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How Do DSLR Cameras Work?

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If you are new to high-end photography, you may wonder how do DSLR cameras work. Many of the best digital cameras, after all, are DSLR models, and these cameras boast a unique operating procedure when compared to other types. So why learn how the best DSLR cameras work and what are the essential components? Keep reading to find out.


  • DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex. These types of cameras are modern versions of old-school SLR cameras, with no affiliation with point-and-shoot or mirrorless cameras.
  • These digital cameras work by using a mirror or prism that reflects light from the lens to the optical viewfinder and, finally, the image sensor.
  • A camera’s digital sensor dictates the resolution and the overall quality of the photograph, though the settings adjust the depth of field, shutter button speed, and more.

Why Learn How DSLR Cameras Work?

Before learning how to use a DSLR as a webcam, you need to understand how a DSLR works in the first place. Learning the basics of a DSLR helps you understand what an electronic viewfinder in a digital camera is and more. It also helps you know what to check when buying a used DLSR. Simply put, understanding how your camera works helps you take better photos and helps you understand crucial processes like how to clean a DSLR camera.

Insider Tip

Each camera is unique, with a different body and different internal settings, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

How Does a DSLR Camera Capture an Image?

DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex and is a digital offshoot of a standard SLR (single-lens reflex camera.) What does this mean? A DSLR camera, like the SLR before it, uses mirrors and prisms to reflect light from the lens to the image sensor. That said, did you know you could use a DSLR camera for video? If you’re not aware, you’ll be surprised at what a DSLR can offer. If you want to compare digital SLR cameras, we have a helpful resource for you. Here is how that breaks down via each component.

Reflex Mirror or Prism

The primary component of a DSLR is a reflex mirror or prism (or both.) These mirrors and prisms reflect light through the optical viewfinder, which allows you to accurately take a photo of the image you are looking at through this viewfinder. Light starts at the lens and then passes to the mirror prism inside of the camera body. The mirror moves when the shutter is released, allowing a path to be opened to the image sensor. The end result? Fantastic photos. In fact, they’re often so high quality, you won’t be wondering if a phone camera is better than a DSLR.


A DSLR’s lens focuses light and magnifies certain properties of the outdoor space, depending on the lens size, shape, and type. The lens sends light to the mirror or prism, which hits the viewfinder and, ultimately, the image sensor. You can swap out a wide range of different lenses for unique photographic effects.

STAT: The first DSLR camera was made in 1999, and after only a few years of technological improvements, it eventually replaced single-lens reflex cameras. (source)

Image Sensor

A camera’s digital image sensor translates the light and related information into an actual photo, which can then be sent to the cloud, a phone, or a computer. The image sensor is largely responsible for the resolution and quality of the image.

While this article doesn’t talk about camera stabilization, you can learn more about the camera gimbal in our other articles.

DSLR Functions FAQs

What are the benefits of using a DSLR camera?

DSLR cameras like the Canon EOS excel with depth of field, offering more clarity when compared to mirrorless cameras. A digital SLR also allows for multiple shutter speeds, interchangeable lenses, autofocus sensors, and more.

What are the disadvantages of DSLR cameras?

These cameras are more expensive than, say, mirrorless cameras, despite excelling with digital photography. DSLRs are also quite bulky during use, even the renowned Canon EOS.

Want to learn more about photography?

Learn all about interchangeable lenses, electronic viewfinders, digital imaging sensors, manual control, focal lengths, and more by experimenting and reading some instruction manuals.

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