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Home > general rambling > SLR or point-and-shoot?

SLR or point-and-shoot?

For some reason, I get asked on a somewhat regular basis for advice on what kind of camera to buy. I hardly consider myself an amateur photographer — so it’s flattering to be consulted. I do have a digital SLR… but as someone who takes more pictures than most and who certainly loves my Nikon D50 (and all the control it gives me), I would still not recommend that an SLR is for everyone.

Bee rescue, taken on macro setting, flash suppressed; all other settings on Auto

In my opinion, an SLR is for you if you:

  • are serious about getting better at and learning about photography;
  • want to learn about f-stops, ISO, white balance, and all the other mumbo jumbo;
  • are prepared to read manuals and do lots of trial & error photo-taking;
  • are willing to carry the equipment;
  • want to get a variety of lenses and lighting equipment for different situations;
  • are looking into taking good quality pictures in dimly-lit or dark settings; and/or
  • are ready to invest some dough in this hobby.

Stream by Big Sur trail, ISO 80, flash suppressed

If you’re already gung ho and about buying an SLR, in case you haven’t researched it very thoroughly, it might help you to know:

  • the kit lenses that come with the SLR body may not necessarily have a stronger zoom than some point-and-shoots (just because it’s big in comparison doesn’t mean it’s a telephoto!); and
  • just having an SLR does not automatically make your photo-taking better, especially when in low light and/or with very active subjects.

Lights at Hillside Music Festival, ISO 200, flash suppressed, camera held against tree

Don’t get me wrong — I love my Nikon D50.

I use it when I’m second shooter for a photo job that John’s doing. Even then, I often use one of his fancier lenses for these tasks, and I’ll even sometimes get him to adjust the settings before the job begins just to make sure the photos will be ideal.

I also use it if I want to try and get some nice photos at a concert; but as an amateur, my results are often hit and miss.

I used to lug my SLR everywhere… but that’s just it: I have to lug it in a padded, knapsack-sized camera bag.

Baby Ryan, taken on macro setting, flash suppressed; all other settings on Auto

These days, I tend to rely a lot more on my “old” 7.1 megapixel Cannon Elph — it’s tiny, does a great job, and it also takes all the videos I post. And in fact, the knowledge I gained from learning to shoot with my SLR has helped me take better photos with my point-and-shoot — it’s pretty much always on Manual mode, and I screw around with the settings to take some decent images.

Oh, and don’t get all caught up in the megapixels thing. Increased numbers doesn’t mean that the camera will all of a sudden make you a better photographer; it just means that you’ll have the option of printing the image at a larger size… but really, how often do you blow up your snapshots to the size of a poster?

Snail, taken on macro setting; all other settings on Auto

I’m not knocking SLRs in general here. But if you happen to be an amateur photographer like me, and if you were considering the purchase of an SLR, I would suggest you do some research before dropping that amount of dough. If you have a point-and-shoot, tool around with the Manual settings and see if you get the hang of it; if you don’t have one, borrow a friend’s to try.

And here’s the thing: if you already have a point-and-shoot and you haven’t pushed it to its limits or read the manual, then an SLR definitely isn’t for you — at least, not until you’ve done these things.

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium, ISO 400, flash suppressed

And as for all the photos that I’ve included in this post? I took these all with my point-and-shoot Elph over the past few years. I tell ya, a little fiddling with those settings goes a long way!

If you have anything to add to my spiel, please feel free to share it. I’m sure I missed a point or two to consider in the SLR vs. point-and-shoot debate… but I’m no pro, so I’m giving myself some leeway :)

general rambling , , ,

  1. June 1st, 2010 at 02:05 | #1

    This is a really good post!
    I agree with you 100%… even though my favourite subject for photography is wildlife, which is difficult to shoot well without specialist equipment, I still only use my point & shoot. I also have a partner who’s a photographer, and one look at the level of skill he needs to take good photos with his SLR tells me that I will never be that dedicated! If I wanted to get really good at wildlife photography with an SLR, the amount of extra equipment I would need would be ridiculous… and I really don’t have the money for that (or time to master the technical side.) Like you say, I would also be unlikely to carry it all around with me most of the time. I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 which is tiny, and I love it. I use it on custom settings usually, or auto… and if I take enough pictures with it I eventually get some OK photos (which is the beauty of digital – you can just keep shooting until you get what you want!)

    Your photos are great by the way :o)

  2. June 8th, 2010 at 11:45 | #2

    great post! i think you summarized it wonderfully & i loved the pics. great pointers for me too!

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  1. May 31st, 2010 at 21:48 | #1
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