LEARN: How to Buy a 35mm SLR Camera

In this Guide

1. Autofocus vs. Manual
2. Features to Consider
3. What to Do Before You Buy
4. Quick SLR Facts

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How to Buy a 35mm SLR Camera

SLR cameras help you create extraordinary photographs, not just snapshots. The right SLR will grow with you as your picture-taking skills develop. Here's how to identify important features and buy smart.

Does a 35mm SLR (single-lens reflex) camera make sense in an age of digital cameras? Yes, if you want more than snapshots. No other camera format lets you capture high-quality images in such a compact package. Few other cameras offer affordable zoom, macro, or wide-angle lenses. You can buy SLR-based digital cameras, but they cost about $5,000 (U.S.) — far more than a top-name film SLR, lenses, and accessories. And image quality isn't as good as 35mm — yet. SLR cameras help you create extraordinary photographs. You get more control over the image. And, if you need a digital picture, you can scan from your quality photograph, slide, or negative. All 35mm SLRs use any 35mm film — color negative film for prints, transparency film for slides, black-and-white, and even infrared film. There are a few APS SLR models that use 24mm Advanced Photo System films. These don't enlarge as well but offer convenient mid-roll film change.

Autofocus vs. Manual Focus

When choosing an SLR, you must choose between autofocus (AF) or manual focus. All major manufacturers have effective AF systems; one offers a system that tracks your eye movements through the viewfinder to focus on your subject. Some offer image stabilization, which lets you shoot photos at slower shutter speeds.

AF cameras, however, have limitations:

  • They rely on electronics that can betray you at inopportune times.
  • AF cameras consume more batteries than a manual camera.
  • When you want to switch to manual focus, you may find that some AF lenses are hard to focus by hand.
  • Few AF systems really see what your eye sees. AF cameras use infrared beams, which have a limited range. 
  • Some users find autofocus mechanisms noisier than they'd prefer. 
  • AF lenses often contain lighter components, such as plastic barrels. They save weight, but might not be durable.

With manual cameras, you set the focus yourself, and often the aperture and shutter speed as well. Olympus, Pentax, Nikon and others make manual-focus SLRs with few electronics. They help you learn how to compose an image and understand depth-of-field. You also get access to a vast range of lens choices from many makers. And, if you're on a budget, manual cameras often cost less than AF models.

Features to Consider , P.2 >>