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All DSLRs generally have:

  • A manual setting for ISO, shutter speed, aperture
  • Manual focus
  • Raw format support
  • Macro focus
  • Custom white balance settings

So, what are the factors which distinguish one DSLR body from another?

Factors which I know can be ISO Noise and Maximum/Minimum aperture.

What are the other significant and not-so-significant things to be considered while comparing two DSLR bodies?

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I don't think you'll get one answer that says it all. So here's a comment with some additional suggestions: Action photographers also care about maximum continuous frames per second burst rate and length (both depend heavily on the image format, resolution, CPU(s) and buffer RAM in the camera) as well as the total number and types of selectable focus points. Yet other photographers care about the viewfinder coverage (e.g. 95% vs. 100%) and to lesser extent the viewfinder magnification. Crop factor is another big one: full frame vs. APS-C, APS-H and all the other variations... –  Kim Burgaard Aug 9 '11 at 6:38
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The maximum/minimum aperture relates to the lens, not the camera body –  Kim Burgaard Aug 9 '11 at 6:42
    
In some ways thi question is similar to photo.stackexchange.com/questions/14245/… –  mattdm Aug 9 '11 at 14:54
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Macro focus, by the way, is another feature which relates to the lens, not the camera body (except in the cases where the lens mount includes a bellows, which isn't any modern camera I'm aware of). –  mattdm Aug 9 '11 at 19:44
    
@Kim aperture info was VERY helpful. Thanks for that. –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 3:29
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6 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

The simplest is to compare them side-by-side. This will give you specification differences. Then you have to divided the differences into two groups: Ones that matter to you and ones that do not.

For example, some DSLRs have a sync-port. Some people look for it, some do not. A top shutter-speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000 does not matter to everyone either.

Some differences you will encounter:

  • Sensor size (Affects image quality, depth-of-field, field-of-view of your lenses)
  • Lens mount (Decides which lens you can use, which ones will autofocus)
  • Stabilization (Determines if all lenses get stabilized or not)
  • Maximum ISO (This an indication of low-light performance but not directly correlated since not all ISOs show the same image quality)
  • Maximum Shutter-Speed (How fast you can capture motion without using a flash as primary light source)
  • Viewfinder coverage (Either you can precisely frame in-camera or not)
  • Viewfinder Size (Affects comfort, perception of focus and fine-details)
  • Number of control-dials (Efficiency of use)
  • Weather sealing (Usable in rain, snow, sandstorms, etc - Note: requires weather-sealed lens too)
  • Metering modes
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Maximum continuous drive
  • Autofocus points
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Price
  • Much much more... the database at Neocamera has over 180 data points per camera, about 50 or so are exposed in the Camera Finder which you can use to find cameras that match specifications you need.
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5  
Disclaimer: it's your site. True, it's a great site and most of the regulars know it's yours and deserves the 8 votes +1 from me, but it's nice to have a disclosure nevertheless :-) –  koiyu Aug 10 '11 at 9:25
    
Very helpful Itai, thanks –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 3:31
    
Hold on, You said: Sensor size (Affects image quality, depth-of-field, field-of-view of your lenses) Now, isn't aperture (depth of field) dependent on lens? –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 3:37
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@Anisha: the DoF is (more-or-less) a function of the aperture and the focal length of the lens, with a larger aperture and a longer focal length (relative to subject distance) giving a shallower depth of field. Since you need to use a longer lens on a larger sensor to get the same subject framing at the same subject distance, you will get a shallower DoF taking the "same" picture at the same aperture. –  user2719 Sep 8 '11 at 5:36
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It's actually squared. 1.5X larger sensor gives 2.25X (1.5^2) shallower depth-of-field. That's why the DOF of tiny sensors is so huge. –  Itai Sep 8 '11 at 12:58
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Following site gives you almost all the required comparison parameters side-by-side http://www.digicamdb.com/compare/sony_alpha-nex-3n-vs-canon_eos-rebel-t3/

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Besides the things you've mentioned, there are also important body parameters, such as: dynamic range, max shutter speed, sensor size, etc.

I love this site that helped me sometime in choosing the new body: http://snapsort.com/compare/Nikon_D7000-vs-Nikon_D80

This sample page shows the comparison between two bodies. Choose your DSLR's from this link: http://snapsort.com/compare

The most important thing there is that for each difference it gives a simple description about pros and cons

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'matrix' size ? –  rfusca Aug 9 '11 at 14:41
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"matrix" = sensor, as in "CCD matrix". –  mattdm Aug 9 '11 at 16:53
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beside the already mentioned features,this could be also important:

1) batteries - mostly Li-ion accu pack, but for example, Pentax K-x uses 4 AA batteries or a rechargeable ones (for example, I use NiMH Sanyo Eneloop batteries), newer Pentax K-r uses Li-ion pack, but is able to use also 4 AA batteries.

2) the viewfinder size and coverage - for example the Olympus 4/3 cameras - at least the Exxx series have very small viewfinder in my opinion.

3) chip - today most DSLRs have CMOS, but some have the EXMOR CMOS chips which have lower noise and thus can use bigger ISO.

4) focus system - could have influence on focus speed - depends on user needs (and also on used lens)

and some (? almost minor) features:

built-in HDR mode, AF assist light for low light conditions, remote shutter - IR or wire connector?

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+1 for batteries. Was interested in Sigma's DSLR line until I noticed they used expensive CR123 batteries (which at the time didn't exist in rechargable versions, at least not where I live) which was a dealbreaker (I'd have probably ended up with them had they used LiOn packs or AAs). –  jwenting Aug 9 '11 at 11:49
    
Good Answer. I was always unsure about the built-in HDR. Is it really a useful feature? I think even if I had that feature on my camera i would still opt for auto-bracketing and create the final result using a dedicated HDR software where I have full control over the final image. Also, as much as I liked my old Pentax I personally really hated the 4AA batteries setup. –  Jakub Aug 9 '11 at 13:01
    
@Jakub: depends on how often do you shoot HDR. I also have Luminance HDR program installed, but I do not use HDR much often so the built-in feature is mostly enough for me and it saves my time. Mine has two levels, but the second one is too strong in my opinion, so I only use the first one. But it is not the feature to persuade me to buy a particular camera. I take it rather as a bonus. –  Juhele Aug 9 '11 at 13:11
    
Also helpful, thanks. –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 3:38
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Well, sensor size is a major difference among camera bodies. That said - in the realm of DSLR, there are 3 size families out there - Full Frame (like Canon 1Ds), APS-H (1.3x crop factor on Canon 1D), APS-C (1.5x crop factor on Nikon, 1.6x factor on Canon other than 1D/1Ds/5D).

The size, combined with resolution and more factors is a major contributor to what you called ISO noise.

The sensor size also determines how shallow your minimum DoF will be for a given composition.

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But @mattdm said above that aperture is dependent on lens! So, aperture is related to DOF, isn't it? –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 3:39
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@Anisha - for a given lens (that is, a given focal length), the sensor size determines the Field of View (FoV). Smaller sensor creates a proportionally smaller FoV. Now, consider shooting a head portrait, where the head fills the frame. Clearly, for a smaller FoV you need to be farther away from the subject for the same composition (if for a full-frame you are 6 ft away, then on APS-C you'll be 9 ft away). A given lens has a set maximum aperture which is the same for the two cameras. Hence, the min DoF (for max aperture) is larger on the APS-C, where the subject is farther away. –  ysap Sep 8 '11 at 9:57
    
Thanks ysap, but would you explain what is "field of view" in a layman's language. I am not technically too sound. –  TheIndependentAquarius Sep 8 '11 at 10:19
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Anisha - read this question, and especially mattdm's answer: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5917/… –  ysap Sep 8 '11 at 10:28
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Apart from the factors which you mention, some of which pertain at least in part to the software and not to the hardware, it's also a matter of how the bodies are physically manufactured. For instance they can be weather sealed, they can be more or less robustly built, they can be made of "cheap plastic" or of magnesium alloy. In addition, any given model is tested for a certain number of shutter actuations (there are some very interesting questions and answers on this).

As a final issue there is ergonomics and interface: factors like weigth, or how does it fit your hand or the buttons/commands are placed can affect very strongly the result.

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Very helpful post. :hattip: –  TheIndependentAquarius Aug 9 '11 at 6:20
    
In addition to this @ysap's answer gives a very important difference between DSLRs in their 'crop sensor' sizes. –  nchpmn Aug 10 '11 at 9:07
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