony’s Alpha 100 appearing last summer the benchmark was increased to an almost future-proof 10 megapixels. This allows manufacturers to argue that digital results are now, finally, bettering film. And, of course, unlike film, you have the advantage of being able to immediately review the results on the LCD screen that adorns the camera back.