If you want control, DSLRs provide it.
Want to use manual exposure controls? Some compact cameras provide this possibility, but all DSLRs do. For photographers who want to manually adjust ISO, shutter speed and aperture, the DSLR is a safe choice. This gives the photographer complete creative control over things like motion blur, sharpness and depth of field.
But…that total control can be found on smaller cameras with other benefits, so it alone isn’t enough reason why you should choose a DSLR. Back in the film days, total control required an SLR. Today, it does not.
Infinite lens and accessory options.
When you buy a DSLR, you buy into a system that includes dozens of accessories and lens options that number into the hundreds. If you want to use a cable release for long exposures, or if you want to attach a flash, or maybe you want to switch between a macro lens for close-ups of flowers and then to a supertelephoto lens to capture your kid playing soccer across the field, DSLRs offer the most optional accessories and lenses of any camera type. Not only are there a lot of lens options, but there are more high-quality, fast and specialized lenses available, too.
If you’d like to reap the benefits of a full-frame sensor—high quality, high resolution, low noise, inherently shallower depth of field—you’re more than likely going to start your shopping trip with DSLRs in mind. True, you can get smaller sensors in DSLRs, and you can find some compact cameras with full-frame sensors, but the majority of these big, quality sensors are found in DSLRs.
But…if things like compact size and low weight are a huge priority, you may want to look for a compact mirrorless camera with a full-frame sensor. They’re out there, and they’re getting more popular every day.
The most rugged and durable cameras.
If you shoot in tough conditions like rain and snow, or areas that are sandy or dusty, then the higher-end DSLR should be your first choice. These cameras are built for professionals, so they withstand weather and water and dust more capably than most consumer cameras do. Sure, you might do fine with a compact camera in a protective case, but there’s a reason why the pros stick with pro DSLRs: They’re built to last. If you’re particularly hard on your cameras and use them in extremes of temperature or dusty, dirty, sandy conditions, consider a high-end DSLR. These professional tools are often constructed using more durable materials with weathertight seals to prevent dirt and moisture from infiltrating the sensitive electronics inside. Unfortunately, all this protection comes at a high cost, literally.
The downside of DSLRs.
DSLRs might be a great choice for many, but they’re not perfect. First of all, they’re larger than compact cameras. For some folks, that’s no big deal, but for others, it’s a dealbreaker. If you’re hiking in the outback, for instance, every ounce matters and a big, bulky camera system might prevent you from completing a journey. Even if the comfort of a DSLR is no problem for you, sometimes the complexity of the system is. If you want a large zoom range, for instance, you may have to carry multiple lenses, while the equivalent focal range may be covered in a single zoom lens built in to a compact camera. If you want interchangeable lenses, you may have the most lens options with DSLRs, but there are other camera options that provide lens options, as well. In the old days, that wasn’t the case, but today there are plenty of compact cameras that forego the SLR mirror in favor of an electronic viewfinder and offer an increasing array of interchangeable lenses. Lastly, DSLRs—particularly the professional models—can be very expensive. If you’re on a budget, sure, there are more affordable DSLR options, but there are lots of compact point-and-shoot cameras to choose from at prices far below typical DSLR prices.