What is a DSLR?

If you are just starting out in Photography, or want to step up your game in photography but don’t know where to step to, you may want to try out a DSLR.  What is a DSLR?

A DSLR is a “Digital Single Lens Reflex”.  It’s a camera that uses a mirror mechanism to either reflect light from a camera lens to an optical viewfinder or let light fully pass onto the image sensor by moving the mirror out of the way.

DSLR’s have been around since the 19th century but only available commercially since around 1991.  A DSLR also uses interchangeable lenses whereas a point-and-shoot does not.


A DSLR comprises of 8 things:

  1. Lens
  2. Reflex Mirror
  3. Shutter
  4. Image Sensor
  5. Focusing Screen
  6. Condenser Lens
  7. Pentaprism
  8. Eyepiece/Viewfinder


How does a DSLR work?

When you look through a DSLR viewfinder (or eyepiece) on the back of the camera, whatever you see is passed through the lens.

Light from the scene you are capturing passes through the lens into a reflex mirror that sits at a 45-degree angle inside the camera chamber, the light then bounces vertically to an optical element called a “pentaprism”.

The pentaprism then converts the vertical light to horizontal by redirecting the light through two separate mirrors, right into the viewfinder.

When you take a picture, the reflex mirror swings upwards, blocking the vertical pathway and letting the light directly through.  The shutter then opens up and the light reaches the image sensor.

The shutter remains open for as long as needed for the image sensor to record the image, lastly, the shutter closes and the reflex mirror drops back to the 45-degree angle to continue redirecting light into the viewfinder.


The process doesn’t actually stop there, a lot of complicated image processing happens next, but this is the basics of how a DSLR works.  Todays DSLR’s can do this process up to 11+ times a second!

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