Five tips for buying a digital SLR camera

Thinking about upgrading or investing in a digital SLR camera? Then check out these helpful tips below:

Are you trading up from a compact?
In that case, remember you'll need Live View if you want to frame your shots using the LCD screen.

While most compacts now come without an optical viewfinder, that's the best way to shoot on a DSLR. You see exactly what the camera sees and there's no problem shooting in bright light where an LCD screen would be bleached out, for instance. But if you prefer taking shots like that, then Live View is the name of the feature which relays the viewfinder image to the LCD.

Although it's increasingly common, many DSLRs still lack it, especially lower-priced models.

Actually, DSLRs are shaped to make holding them better when they're up against your face, so choose the viewfinder whenever you can, but Live View does offer greater versatility.

Do you have lenses already?
If you're making the move from film SLR to digital - from wet to dry as they say - then you may have some SLR lenses already.

In some, but not all, cases these will work on your new digital snapper. They're not usually brand-interchangeable so, as they're pricey, this may influence which camera you choose.

Staying with the same brand also means continuity of operating system as well. But, of course, it's not simple because the area of 35mm film exposed when a film SLR camera shutter opens is greater than the size of a digital sensor, the focal length of a lens changes. The focal length conversion varies, usually being around 1.5x to 2x, so a 50mm lens becomes a 75mm or 100mm lens on a digital SLR.

Who are you?
Hold on, before you go all philosophical on me, I just mean are you an experienced enthusiast, a newbie or someone in between? With digital SLR you do get what you pay for, but that doesn't mean you should buy the priciest model on the market, especially if you want a simple life.

Though nearly all cameras have automatic modes so you can point and shoot, many more expensive DSLRs are aimed at professionals or very experienced users so they are much less accessible to most of us.

More advanced cameras may lack scene modes, for instance, which make adjustments automatically according to the general lighting situation, so again if you're moving up from a compact, entry-level may be the best way to go.

What's in the box?
Of course you'll be counting how many pixels the sensor offers, and this is an important consideration but it's not the only one.

Does it have image stabilisation (again, as many compacts now do) and is that built into the camera or is it a feature on each lens itself? Stabilisation is good if you're planning low-light shots. And how does it handle dust? The benefit of changing lenses also means DSLRs can be a pain for letting dust into the camera.

Many cameras now have systems which give the sensor a good shake when you switch on to jiggle the dust off.

Is size important?
Compacts are small cameras of course (the clue's in the name), and DSLRs are bigger, but some like Olympus and Pentax aim for a less heavy camera-carrying experience.

Their models squeeze conventional designs into a smaller case, some even managing Live View in this reduced size.

Then there's the Panasonic G1 and GH1 which is not strictly an SLR because there's no mirror system delivering what the lens sees to the eyepiece. Instead of this optical system it does it all electronically.

The result is a decent-sized sensor and striking results from a noticeably smaller machine.

Note though, that the trade-off involves an electronic viewfinder which doesn't match the quality of a traditional optical one.