How to find the right DSLR camera

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File formats DSLRs support raw file formats, which are un-processed files. Raw files offer the most editing flexibility when you open the photo in an image-editing program. However, if the camera is still relatively new, keep in mind that you may need to wait for editing programs from third-parties, such as Adobe and Apple, to support the camera’s raw format. DSLRs also support the JPEG format, which all image editors can read, no matter what type of camera takes the image. JPEG uses compression to create smaller file sizes that won’t take up as much storage space as raw files, but do not have as good image quality.

Most cameras store images on an SD card.

Continuous shooting mode If you take photos of sporting events, kids, or any other fast, unpredictable subject, a continuous-shooting (or burst) mode will make a huge difference in your photography. This mode lets you hold down the shutter button to shoot multiple photos in rapid succession. The number of pictures you can record in one burst is determined by your camera’s electronics—and in some cases by the type of memory card you have. You may need a more high-speed memory card to take advantage of your camera’s fastest shooting rate. If so, be sure to factor that cost into your decision. To be effective, a continuous shooting mode should capture images at least 3 fps (frames per second) or faster at the camera’s highest resolution.

Face Detection With this mode turned on, your camera locates the people in a shot and then fine-tunes the focus and exposure for those faces. While this may sound like a superficial gimmick, we’ve found that it works surprisingly well—greatly increasing your chances of getting good shots at a wedding or family reunion. Typically, this option is in the camera’s autofocusing (AF) menu. Face detection is particularly handy for candid shots, where you’re working quickly and are thus more vulnerable to misfocused shots. It’s also a boon for flash photography. With face detection turned on, the flash doesn’t try to illuminate the whole room, just the people within range—cutting down on the nuclear blast effect.

Storage If you have an existing storage card that you’d like to use with your new camera, make sure that it’s compatible with your new purchase. Most cameras on the market today use SD (Secure Digital) or SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format cards. SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards are more expensive, offering increased storage capacity up to 32GB, but they’re not backward-compatible with standard SD slots. SDXC, which supports storage capacities up to a whopping 2TB, are even more expensive and they aren’t compatible with all SD/SDHC card slots.

Video Many DLSRs offer video recording features—often at HD resolution. You’ll have to make some usability compromises that you wouldn’t have to make if you used a camcorder but the video quality is often worth it. And because you can take advantage of a variety of lenses, including fish-eye lenses, you can achieve interesting video effects with an SLR. Remember that video requires a lot of storage space, so plan accordingly.

In addition to storage capacity, there’s also the speed issue to consider. SD and SDHC cards have a Decoding Class rating listed, which refers to the data-writing rate for each card. The higher the Class number, the faster the write speed; if you’re planning on shooting video or using a high-speed burst mode, look for a Class 4 or Class 6 card at the very least.

To complicate matters further, there are a couple of other card formats out there. Some cameras support MicroSD or MicroSDHC cards, a smaller version of the SD card format that isn’t compatible with full-size SD slots. Older Sony cameras take MemoryStick cards, and older Olympus cameras use the XD card format; both companies’ new cameras now support SD/SDHC cards. What’s more, many higher-end DSLRs have a larger-format CompactFlash card slot. You’ll want to consider all of these options when purchasing storage for your camera, though it is definitely easiest to go with standard SD/SDHC cards since you will be able to use them across cameras.

Battery life Cameras use one or more of several types of batteries: AAs, either non-rechargeable alkaline ($5 for four) or rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH, about $14 for four); high-capacity disposable CRV3s (around $10 apiece, and some cameras take two); or proprietary rechargeable batteries that can cost $25 to $65 to replace. Some digital cameras quickly drain batteries—especially alkaline batteries—which can be expensive and annoying. Battery life and cost often aren’t related; some inexpensive cameras have great battery life, and some expensive ones use up a charge quickly. Either way, it’s a very good idea to buy spare batteries.

Menus When evaluating a camera, consider how easily you can reach common settings—resolution, macro mode, flash, and exposure adjustments—and how easily you can play back just-taken images. Too many buttons, and you waste time trying to figure out which button does what; too many menus, and you waste time digging through them.

Compact interchangeable lens cameras These cameras are part of a newer product category that sits between true DSLRs and advanced point-and-shoots. The design of these cameras omits the DSLR’s mirror chamber and moves the sensor closer to the back of the lens. The lack of a mirror chamber allows for a smaller camera body, while moving the sensor closer to the lens allows for smaller lens design.

All of this means that these cameras and lenses can be made much smaller than those of a traditional DSLR, while delivering the image quality of an SLR and the flexibility of using additional lenses. However, this also means they lack an optical view finder. Some cameras in this category offer an electronic viewfinder instead; others—particularly those at the smaller end of the scale—lack even that and rely completely on the LCD for framing shots.

With all of the above factors to consider, it's impossible to recommend the best cameras for everyone. Much depends on budget, size, shooting style, and personal preferences. One more thing: Prices vary wildly so it pays to check a number of camera sellers before making the decision to buy.

Meanwhile, check out our updated camera listings for DSLRs and DSLTs.

Hottest DSLRs, DSLTs, and interchangeable lens cameras

Best DSLR cameras for beginners

Top DSLR, DSLT, and interchangeable lens cameras under $1000

[Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a previous article to reflect changes in the camera market.]

This story, "How to find the right DSLR camera" was originally published by TechHive.

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