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Beginner's Guide to Photography

Beginner’s Guide: Part 1 (DSLRs vs. Point ‘n’ Shoot)

We, at MyFirstPic own a few DSLRs and point and shoot cameras, which enable us to answer an oft repeated question: “Should we buy a point and shoot camera or a DSLR?”. Well, the answer is not straight! It is rather tweaked in your favour of decision making. Though it does have technical undertones, but it is the utility value that you see as an owner of the camera and how you intend to use it.

The cameras that we have on our shelves include makes such as Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and Sony. We like to work with both point and shoot, as well as, DSLRs because we feel they compliment each other well and are each suited for specific situations.

The biggest differentiator between the two is: Quality shots versus convenience. We will, however, not like to undermine the very important aspect of cost which does play a major role here. When we talk of DSLRs, these complex pieces of engineering marvel win heads up in the quality game while nothing can ever beat the convenience of a point and shoot camera. The digital camera industry is constantly on the verge of evolution and we can see that the scenarios and trends keep changing by the day. Where the output quality is concerned, the thick, demarcating lines of difference between DSLRs and point and shoots cameras are becoming thinner by the day and are almost on the verge of getting completely blurred. There are point and shoot cameras in the market whose output rivals those of some entry level DSLRs.

To understand things in a much better perspective, let us examine the two candidates individually. 

The Pros and Cons of Buying a DSLR : the fine picture

We were asked a very simple question by our friends reading our posts. “I have a 14 megapixel point and shoot camera. Don’t you think it will give me the best quality? If yes, then why go for a bulky DSLR which can give me just 10 megapixels?”

Let us first try to clear the mega misconception of megapixels here.

Megapixels alone DO NOT determine the camera’s output quality! There are other key factors that do. Despite higher megapixels in a camera, their output quality may not necessarily be better than DSLRs.

A 12 megapixel point and shoot may not necessarily be better than an 8 megapixel DSLR for the reasons that you shall see below.

The image sensors used in point and shoot digital cameras are usually smaller than the image sensors used in DSLRs and the difference between them can be exponentially large. It then boils down to the size of the pixels packed inside the sensor.

The dimension of an individual ‘cell’ (read it as ‘a hardware pixel’ for the sake of understanding this and without getting too technical) reduces as more and more of them have to be packed on a smaller sized sensor. If the size of an individual ‘cell’ becomes smaller, it will collect lesser amount of light. If less light is collected it translates to less information being collected per square mm of the sensor area.

For a good picture reproduction the sensor must capture the shadows, the midtones and the highlights, as well as, capture the vividness of a frame composition. If the information captured is less, most of the finer details are never captured and never reproduced and hence the picture is termed to have a lower dynamic range. This will, in effect, result in a picture output which is less sharp, dull and maybe noisy.

Perhaps, never the one you really wanted in the first place!

But, why noisy picture? Since, the amount of light being captured is lesser; the camera must switch on to higher ISO levels. The higher the ISO level, the noisier the resultant image in most of the cases! And, also the image captured is more likely blurry. Since the shutter generally remains open longer, it will take time to capture the shot and this will create motion blur due to camera shake or subject displacement. Remember: higher ISO settings usually result in slower shutter speed, depending upon the priority it is set to.

The bottom-line is:

It is always good to have a camera with a larger image sensor with fewer megapixels than to have a camera with smaller sensor with a higher megapixel count.

Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty of things between the two.

DSLRs deconstructed

DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) are cameras that use a mirror system to direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder on the back of the camera. They employ electronic image sensors instead of a film to capture shots. They also allow users to change lenses as per their preference.

Things we love in DSLRs:

  • The single biggest differentiator of being called a ‘DSLR’ is the presence of an optical viewfinder. Since, the light passes through the lens and then hits the eye, the output is usually WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).
  • DSLRs offer great image quality, especially due to the larger size of image sensors. They are generally able to be used at a faster ISO, which will lead to faster shutter speeds and less noise.
  • The ability to change lenses creates tremendous creative opportunities for the photographers to experiment with scene composition. They can opt for lenses with superior material and build quality. These lenses range from wide angle to super zooms with varying focal lengths depending upon the scene composition.
  • Despite the complex mechanism, a DSLR usually has a faster response rate when it comes to functions like start up, burst clicks, focussing and shutter lag.
  • A large ISO range enables a photographer to click images in varying shooting conditions from composing dimly lit scenes to clicking portraits in bright sunlight to capturing fast moving action during sports events.
  • There is a whole gamut of accessories available for DSLRs and today an owner of a DSLR is spoilt for choice. These include, filter systems, flashes, remote release buttons, etc.
  • Another major area where DSLR’s rule is that it gives you the power to experiment with its various settings. Amongst the things that a photographer can experiment are setting up of ‘aperture priority’, ‘shutter priority’, experimenting with depth of field, working on macros, etc. There are auto modes available on the gadget but who wants restrictions in the presence of freedom to experiment. However, for those faint of heart auto modes help do a wonderful job.
  • Since, most of the burden of doing quality work is taken up by optics such as lenses and filters, you have freedom to play around and choose the best optics your money can buy in order to click those stunning unforgettable pictures.
  • A very important factor to consider is to look at the value of equipment over a period of time. Since, what the firmware does is capture and store what your optics have provided to it, you do not need to look for frequent changes to your main camera body for a practically longer time. It does retain its value longer than a point and shoot camera. You simply need to play with the accessories and continue to shoot amazing pictures with your basic firmware. All what you can do is continue to invest in better lenses and filters over time. The money invested in lenses and filter systems can still be utilised should you change your mind and buy the latest DSLR. So long as you stick with the brand you first chose, rest assured you do not need to spend more money on lenses as you already have the compatible ones in your arsenal.

What we don’t like in DSLRs:

  • Most of the DSLRs have a higher cost associated with them. To make the best use of the equipment, you must have good quality lenses. These lenses, however, come at a price. In order to enjoy the most of your DSLR, you must be prepared to part a good amount of money in buying great accessories. All this is limited to your appetite of good photography.
  • The biggest put off for owning a DSLR is its clunky size and weight. Most of the DSLRs are comparatively heavy and it’s a big pain to carry them around notwithstanding the accessories that is needed along with it such as lenses, filters, tripods, etc. (Picture yourself as a father carrying an 8 month old baby with it’s milk bottles, diapers, pacifiers, cleaning kits, bedding, etc.)  And, you better take care of what you love!
  • Depending upon the kind of scene composition you are looking at, you might be required to change lenses all the time unless you are content with what was originally attached to the body when you brought your DSLR kit. Frequent changing of lenses helps deposit dust on the image sensor, especially when you are doing outdoor shoots. Hence, it is recommended that you get your lens cleaned up before a serious shoot. The best way to get it cleaned is to visit a professional setup and let the experts do it their way. However, there are lens cleaning kits available for doing this routine at home. And, both of this does cost money! Interestingly, most of the new DSLRs being released lately sport self cleaning systems.
  • Before we forget, let us remind you that DSLRs are indeed complex. You will find them difficult to use as you get more adventurous and try to leave the ‘auto mode’ behind. For this you must study the manual that comes along with the camera to get familiar with various functions the equipment has to offer in order to make the best use of it, and indeed the money you spent on it.

 The Pros and Cons of Buying a point and shoot

Things that we like in a Point and Shoot digital cameras:

  • Convenience. Convenience and more convenience. It is a relief if you own a Point and Shoot digital camera simply because you can carry it along with you wherever you go. They are small, compact, hassle-free and do a good job in most occasions. They can be so small and sleek that you can simply slip it in to your pocket and attend a party (without even your host knowing about it)!
  • They are simple and straightforward and you do not have to spend time in doing settings and tweaks before composing a scene. It’s all there, ever ready for the shot with the soul-saving ‘auto-mode’ as default!
  • No changing of lenses and no frills of purchasing accessories. Hence, they can be good on your pocket. Especially, because you do not have to dabble in your wallet and cross the calendars for those camera cleaning sessions and appointments. Hence, they are not only cheaper to buy, but also cheaper to own.
  • Previewing your shots through the LCD saves much of the scene composition hassles. You get a whole array of LCDs at the back of the camera with wide range of screen resolutions where you can preview your composition and play back what you’ve just clicked.
  • Some do have lens adapters to give you wider angles or longer zooms but generally most people don’t go for these accessories.

What we do not like about Point and Shoot Digital Cameras:

  • Picture quality is usually never as great as those of DSLRs. More often than not, the pictures have lesser depth and detail while also giving a blurry and shaky output. The colors are not as saturated as the original scene would provide. The perspective of most of the images composed could also be seen skewed or stretched towards the corners.
  • Usually the images from a Point and Shoot digital camera will have more noise towards the shadow region making the images look grainy with little contrast. This is because of lower grade sensors embedded into these devices compared to even an entry level DSLR.
  • The LCD preview may not capture the exact frame area of what it shows as a preview. It may be more or less correct but seldom accurate.
  • You cannot creatively experiment with the various sessions an optical capture device gives you. This is a very narrow range within which you can play.
  • They come with ‘aperture priority’ and ‘shutter priority’ modes for you to work on. Often you will need to scavenge the settings menu in order to tweak some of the factory-set defaults.
  • These cameras loose value over time. Usually the manufacturers play the megapixel card and sell these gadgets based on that point of view. And, often they loose race in time and fall back as larger megapixel cameras take their place.

MyFirstPic Viewpoint:

So, which of the two camera kinds is better for you? We think, depending upon the purpose for which you wish to buy the camera, you stand as the best judge to decide which of the two is better for you. If you start with the Point and Shoot and later progress to a DSLR, you may then be joining the rest of us mortals who have done just the same. However, if you are more adventurous and have spare cash in your wallet, you might, as well, like to skip the first step and directly join the elite group of DSLR owners!

Enjoy shooting!

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