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digital SLRMichael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. But for the accuracy of an underwater Nikon D3 camera, that number could have been seven. To the naked eye, Phelps lost by a hair, but when the images from the camera taking pictures at 15 frames per second came up, the photos clearly showed Phelps touching the wall first.

digital SLRMichael Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. But for the accuracy of an underwater Nikon D3 camera, that number could have been seven. To the naked eye, Phelps lost by a hair, but when the images from the camera taking pictures at 15 frames per second came up, the photos clearly showed Phelps touching the wall first.

While most of us won t take fast action pictures where a hundredth of a second really matters, we want to take high quality photos under a variety of conditions. Most people use a convenient point and shoot camera. They re compact, easy to use and affordable, a good choice for many. But what if your interest and enthusiasm for photography are above average?

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You may notice the light, where it comes from and how strong it is. You may look for just the right angle. You may arrange your subjects for a better composition. You know when a photo is good. If this sounds like you, it s time to consider a DSLR camera (digital single lens reflex). What were once thought of as the exclusive property of professional photographers, DSLR cameras now come in an entry level DSLR model, designed to provide professional grade results without the bulk, complexity and expense of the photojournalist s camera.

This year s entry-level DSLR cameras, like Canon s Rebel XS and Nikon s D40, are smaller and lighter than their predecessors, making them easier to hold and adjust. Like a point and shoot, these DSLR cameras have fully automatic settings for a variety of conditions. But unlike a point and shoot, a DSLR will accommodate your developing skills as a photographer. With practice, you can create your own manual settings. You will also be able to fine tune these settings by separately adjusting ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

Whether you use the automatic settings or your own manual settings, a DSLR camera will take noticeably better pictures. Yes, you will see the difference. Because the lens on a DSLR is larger, more light is allowed to pass to the camera s sensor resulting in better colors, better lowlight performance and less noise. The camera s internal mirrors make it possible for you to see the exact image you are shooting when you look through the viewfinder. That may not sound like much, but with a regular digital camera the image you see on the LCD screen is different from what your eyes see. The colors will vary depending on the quality of the LCD screen and the image sensor inside the camera. With a DSLR, what you see is what you get.

Over the past five years, DSLR cameras have dropped in price by half. Today, the median price is about $500; you ll find the Canon Rebel XS for about $600. You will need a sturdy camera bag to protect your camera, and you may decide to purchase additional lenses as you progress. Consider a DSLR, you ll take better pictures immediately and, as your skills improve, you ll turn your hobby into an art, and maybe a career. Who knows? We may see you at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

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