People often ask me: should I get a DSLR or a point-and-shoot?
Of course there is no answer to that that I can give – any more than to a question like “should I buy a Kia or a Mercedes?”. But what I can do is give you pros and cons. So you can decide for yourself.
First, there is the simple point-and-shoot. These are small, simple, light. They have few buttons. These cameras are truly “point and shoot” – except this is perhaps an oversimplification.
- Small, light, quiet. You can put one in your coat pocket and forget it.
- Simple macro mode.
- Simple scene modes (“food”, “party”, etc) for people who do not know photography.
- Confusing menus
- Most functions accessible only through these menus
- Easy to hit the wrong button accidentally
- “Noisy” – in the sense that high ISO pictures have grain
- Slow to react after you press the button
- Often, no viewfinder, meaning impossible to see in bright daylight
- No ability to achieve limited depth of field
The simple point-and-shoot is for light, casual users who do not demand much from their cameras. If a simple occasional snapshot is what you want, go for it. Else, look at the next categories.
Next: the advanced point-and-shoot. This category includes the Canon G11, the micro four-thirds cameras, other fixed-lens “pro-sumer models”, and most Leicas, for example.
- Almost as small as a simple point-and-shoot
- Other advantages too (quiet, light, etc)
- Much better functionality: more “DSLR-like”.
- Including all the professional modes: P, A/Av, S/Tv, M
- Better user interfaces
- Lower noise (digitally speaking), making slightly higher ISOs possible
- Often, a viewfinder – albeit small, it’s often there.
- More buttons. (Yes – this makes it easier!)
- Can take an external flash
- Some, like the micro four-thirds cameras, can even take additional lenses.
- Still “not quite a DSLR”: higher noise than DSLR, slower focus, slower reaction speed.
- No interchangeable lenses for many of these
- Less ability to achieve limited depth of field
This category is great for people who want pro-quality photos, or nearly so, without the bulk. Yes, there are compromises, but these are minor compared to the alternatives. I would carry one of these if I could not carry a DSLR.
Finally, there is the DSLR. From low-end (Digital Rebel, D3000/5000) to medium (7D, D700) and all the way up to high-end (1D MkIV, D3S), these are the “gold standard”.
- Great quality, low noise at high ISO
- Fast focus
- Fast repeated shooting, so you can shoot sports
- Immediate shooting: press the button, get the shot
- GREAT ability to achieve limited depth of field
- Heavy, bulky
- Need to change lenses for different purposes
- Need to learn some things.
I called this the Gold Standard – because it is. There is a reason all the pros use these. There is often no way to get the shot you want without them.
My advice is to start with an SLR. If that is not possible, go down to one of the other categories. Even the cheapest SLR will produce professional pictures: no need to spend $5,000 on a camera unless you need the specific features this brings, such as ultra-fast operation, the ability to use dual memory cards, or waterproofing.