SLR vs DSLR: What Is the Difference Between Two Cameras?

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If it is your first time buying a camera, you probably find it difficult to choose between an SLR and a DSLR. Both cameras enable you to capture high-quality images, but differ in several aspects. 

The main difference between SLR and DSLR is how they shoot and save photos. Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras use a film roll to record images. In contrast, digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a built-in digital sensor that saves pictures on a memory card.   

However, you must also understand the other differences between SLRs and DSLRs to know which one best suits your needs. Below, we will compare these two cameras to help you make a wise purchasing decision. But first, we’ll look into the pros and cons of each one.

What is an SLR?

What is an SLR

SLR stands for single-lens reflex.

An SLR camera uses a lens to reflect the scene in front of you through a mirror. It lets you view the image before capturing it.

It also includes a film roll that records the photos you’ve taken. This film offers a distinct vintage and grainy look that is difficult to replicate in digital cameras. However, it limits the number of pictures you shoot at the same time. It must also undergo the developing process before you can see the final image.

That said, SLR cameras offer manual control over aperture, shutter speed, and focus. They enable you to change these parameters to achieve different effects and looks in your photos.

As for its design, an SLR camera has a sleek body with several control buttons. It has no rear monitor, but it comes with a viewfinder. This allows you to adjust the photo composition. 

Some professional photographers still use an SLR camera for its interchangeable lenses and distinct film look. But others may find this type of camera difficult to use because of the lengthy image processing.


  • Full manual control over the camera
  • Interchangeable lenses are ideal for various shooting situations
  • A viewfinder lets you see the exact image to be captured
  • High-quality pictures with a unique grainy, vintage look


  • Complex controls may overwhelm beginners
  • The film needs to be developed before you can see the final images
  • Heavier than other types of cameras

What is a DSLR?

What is a DSLR

A digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera shares certain similarities with an SLR camera.

It has an internal mirror to reflect light to a viewfinder. It allows you to see the image in front of you before capturing it.

A DSLR camera also provides manual control over the aperture, shutter speed, and focus. It lets photographers use their artistic vision to achieve the desired photo. 

But unlike SLRs, DSLR cameras use a digital sensor that saves pictures on a memory card instead of a film roll. They enable you to capture multiple images simultaneously. They also let you see the photo right after taking it. There is no need to develop the film, which takes too much time and effort. 

Plus, DSLR cameras minimize waste by using a memory card. Once the storage space is full, you can simply delete or transfer the images digitally. You can use the card for as long as possible, unlike film rolls that expire over time. 

DSLR cameras can even record videos. The exact recording quality depends on the model. However, most models capture high-definition footage.

All these features make DSLRs the top choice of many photographers and videographers.


  • It can capture both photos and videos
  • The digital sensor offers high-quality images
  • It uses a memory card for instant photo viewing and less waste
  • Full manual and automatic control can suit your needs
  • High-speed shooting mode


  • It tends to be bulkier than other cameras
  • Less complex compared to SLRs, but it can still be difficult to use
  • Digital images lack the natural vintage look of film photos

SLR vs. DSLR: 7 Key Differences Between These Cameras

Both SLR and DSLR cameras allow you to capture high-quality images. However, they have several differences that affect the recording process and the final look of the photos. 

Below, we’ll share the seven common differences between an SLR and a DSLR. Carefully consider these factors before purchasing a camera. 



Both kinds of cameras use a mirror and prism system that allows you to see an image through the lens before capturing it.

However, an SLR camera relies on old film technology. It records photos with a film roll, which contains gelatin, plastic, and other materials. 

In contrast, a DSLR camera uses a digital sensor. It can digitally save and store pictures on a memory card.

Image Processing

An SLR camera requires a roll of film to capture an image. This film is usually a plastic strip with thin layers of gelatin. The gelatin comprises silver halide crystals that react with light to create an image.

However, the film must undergo a chemical process in a photo lab to develop the images. The procedure can take several minutes to a few hours to complete. After that, you can print or scan them to convert them digitally. You cannot reuse the film roll once developed or expired. 

On the other hand, a DSLR camera records all photos and videos in digital format on a memory card. It can store thousands of files simultaneously. Once full, it is easy to delete or transfer the images to a computer. Doing so can free up storage space and allow you to reuse the memory card.

A DSLR camera also lets you see images right after you capture them. You can view them on the camera’s LCD screen or the computer by connecting the memory card. You even have the option to print digital pictures.

Photo Quality

Both SLR and DSLR cameras produce high-quality photos owing to their complete manual control. However, their images look different from one another because of the image processing used. 

SLR cameras capture film photos with a distinct grain or texture. These usually have a classic or vintage look, which appeals to many people.

Unfortunately, the quality of the film roll can affect the final image. For instance, the colors may appear faded if you use an expired film. Processing errors can also impact the photo quality.

Meanwhile, SLR cameras use a digital sensor to record the image. They offer more control and flexibility, especially in low-light shooting environments. Plus, they can save photos in RAW format to preserve as much detail as possible. This image format allows you to edit pictures and manipulate their final look through editing software.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the period the shutter remains open to permit light to hit the film or sensor. 

SLR cameras offer shutter speeds ranging from a second to a thousandth of a second. When using a fast shutter like 1/1000, they enable you to “freeze” moving objects like birds and other animals.

DSLR cameras shoot at faster shutter speeds of 1/4000 to 1/8000th of a second. These temporarily stop subject movement, making them ideal for action, sports, and wildlife photography. 

At the same time, DSLRs allow you to capture images using a slow shutter, such as 30 seconds. Such speeds are suitable for recording motion blur or long-exposure photography, like moving traffic and stars at night. 



SLR and DSLR cameras have an optical viewfinder. This component lets you see the picture in front of you through the mirror. It can help you compose and frame the shot.

Besides the viewfinder, DSLRs also feature a digital LCD on the back of the camera. The screen displays the exact picture you see on a viewfinder but on a larger scale. It makes image composition easier and allows an instant preview of the shot. Some screens can also rotate or flip, so you can conveniently look at the screen from different angles.

However, LCD screens are difficult to view in sunlight, increasing the risk of an overexposed shot. They also drain the camera battery more quickly.

Difficulty Level

SLRs and DSLRs are neck and neck when it comes to complexity. Both cameras offer manual control settings, which can be difficult to learn if you are a beginner. 

They also require regular maintenance to maintain optimal working conditions. The process usually involves removing dust from the lens and sensor.

That said, DSLRs are slightly easier to use. They let you view the image after capturing it, unlike SLRs, which require you to develop the film. They can also take multiple pictures without worrying about the film running out. 

Price and Availability

The cost and supply of SLRs and DSLRs vary depending on the model and brand. 

SLR cameras usually have a limited supply. They have already been replaced by digital technology in DSLRs. These make them slightly pricier. The cost of using SLRs is also expensive since they require a roll of film.

That said, the value of SLR cameras remains stable. There is no need to upgrade them every year. You can also sell them at nearly the same price after a few years. 

On the other hand, DSLR cameras are widely available. These make entry-level models more affordable than their SLR counterparts.

However, professional DSLRs can be just as expensive as SLR cameras. They also require you to upgrade every few years because the technology is constantly evolving.

SLR vs DSLR: Which One is Right For You?

After learning the differences between SLRs and DSLRs, you may still be confused about which one to buy.

Choose the single-lens reflex camera if you prefer the distinct vintage look of photos and won’t mind developing them. You can’t get the same grain or texture when using a digital camera. You can also buy an SLR if you want a long-lasting camera that maintains its value over the years.

Those who prefer the convenience of digital technology must go with a DSLR camera. You can instantly view the images after capturing them. You also have full control over the exposure, which helps you achieve your desired result. However, you may need to replace the DSLR after a few years to benefit from the latest technology and features.


Both single-lens reflex and digital single-lens reflex cameras can capture high-quality photos. However, it’s essential to understand their differences if you’re looking to buy either of them. 

The main difference between DSLR and SLR cameras is how they process images. The former records light in a film roll that needs to be developed, whereas the latter uses a digital sensor. They also have other distinctions, like the shutter speed and viewfinder. Refer to the article above for the complete list of differences. 

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