What is the difference between a digital camera and a digital SLR camera?

The other day I was in a camera shop and overheard a customer talking with a store clerk about the differences between digital cameras and digital SLR cameras. I have both and use both for varying reasons. But it was nevertheless interesting to hear how store employees tried up-selling a digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera over a regular digital camera.

For starters, digital SLR cameras are really starting to become quite the rage. High quality, entry level cameras are now available for less than $1000 and include starter lenses so you can go out and start taking pictures right away.

Buying a new camera is a tough decision. Obviously price plays a big factor as does camera and picture quality.

If you are looking for a good quality SLR camera you can buy a non digital one used for less than $100. The quality will be fantastic but you’ll be shooting film (which is a wonderful world to discover). But you won’t have the obvious digital picture storage benefits of a digital camera. So SLR cameras with the ability to add and detach lenses (wide angle, telephoto etc) are possible on most SLR cameras.

Today, for about $600 and up you can get a digital SLR. The biggest benefit to a digital SLR over other digital cameras is the ability to add and detach lenses. You can buy or often even use lenses from regular SLR cameras. If you’ve been taking pictures for a long time you’ll start to want to experience with different lenses at some point. I remember using a wide-angle lens the first time and remembering how much it changed my perspective of the art. Shooting urban landscapes and nature landscapes became, one again, enjoyable for me and renewed my sense of passion for this art form.

The problem with regular digital cameras is they often don’t have the ability to attach lenses which means you’re stuck with whatever lens is on there. In the world of digital cameras retailers often try to sell their customers on “megapixels” alone. While megapixels can be important, they are far from the most important element of a digital camera. Manual control is much more important. From being able to set your own aperture settings, shutter speed settings and adding or removing lens attachments is much more important.

So here is what I would recommend. If you are just starting out with photography a regular digital camera would be great. You can take over 200 pictures per day and practice the basic rules of composition and framing. You can really focus on the art of photography. These camera’s cost anywhere from $100 - $400 for very powerful cameras with lots of manual control (with the exception of lens changing)

If you are more advanced and want to play with lenses you should consider getting a digital SLR. This will allow you to take many photographs and have the ability to have full manual control of both camera settings and lenses. The downside that these cameras start at about the $600 range, but quickly jump up to over $1000 for entry level cameras.

However, if you just want the manual benefits of the SLR, consider getting a used SLR for the price of a basic digital camera. You will get full manual control and you’ll be able to add lenses. If in the future you upgrade to a digital SLR you could possibly even use any lenses you buy for your regular SLR and use them on your new digital SLR!
I hope this helps with your future purchase decisions.