Ok, so you’ve decided that now’s the time to splash out and buy a new camera. Whether you are a complete newcomer to digital photography or have been snapping away for a while but want to up your game a little, it can be a little confusing with the vast array of digital cameras available on the market today.
One of the most common questions that arises is whether to opt for a compact camera or a more “professional” digital SLR. Well, lets take a look at each to see if we can make your decision a little easier.
If you are reading this, then there is a better-than-average chance that you already own a compact camera or have at the very least used one before. In the past few years they have become incredibly popular and are evolving at a mind-boggling rate – even for those of us who might term ourselves “camera savvy”! The line is becoming more and more blurred between the shortcomings and advantages of compact cameras over the tried and trusted DSLRs that have been the workhorses of professional photographers for years.
Easier to Use
Compact cameras are, as the name suggest, compact. So first and foremost, they are smaller than DSLR cameras. This means they can be slipped into a pocket, purse or bag and easily taken along on a night out without you looking like you’re on assignment to your friends!
They tend to be created for the non-photo professional, so they will be super user-friendly with the ability to take perfectly good photos with almost no knowledge about how cameras work. Literally, point and click and you’re done.
Most of todays compact cameras also come with a video recording option, a lot of them in High Definition too for added image resolution that will look nice and sharp when played back on a large TV screen.
Image modes are selectable options for taking photos at night, taking shots of people, landscapes, children and close-up subjects like that bee on the flower you’ve just spotted outside your window. Simply turn the dial to the appropriate mode, the camera takes care of the exposure and voila! You have a great shot of your bee, pals on their night out or kids playing in the garden.
Pros of Compact Cameras
- Smaller & Lighter than DSLRs
- Easier to use
- Simple to upload & share on the Web – some have one-touch buttons to upload photos directly to Facebook
- Shoots JPEG files that are smaller, so loads can fit on a memory card
- Discreet & fashionable – can easily be slipped into a handbag or pocket
- Lots of automatic functions to capture that shot right first time with no fiddling about with exposure settings
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex, and refers to the way a photograph is taken with these types of cameras. There is a mirror that flips up to let light come in through the lens and hit the sensor, recording the photograph – simple as that. This also creates the well known “shutter click” noise that is usually added as a sound effect on compact cameras for that more professional touch.
The main advantage of a DSLR camera is it’s ability to accept interchangeable lenses. Many pro-photographers will tell you that the lens is more important than the camera body when it comes to great images, and there is a lot of truth in this.
Great lenses made with superior quality glass and precision engineered can cost thousands, many times more than compact cameras themselves – but why is this?
There are a lot of reasons, but mostly because of their ability to shoot in very low light, capturing fast moving subjects and from far away. So if you really need to photograph a cheetah chasing it’s prey across the Okavango Delta at night, you really need a DSLR with a good lens. A compact just won’t cut it for these situations. But if you are never likely to be crouched in the undergrowth of the African bush at 2am, then perhaps you don’t really need one.
At the heart of the camera lies the sensor. This is basically what takes the place of film in non-digital cameras and, in a nutshell, the larger the sensor, the better quality the image will be.
Due to the “compactness” of compact cameras, the sensor size is not as large as their DLSR counterparts, which means that the image quality generally won’t be just as good. Although you would have to have a professional eye to see the difference in a lot of cases.
More Creative Control
Another huge plus to the DSLR camera is the full manual control they offer the photographer. Whilst the compact camera can take great photos with just a single button press, DSLRs offer creativity to the user, with the option to completely control the aperture and shutter speed to produce images that are more artistic and creative in their content.
Consider a waterfall, for example. If you want to take a nice shot of it, a compact camera can do just that. A simple press of the shutter button and you have a perfectly exposed image.
With a DSLR, however, you can choose a very high shutter speed to “freeze” the water as it moves, or perhaps opt for a much slower shutter speed to blur the water into a soft, almost romantic image.
Something as simple as the ability to adjust the shutter speed can have a huge impact on the final image.
Pros of DSLRs
- Full control over all exposure settings such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc. for more creative possibilities
- Interchangeable lenses for a greater range of uses (macro, sports, nature)
- Looks more professional
- Better image quality thanks to a larger sensor and higher quality lenses
- Can shoot many frames per second
- Ability to shoot RAW files – a higher quality format than the JPEGS used in compact cameras
The new compact cameras emerging in todays market are a real challenge to DSLRS, with some even having the ability to interchange lenses. As a rule, though, if you are interested in really getting into the nuts and bolts of photography, learning by experience how to manipulate your images with shutter speeds & apertures, or if you want to get into specialist areas like shooting sports, racing or wildlife, then the DSLR is still the way to go.
If, however, you are looking for something to take “executive snapshots”, that is, candid photos of your family & friends out and about, landscape & holiday photos and something to record your friend’s wedding or big night out, then the compact camera is perfect for you.