A DSLR boasts a larger sensor and offers greater control over photos so you can get the best shots possible. Many are lightweight and easy-to-use, and there are models available for everyone from the professional-level photographer to the entry-level user. Once ready to take your photography to the next level, a DSLR can be your digital best friend.
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DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. This type of camera comes with a large digital image sensor that lets you see exactly what the camera sees. They afford greater control over photos, so you can adjust settings and parameters to get that perfect shot, every time. Swap lenses to suit your needs, whether it’s getting great family portraits, or close-ups of the garden. And there’s virtually no lag, so you can get quick shots in rapid succession at a child’s soccer game or that Indy 500 race.
Which camera is right for you?
There are three main categories of DSLR cameras: beginner, enthusiast/mid-range, and professional-level.
Entry-Level DSLR Cameras
These would make an ideal gift for the person with a newfound interest in photography who’s still learning about manual control. They include features like automatic mode in which the camera analyzes the subject and adjusts settings accordingly, as well as preset scene modes to account for things like low light during a dark night shot, or blurred backgrounds for a portrait shot with depth. They are light and compact so as not to overwhelm a new user. When ready, tinker around with the manual settings to get more comfortable with the device.
A step-up from the entry-level, these types of DSLR cameras provide a little bit more control over settings. For someone with a bit of knowledge of photography, but who hasn’t quite reached the pro-level yet, or simply wants a great camera for taking things like landscape and nature photography, a mid-range DSLR is a good gift.
Considering pursuing a career in photography, or find that it’s becoming a serious hobby? Once ready to enjoy the most advanced control and features, a professional-level DSLR is the way to go. They have full-frame sensors, and even more manual control than you’d find in a mid-range model. They may be a bit heavier and bulkier (particularly with specialist lenses attached to the bodies.) But there’s good reason, since these cameras are made for capturing photos in challenging situations. Features like weather-sealing ensure you can get that perfect wildlife picture while out on safari, or a beautiful scenic photo in the rain. Professionals often own more than one camera, and certainly plenty of lenses and accessories to suit various needs and situations.
No matter which level DSLR you decide on, there are a few important features to examine.
The sensor of a DSLR is essentially the equivalent of 35mm film in an old film-based SLR camera. Press the shutter button, and the sensor will convert the image to an electronic signal, recording it to the memory card. The type of sensor included in a DSLR is CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor), which excels in low light situations, ensuring you get a beautifully-coloured shot, and can successfully snap a series of photos, or even video.
Every DSLR has a particular megapixel number, like 10MP or 12MP. A 12MP camera can produce a photo made up of 12 million pixels (i.e. tiny dots). The more dots, the greater the detail will be for a photo when it’s displayed or printed. Thus, you’ll only truly see the benefits of tons of extra pixels if you’re making really large prints or posters, or displaying the photos on a high-definition television or screen. Just like with pixels on a television, while the number is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
This is essentially the engine that drives the camera, converting the raw data from the sensor into an image that displays with the correct colour.
Chances are you use the LCD screen with a point-and-shoot camera to frame your shot. And while you can do that as well with a DSLR that has Live View, the LCD holds a different primary purpose for these types of cameras. It displays useful photo information, including selected settings, gridlines for honing in on your desired subject, aperture, white balance, and more. Once you’ve taken a shot, use the LCD to review it, zooming in on critical spots to ensure you have the resolution and detail needed. Most DSLR users leverage the viewfinder to take photos, much like in the pre-digital days.
Lenses on a DSLR can be twisted off and switched out for other, more specialized ones, depending on your situation and needs. This is accomplished using the lens mount, which often works with brand-specific lenses, though you can also attach third-party lenses to them, based on compatibility.
Use this circular dial to adjust settings for the shot: selecting the Auto Mode if you want the camera to do the work for you and determine the right settings, Scene for preset Scene modes, like Portrait or Fireworks, or other manual options to tweak specific parameters.
HD Video Recording
While a memory card is always a necessity, some of the latest cameras boast WiFi and Bluetooth, allowing you to instantly and wirelessly transfer photos from the camera to a cloud storage account or device, like a smartphone or computer.
DSLRs are like smartphones: once you have your base device, you’ll need tons of accessories to complement it. Some are nice-to-haves, but many are must-haves. Here are key accessories that you won’t want to live without, and that will make a perfect gift for the photo enthusiast on your list.
Topping the list is lenses, which, to eager photographers, are just as important as the camera bodies. There are a variety of lens types for different situations and to meet specific photographic needs, like portrait, wide-angle (great for scenic or stadium shots, for example), macro (for close-ups), and telephoto, which has a longer focal length if you need to capture subjects that are far away, like wildlife or sporting events.
You’ll need to store your large photo files somewhere once the camera snaps them, and that is where memory cards come in. Not only can you use them to store the photo files, but you can also insert them into a card reader, or directly into a computer’s memory card slot, to easily transfer photos to a hard drive or cloud account. Most DSLRs now use high-capacity SDHC memory cards, though some still use other formats, like Memory Stick Pro or Compact Flash. Check what type of memory card is compatible, and grab a few large ones that can hold tons of photos. You won’t want to go under at least a 4GB card these days, which can hold about 115 uncompressed photos taken at 10MP resolution, or about an hour’s worth of HD video footage. It’s always wise to carry a few extra memory cards with you. Memory cards, it’s worth adding, make perfect stocking stuffers.
Some DSLRs that include Bluetooth and/or WiFi can work with a remote that lets you remotely control taking a photo. Set a camera down, stand in your position, then tap a button on the adapter to trigger the shot.
If you don’t have enough light to get the shot you want, attach a flash to the camera’s hot shoe mount (grooves at the top) to alter or add more light where needed. A flash can also help reduce shadows, enhance skin tones, and prevent red-eye.
Filter types include polarizing, neutral density, diffusion, and UV, each of which can add a special effect to your photos. For example, a diffusion filter will soften the subject, while a polarizing filter can do things like darken bright skies or suppress glare from water. Filters also do double duty in helping prevent damage to the lens from things like scratches or dust.
Lens Hoods, Caps, Adapters, Converters
A lens hood attaches to the front of the lens, helping to shield it from the light, and prevent glare if you’re shooting outside or in a place with bright, artificial light.
A lens cap simply protects the lens from dust and scratches – pop it onto the lens whenever you’re not using the camera.
An ideal gift for the enthusiast photographer who’s looking to add some creativity to his shots, a lens adapter is a fitted, threaded ring that lets him connect a specific lens, like a vintage one, to his new camera in the event that they would otherwise have been incompatible.
Tripods and Monopods
While all DSLRs come with some form of image stabilization or vibration reduction, correcting for camera or hand shake to prevent blurry photos, you’ll still need something to help keep the camera stable – particularly if you’re looking to get perfect shots at night, or of fast-moving objects. A tripod is a three-legged stand to which you secure the camera to ensure these blur-free images. A monopod, meanwhile, is a single stick that you can hold or, in some cases, mount to an object, to help steady a camera. Every photographer will appreciate the gift of a tripod.
For those out on long photo-taking expeditions, or who plan to take a ton of shots at an event or during a day out, having an extra battery can come in handy. A battery grip attaches to the battery compartment of the camera and can be used to hold extra batteries that you can swap out when one is running low, and keep shooting.
Bags, Cases, and Backpacks
There’s a plethora of photography-specific bags, cases, and backpacks. And photo enthusiasts often have multiple bags to suit different situations, like going on vacation, a photo expedition, or just a nice stroll with a camera. Each has specific divided compartments to hold a camera body, extra lens(es), and other accessories, plus pockets for your personal items. They offer easy access to items inside, and often include features like weather-protection. A DSLR owner can never have too many bags!
Other Types of Cameras
If you aren’t quite ready to delve into the world of DSLRs, there are alternatives to better fit your tastes, needs, and budget. There are cameras designed for special situations, even some that are waterproof so you can capture great shots no matter how the weather is, or even go underwater for unique memories.
Also known as the Compact System Camera (CSC), mirrorless cameras include many of the benefits of a DSLR, but in a much smaller package. You still get a large sensor and the option for interchangeable lenses, but there’s no viewfinder and they are simpler to operate. They are great companions when you want to get awesome shots, but don’t want to lug a bigger camera along. If you want something better than a point & shoot but not quite a full-fledged DSLR, mirrorless is the way to go.
Point & Shoot
As the name implies, with these types of cameras, you simply point, and shoot. They are typically very compact and lightweight, and many include features like WiFi connectivity for direct and instant uploading to a social media site or smartphone, and rugged and waterproof housings, making them a better option to use for snap-shooting while on vacation, or by the pool. Essentially, they’re great complements to a smartphone camera that afford slightly more control over photos, and a focus-free lens.
Perfect for fun photos and kids, an instant camera is sort of like a throwback to the old days of film photography and Polaroids. They use self-developing film, allowing you to take a photo and print it instantly on instant colour film. Typically, you’ll get a small print, about the size of a credit card, that you can slot into your wallet, post on the refrigerator when you get home, or hand out at parties and events. They usually run on replaceable batteries. Select from a variety of brands including the popular Fuji Instax line of instant cameras.
Action Cameras and Camcorders
If video is more your thing, you might want to consider a camcorder instead. While most can capture still images as well, their focus is moving images, allowing you to record full-length videos with audio, add effects, and stitch footage together through software on the computer to make your own share-worthy movie projects. Nowadays, most new models capture video in full high-definition, for favourable play back on a large-screened TV.
Action cameras offer the flexibility to capture video in many environments: often those that may damage a traditional camcorder. Some of the most popular ones are the GoPro, 360 cameras, wearable clips, and the very popular Drones. Action cameras are ideal for sports enthusiasts and adventure-seekers who want to capture their motorcycle ride, hike, or daring climb with a riveting point-of-view perspective.
While the diversity of accessories is not quite as wide with other camera types as they are for DSLRs, a number of the accessories noted above apply to other camera types as well, including bags and cases, memory cards, Bluetooth adapters, tripods and monopods. But you can also add some more to the list, like straps and mounts for action cameras and camcorders, and special waterproof housings. All of these would make ideal gifts for any digital camera owner.
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Ready, Set, Shoot!
Best Buy offers a wide selection of cameras and lenses in all of these categories, as well as accessories to suit various photography needs. Check out your local store and online to find the perfect gear, or the right gift for that photo enthusiast on your list.