What Do DSLR and SLR Stand For?

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Whether you’re studying the basics of photography or buying a camera for the first time, there are several terminologies and acronyms that may confuse you. In the question of what do DSLR and SLR stand for, we’re going to look into their actual definition and how they have these names.

What Do DSLR and SLR Stand For?

DSLR means digital single-lens reflex, whereas SLR translates to the single-lens reflex camera. While these two types of cameras contain reflex mirrors, DSLR cameras use live and digital optical viewing, whereas SLR cameras only have live optical viewing through the lens.

These two are among the most commonly confused terms in photography, yet their one-word difference put a considerable contrast between them. To better understand what DSLR and SLR stand for, let’s discuss their mechanisms, similarities, and differences.  

Person holding a DSLR camera

Origin of the DSLR Design Scheme

A DSLR refers to a camera with a digital single-lens reflex system because it mainly merges the optics of a single-lens reflex mechanism and a digital image sensor.

When light enters a DSLR camera, you see the subject in the optical viewfinder by reflecting the light from a mirror inside the camera. After pressing the shutter button, the mirror swings out, and the light goes straight through the sensor.

The things you see in the viewfinder are the actual images that pass through the lens to the camera. Since the light travels straight to the optical viewfinder, DSLRs enable you to focus and shoot faster. Some people prefer to use DSLRs because they are more cost-friendly and intuitive to operate.

Origin of the SLR Design Scheme

SLR is short for the single-lens reflector imaging system. Since it lacks the digital aspect of DSLRs, an SLR camera combines a mirror and prism system. Despite the digital era, some photographers still prefer the slow yet magical process of SLRs.

For this design scheme, the camera uses a mirror to reflect the light entering the lens. In effect, what you view in the eyepiece is what the lens is directly recording. While the photo that’s hitting the mirror is in an upside-down position, a prism turns this right side up.

SLRs cover film and point-and-shoot cameras that photographers use for still life and portrait photography. However, while it’s becoming a hit among recreational shooters, SLRs leave little room for mistakes and trial shoots, as the quantity of film roll limits your shots. 

Similarities Between DSLR and SLR

DSLR and SLR cameras feature single-lens reflex technology, which incorporates an internal reflex mirror that allows you to see what the lens captures. While they have variable controls, they both have several settings that may take some time to learn.

Furthermore, since SLRs and DSLRs have unique imaging technologies, these cameras have interchangeable lens capabilities, enabling you to diversify shooting perspectives.

Differences Between DSLR and SLR Cameras

Remember that SLRs are essentially film or analog cameras. The introduction of ‘digital’ came in the advent of digital sensors in SLRs. With that said, DSLR and SLR cameras have overlapping aspects and contrasting features.

SLR camera with film roll
  • Construction design: Traditionally, SLR cameras have more buttons and two-tone colors. They usually lack a rear monitor, which is a common feature in DSLR units. Depending on the material, SLRs may weigh heavier due to the metal body, as opposed to plastics in DSLRs.
  • Image quality and resolution: DSLR and SLR mainly differ in how light enters the camera, what you see in the eyepiece, and how you can take the photo. While film color reproduction lasts longer, the digital sensor tends to have better resolution and dynamic range.
  • Image recording and memory reusability: SLR units typically allow you to shoot 30 to 40 images per roll of film, which you need to develop and change. On the other hand, DSLR cameras enable you to store thousands of shots in a single memory card, then delete the files to shoot new photos.
  • Speed: The addition of a digital imaging sensor makes DSLRs have faster shutter speeds than SLR cameras. Hence, DSLR cameras offer more convenience in capturing rapid motions, like pet portraits and sports photography.
  • Power consumption: SLR cameras consume less power due to their lack of video capacity and LCD screen, letting you maximize a set of batteries for a long time. Meanwhile, DSLR cameras drain battery power quickly due to their several shooting features.
  • Price: Film cameras have cheaper upfront costs, yet it can be extra costly to buy film rolls. There are more DSLR cameras on the market, with about 2.38 million DSRL units shipped across the globe in 2020. Thus, DSLRs generally offer competitive prices for various budget ranges.


DSLRs and SLRs have the term ‘single-lens reflex’ in their names, although the difference is that DSLRs are digital. Whether you prefer to invest in a DSLR or SLR, it’s vital that you understand what they mean, so you can distinguish which has the features necessary for your photography style.

Kaitlin Cooper is an active professional wedding and portrait photographer in San Diego, California at Kaitlin Cooper Photography. She is also a contributor to many large publications, including Bridal GuideBustlePixpaWith Joy, and Hello Giggles.