P/S vs. DSLR Article

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P/S vs. DSLR Article

POINT-AND-SHOOT (P/S) DIGITAL CAMERA

ADVANTAGES

Price: A good P/S
with a myriad of features can be purchased for less than $200. The P/S digital
cameras usually have a wide optical zoom range with minimal extra cost. Most
use standard AA batteries, which are cheap can be found almost anywhere.

Convenience and ease
of use
: Some are smaller than a pack of cigarettes, so they easily fit into
a shirt pocket. It’s usually only a matter of turning them on to get them ready
to take pictures; I don’t believe I actually ever read the manual for mine
before I started taking pictures with it. Those “candid camera” shots can
easily be taken with a P/S camera, as very little preparation is usually needed.
Since most of them use the JPEG format, very little must be done after shooting to prepare the
pictures for web viewing, and a memory card can hold hundreds of JPEG images,
depending on the size of the card.

Maintenance: Very
little is needed to maintain a P/S camera. The only cleaning that a P/S
requires is the exterior of the lens, and is usually only necessary if there
are smudges on the lens. Simple dust will usually not appear in an
image.

DISADVANTAGES

Viewfinder: Some
low-end P/S cameras only provide a fixed viewfinder, so the user has no idea
how the picture will look until after he actually takes it. More
expensive P/S cameras, however, may show a “real-time” view of the image in the
LCD as the picture is being taken. This has led to the so-called “digital
stance,” where someone holds the camera over a foot away from himself to “frame”
the subject.

Flexibility: P/S
camera lenses are permanent fixtures on the camera, so the user is limited in
what he can do. Some P/S cameras offer accessory lenses and/or filters that can
be attached to the main lens, but these are usually proprietary and only work
with that particular model camera. Most P/S cameras only have the option of the
built-in flash, which tends to be very limited in range.

Quality: While
P/S cameras can take excellent pictures, their image quality is usually overshadowed
by the DSLR, even with the same rated number of megapixels. Most P/S digital
cameras use the JPEG format, which is, by nature, a compressed format, so the
best image quality possible cannot be attained.

DIGITAL SINGLE-LENS REFLEX (DSLR) CAMERA

ADVANTAGES

Image Quality:
DSLRs have larger sensors than P/S cameras, so image quality is better with a
DSLR at the same rated number of megapixels. Though DSLRs include the JPEG format,
mainly for convenience, they also offer the “raw” format, which is essentially unprocessed
data directly from the camera sensor, and it is in no way compressed. Though more work
is usually necessary after the picture is taken, the end result usually far superior. For instantce, if the auto white balance feature failed, it can easily be
corrected in the raw file, as can the exposure, brightness, and contrast. Of
course, it’s always best to make sure things are set properly before the
shutter button is pressed.

Through-the-Lens
Shooting
: Just like a 35mm SLR film camera, the user sees exactly what the
lens sees, whether an extreme telephoto shot or a close-up shot. Of course, one can also see if he forgot and left the lens cap on. Tongue out

Flexibility: Many
aspects of the camera can be changed. Different lenses can be used for
different subjects and/or venues. For the ultimate in image quality, a “prime” lens
with a fixed focal length is generally used. For close-up shots, a lens with
macro capability is used. For extreme telephoto shots, a lens with a focal
length exceeding 1000mm can be used. For wide-angle shots, lenses of 28mm or
less can be used, which is especially useful for landscape photography.

All DSLR cameras include the option of manual focusing.
Though auto focus works in most situations, in very low light conditions,
manually focusing is generally more reliable.

Though DSLRs include automatic settings, almost any aspect
can be set manually by the user, such as the aperture (“aperture priority”),
exposure time (“shutter priority”), and color temperature (“white balance”). In
manual mode, all settings are set by the user. For long exposures, a
remote shutter cable can be attached to the camera to hold the shutter open
indefinitely (in “bulb” mode). Bulb mode is especially useful for
astrophotography; some excellent examples can be found here.

Compatibility:
Digital SLRs generally use the same lenses as their 35mm film camera
counterparts. As a matter of fact, some manufacturers, such as Pentax, allow
for the use of lenses that are decades old. I have a 300mm “prime” lens that
was made in the 1970s, and it works well with my Pentax DSLR.

Different types of filters can be used to enhance pictures
or to create effects. Though filters come in different sizes, they can be
attached to any SLR lens with the specified diameter. I have 49, 52, and 58mm
filters, as those are the numbers on my various lenses. Polarizing filters can
be used to reduce glare and take shots through glass or through water, and they
can help increase contrast with landscape shots. Ultraviolet filters can be
used to remove the bluish caste that can appear with outdoor shots. Star
filters can be used to give light sources a “starlike” appearance. “Close-up”
filters can be used in lieu of a macro lens for close-up photography, such as
pictures of insects. An in-depth list of filters and their uses can be found here.

Flashes: While
DSLR cameras include a built-in flash, the best pictures are usually taken using
an add-on external flash, which is usually attached to the hot shoe mount atop
the camera, though it can usually be used off-camera with an additional cable and
bracket. External flashes offer much greater range than built-in flashes, and better
ones include “bounce” and “swivel” heads, which can be used to reflect the
flash’s light off ceilings and/or walls, which can prevent much of the
washed-out look that can be observed in photos taken with the flash pointed
directly at the subject.

DISADVANTAGES

Cost: Though
prices of excellent DSLRs have decreased substantially, one can still expect to
pay at least three times as much for one. If the user already has lenses he
wants to use, however, the cost can be slightly offset by purchasing only the
camera body. Many DSLR cameras also use special proprietary battery packs,
which cost many times more than rechargeable AA batteries.

Convenience:
Unless one is the size of the Jolly Green Giant, a DSLR will definitely not fit
into a shirt pocket. Most people who use DSLR cameras, including myself, carry
around large bags full of lenses, flashes, and accessories (I also have a dedicated filter case). It would be rather difficult to take those “candid
camera” shots with a DSLR, as a DSLR can be spotted from quite a distance.

Though DSLR cameras can shoot in the JPEG format, many users
will choose to shoot using the raw format. While the best pictures can be taken
this way, far fewer exposures can fit on the same memory card than could using
the JPEG format. For this reason, most users of DSLRs usually carry multiple
memory cards (I have a special case just for my memory cards).

Concerning batteries, if the DSLR uses a proprietary pack,
this can be a definite issue in an emergency. A DSLR with a discharged battery
pack becomes an expensive paperweight. Note that my Pentax *ist DL (don’t ask me
how to pronounce that) uses rechargeable AA batteries. Though rechargeable
nickel-metal hydride batteries are best for my camera, I can use alkaline
batteries in an emergency, and alkaline AA batteries can be found at any
convenience store.

More preparation is usually needed to take pictures with a
DSLR, even when using automatic settings. Part of that may be due to the fact
that users of DSLR cameras desire the ultimate in picture quality, so they
generally spend more time preparing the photo session. More work after photo sessions is also
usually required, especially since raw camera files can only be
viewed/manipulated using special software.

Maintenance: Not
only do the lenses for DSLR cameras require the front of the lenses cleaned
(though usually only if smudged), but they also require the rear of the lens be
kept clean. In addition, dust can make its way onto the camera sensor itself,
which can easily been seen on exposures, and some people pay to have this done
rather than risk damaging the sensor through improper cleaning methods. In my
experience, however, a large “rocket blower” is usually all that is needed to
clean a sensor.

From the above, one could presume that I would recommend the
DSLR over the P/S. Actually, for most users, I would recommend they stick with
the P/S, unless they are serious about photography and are willing to devote
the time and money necessary for the hobby. My ultimate recommendation would be
for someone to have both types of cameras, so the P/S could be used in
situations where the DSLR would be inconvenient or impractical.

In closing, I should note that there is another type of
digital camera that is growing in popularity: the “prosumer” camera. The
prosumer combines elements of both the P/S and DSLR cameras. Though not as
small as the P/S type, it is still not as bulky as a DSLR. Like a P/S, its lens
is not removable, but it can usually be fitted with standard filters. And just
a like a DSLR, it can usually shoot in the raw camera format, so the picture
quality can rival that of the DSLR.

Recommended reading: The Joy of Digital Photography by Jeff Wignall, published by Lark Books.