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Should you buy a DSLR or Point and Shoot Digital Camera?

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Yesterday I mentioned a relevtive asking me about buying a camera and what she should get. That brought me to this series on what to buy and how to choose.

Below is a reprint from dPS.

“I’m using a compact point and shoot digital camera and i would like to ask it is worth it to upgrade to a DSLR camera? How huge a difference do DSLR cameras make compared to compact point and shoot digital camera?”

Thanks for the question – I’ll attempt to keep my answer brief and not too technical. This is a question that I’m regularly asked, increasingly so as the price of DSLRs have dropped and become much more in the reach of the average digital photographer’s budget.

Before I start this post you might like to check out two posts looking at the Top DSLR Models and Top Point and Shoot Cameras as voted by our readers.

Let me declare up front that I own both a Point and Shoot digital camera (a Fujifilm FinePix F30) and a DSLR (a Canon EOS 5D). I like having both because I do feel they compliment each other and are each suited for different situations. My preference in terms of quality of shots is with the DSLR but for convenience the point and shoot sometimes wins out.

I also want to say up front that the digital camera industry is constantly evolving and changing. The lines between DSLRs and point and shoots are blurring (or at least this seems to be the intention of manufacturers). What I write below unfortunately will have elements of generalizations in it as I classify hundreds of cameras (each with their own distinctive features) into two camps.

Are Megapixels Everything?
Before I get into the Pros and Cons of DSLRs vs Point and Shoot digital cameras I want to address a common misconception that I regularly hear among digital camera owners – that a cameras megapixel rating is the main thing to consider when determining a camera’s quality.

The fact is that megapixels are NOT everything. Despite point and shoot cameras now coming with up to 10 megapixels (Casio released one last month) their quality level is not necessarily has good as a DSLR with only 8 or so.

The main reason for this (and there are many as we’ll see below) is that the image sensor used in point and shoot digital cameras is generally much smaller than the image sensor used in a DSLR (the difference is often as much as 25 times). This means that the pixels on a point and shoot camera have to be much smaller and (without getting too technical) collect fewer photons (ok I lied about the technicalities). The long and short of it is that because of this point and shoot cameras need to work at slower ISO levels which means that they produce ‘noisier’ (or more grainy) shots.

A lot more could be said on sensor size – but trust me, smaller sensors significantly reduce the quality of an image. I’d much rather have a camera with less megapixels and a larger image sensor than the other way around.

This is one factor that needs to be considered when choosing between a DSLR and point and shoot – but let me run through some more:

DSLRs
A quick definition – unfortunately some camera manufacturers in recent months have released cameras with the DSLR label that technically are not. For the purposes of this article I’ll define DSLR’s as cameras that have removable lenses, that have a reflex mirror which allows live optical viewing through the lens taking the image. ie DSLR’s use a mirror that allows you to see the image you’re about to shoot through the view finder – when you take the shot the mirror flips up allowing the image sensor to capture the image.

Some cameras these days are being touted as DSLRs because you have ‘through lens viewing’ but they are not true DSLR’s – (Digital, Single, Lens, Reflex). This does not necessarily make them a bad camera – but in my opinion it there is a distinction between them.

DSLR Strengths

DSLR Weaknesses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what DSLR do I recommend?
Let me point you to a recent post here at DPS listing the Top 20 DSLRs as owned by our community members. I am a Canon fan myself but the Nikon DSLRs on the list get great reviews as do the others. Also check out the new Canon EOS 40D that’s just been announced (available now for preorder at Amazon).

Point and Shoots
While some people write off all non DSLR’s as inferior I think they’ve got a lot going for them and would highly recommend them depending upon the level of photography that you engage in, your budget, the things that you’ll want to do with your photos and the subject matter that you will be shooting. You’ll also notice below that I note that the Point and Shoot market options available are improving. Some of the weaknesses I note are being improved by manufacturers lately on some of their models. Here’s some Pros and Cons of point and shoot digital cameras.:

Point and Shoot Digital Camera Strengths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Point and Shoot Digital Camera Weaknesses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Point and Shoot digital cameras do I recommend?
Once again let me point you to the Top 10 Point and Shoot Digital Cameras as used by the DPS community. There are some fantastic cameras in the list including the Canon PowerShot Pro Series S3 IS.

Should You Buy a DSLR or a Point and Shoot Digital Camera?
This is ultimately a question that you need to answer for yourself. My answer is to have both (I’m fortunate to be able to do so) but if I had to choose between one or the other I’d get a DSLR based upon my experience level, the type of photos I take, my desire to use manual settings and the quality of image that I’m after.

If your situation is different to mine however and you want a portable camera that takes good pictures that you’ll mainly use for small prints and emailing that you’ll mainly shoot in auto mode – you’ll probably be quite happy with a cheaper point and shoot.

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