Digital SLR: How we test digital SLRs
Which? puts Digital SLR cameras to the test so we can tell you exactly what you need to know when you're buying a new one. We'll help you avoid poor image quality, terrible ease of use or cameras that are slow at focusing or poor in low light conditions.
We put every camera through the same tests - a mixture of assessments from image quality experts and technical lab testing - so we can answer the important, no-nonsense questions with confidence and give you a verdict you can trust. Read on to find out:
- What makes a Which? Best Buy digital SLR camera?
- How we test digital SLR cameras to find the best?
- How we find which digital SLR cameras are easy to use?
- How we'll show you which digital SLR camera to buy?
What makes a Best Buy Digital SLR?
Which? exists to give consumers impartial advice, which means that if a product isn't any good we'll say so, without fear of penalty. Which? works for you, providing trustworthy advice without a hidden agenda.
We examine everything that matters across all products, including performance, features and how well they work in real life – so you'll know exactly what to expect. Our unique, comparative lab tests mean you can trust our Best Buy and Don't Buy verdicts and choose with confidence.
Digital SLR testing in brief
Which? tests 15 digital SLR cameras a year and we ensure that our guides only have the models that are currently available.
To help you choose the best digital SLR, we put each model through a series of meticulous tests. Our expert team design the tests to be both rigorous and repeatable, so that we know we’ve really put the products through their paces. Digital SLRs are put through rigorous image testing against reference charts to highlight those that really do allow for stunning photos in a huge variety of environments.
Due to improvements in our digital SLR testing procedures to account for new features and developments, please note that digital SLRs tested in 2009 are not directly comparable with those tested in 2008, which are in turn not directly comparable with those from 2007 or 2006.
We aim to ensure all the major brands are represented and test new models as soon as they are released.
How we choose products for testing
Dedicated Business Researchers carefully select the products Which? tests, scouring the market for the latest releases and the most innovative products.
Our Business Researchers aim to cover a very high percentage of the market in any one product area. And, while we do test some premium products, we avoid testing those products which you would need a second mortgage to afford. We take the following criteria into account when choosing digital SLRs:
- Popularity – we test digital SLRs that are the biggest sellers
- Brand reliability – we test more digital SLRs from brands that are reliable and tend to do well in our testing
- Innovation – we test new and innovative digital SLRs
- Cost – we typically test digital SLRs that cost between £300 and £1000.
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Ease of use
Our expert assessors test our products for their ease of use by running through everyday scenarios that replicate how you use your digital SLR.
We first look at using the camera for the first time, including the intuitiveness of basic controls, inserting memory cards and batteries, and instruction manuals. The layout, size and labels of all buttons and controls are carefully checked by our experts and assessed on their accessibility.
The shutter delay and auto-focussing speeds are carefully measured, along with the delay between taking successive photos and the start up time, to check if sluggish behaviour may lead to you missing that perfect moment.
The menus are thoroughly looked through to check how easy it is to change common settings such as flash options, image quality and scene modes. If these options are difficult to find and change you may be missing out on a wealth of your camera’s best features. We also check manual settings such as aperture control and manual focussing. Auto focussing is further tested to reveal its sensitivity and ability to operate in poor light conditions.
The quality and accuracy of the screen and viewfinder are checked under different light conditions to check for good colour reproduction and so that you can accurately frame your shot. Changing of lenses is tested for ease of use, mechanical problems and frictions, and batteries are checked for their charging and replacement procedures.
Our products undergo an extensive range of objective laboratory testing to assess performance.
The image quality of cameras is assessed by a panel of five experts. When testing image quality on digital SLRs, we measure resolution and aberrations using a test chart and the camera at different settings (such as at wide angle setting, at telephoto setting, and so on.)
We use test charts to check the cameras performance at a range of ISO settings. These tests carefully look at colour reproduction and accuracy, image noise, and resolution. Distortion is further tested along with vignetting (changes in saturation and brightness at the edges of the image). More complicated test procedures allow us to test colour saturation tests and veiling glare from the lens, as well as the reflections in images.
Test images reveal the cameras ability to accurately record skin tones, textures and fine details while our low light performance tests check image noise, sharpness and resolution in darker environments. Our ‘shaking hands’ tests checks the image stabilisation features to see whether the camera will capture the moment with detail and sharpness even when you’re struggling to hold it still.
The intelligence of the digital SLR's flash is measured – how well it automatically adjusts its brightness according to the scene photographed. Flash quality is also assessed, taking a photograph at different distances from close-up to far-away, along with its strength, variation in distribution and reflections.
We set the digital SLR to take movies at a range of quality settings, and record movies of different scenes, including scenes of movement and those where the camera is placed on a tripod and panned across the scene. Our test panel assess quality when played back on both a PC monitor and a television screen.
Should I buy it?
All data sent back from our laboratories is carefully analysed by Which? staff so that the highs and lows of every product are revealed.
If anything does not add up with a product then we will retest it. If there's a fault we'll purchase a new product to see whether it’s a one-off issue, or symptomatic of a larger problem.
The digital SLR score ignores price and is based on:
- Image quality 40%
- Ease of use 30%
- Viewfinder & monitor 15%
- Video/audio 10%
- Flash 5%
A digital SLR must score 82% or higher to be a Best Buy.
|Which? star ratings|
- Best Buy Digital SLR reviews - read our Which? Best Buy DSLR reviews to get the best camera for you.
- Buy the best digital SLR accessories - read our guide to batteries, bags, memory cards and lenses.
- Best digital camera brands - our guide to digital SLR brands including Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony.