Why Choose a Digital SLR Over a “Point-And-Shoot?”
For those developing an interest in photography, there has never been such a bewildering range of cameras on the market. But in order to narrow it down, the first choice an aspiring photographer should make is a relatively simple one: point-and-shoot or SLR?
First, some definitions. A point-and-shoot, otherwise known as a compact or pocket camera, is small (generally small enough to fit in the palm of your hand), and usually comes with an in-built zoom lens and flash.
SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. An SLR has removable lenses and a reflex mirror which allows the photographer to view ‘directly’ through the lens (as oppose to a digital rendering on an LSD screen in the case of a point-and-shoot). An SLR is bigger and heavier than a point-and-shoot buy lsd.
Let’s be clear on one thing: neither camera is fundamentally ‘better’ than the other. A ‘professional’ point-and-shoot (yes, they do exist) will beat a cheap DSLR in terms of image quality. Indeed some professional photographers carry both. In a nutshell, SLRs and point-and-shoots are designed for different types of shooting.
Why opt for a ‘point-and-shoot’?
A point-and-shoot is, above all, easier, more convenient and (usually) cheaper than an SLR. It fits snugly in a pocket and is generally ‘idiot-proof’. When in full automatic mode, the camera decides on exposure settings and even makes an educated stab on where to focus. It’s a great choice for a child’s first camera. It is also good for parents with young children who don’t want to risk ruining an expensive DSLR on the beach.
And a word to young males – bigger (ie. an SLR with hefty power drive and a lens that would not look out of place protruding from an aircraft carrier) does not mean better. As a professional photographer who specialises in people, I value a camera-lens combo that is discreet and does not draw attention to me.
But point-and-shoots have their limitations. For those who’d like to see their photography advance beyond family snaps, an SLR is the way forward. Here’s why:
• Image Quality. DSLRs have larger image sensors which allow for larger pixel sizes and therefore more capture of detail.
• Quality optics. Generally, the lenses that you’ll find on a DSLR are superior to a point-and- shoot camera. Since lenses can’t be changed on ‘point-and-shoots’, manufacturers tend to opt for ‘general purpose’ zoom lenses (ie wide to long-ish). This comes at the expense of aperture (more later) and sharpness. Beginners should note that a modest SLR and a 50mm lens (for around $100) can produce wonderfully crisp shots. Lenses are VERY important and the more you learn as a photographer, the more you will appreciate them.
• Depth of focus (DoF). This is one of the main ‘brushes’ a photographer uses to affect the look of an image. It refers the degree to which the various elements of an image are sharp or ‘blurry’. For wide DoF, think of a landscape image in which the pebbles just in front of the camera are sharp but so are the mountains in the distance. For narrow DoF, think of a facial close-up in which the eyes are sharp but the ears are blurry. point-and-shoots, due to their compact nature have limited depth of focus (ie. it is difficult to achieve narrow DoF). SLRs do much better (large format ‘bellows’ cameras do much better still).
• Range of lenses. A Canon or Nikon SLR will accommodate a vast range of lenses from fisheye (super-super wide) to the sort of bazookas that nature photographers use to shoot a wren at 200 yards. The best (and usually most expensive) SLR lenses are ‘fast’ ie. they have large apertures that let in lots of light. This means you can shoot in very low light and achieve wonderfully narrow depth of focus.
• Speed of operation. point-and-shoots are improving but they still tend to be sluggish to use. They start up slowly and there is the ‘lag’ between pressing the shutter button and the taking of the image. When you are trying to capture a fleeting facial expression – or a bird before it flies from a branch, this responsiveness is crucial. SLRs have it — generally point-and-shoots don’t.
• Holding value. point-and-shoots tend to get updated more often than DSLRs. This means that the point-and-shoot you bought last year won’t be worth much when you try to sell it and upgrade next year.
• A foundation on which to build. In weighing the point-and-shoot verses DSLR options, you should ask yourself one question: Do I want to grow as a photographer? If the answer is, yes, then you need a DSLR. A DSLR (notably Canon or Nikon) opens up a world of possibilities for photographers. Aside from lenses there are a huge range of other accessories (flashes, filters, etc) that can expand the way you use your camera. Start with a ‘consumer’ body, then as you develop buy another lens or two. Maybe you’ll find you outgrow your original camera body. No problem, exchange it for an improved model and you can still use all your existing lenses an accessories. That way your equipment can grow as your skills develop.