A digital single-lens reflex camera is a digital camera that combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor.
The reflex design scheme is the primary difference between a DSLR and other digital cameras. In the reflex design, light travels through the lens and then to a mirror that alternates to send the image to either a prism, which shows the image in the viewfinder or the image sensor when the shutter release button is pressed. The viewfinder of a DSLR presents an image that will not differ substantially from what is captured by the camera's sensor but presents it as a direct optical view through the lens, rather than being captured by the camera's image sensor and displayed by a digital screen.
DSLRs largely replaced film-based SLRs during the 2000s, and despite the rising popularity of mirrorless system cameras in the early 2010s, DSLRs remain the most common type of interchangeable lens camera in use as of 2019.
Like SLRs, DSLRs typically use interchangeable lenses (1) with a proprietary lens mount. A movable mechanical mirror system (2) is switched down (exact 45-degree angle) to direct light from the lens over a matte focusing screen (5) via a condenser lens (6) and a pentaprism/pentamirror (7) to an optical viewfinder eyepiece (8). Most of the entry-level DSLRs use a pentamirror instead of the traditional pentaprism.
Focusing can be manual, by twisting the focus on the lens; or automatic, activated by pressing half-way on the shutter release or a dedicated auto-focus (AF) button. To take an image, the mirror swings upwards in the direction of the arrow, the focal-plane shutter (3) opens, and the image is projected and captured on the image sensor (4), after which actions, the shutter closes, the mirror returns to the 45-degree angle, and the built-in drive mechanism re-tensions the shutter for the next exposure.
Compared with the newer concept of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, this mirror/prism system is the characteristic difference providing direct, accurate optical preview with separate autofocus and exposure metering sensors. Essential parts of all digital cameras are some electronics like an amplifier, an analog-to-digital converter, an image processor, and other microprocessors for processing the digital image, performing data storage, and/or driving an electronic display.