This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics.
From all the question I’ve had on the subject, this one was perhaps the most common: What’s the advantage of a DSLR (or a mirrorless) over a Point and Shoot digital camera? This post lists down the points I gleaned.
Though it is true that the new Single Lens Translucent Mirror (SLT) or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) are technologies that are different from the DSLRs, for the purpose of the post we will consider those as part of the DSLRs. I could have used the Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILCs) as the differentiating category, but the sensor size is smaller than the commonly used APS-C in the popular SLTs and MILCs by Sony. And, the sensor does make a difference to the picture quality.
If you are a novice, and are yet to explore the limits of your Point and Shoot (P&S) digital camera, I recommend that you to look into the controls other than the Automatic mode to learn photography. This will help you learn about the things that your P&S is capable of doing, other than clicking pictures and shooting videos.
So, here are some of the advantages of DSLRs over P&S cameras:
Speed: I use a P&S. And, I’ve noticed that those of my friends who use a DSLR are able to start their cameras and shoot pictures, while my P&S just starts and focuses correctly. I’ve noticed a considerable difference in the focus speeds, too. In fact, the time lag between the shots is considerably lesser in a DSLR. The time lag is on account of the processor writing the captured data into the memory card.
Focus and Auto-focus: Though today’s P&S are equipped to focus faster, there’s still no way you can manually set a focus point. Of course, there are settings like spot metering that can help you restrict the area of focus, but setting focus manually can help you get shots even when something stands in front of your subject. Also, you cannot lock the focus point once the focus is set correctly. With DSLRs, you can do that, too.
Lens: I know how frustrating it is to not be able to change the lens. And, the basic-level P&S do not provide enough zoom, too. Besides, even if they do, I would compromise because of the variable aperture (and hence on the low-light photographing capabilities, if any). And, not having the capability to change lenses means that you can neither upgrade the lenses that you use on those cameras nor can you experiment with your photography.
Large Depth of Field (DOF): The P&S can never provide a shallower DOF, unless you are using the advanced P&S, which still are no match for full-frame DSLRs as far as the beautiful, creamy bokeh is concerned. The lenses on a P&S are designed to provide you zooming capabilities. But, because those lenses are fixed and come with the in-built variable aperture, you cannot manually set the parameters of the camera to capture images.
Lack of Controls: A P&S has lesser controls on the body. Of course, the controls are still there, but are limited and are rolled into the menus. So, for each shot, you have to dig into the menus to change the settings. This is time consuming.
Image Quality: This is purely subjective to opinions. Some say that the quality is more than enough. In fact, I am one of those who stand by this argument. But, the truth is, the sensor size is perhaps too small to capture the details. And, all the copper wiring and circuitry in the sensor is placed just too close to receive enough light to capture the details. This affects the image quality, mostly negatively, and pixels and white dots appear in the images that are capture in insufficiently lit conditions. And, that is why I will not go for the advanced point and shoot or the interchangeable compact system camera (CSC), because irrespective of how good my lenses are, I will not be able to get good quality low-light images. After all, there are, and will always be, some images that I would wish to capture in low light.
Should I go for a DSLR?
Big question. And, to answer that, we must break the requirements in parts. What are the requirements: Events and Weddings or Casual and street photography? If you are serious with photography, if you have tested the limits of your current P&S (and feel that it is time for you to upgrade), if you think that you can invest more money into the ecosystem (for example, batteries and chargers, external flashes, tripods, memory cards, and remote release cables), and if you have interest (or want to make money capturing) events or weddings, go for a DSLR.
What all should I buy?
It depends on your requirements. Consult a pro. I am an enthusiast photographer – this in one way increases my challenge with what equipment I buy, because I love experimenting with my equipment. I will probably never take up this hobby as a profession. Consequently, I do need a high-end camera. I might go for a full frame camera. But, I will certainly buy one macro lens, one fixed aperture zoom lens, one prime lens, a tripod, a shutter release cable/remote, a couple of filters (UV and ND), and – may be – a tele-converter. But, this is not a definitive list; I might skip one or two things. I think the question zeros in on what your requirements are. A pro knows what industry or vertical they specialize into, so they will go for equipment and lenses that deliver quality in only that vertical. But, for people like me, the sky is the limit. Or, maybe not.
Right, so back to where we started. I hope I have been able to help you find an answer to your question; I hope you now know what you can and might buy. I would love to hear from you!