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In this report

Anyone can create better images with a DSLR

Even if you're a novice photographer, experts say you can quickly learn to capture better photos with a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera than with a point-and-shoot model. Here's why:

  • Image quality: DSLRs' big sensors will make your photos look clearer and less grainy. Often, you can skip the flash. Even if you set a DSLR in point-and-shoot Auto mode, you'll wind up with better photos than with a pocket camera.
  • Speed: Even the slowest cameras in this report can shoot 3 frames per second (fps), and up to 12 fps for the fastest. They start up almost instantly, too. You can capture fast-action sports and the perfect blow-out-the-candles moment, and painlessly achieve that one family photo where everyone's eyes are open.
  • You can change the lens: This opens the door to an entirely new world of photography. You can choose super-wide-angle, super-zoom and many more.
  • You can get creative: "Unleash your inner Annie Leibovitz," says camera expert David Elrich of DigitalTrends.com. Blur fast-moving subjects or set a shallow depth of field for a professional-looking portrait; DSLRs let you create all kinds of effects.
  • Video: Every DSLR in this report can shoot HD video with the same advantages, including better image quality, a choice of lenses and more.

DSLRs do have their drawbacks: They're bigger, heavier and usually more expensive than point-and-shoot cameras. A good beginner DSLR starts at about $500, while entry-pro DSLRs cost about $2,000 and up. Mirrorless cameras are a different breed altogether; they have interchangeable lenses like a DSLR but are small enough to fit into a jacket pocket. These cameras are faster than DSLRs and have electronic viewfinders.

Even the most dedicated photographers don't always carry a bulky DSLR everywhere, so you may still want a smaller digital camera for backup. For the best picks, see our separate reports on:

Digital cameras, including pocket point-and-shooters and small interchangeable-lens cameras.

Cheap digital cameras, good cameras for less than $250

Ultra-zoom digital cameras, pocket cams with built-in long-zoom lenses.

We're spoiled for choice with many highly credible review sources for DSLR cameras, including DPReview.com, Imaging-Resource.com and PhotographyBlog.com. To find the best DSLRs, experts shoot hundreds of photos, then scrutinize them with magnifying glasses and computers. Sharp details and lifelike colors earn the highest marks, but cameras also get points for being fast and easy to handle. Owner reviews are essential, too, because they reveal which cameras hold up best in real-life use. Contributors to Amazon.com are often passionate in sharing the pros and cons of their cameras, giving detailed accounts of their experiences.

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