SLR vs. Point and Shoot

SLR vs. Point and Shoot

Forget about the faster autofocus performance, lower shutter lag -- it's still about the image. While the point and shoot has progressed, it's still best suited for quick snaps and group photos. At least that's the conclusion I came to after putting the latest generation point and shoot against a last generation digital SLR in the May issue of Maximum PC.

I used a 12MP Canon PowerShot SD950IS and shot a few images at the camera's highest ISO: 1600 and compared it the older 10MP Canon EOS Rebel XTi at 1600 ISO and the rebel wins hands down. Images from the Rebel were fairly noise free while the 12MP PowerShot produced noisy, "grainy" images that looked like 1970s "high-speed" print film. Frankly, the output is just awful from the point and shoots at high ISO speeds. 

Rebel XTi

The EOS Digital Rebel XTi is an older generation DSLR but it still produces fairly clear images at high ISO speeds. Newer SLRs are even better. Now compare this to the next image. 

Taken with a Canon PowerShot SD950IS Digital Elph at 1600 ISO, it's clear that the point and shoots still have a long ways to go in high ISO, low light circumstances. This is mostly a result of the sensor size in the point and shoots which puts them at a natural disadvantage to DSLRs. Generally, as more pixels are crammed onto a sensor, the tendency for noise can increase. This can be offset by better fabrication processes on the sensors and enhanced in camera processing but it's not going to beat the DSLR today.

Point and shoots have certainly come a long, long way from just a few years ago. In fact, I'd say this amount of noise would crop up in vintage 2004 point and shoots at 400 ISO so this isn't bad for a point and shoot but it doesn't compare to the DSLR. 

The point and shoot is also at a disadvantage when you're trying to isolate a subject. Most zooms on point and shoots don't feature lenses with large enough aperatures to effectively blur the background. Here, the image on the right was taken with the Elph at F/5.8. That's the largest aperature available on the SD950IS at its telephoto setting of 28.5mm. The image on the left was taken with the Digital Rebel with a 100mm EF Macro lens set at F/2.8. Notice how the distracting background is blurred out in the image. It's not just about the DSLR's ability to slap on a different lens that makes it a more powerful tool though. There's also a relationship between the sensor size and F-stop of the lens that makes it very difficult for the point and shoot to ever achieve that pleasing out of focus background. Basically, at the exposures everyone will shoot with on a point and shoot, almost everything will be in focus because of the tremendous depth of field it has.

This doesn't always work against you though. In landscape photography or group shots where you want everybody in focus, the point and shoot will make life easier.

Still, if we had our druthers and portability wasn't the main factor, we'd suck it up and carry a DSLR for the flexibility and performance.

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Flatula

Excellent Head2Head! Shows me that even though camera technology has come a long way, I still pay a price for convenience.

Now I'd like to see a shoot-out (forgive me) between sub-$1000 DSLRs. I know you're not a camera magazine, but I trust your advice a lot more than the camera mags...

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ankaizes

How 'bout a comparison between dSLR and the new Power Shot G9?

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