A digital single-lens reflex camera (also called a digital SLR or DSLR) is a digital camera combining the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor, as opposed to photographic film. The reflex design scheme is the primary difference between a DSLR and other digital cameras. In the reflex design, light travels through the lens, then to a mirror that alternates to send the image to either the viewfinder or the image sensor. The alternative would be to have a viewfinder with its own lens, hence the term “single lens” for this design. By using only one lens, the viewfinder presents an image that will not perceptibly differ from what is captured by the camera’s sensor.
The ability to exchange lenses, to select the best lens for the current photographic need, and to allow the attachment of specialized lenses, is one of the key factors in the popularity of DSLR cameras, although this feature is not unique to the DSLR design and mirror-less interchangeable lens cameras are becoming increasingly popular. Interchangeable lenses for SLRs and DSLRs (also known as “Glass”) are built to operate correctly with a specific lens mount that is generally unique to each brand. A photographer will often use lenses made by the same manufacturer as the camera body (for example, Canon EF lenses on aCanon body) although there are also many independent lens manufacturers, such as Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and Rokinon that make lenses for a variety of different lens mounts. There are also lens adapters that allow a lens for one lens mount to be used on a camera body with a different lens mount but with often reduced functionality.
Many lenses are mountable, “diaphragm-and-meter-compatible”, on modern DSLRs and on older film SLRs that use the same lens mount. However, when lenses designed for 35 mm film or equivalently sized digital image sensors are used on DSLRs with smaller sized sensors, the image is effectively cropped and the lens appears to have a longer focal length than its stated focal length. Most DSLR manufacturers have introduced lines of lenses with image circles optimized for the smaller sensors and focal lengths equivalent to those generally offered for existing 35 mm mount DSLRs, mostly in the wide angle range. These lenses tend not to be completely compatible with full frame sensors or 35 mm film because of the smaller imaging circle and, with some Canon EF-S lenses, interfere with the reflex mirrors on full-frame bodies.