Subtle Differences Between DSLR's and Point-and-Shoots

I've purchased a new point and shoot camera: a canon powershot sx110is. I was getting frustrated with the lack of zoom range of my powershot 590is, so I decided to upgrade to canon's lowest "high end" point-and-shoot camera. A G11 would have been nice, or for that matter, one of the new micro 4/3 cameras, but I don't have the money right now to get one. And I don't need a powerful point-and-shoot anyway, just one that's small enough to be portable but has a zoom range that makes it flexible while still having manual controls. The sx110is fit the bill.

I was looking through some Flickr photos taken by users of the sx110is and there were some comments about the camera that I found interesting. A lot of the users said the sx110is was the closest camera they've come to having a DSLR. And others said they decided on the sx110is as an alternative to a DSLR.

I used to think this way. Before I got my Canon Rebel XT, I was considering a "super-zoom" camera because I thought they could as much as a DSLR. Boy was I wrong! Having switched to a DSLR, there is a world of difference in capabilities between the high-end super-zooms and full DSLR cameras. BUT, great photographers can take great pictures with ANY camera, it's just a matter of what you're trying to achieve and what equipment you need to get there.

So I thought about the differences between super-zoom cameras and DSLR's and, aside from the obvious differences (fixed vs. interchangeable lenses, LCD viewfinder vs. through-the-lens optical viewfinder, etc.), I have come up with some subtle differences that aren't immediately obvious. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Low-light performance with a DSLR is much better than a super-zoom. I can set my Rebel T1i at 1600 ISO and have usable no-flash pictures, while point-and-shoot photos are totally un-usable above 400 ISO. This is a side affect of the tiny sensor in point-and-shots. To take low-light photos with point-and-shoots, a flash and/or tripod must be used.

2. Because of the tiny sensor in point-and-shoot, shallow depth of field is hard to achieve compared to DSLR's. Depending on your subject matter, this is either an advantage or disadvantage. But, since the depth of field for point-and-shoots is so much bigger, image composition becomes more important. It's too easy to have cluttered photos with point-and-shoots because everything tends to be in focus. I find using my point-and-shoot a great exercise in composition. Unfortunately, composition is the last thing most point-and-shoot users think of.

3. Since point-and-shoot cameras are physically much smaller than DSLR's, they can take pictures that physically aren't possible with DSLR's. You can place a point-and-shoot in your refrigerator, in the corner of a desk full of stuff, in a drawer, and in all kinds of tight places. Try putting your point-and-shoot in a tight spot and see what pictures you can get. It's fun.

4. Related to #2, macro shots with point-and-shoots have more of the picture in focus compared to DSLR's. With DSLR's, you need a special macro lens, lots of light, and a small aperture to get a deeper depth of field for macros. With point-and-shoots, you just need to set the camera to macro mode and shoot.

5. Lastly, point-and-shoot cameras are a lot less noticeable than DSLR's. You can sneak pictures of people, places, or things with a point-and-shoot. It's hard to do that with a big DSLR with a big lens.


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