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Photography Question 
Glen C. Dearling

Camera Differences: SLR vs. P&S Cameras

Are SLR cameras better then normal point and shoot?

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John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
"Better" is open to a lot of interpretation! You will have to answer the question "better at . . . " before you decide what's better for you. They each have their strengths and weaknesses:

In general, an SLR will have better optics and greater flexibility compared to a "normal" point and shoot. Many AF/AE SLR's will allow you to take manual control over focus or exposure when you want to, and the AE/AF modes are more sophisticated. The average P&S has a single "program mode" that you cannot override. The SLR also offers interchangeable lenses for management of perspective in an image (how big or small distant objects look compared to close ones).

The "normal" P&S has a viewfinder without any parallax correction. At long distances this is not an issue if the viewfinder framelines are accurate. At very close distances (8' or less) it can be. Even though some have a second set of tick marks on the framelines to show the frame at minimum focus distance they can be hard to use accurately, and even with "parallax correction" there are still conditions under which the image will look different than the viewfinder. The viewfinder in an SLR looks through the lens, and other than possibly not showing a slight amount around the edges, WYSIWYG through the viewfinder.

Nearly all SLR's allow using an external flash in a "hot shoe" that is much more powerful than those found integral to a P&S, which has no provision for an external flash. This means greater range for flash photography (P&S flash range is typically about 8-10 feet max).

In terms of image technical quality, there are a few relatively inexpensive "sleeper" P&S's with superb lenses such as the Yashica T4 Super and the Olympus Stylus, but in general the lenses for an SLR system will have greater resolution and higher contrast.

However, an SLR is bigger, heavier and typically more expensive (there is an enormous crossover between the price of a low end SLR and a very high end P&S).

You can put a P&S in your pocket and take it nearly anywhere. Their leaf shutters are quieter than the mirror slap and focal plane shutter noise of an SLR, and their small size is less obtrusive. This makes them ideal for quick "grab shots", "candids" and "street shooting" within the constraints of their flexibility.

One can make exceptional images with a P&S (again within their constraints). Likewise, using an SLR does not guarantee good photography! This is controlled much, much more by the photographer than any difference camera type or brand will ever make.

Nearly all professional and serious amateur photographers have a P&S somewhere in one of the camera bags. Why? Because of the tradeoff between the two types in flexibility, size, weight, and obtrusiveness. They may not use the P&S that often but when they do decide to, they're glad it's there.

I know this is not a singular answer, but it would be unfair to give one. Neither is dominantly better than the other at everything.

-- John

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Rafi Cohen   I agree with most of the things explained in the answer above, but there are other important issues. I want to add:

1. Most P&S cameras are slow compared to SLRs, especially with zooms, and in the long end this means it can't stop action, even your own children or pets. The photograph is taken actually long after the important moment. So you can miss many opportunities. If photographing still life, landscape or buildings, there should be no problem.

2. To solve this problem people use high speed films, 400-800 ISO, that are not good for enlargements, and the colours are worse than the colours of speed films100 ISO, that can gives fine enlargements. And of course the price of a high speed film is twice or more the price of a 100 ISO film. This of course is important when photographing indoors, or in less than optimal lighting, meaning outdoors in the middle of day.

3. Most P&Ss are louder than modern SLRs, but there are differences between brands, like Canon (quieter), Nikon (louder) and so on. Also it depends on the camera's model. P&Ss are especially louder when zooming out the lens, because there is a loud motor that drives the lens, and this motor is really primitive compared the zoom lens motor of the SLR - for example, the USM motor of Canon SLR's lenses.

4. In darkness or bad light automating focus is lost - in many SLRs there is an option of manual focus, to override this. P&Ss that have this option are at the same price of a regular modern SLR.

5. In SLR there are more options to meter the light in different lighting conditions, and compensate - n\a in P&S, or if there are, the price comes up.

6. On SLR's lenses we can put a lens hood, which helps to control flare - in P&S we can use only the other hand.

7. In SLRs you can focus exactly on what you want to photograph, and choose how many sharp objects will be in the picture. P&Ss select what "it" wants to appear sharp... or it selects all to be sharp - subject and background - good for some situations and bad for others, because there is a lot of mess in the picture.

8. Red eye is a common annoying problem in P&Ss, not SLRs.

9. Shooting at night, a SLR is recommended, for it's bulb function. (a special mode which allows you to take indefinitely long exposures)

10. Except for price and weight, SLRs are more comfortable to take pictures - a lot more (that does not include those who only know to operate o n e button only, this is found only in P&S).

11. P&Ss you can be carry in a pocket or purse, SLR - no.

12. A lot of P&Ss are weather proof - only high end and expensive SLRs are!

The one or the other depends on what you photograph most, in what conditions, and what you want to do with the pictures afterward.

In the end, what costs much, much more are films, developing, and batteries - the camera body price becomes really cheap, in case of a lot of shooting, along the years.


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Dawn B. 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/2/2005
  This question and response was extremely helpful, and informational, on whether or not to upgrade from P&S to SLR. I am currently taking the course “An Introduction to Digital Photography: Using Your Digital Camera”, therefore learning the tech side of the camera. While on a photo shoot of Monarch Butterflies, I could not get a clear focus of the dangling creatures’ way up in the trees, and became frustrated with the limited capabilities of my P&S. Reading this was helpful in confirming my choice on choosing an SLR and of which price range I wanted. It also help me realize that keeping my P&S handy for those quick shots (changing lenses takes a bit of time) would be to my benefit.

Dawn Giannini

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11/14/2005 10:18:56 PM

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