Professional DSLR Buying Guide Washington DC
Professional DSLR Buying Guide
Whether you’re new to professional dSLRs (digital single lens reflex) or upgrading, you’re taking the first step in the right direction by researching the right camera for you. Professional dSLRs can have a steep learning curve and boast a dizzying array of features, from image stabilization to autofocus sensors. But by reading this article, you’re doing your homework. First, be familiar with how and what you shoot. Knowing your shooting habits will help you avoid the tangled web of acronyms, specs and excessive features salesmen insist are must-haves.
Read further to see what’s essential in finding your perfect professional dSLR.
Essential Features to Have:
A Mega Choice: Megapixels
A salesman will tell you, “The more megapixels, the better”—which is true if you’re shooting billboards. If you’re compiling a family album, seven will suffice. Standard resolution for a quality print ranges from 240 to 360 ppi (pixels per inch). If you regularly print 11x14s, go for more megapixels. You can always scale images down, but not up. But be careful: usually, high resolution means higher prices. Figuring out what works for you just takes a little math. Look at the table below.
Finished Photo Size
| 3 x 5||300|
3 x 300 = 900, 5 x 300 = 1500
900 x 1500 = 1,350,000
| 4 x 6||300|
4 x 300 = 1200, 6 x 300 = 1800
1200 x 1800 = 1,920,000
| 5 x 7||300|
5 x 300 = 1500, 7 x 300 = 2100
1500 x 2100 = 3,150,000
| 8 x 10||300|
8 x 300 = 2400, 10 x 300 = 3000
2400 x 3000 = 7,200,000
| 11 x 14||300|
11 x 300 = 3300, 14 x 300 = 4200
3300 x 4200 = 13,860,000
Lengthen the Lifeline: Battery Life
Professional dSLRs are notorious for draining battery life. Battery life is measured by how many pictures you can take on a charge, but this varies widely with personal settings—how long the image review stays on, the LCD screen’s brightness, how often you use auto focus, etc. So many variables affect power usage that it’s hard to map out what combination of features maximizes battery life. For more information, read our TopTen Ways to Extend Your Digital Camera’s Battery Life. For now, buy according to your shooting habits. And be safe—carry a spare.
Shooting Without the Shakes: Image Stabilization
Camera shake is always a concern when shooting at low shutter speeds. If you shoot without a tripod, look for a dSLR with built-in image stabilization (IS). You can buy lenses with built-in IS, but these are expensive—and you won’t have IS when using a different lens.
Shooting Raw: File Formats
Most digital cameras shoot in JPEG format. But professional dSLRs offer a wider file range, like TIFF and RAW. These more versatile files can maintain image quality when editing in software like Photoshop. Make sure your camera shoots a format that allows editing without file expansion or interpolation (an algorithm the computer uses to fill in pixels that are lacking upon file expansion), which reduces image quality.
Nice Features to Have—but not Essential:
Size Doesn’t Matter: LCD Display Screen
As with megapixels, a salesperson will tell you, “The bigger the LCD screen, the better.” But because the mirror blocks the sensor in dSLRs, you must use the viewfinder to compose your shot. The LCD screen is for reviewing only. It is easier to see pictures with a bigger high-resolution screen. But you’ll review, edit and delete pictures from your computer, not your camera. Don’t be fooled by, “Look how big the screen is!”
Up Close and Personal: Zoom
Professional dSLRs come with limited optical zoom, listed as multiples of the original view. Cameras vary in range (up to around 11x), which can make a difference in what you shoot. But whatever your camera lacks, you can make up with a telephoto lens, listed in terms of millimeters—usually from 55mm to 300mm and more.
Sensorship: Sensor Sizes and Types
Professional dSLRs come with varied sensor sizes (some as big as a 35mm film frame) and types (CCD or CMOS). But be careful here. Researching sensors becomes really confusing really quickly. Instead of focusing on sensors, focus on photo quality. Most dSLRs will take the picture you need despite the sensor.
A Quick Start: Start-up Times
Start-up times can drag with digital cameras but, once again, what are you shooting habits? Professional dSLRs do vary in start-up times, but do you need instant start-up? If you only have a split-second to capture your shot, you’ll probably leave your camera on anyway. If not, an extra start-up second probably won’t make a difference.
Focused on Auto: Auto Focus
For autofocus, a slight shutter lag can result if you shoot close-ups and landscapes alternately. Most dSLRs have instantaneous autofocus, which you can augment by focusing on your subject before you have to shoot it.
The Full Spectrum: Color Space
If color space confuses you, you’re not the first. Just skip ahead. Unless you’re printing for magazines or posters, or shooting artsy photos, the preset color specs will suffice.
Lag-less: Shutter Lag
Shutter lag is a constant sore spot with digital cameras—the time between clicking the button and actually taking the picture. With professional dSLRs, shutter lag is practically nil. Most have no lag at all.
When deciding which professional dSLR is right for you, don’t let terminology bog you down. By reading this article you’re learning what to look for, what not to stress, and what features matter for your shooting habits. To see professional dSLRs ranked by features, value and reviews, click here for a side-by-side comparison and the option to buy the camera that won’t just fit your needs, but help you take the best pictures possible.
Click to read more from TopTenReviews.com