DSLR, or Point and Shoot?

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I’ve received several requests for advice lately, on how to decide whether to purchase a D-SLR or a point-and-shoot camera. Some folks are taking advantage of the seasonal sales to get themselves a new toy; some folks are asking for advice before buying a camera for the photographer in their life.

As with most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. And, also with most things, the decision is a highly personalized one. So, rather than just give you the, “It depends,” answer, I will try to give you the pro’s and con’s of each type of camera, as I see them.

I’m going to start right off with the caveat that I know it’s supremely unwise to make a sweeping statement about ANYTHING on the internet. So I’m letting you know now that I’m approaching this by describing details that apply to “most” DSLR’s, or “most” Point-And-Shoots. I know that there are a lot of DSLR’s out there that are extremely automated, and a lot of P&S’s that offer almost as much manual control as a DSLR. Pixels ranges vary widely, with competitive amounts of megapixels on both sides of the categorical fence. Accessories and settings allow a P&S to behave much like a DSLR, and vice-versa, in many cases. So, when I make a general statement, it’s because I kind of have to, given the breadth of the subject matter.

I just thought of a second caveat. Neither type of camera will make you a “better” photographer. Buying a Point-and-Shoot to “practice” on, before moving up to a DSLR, may not be the right way to go (for one thing, you’ll learn habits on a P&S that won’t apply at all to a DSLR – and vice-versa). It’s not the camera that takes the pictures, it’s the photographer who takes the pictures! I can’t stress that enough. So when it comes to taking great pictures, well, I’ve seen fantastic shots come out of a Point and Shoot, and extremely poor shots come out of a DSLR. So, keep that in mind when making your decision.

Digital SLR: Pro’s

- Flexibility and Adaptability. DSLR’s are flexible, allow the most control over the end result of your photograph, and offer a large amount of customization.
- File Quality. They allow for a wide range of file sizes to control image quality, and also shoot in RAW format for post-processing flexibility.
- Multiple Lenses. Most brands of DSLR offer a wide range of lenses, and utilize “what you see is what you get” physical zoom (as opposed to optical/digital) depending on the lens used.
- Sensor Size. The generally larger sensor size in a DSLR allows for better image quality.
- ISO Range. DSLR cameras allow changes in ISO settings which are helpful for photographing in low-light situations.
- Accessories. DSLR’s can be fully accessorized with external flashes, remote shutters, different lenses and lens adapters, filters, and just about any other gizmo you can think of to help you get the most out of your photographic experience. The only limit is your budget.
- Attention. This may or may not be a “pro”, but DSLR’s tend to get a lot of attention, especially if you have a big ol’ lens attached. Family members will want you to take their portraits. People will be asking, “Can I see it?” Many will comment, with awe, about your fancy camera, and your level of skill that the simple act of possessing it implies.

Digital SLR: Con’s

- Price. A quality entry-level DSLR will set you back $500-$600 USD, and go up astronomically from there. Quality lenses can set you back a pretty penny, too.
- Learning Curve. Most DSLR’s work excellently on their fully-automated settings, but if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of your camera’s functionality, the learning curve can be steep.
- Portability. You can’t stick your DSLR in your pocket. They tend to be heavy, and get heavier depending on the lens attached. They’re just bulky and sometimes a pain to lug around.
- Maintenance. Sometimes, as with anything, a DSLR will break, or stop performing adequately. Maintenance costs can be startling, especially if your camera is out of warranty and needs a specific repair. If for nothing else, a DSLR requires periodic cleaning (insides, outsides, sensors, even lenses) that many leave to the professionals to perform.
- Viewfinder. Some folks find the general lack of LCD’s to be off-putting. Sometimes it’s more difficult to frame a photo when looking through the small hole of the viewfinder, rather than with a nice big bright display on the back of the camera.
- Attention. Many venues won’t allow DSLR’s, especially with long lenses attached. And, if you’ve got a big fancy camera with its brand emblazoned on the strap around your neck, unsavory types just may take note and watch for you to set it down for just… one… second. Then, when your back is turned, they could make off with it. A DSLR is an investment, and a popular item for would-be thieves.

Point and Shoot: Pro’s

- Price. High quality P&S cameras can range in price from $70 to $200, depending on the options they possess.
- Ease of Use. This is the biggest selling point for most people. The ease of use is implied in the title – you do indeed just point the thing at what you want to photograph, and push the button. The camera does all of the work for you. Plus, P&S’s generally come with associated software for downloading and editing the photos.
- Portability. They’re small, light, and easy to tuck away in a pocket or bag. You can take these little puppies with you just about everywhere – a night on the dance floor, a bike ride in the park, or pretty much any activity in which something small and light is an absolute necessity.
- LCD View. Most P&S’s feature large, bright LCD screen with which to frame the photograph, making aiming and composition very easy.

Point and Shoot: Con’s

- Lack of Flexibility and Adaptability. There are few manual controls on most P&S cameras, everything is tied up in automated settings that may or may not apply to all situations. You’re stuck with whatever zoom range is built into the camera, with no ability to use a variety of lenses. Accessories for P&S cameras that impact image type and quality tend to be limited.
- Built-in Flash. Your experience may vary, but I’ve yet to find a P&S camera that has a flash that is anything more than barely adequate. Plus, they tend to activate at annoying times. Though some brands are getting better at low-light photography without the use of flash – this seems to be improving lately.
- Image Quality. High megapixels doesn’t necessarily translate to high quality. Sensor sizes are smaller in P&S cameras, which make a difference in the quality of an image. So if you’re planning on enlarging any photos, to print for example, keep this in mind. Again, this seems to be an area which camera companies are making great improvements upon, as well.
- Not Likely for Professional Use. I’ve yet to see anyone hired for a photography gig with a P&S camera in hand. So if you’re planning on branching out professionally, a P&S is not the way to go.

So, there’s my brief take on things. Personally, I prefer my DSLR, but I am actually in the market for a quality P&S as well, because sometimes I just want to take pictures and it’s too inconvenient to lug around (and worry about!) my 7D. Why have one or the other, when you can have both! Right?

To be sure, this list of pro’s and con’s in both cases is nowhere near all-inclusive. So if you’d like to share your views, feel free to discuss it in the comments.

Finally, to assist in your decision-making, head on over to Snapsort to compare the latest in P&S and DSLR, and get personalized recommendations.

Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “My budget SLR gear” by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Olympus E420 DSLR with 40-150mm and 70-300mm Zoom Lenses Size Comparison” by Calgary Reviews on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Point and shoot Escher” by Page Dooley on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donahuememp James Donahue

    I would highly recommend the Nikon P7000, Which can be as simple as a fully Auto P & S or you can delve into it many ‘DSLR” type features with Fully Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priorty Modes as well as Video.