Understanding the SLR

When I first got into photography, I didn’t think much of it. I bought a D70 kit because I wanted to shoot in low-light without flash. Since then, I’ve purchased 8 SLR bodies, 23 lenses, 10 flashes, and countless accessories. If you’re trying to add that up, that probably amounts to about $30k worth of gear, but the remarkable thing is that I have been able to sell most of it for relatively little loss. I now only have my core set of lenses and a small backup system in case anything goes wrong. 90% of the images you see of Jaden on this site are shot with just 2 fixed prime lenses.

The key to making your first digital SLR purchase is to know what you are getting. The biggest complaint I get is they have to look through the viewfinder to compose the picture. It’s almost as though people have forgotten how to take a picture without holding the camera out at arms length and looking at the giant screen. All the new SLRs are coming out with something called “Live View” to bring the compact-camera experience to the SLR, but this feature disables the camera’s main autofocus sensor, so autofocus is either slow (via software) or non-existent. Also because of this, SLRs can’t record video. No biggie for me, you can still throw your little point and shoot in the bag. So that’s the first thing: get ready to use the viewfinder.

Second thing: SLRs are not discreet. They won’t fit in your jeans’ back pocket and when you pull it out to shoot, heads will most likely turn. It’s usually great when taking pictures of kids because their eyes are just glued to the lens, but once you hit that shutter, everyone in the room knows you’re taking pictures.

Last thing: Owning an SLR will not make you a better photographer. Having a bigger camera in front of your face will not prevent you from chopping off heads and arms or get all of your photos in focus and sharp. The most important thing I emphasize to every beginning photographer, no matter how easy the camera, is to know your camera. Read the manual, ask questions, and keep playing with it.

So with all of these negatives, why would I want an SLR? There are a lot of reasons, both for personal and professional use.

People who want to purchase an SLR for personal reasons usually have a family and they want to take pictures of the kids. The problem with compact cameras is when you turn the camera on you wait for the lens to extend, then you hit the button and it takes about half a second before it actually takes the picture, then another second before you can fire again. By the time the camera fires, the moment is over and the kids are at the other end of the yard. The biggest advantage of an SLR for these people are the camera’s responsiveness. Flip the switch on and start firing away. It only takes milliseconds to startup and there is no shutterlag. Whether you got the shot or not depends on if you’re pointing the camera in the right direction.

The reason why most professionals choose SLRs is not only for its responsiveness, but also for its versatility. The camera gives creative control over your images. Full manual control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. In addition, the ability to chose lenses allows the photographer to adapt to different types of photography or changing circumstances. With much better high ISO performance than compact cameras, SLRs can shoot in much darker environments. Build quality on SLRs are usually much better and most midrange SLRs are weatherproofed with sealed magnesium bodies that can take quite a beating. In addition, SLR lenses will produce sharper and more detailed images than most compact cameras. When taking photos, all SLRs allow you to shoot in RAW, a format that allows you to make a lot more adjustments to color and exposure without destroying the picture.

In my opinion, the advantages of using a digital SLR far outweight the small negatives. Once you start using one and seeing how much more responsive and versatile it is, you won’t want to go back.

In another post I’ll go into lenses and give you some purchasing advice.


I’ve been waiting for a post like this while simultaneously praying for a new camera for Christmas this year. I fall into the category of wanting a fabulous camera for personal use solely for the fact that I would like the documentation of moments in my life to look as awesome as possible. Thanks for the words!

[…] a previous post, I wrote about some pros and cons about SLRs.  Basically they’re big and expensive, and you […]

[…] those of you who read my two previous posts about understanding the SLR and lenses, I hope you understand a little bit more about how cameras and lenses work.  There is […]

[…] those of you who read my two previous posts about understanding the SLR and lenses, I hope you understand a little bit more about how cameras and lenses work. There is […]

[…] a previous post, I wrote about some pros and cons about SLRs. Basically they’re big and expensive, and you […]