Truth Exposed: Buy a DSLR or Compact Camera?

Deciding between a DSLR and a compact camera (also known as a point and shoot) can be a difficult decision, but it will ultimately come down to your future goals with photography and
exactly what you are going to need the camera for. Listen, I wanna’ break it down for you nice and simple so that you know exactly what you’re looking for and don’t have to hear all the hype and hoopla’ other forums and blogs are going to shoot your way. By the end of this, you’ll have a clear answer on whether your next camera is going to be a compact camera or a full-fledged DSLR setup.

Benefits of Owning A DSLR

  • Your Standard Workhorse – Overall, your typical DSLR is going to be built to last, and last a long time. Some entry level DSLR’s are made out of a hard plastic body, but as you move further up the line of cameras, you’ll see their exteriors made out of more durable materials. This means that many are waterproof in the sense that they can withstand a rainstorm taking a pour over your camera, but they’re not capable of being fully submerged under water.
  • Quality Of The Image  It’s no secret that almost every DSLR is going to pack a punch when it comes to the quality of the image. You can easily have a compact camera with 16 megapixels and a comparable DSLR with the same megapixel spec, but the digital slr will still trump in the quality of the image.
  • Bigger Sensors – With bigger sensors comes more adaptability for different situations. Being able to shoot in low light with current digital slr’s on the market is going to be a breeze compared to a point and shoot camera. Also, you’re going to get a lot more robust features out of the increased size in the sensor like greater megapixel quality, etc.
  • Lens Selection – This feature in and of itself is a game changer for DSLR’s. While your average compact camera is going to have a small zoom range, you have the ability to invest in top tier lenses that can fit any digital slr that you decide to pick up. Not only is the quality of glass better, but you’re going to be able to get a greater variety and unique shots, even under difficult lighting situations. The added benefit of having adaptable lenses is that they are a long term investment and can go with you from camera body to camera body, unlike a point and shoot camera.
  • Long Term Value – Anyone who owns a DSLR will tell you that the long term value that they hold is real. While most compact cameras will have a life cycle of a year or two, the digital slr usually won’t get a refresh in anywhere from 5 to 7 years. Not only does this mean your resale value is going to stay high if you want to upgrade to something higher in the DSLR range during that time, but you aren’t going to have to worry about any “new” and “fancy” tech that comes out every year and tugs on your “gotta’ have” strings.
  • High Sensor Sensitivity (ISO) – DSLR’s have the advantage of huge ISO ranges that allow you to shoot in even the toughest lighting situations. If you’re coming from an average, every day point and shoot camera then you are going to see this night and day difference. Combine higher ISO ranges with the ability to shoot lenses with fast apertures and you’ll have no issues shooting in anything that comes your way.
  • Shooting In Manual – Times are changing and some compact cameras allow you to shoot in a type of manual mode, but for the user who really needs advanced control over everything when capturing images, the DSLR is going to win hands down. From being able to custom set aperture ranges, shutter speeds, ISO and custom white balances, there will be nothing stopping you from getting an image exactly the way you pictured it.

Cons of Owning A DSLR

  • Usually Heavy – Let’s not look past the fact that almost any DSLR is going to be heaver than a comparable compact camera. Add on top of them certain lenses and you’ve got yourself a beast of a camera that you’ll be lugging around. While this may not be an issue for a full-time, professional photographer, if you’re an average user you are going to quickly realize that it isn’t the easiest thing to get used to.
  • Limited LCD Viewing – Unlike a compact camera that uses the LCD to frame and take pictures, almost all digital slr’s use a viewfinder to frame any photos. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you are coming from a compact camera where you’re used to using with a nice, big and vibrant screen to see what you’re taking photos of, a DSLR is going to be a rude awakening.
  • Learning Curve – I’d be lying to you if I said digital slr’s are easy to learn because they’re not. They’ve got a steep learning curve that takes time and patience to feel comfortably using, especially in fast paced situations.
  • Prices – Expect to drop a lot of coin if you want to purchase a DSLR. Many newbies in the industry think that the entry level dslr’s are only $500, and while that is similar to some higher end point and shoots, they forget to add in the cost of things like additional lenses, etc on top of digital slr costs. This $500 investment can soon balloon to $1500 or more.

Benefits of Owning A Compact Camera

  • Easy To Carry Around – There’s no denying the fact that a compact camera is going to be a lot easier to throw in a purse or even a pocket and carry around. This makes them perfect for trips, hiking and a ton of other situations where portability and ease of use is critical. There’s also a reason so many professional photographers opt to carry higher end point and shoot cameras while not on the job – because sometimes less is more!
  • Set It n’ Forget It – With so many auto modes that make them literal no-brainers, your compact cameras today couldn’t get any easier to use. Whatever situation you find yourself shooting in I’d bet there is an auto mode for that, and not just any automatic mode, but one that will get you the perfect shot, every time!
  • Silent Operation – You’re not going to have to stress about any loud operation with a compact camera, unlike it’s counter-part that has an actuating shutter that can be rather loud at times.
  • Use The LCD  It has been a selling point since their inception, but being able to use a compact camera’s LCD screen to frame and take pictures makes the act of photography so simple, doesn’t it? No need to look through a viewfinder, frame shots and select focus points – leave that to those big boy DSLR’s!

Cons of Owning A Compact Camera

  • Low Image Quality – While I am being a bit subjective here, it’s true that a compact camera is going to have lower image quality than its’ DSLR cousin. Saying this, it doesn’t mean that any average user would be able to tell the difference in the first place unless they were trying to print billboard sized photos.
  • Limited Controls – Don’t expect to have that much control over your images and getting “the look” that you are going for. Most compact cameras are super limited in their manual capabilities and suffer from being too simple.
  • Limited Lens Options – There’s quite a few point and shoot cameras on the market now that offer external lens options, but they’re few and far between. On top of this, they still don’t even compare to the quality of DSLR lenses available.
  • Slow As A Turtle – If you’ve ever used a digital slr in your life then going to a compact camera is going to be like trading your Lamborghini in for a Honda. Notoriously slow in difficult situations, they’re not always the fastest types of cameras, especially when time is of the essence.

So, What’s Your Next Step?

While I hope that we were able to give you some good pointers on the pros and cons of both DSLR’s and compact cameras, making a final decision is going to to ultimately come down to your budget, your future photography goals and what you need the camera for right now.

We recently created a buyer’s guide for the best point and shoot cameras on the market today and will have one for DSLR’s coming soon. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave a comment below!