Be practical: DSLR prices range from $500 to well beyond $1,000. If you're new to DSLRs, look for a camera in the sub-$1,000 range. They'll have preset shooting modes you can use while you learn how to master the manual settings, and you won't sacrifice much in terms of image quality. And, if you do decide to upgrade to a more expensive camera body later, you can buy a camera that takes the same lenses and accessories.
Body only: Many DSLRs can be purchased body-only and require that you supply a compatible lens in order to take photos. Others—especially entry-level models—also ship as part of a kit that includes a decent-quality multipurpose lens. Kit lenses tend to be relatively slow, meaning you may have trouble getting sharp action shots in low-light situations without a flash. If you tend to shoot indoors, you may want to consider also investing in a faster lens.
Features to consider
Lens selection: If you think you'll want to use different lenses for different shooting situations (like a zoom lens for distance shots, a macro lens, or even a lens with an effect like fish eye), consider the lens selection for the DSLR you're considering before you buy the camera. If the kit lens wouldn't be of much use to you, it may be more affordable to buy the camera body-only and invest in the lens you really want. (If you're not sure where to start, read our primer on buying a new lens.)
Once you've settled on basics like the number of megapixels and the size of the sensor, you should have narrowed your search to a more manageable number of cameras. From this point on, you should base your decision on features and performance. Here are some important ones to consider.
Image stabilization: Even if you think you have rock-steady hands, it's easy to end up with blurry photos—particularly in low-light, indoor environments where you don't want to use a flash (in a church or a museum, for example). In these situations, the shutter has to stay open longer in order to create a good exposure. And the longer it stays open, the more susceptible your image is to the effects of camera shake or subject movement.
To help battle these problems, many camera manufacturers offer camera and lenses that include image-stabilization technology. But there are different approaches to image stabilization, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages:
Optical Stabilization Used in compact cameras and DSLRs, optical stabilization is the most common image-stabilization method. Optical stabilization uses gyroscopes within the camera or the camera's lens to detect camera shake, and then steadies the path of the image as it makes its way to the camera's sensor. In DSLRs, the gyroscopes are often located in the lens.
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