An SLR has a number of advantages over a compact point-and-shoot. The interchangeable lenses make it easy to compose your photograph in a variety of ways, and the camera's metering and shutter systems are usually more advanced. SLRs universally have a flash hot-shoe that enables them to make use of sophisticated add-on systems.
As with the point-and-shoot camera, the SLR market is crowded, and you want to make sure you get the most for your money. Solid SLR cameras are made by Nikon, Canon, Konica-Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, and others, all of whom offer dependable bodies starting at around $900. Here are some features to look for:
Digital SLR cameras that come with a price tag up to about $1000 usually fall into the "consumer" range. They often sacrifice features (things like autofocus speed, sensor resolution, or durability) in order to hit a sweet spot that allows aspiring photographers to get good pictures without breaking the bank. If you're unsure of your interest in photography, don't spend more than this amount on your first camera. But if you think you'll advance in the future, choose a system from a manufacturer that also makes more sophisticated (and more expensive) equipment so that you can keep your investment in lenses and accessories when you upgrade your camera body.
Sometimes you'll hear the term "35mm digital" used to describe digital SLR cameras. But "35mm" can only be applied to cameras that shoot film, since that term signifies the size of the film used in the camera (and digital cameras don't have film). Lots of companies have kept the term around, however, to make consumers feel more comfortable with the switch to digital.
SLRs that cost $1000 to $2500 are often called "prosumer" cameras (Figure 1.7). These cameras are faster, more solid (they're usually made of sturdier materials), and more reliable in the long run. A good prosumer digital camera will serve you well for years. For those willing to go all-out there are the true professional bodies, with prices starting around $2500 and going up to nearly $10,000 (Figure 1.8). While these are the most durable, sophisticated, and impressive cameras on the market, they can really do more to confuse than to aid the new user. A pro camera can have a dizzying array of buttons and switches, and can weigh as much as five pounds.
Figure 1.7. Canon's EOS Digital Rebel was the first "prosumer" digital SLR to sell for under $1000, including a lens. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Figure 1.8. The Nikon D70s, left, costs less and has fewer features and buttons, but it's easier to learn to use than Nikon's top of the line digital SLR, the D2X, right. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
When selecting a camera, keep in mind that for any trip lasting more than a few days, it's essential to have a backup even if you're traveling to a region with lots of electronics stores (Figure 1.9). It's important to know how your camera works, and you don't want to be fumbling with the controls on a replacement camera. Having a backup also allows you to shoot a scene using two different lens focal lengths without having to change settings.
Figure 1.9. Taking a second camera along will let you work faster without having to change lenses, and can also prevent a photo trip disaster if one camera fails. (Photo by Bridget Fleming)
Pros often take two top-of-the-line bodies (or one pro body and one prosumer body), but the budding travel photographer can easily get away with a main body and a point-and-shoot. Budget accordinglythat once-in-a-lifetime safari might warrant two prosumer cameras. For versatility when traveling, it's best to shoot with a SLR.
If you're close to a major city, you can often rent a camera body for a trip. It's cheaper to spend a few hundred dollars renting a second body thanto buy one just for a safari or extended vacation.