Ditch Your Point and Shoot: Five Reasons You Need an SLR



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While I agree that SLRs will be more likely to get dust on the sensor, P&S digital cameras are far from immune from this.  The repetitive extension and retraction of the lens on a P&S every time you turn it on or off acts like a bellows sucking dust and dirt into the sensor chamber.  Also, P&S cameras are generally not well sealed against dust & moisture.  Once you get dust on the sensor of a P&S, removal generally involves either a warranty return or, if the camera is out of warranty, a cost-prohibitive repair or a major disassembly (definitely not for the faint-hearted).  Virtually all SLRs, on the other hand, provide a means to lock up the mirror so that dust can be blown from the sensor - a quick and simple process.  In addition, many SLR's incorporate mechanisms to shake the dust from the sensor each time the camera is powered on or off.  In practical terms, SLRs are much better for keeping a clean sensor.



I bought a refurbed Fuji S602Zoom in 2004 and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of shots I could get with a 4-ish megapixel camera. But after upgrading to 15-minute rechargeable AA cells, 2GB solid-state Compact Flash storage, a tripod and carrying bag, I realized I'd spent close to $1000. In 2010 we bought Dad a Canon point-and-shoot 11 megapixel camera that makes MUCH BETTER photographs (no matter who's holding it) for UNDER $200. It's way smaller than the Fuji and faster to "boot up", too.

But the point I seek to convey is that ANY picture beats NO picture. If that means P&S, so be it.

Use whatever works for you to get the shot and feel creative.







I just spent 2 weeks with the Canon SX30IS, mentioned in the article.  It has a 35x optical zoom with image stabilization, equivalent to a 24-840mm SLR lens.  It's a $400 camera that shoots similar (not quite as good, but close) as the images in this article.  To even start to approach those stats in a DSLR, I need to spend $4000 (camera + lens), and quality is going to be $14,000.  So, I'm getting 90% of what I need for 1/10th the price.


Here's my advice:  If you have a small point and shoot (or even just a smartphone), and have outgrown it, pick up an all-in-one like the Canon SX30IS, FujiFilm FinePix HS20EXR, Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX100V, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ47, or Olympus SP-810UZ.  The photo quality of these cameras blows away a smart phone, and is even obviously far better than a higher quality point and shoot.  These cost about $400-$450 each (or even less) and won't fit in your pocket, but will give you much the power of a DSLR with a long lens, and won't break the bank.  Stretch the camera as far as it will go, and see what you can do with it.  These cameras have some great features like 24-36x optical zooms, 5-8 fps burst modes, 720p or 1080p movie capture with dynamic zoom and picture during movie (dedicated movie button), viewfinder AND LCD display, image stabilization, quality images at 800 or even 1600 iso, and many other features.


IF these cameras don't satisfy, and IF you have the money, then by all means.  But these packages are pretty compelling for the price.



These are the pictures I am personally most proud of. All of them were taken with a Nikon Coolpix L110 point and shoot. I don't think I'm a professional photographer, but I think these pics look pretty damn good, and I didn't need a SLR.






Macro shots and sunsets are what point and shoots do nicely.  The bird shot is pretty impressive for a point and shoot.  But look at the photos in the article.  Yours aren't even close.



My point and shoot could easily replicate the picture of the biker and of the softball players. As for the bird and sun, it couldn't do that. I guess it's all about what you want to capture with your camera. Besides, I'm not a professional photographer. These photos were taken using the same camera by people who actually know what they are doing. Check them out:



You can also check out this link to browse through photos yourself:




I think some (one) other person mentioned that a good way to get into a dslr system is via a used older camera or a new entry level or closeout item. New can go as low as $300-500 depending on the model, if it's a closeout, sales, etc. Not too far off from a higher end compact.

Another thing to mention is that dslr cameras are like stereos sometimes. You might replace a receiver every 5 or 6 years maybe (dslr body), but if you get a good set of speakers (lenses) they can last a lifetime. Pentax, for example, has had backward compatibility dating back for decades, and I know people who use lenses from 1960s and 1970s on their K-5 bodies. Even screwmount lenses with an adapter are usable.

A "starter" camera is a good way to get into a dslr "system." If you find that you don't use your camera to its full potential, nor intend to, then you're not any worse for the wear. If, however, you discover you REALLY enjoy it, and start occasionally getting new lenses to suit your style, then those lenses are typically reusable with new bodies you get in the future.

Say you get a starter system with a kit lens, and find that you really enjoy macro photography. You get a nice 100mm F2.8 macro lens at some point. You might later find you also enjoy panoramic photography and use PTGui to stitch stunning panos, and you get yourself a wide fisheye lens for it. Years down the road, if you decide you want to upgrade your body to something faster, with better focusing and metering, maybe weather resistence, etc. you keep your lenses, generally your flashes, etc. Lenses generally don't go outmoded to the point of extinction.

Again, though, I go back to my original contention, which others have echoed here: the tradeoff is bulk and weight. It's a tradeoff I'm personally willing to take though, and you'll find me with a dslr most of the time. I also love to showcase good photography, and I have this thing that instead of a holiday letter each Christmas, we send out a holiday DVD, made with video and images from my dslr, built in ProShow. It's a labor of love, but the family loves the personal feel of it.

That brings me to another point, and sorry I didn't intend this post to be this long, but bear with me. Knowledge is power, right? ...

DSLRs are commonly being made with video now. Yes, you can absolutely get a video camera that can be more convenient, and produces ready-made digital video. However, consider the advantages of video out of a dslr camera:

  • Flexibility with any creative lens you might have: macro, telephoto, wide angle, fisheye, etc.
  • You have incredible depth of field power with dslr video. All those example shots with a vividly focused subject and defocused background is done with a dslr's powerful depth of field properties. Compacts can't touch that power with still images, much less video. It's hard to find "video cameras" with that kind of depth of field control without spending thousands of dollars.
  • Creative capture modes of dslr cameras can often be applied directly to video: e.g. infrared effects, monochrome, muted or vibrant color options, sepia, creative filters, etc.
  • Light gathering of higher end dslr lenses can be very powerful on a dslr system for video.

Anyway, just some extra thoughts that might help you think about dslr vs compact vs camera phones, and all the realities of each type of product.



Great article!

For those that consider DSLRs to be "too expensive" or "not worth it".  I agree 100%.... IF you are satisfied with what you get with your iPhone or point/shoot.  Nothing wrong with that a'tall.  I like good Champagne and certainly will never again drink Andre or Cook's.  Give me a good $20-30 bottle of Mums, Moet, etc. and I'm good to go.  At the same time, I'm not exactly going to shell out $$$ for Opus or Dom.  It would be wasted on *me*.  There are LOTS of others that it would not be wasted on.

All it takes is a one-semester photography class at a local Community College.  Once you learn about aperature, shutter speed, ISO, etc., you really begin to appreciate what you can do with a decent camera.





Nice article, I just bought my first DSLR a couple weeks ago. 

Was frustrated with the low light performance of my Fuji and Samsung point and shoot (They'll still be of some use.... wont ride a roller coaster with a SLR on my neck) and seing the shots a friend did at a recent party made me jealous... I just had to buy one.

One thing you missed and that I am planning to do is astrophotography. With a few accessories and adaptors you can hook up an SLR to a telescope and capture nice stuff : Check out the gallery (granted, some were shot using specialty cameras but a lot of shots were made using DSLRs) http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/gallery?archive=true&c=y



The title should read: why you don't need a DSLR.

On paper, SLR's are great.  They are workhorses.  Getting a DSLR over a point-and-shoot is like getting a Masseratti over a Jetta.

I'm a HUGE SLR guy (from a 1970's Asahi-Pentax, 35mm film to my D7000), but there are caveats:

-  Portability.  Try lugging around this around with you, and if you carry more than one lens...good luck.

-  Size.  DSLR's are not pocket size.  It's hard to get candid shots with your friends.  When you point a DSLR at people, they tend to react differently than a point-and-shoot. 

-  Price.  When you're at a party and you've had one too many drinks, it's easy to grieve the loss of a $200 camera...but a $1000 camera + a $200 lens, not so much.

99% of the population won't need this.  Their iPhone or Android cameras will suffice, IMO.  I'm a photographer, trust me, when I'm on vacation and I'm in a club...I don't even bother taking my SLR with me.  My SLR is used for those times that I'm serious about getting the best photographs...for everything else, my iPhone does the job just fine.



I'll grant you on vacation you don't need an SLR, but you'll get much superior photos from something like a 


Canon PowerShot SX130IS, with it's larger lense, 12x optical zoom, larger, specialized chip, and full plethora of menu options and settings over an iphone.  And it's still small enough to easily fit in your pocket.




Just an FYI, DSLR's are no longer only 1k and up, you can get a kit with the Sony A33 with the normal lens for ~6-700 depending on where you look. Don't get me wrong, it's still expensive, but not quite what you mentioned. 

Also, for me, the main thing that makes me want to get into an SLR is the manual focus. I hate using a regular point-and-shoot when i'm trying to get an intricate shot of something, because no matter what, it focuses on the wrong thing. 

I've looked at cameras like the Sony NEX, (and others of that same form factor) but the manual focus option seems to be hindered by a zoom function, which zooms to the center, assuming everything you focus on will be in the center. If you could turn that off, that camera would be my next choice, but as it stands, it's too much of a bother.



FYI, I hate Sony SLR's...they're late in the game, in fact, they never really were in the game.  The tried and true ones are Canon, Nikon, Leica, Mamiya, Olympus...

The one thing I disagree in this article is that you ditch your point-and-shoot because of raw performance.  But in reality, there are a bunch of negatives in the SLR category.  SLR's are bulky and the detachable lens - while nice - can hinder you from just shooting.  I carry, at most, two lenses with me.  I've even gone on a two week vacation with one lens, but I've been shooting for years and I know what I want in terms of a shot.

Plus if you're in a party, breaking out the DSLR is inconvenient.  That's a big camera, and are you willing to drag around a near 1 lb. camera to a party with you and your friends?  Point and shoots are good for a few things, in fact, they're engineered to take good photos all the time.  The crop factor, the lens size...a point and shoot, while not as granular as an SLR, can give you better photos because all you have to do is point and shoot. 

I'm not saying you should skip the SLR, but unless you're taking pictures of sports events or going for portrait shots of your child, stick to a point and shoot.



Wake me up when an all-in-one-package with HDR and Tilt-Shift for under $500 debuts. Me being frugal sez- "I can wait another 5 years and see it comin!".



If you have a broken CAnon camera, you're eligible for the Canon Loyalty Program (google it). Basically 20% off their refurbs. You can get the Rebel XS (a very capable camera, and a huge step up from a Point-and-shoot) for $319!



Interesting comments.  I think what most people are missing is that you would not get one on these cameras if you were not frustrated with your point & shoot or cell phone camera.  Whether or not people use the full capability of the camera is no different than a friend that always wanted the most powerful PC available and used it for surfing and some light word processing.  As far as price, consider looking for a used one.  A brief search on eBay turned up quite a few used Nikons for under $500 with lenses.  If you would use one - go for  it.



To some of the people here: Yes, a lot of people will never fully take advantage of the cameras, but most professionals don't either. Most pros specialise in a certain field and thus never need certain settings at all.

If you buy one purely for the better sensor, that's perfectly fine. Yes, you should play round and step outside of the green box, but you've already paid for the main selling point. The basic lens is  decent all-rounder, so don't even worry about that unless you find it lacking.



I myself have no artistic eye to speak of, but as soon as I have the money I am buying a DSLR. I am just tired of the point and shoot cameras that don't do what they say they can. Grainy long range, blurry action shots, etc. I know that some of that may very well be my own fault, but I can't help but feel let down by the cheap cameras.



If you REALLY want to be dedicated then look into "View" cameras.

Eminently harder to use, and not suited for many shots (like moving subjects) but the results can't be topped by any other camera type.

Once you figure it out of course.



It is a good writeup, but you failed in one part. 90% of the people that buy DSLR's never take it out of green box mode. IF photography was easy as you make it sound everyone would have had a 35mm camera years ago.


Once people learn what good quality lenses cost, they stick with there "kit" lens and never bother to learn more. Yeah DSLR's are spendy, and photography has never been a poor mans hobby.




I thought the first picture looked neat with that aura, its like an eye in the sky!!!



I shoot both with a couple different point and shoots and with my SLR. If you ever get frustrated by the level of quality in your pocket cameras is when the oppurtunity to switch over presents itself. Yes it is an investment, but for most people you are looking at the purchase of a compact camera every 2 years or so at 300 dollars a piece. Where as with an SLR you will use that for a decade of more without being grossly outdated. It all depends on who you are, and if you think you have an artists eye, well then try. 



That's a lot of money to pay just for pretty pictures.  Only a professional or serious hobbysit will utilize SLR cameras to their potential. You don't just sit down and play with the aperature and iso and make pretty pictures. You need to know what you are doing. Also, I live in NYC, I see tourists walking around with these camera's (that they bought here, because of the exchange rate), ALL the time. I always wonder how many of them are actually using that VERY expensive camera to it's full potential?



Nice write-up; thanks. Been thinking about this to get faster shutter responses and better low light / indoor performance. But geez, the prices are so high, especially if you want another lens (wide angle in my case). Would like to see some kind of selection guide for beginners with specific needs. Like if you care first about feature/scenario C, and second feature A, and care least about feature B -- then here's the cameras you should look at first.



surprised this write up isn't on Maximum Tech instead.



You also need an artists eye to get the most out of a SLR camera.  And most people don't have that - I know I sure as hell don't.  I can barely get a Christmas Tree centered in a photo with my small point and shoot.

It would be a piece of equipment that would be gross overkill for my level of photography "talent."



A lot of events don't allow attendees to bring higher end cameras with them. Those kind of events are where I'd want to use a SLR the most, so it's been a big reason why I haven't picked one up.



Nice write-up.

Lots of folks just simply don't get what the big deal is with dslr cameras. This article does a great job at touching on some of the strongest arguments for a dslr.

Most people are just snapshot shooters, taking shots with a small camera or camera phone in low light. They don't care if the camera tries to have everything in sharp focus, or if the overall shot is dark or noisy or if there is fringing in the image. For these people, a compact is fine, and more power to them.

However, for people who really want to take great, fast, beautiful images, or otherwise take their photography to the next level, a dslr is really worth a look. Manipulating depth of field or motion blur in an image can really take a "snapshot" and elevate it into something special. It can take your vacation shots from "this is what we did" to "oh my god, I HAVE to go there... it's SO BEAUTIFUL!"

Yes, the tradeoff is price, bulk and weight. However, your lenses and flash are generally usable with newer model cameras (and some camera companies go out of their way to maintain as much backwards compatibility as possible), so that can help alleviate some of the "sticker shock." There are just some kinds of shots that are impossible with compact cameras, as this article demonstrates, and those who think that dslr cameras are TOO EXPENSIVE will never have any need for this kind of quality in an imaging device.



I would get one if they weren't so expensive. I'm not EVER going to pay more than $500 for a camera. I don't care how good a shot you can get, they are TOO EXPENSIVE!

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