Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

SLR vs. DSLR: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

Last Updated on

SLR vs DSLR Camera

If you’re new in the photography world, you probably find it hard to differentiate between SLR (single-lens reflex camera) and DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). While many photographers nowadays choose the DSLR, some still prefer SLR for their shoots.

Both types of cameras are excellent for recreational and professional photography, but they differ in a few areas.

For instance, SLR and DSLR both cameras reflect light to form an image on the viewfinder. However, SLR cameras use plastic and gelatin-made film to record photos, while DSLR cameras capture digital images on a memory card. Thus, you don’t have to worry about wasting film when using a DSLR camera.

SLR cameras have slightly better image quality, so you must evaluate your options before buying one. This post will give you a brief overview of both cameras and list their significant differences to help you make the right decision.

shutter camera divider 2

Overview of SLR Cameras

pentax slr camera

Image Credit: 2427999, Pixabay

The full form of SLR is a single-lens reflex. The SLR camera’s single lens lets you see the image through a mirror (reflex or reflection).

It comes with a film that records and saves the captured images. You have to retrieve these pictures to get them developed. Unfortunately, the film has a specific limit for the number of images you can capture simultaneously. So, you may need to keep changing the film roll if you’re on a prolonged photo shoot.

An SLR camera has a sleek and modern body with more buttons, no rear monitors, and advanced color features. Not only that, but this camera has an impressive shutter speed, ranging from 1 second to 1,000th of a second.

Components of an SLR Camera

camera with smoke bomb

Image Credit: Piqsels

To understand how an SLR camera works, you must know the names and functions of its components.

Here are a few:

  • Distance scale. It shows the point where the lens is focused.
  • Battery cover. It protects and stores the battery.
  • Flash shoe. It is the camera’s mounting surface.
  • Focusing ring. This part enables the photographer to adjust the image’s focus.
  • Depth of field scale. It displays the depth the camera focuses on.
  • Exposure counter. It helps determine the number of photos you can capture.
  • Film advance lever. It allows the photographer to rotate the camera’s film roll every time they need to take a new photo.
  • Film speed dial. It indicates the film’s speed.
  • It gives a clear view of whatever object you’re capturing.
  • Rewind button. It releases the camera’s film roll before it returns to the canister.
  • Rewind knob. The knob that rewinds the film rolls into the canister.
  • Shutter release button. Photographers need to open the shutter to capture a photo.
  • Tripod socket. This part needs to be screwed to a tripod.
  • Shutter speed dial. It displays the shutter’s speed when opening and closing.

How Does It Work?

man using point and shoot camera

Image Credit: Piqsels

SLR cameras work on a system consisting of a prism and mirror. The system enables the camera to send the image from the lens to the viewfinder, allowing you to adjust the angle accordingly.

The prism and mirror reflect the light to the viewfinder at the right angle. You can use several lenses in the SLR camera since the lens mount is present at the camera’s front instead of its side.

When you capture a photo on the SLR camera, the mirror instantly flips up, and the shutter opens. This makes way for the light to strike the film. After that, the shutter closes, and the mirror flips down. The entire process is completed very quickly, mainly within a few seconds.

Pros
  • Allows you to frame up the photo
  • Accurate focus
  • Helps view the depth of the field
  • Comes with a diverse backup accessories and lenses range
  • The SLR model with the autofocus feature adjusts the lens faster.
Cons
  • Can be complicated to use for beginners
  • Heavier

shutter camera divider 2Overview of DSLR Cameras

Nikon DSLR with fisheye lens

Image Credit: CHUTTERSNAP, Unsplash

DSLR refers to digital single lens reflex cameras that use advanced technology. These cameras are convenient to use and carry, making them a desirable choice for many photographers.

A DSLR usually works the same as an SLR camera. It reflects the light from the lens to the optical viewfinder through the mirror. One unique feature of the DSLR camera is that it lets you digitally view the image from a rear LED screen.

Unlike SLR cameras, DSLRs use memory cards to save your pictures. This means you don’t have to worry about changing the film roll during your photoshoots.

The modern technology of these cameras enables you to interchange the lenses during shoots. Thus, you can choose the lens per your photography requirements and style.

Most DSLR cameras have classic vintage and attractive bodies. You’ll mostly find them with a rear monitor and in one color.

Want to know an exciting thing? You can even record videos with a DSLR camera.

Components of a DSLR Camera

Composition on live view camera

Image Credit: Dolan Mbengi, Shutterstock

DSLR and SLR cameras may look similar, but they have different components. Here is a breakdown of all the major parts of a DSLR camera:

  • It is a crucial camera part as the photo process starts here. The lens allows the light to enter to form the image on the viewfinder.
  • Reflex mirror. It is the mirror that reflects or redirects the light to the upper part of the camera.
  • Shutter button. Photographers push the shutter button to capture the image.
  • Image sensor. It transforms the image into an electronic signal. The sensor then sends the signal to the memory card.
  • Focus ring. The ring is present on the lens, allowing the photographer to control the camera’s focus manually. Some DSLR cameras also have an autofocus option in addition to the focus ring.
  • Condenser lens. It focuses the light on the object.
  • It is a unique component of the DSLR camera that directs the image from the lens to the viewfinder. This way, the photo displays the right side up instead of inverted.
  • That’s the part where the photographer previews the shot before pressing the shutter button.

How Does It Work?

dslr with ultrawide angle zoom lens

Image Credit: Sahil Pandita, Unsplash

DSLR cameras have a digital sensor that allows you to capture and save photos on a memory card digitally. When you capture an image, the mirror flips up, enabling the digital sensor to take the shot.

The sensor consists of tiny pixels that capture light to form and record the image. Once the picture is captured, the shutter closes, and the mirror returns to its original position. The entire process happens within a blink of an eye.

So apart from having a digital sensor, SLR and DSLR have similar working mechanisms.

Pros
  • The large sensor size captures precise images.
  • Multiple options for filters and flashes
  • High-speed shooting mode
Cons
  • No interchangeable lenses
  • Can be more expensive

shutter camera divider 2SLR vs DSLR: What Are the Differences?

SLR and DSLR cameras both enable photographers to capture more precise and crisp images. But they come with a few differences you must understand before purchasing one.

Here are common differences between SLR and DSLR:

Technology

An SLR camera doesn’t support digital photo capturing. Instead, it comes with a film composed of gelatin, plastic, and multiple materials.

One downside of this SLR film is that it doesn’t allow you to capture unlimited photos. Plus, you’d have to keep changing the film roll during long shoot hours.

On the other hand, DSLR cameras record the images digitally and store them on a memory card. This way, you’re free to capture as many photos as you want without worrying about changing the film roll.

35mm nikon film camera

Image Credit: Matt Bero, Unsplash

Processing

The SLR film roll consists of a plastic strip with thin gelatin layers. These layers contain silver halide crystals that react with light to form an image.

The entire chemical process occurs in a photo lab and usually takes a few hours to develop the photos. You can only take a maximum of 36 pictures on a single film. After that, you can’t reuse it.

The DSLR camera needs a memory card to record all the captured photos in digital format. Even though the card seems small, it can store thousands of pictures simultaneously. Not only that, but the photographer can view and delete the unwanted images to make more space available.

You can reuse the memory card after transferring all the images to a computer. This means you can view the pictures before printing them via a printer.

Picture Quality

DSLR and SLR cameras have a single lens that allows you to see and focus the photo. Initially, DSLRs used to come with poorer image quality compared to SLRs. But as digital technology has advanced, the newer DSLR models are no less than the SLRs.

No matter what camera you buy, you’ll get the finest quality pictures with crisp colors.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed varies depending on the model and type of SLR or DSLR you have.

SLR cameras typically have a shutter speed of 1 to 1/1000th a second. Contrastingly, a DSLR’s shutter speed can go up to 1/4000th of a second, while the quality ones can have a shutter speed of 1/8000 and more.

digital camera Shutter Speed dial

Image Credit: Doubletree Studio, Shutterstock

Viewfinder

SLR and DSLR cameras both have optical viewfinders to capture images. You may also find some DSLR models with LCD viewfinders, such as point-and-shoot digital cameras.

These viewfinders come in handy when you can’t use the standard optical viewfinder, for example, in underwater photoshoots. Unfortunately, LCD viewfinders are not available in SLR cameras.

Difficulty Level

DSLRs and SLRs have multiple control features and settings that can sometimes be hard to understand. If you’re a beginner, it may take a lot of time to get the hang of using either of the cameras.

You’d also have to take care of its maintenance to ensure its longevity. It usually includes cleaning the dust from the sensor and the lens.

Comparatively, DSLRs are slightly more beginner-friendly. That’s primarily because it allows you to view the image before capturing it. You can also take several photos without worrying about changing the film roll.

DSLR cameras also come with easy-to-use features, allowing the photographer to adjust their settings for different conditions. You can also use the LCD viewfinder whenever you want.

Price and Value

The supply for DSLRs is relatively higher than the SLRs. As a result, DSLR cameras are slightly cheaper than their counterparts.

However, if you’re willing to spend any amount just to get more value, SLRs are a better option than DSLRs. That’s because you won’t have to upgrade or maintain them like digital cameras. In addition, SLRs make an excellent collectible that you can trade for a profit after a few years.

Camera spot metering

Image Credit: Doubletree Studio, Shutterstock

SLR or DSLR: Which Is Better?

Until now, you might have made up your mind about the type of camera you need. Several factors matter a lot when comparing SLRs and DSLRs. To be honest, there is no better camera in general.

Every photographer has different needs and requirements, so the answer to “what is better?” narrows down to your photography style and attitude.

A DSLR is the best choice for those photographers who don’t have to develop photos immediately. Instead, the DSLR camera lets them post-process the images digitally on a computer or a laptop.

On the other hand, an SLR camera is ideal for old-school photographers who like to control the photo capturing and processing method. They can’t preview their photographs without developing them. Unfortunately, post-processing is quite tricky and consists of multiple steps and techniques.

So, if you’re an experienced photographer, you can easily use both SLR and DSLR cameras. Otherwise, a DSLR is better if you have just started your photography career.

Camera

Image Credit: Shutterbug75, Pixabay

How to Choose Your First Camera

You can ask yourself a few questions if you’re still unsure about the right camera. Sketching a full-proof plan about your current requirements, short-term and long-term goals, the camera prices, and how ambitious you’re about photography will help you better evaluate your options.

Some critical questions include:

  • What do SLR and DSLR mean? How do they work?
  • What is a mirrorless camera?
  • Do I need an analog or a digital camera?
  • Do I want a compact camera?
  • What is my photography style?
  • What is my budget?

After answering these questions, you’ll probably have a clearer view of what camera you should go for.

What Is the Best Photography Camera?

person adjusting settings of dslr

Image Credit: JESHOOTS.COM, Unsplash

Whether you’re a professional photographer or just doing it as a hobby, you need a quality, convenient, and top-notch camera. Of course, plenty of options are available in the market, but only the high-end ones can help you make the most out of your effort.

Many people argue that full-frame cameras are the best due to their large sensor and good image quality. Others believe cropped frame cameras are ideal because they are lighter and cheaper. DSLR, SLR, and mirrorless cameras are more options available.

So, what camera is the best for photography?

First, you need to sketch a specific photography situation in your mind. For example, are you going to do macro photography, long exposures, panning, or underwater photography? Once you answer the question, it will be easier for you to choose the right camera.

Know that there is no “perfect camera” for everyone. The best camera depends on your requirements, conditions, and photography vision.

shutter camera divider 2Conclusion

SLR and DSLR cameras are among the top choices for photographers to kick start their careers and excel in the industry. Both cameras come with a single lens that reflects light from the lens to the viewfinder through the mirror.

The most apparent difference between SLR and DSLR is the LCD viewfinders and digital image processing. DSLR cameras have an additional LCD viewfinder that you can use when the standard optical viewfinder stops working.

DSLR cameras record images digitally on a memory card. On the other hand, SLR cameras use a film roll to capture photos.

Evaluating your photography style and requirements is the best way to decide what camera suits you.

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.

Jeff Weishaupt Profile Picture