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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-shooter. Here's why:
- Image quality: DSLRs' big sensors will make your photos look clearer and less grainy. Often, you'll be able to 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 4 frames per second (fps), and up to 14 fps for the fastest. They start up almost instantly, too. You'll be able to capture fast-action sports and the perfect blow-out-the-candles moment, and painlessly achieve one family photo where everyone has his eyes open.
- You can change the lens: This unlocks an entirely new world of photography. You can choose super-wide-angle, super-zoom, whatever you want.
- You can get creative: "Unleash your inner Annie Leibovitz," says camera expert David Elrich of DigitalTrends.com. Blur fast-moving subjects, 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. Top-of-the-line pro DSLRs cost $6,000 or more.
Mirrorless cameras are a different breed altogether. They have interchangeable lenses like a DSLR, but are small enough to fit into a jacket pocket. See our blog posts about Micro Four Thirds and compact interchangeable lens cameras, as well as our report on digital cameras, for more information.
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.