How DSLRs Have Improved Over The Years :: Digital Photo Secrets

How DSLRs Have Improved Over The Years

by David Peterson 0 comments

Cars and cameras have changed so much over the past decade that I’m starting to think a lease option might be a good idea. Whether you’re on the Nikon or Canon side of the fence, or another fence altogether, the new generation of cameras are incredible compared to their predecessors. The biggest boost is that they accommodate more light scenarios than ever before, which is just what we want to hear. Plus, from megapixels to sensors to ISO settings to frames per seconds (fps) rates, and I must add improved flash/memory cards, the latest DSLRs are making photographers more pixel-happy than ever before.

Looking back to when DSLRs came out, not only were they more expensive than today’s models (for what you got), they were just beginning to scratch the surface of DSLR’s capabilities. (Oooh, I almost hesitate to use that metaphor when talking lenses and sensors.)

Let’s look at the biggest changes and how they’ve impacted and advanced photography over the years.


Back in the day when we used film, ISO (then ASA) was limited to maybe a max of 800 with 100, 200 or 400 being the most common over the counter choices. This meant we had to compensate heavily with shutter speed and aperture settings when it came to low light or high speed situations. It also meant contending with grainy images. When DSLRs made their red carpet appearance in the late 90’s, ISO settings were about 1600, which was an applaudable moment in photography history. Most DSLRs now sport 6400 ISO settings, and I expect this will continue to increase as it has over the years.

So, what does this mean for you? With advanced sensor technology, high ISO settings are now at your fingertips and they let you work much more effectively in low light and high speed situations. Images that couldn’t be caught before are now commonplace with a 3200 or 6400 ISO setting. As an added bonus, gone is the grain that screamed “low light disaster” of yesterday. Even with noise reduction options in photo editing programs, there’s nothing like capturing a better image from the get-go.

Frame Rate

Frame rate is simply how fast your camera can take pictures consecutively. For sport and nature lovers, this is an especially critical component. In this action shot of the high jumper, it’s likely the photographer was in “consecutive mode” and cranked out his share of frames per second in order to capture her at this optimal moment. The surrounding images would have her just before or after this moment.

Though fps (frames per second) have only about doubled since the beginning of DSLR time, going from 4 fps to 9 fps, and in some cases nearly 11 fps, is pretty impressive.

Raw Images and Megapixels

Unlike the popular JPEG file, when you shoot in RAW, your files are essentially unprocessed and uncompressed. DSLRs did not come out of the gate with great RAW shooting capabilities. To add to it, software programs weren’t accommodating to RAW files. It wasn’t until later in the game when both cameras and programs caught up to the demands of photographers wanting more control over their images.

Additionally, DSLRs now have more megapixels than ever. 12 megapixels use to be all the rage, now cameras are up to 36 megapixels, such as in the Nikon D800. Keep in mind that the higher the megapixels shouldn’t be a selling point. You should look at all features and realize that unless you’re going to be printing poster size images, it may make more sense to choose a lower megapixel camera that has all the bells and whistles you want.


Another feature that took some time to progress, but is worth celebrating now, was autofocus. Considering autofocus lenses were available in 35 mm cameras long before digital SLRs came about, this is a little bit surprising. However, marrying DSLR bodies to the autofocus lenses did take some time. You might also find that in some of the less expensive DSLR cameras that the autofocus is still a bit slow in low light situations and even a tad noisy. Still, it’s a feature that you’ll see measurable improvements with the new generation cameras.

Autofocus comes in quite handy when capturing moving objects like this girl running through a field.
Instead of worrying about focusing, you can concern yourself with shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings.

Flash/Memory Cards

The capability to store larger and more images on flash cards (also called Memory Cards) has improved over the years. You can easily pick up a 32GB 600x card for your DSLR, whereas they used to only be 256MB 12x. With faster, better cameras, it only makes sense that the storage cards kept up. 64GB cards are available, but ironically a lot of photographers tend to stick to 32GB cards, or even smaller, so that if one memory card becomes corrupted or broken, they don't lose all their photos.

HD Video

One last major change in DSLRs is the ability to shoot HD (High Definition) video…and a lot of it (especially if you have one of those 64GB cards!). While most of what we talk about here is still photography, it’s worth mentioning how far video has come on DSLRs. I like to think that it’s even testing the video waters for a lot of photographers who used to have to carry a camcorder around if they wanted to capture video. Now actual short movies are being filmed with DSLRs and since they’re in HD, they’re quite impressive!

The Future

It will be fascinating to see what the future of DSLR cameras holds. Make your wish list now and see if they’re granted in the coming years! Then again, it’s likely they’ll come up with new advancements that we’d never even think of. Luckily for us, we get to get out there and use the equipment and capture images while their techs are in labs.

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