Photo by Scott Bourne
Why DSLR over Point-And-Shoot?
Shutter lag is the interminable span of time between the moment you trigger the shutter and the moment the camera actually captures the image. You won’t face this problem on a high-end SLR but point-and-shoot cameras are commonly slow. If your goal is to capture spur of the moment and candid opportunities, you’ll have far greater success with the SLR. This is especially important in wildlife, sports, baby and some other forms of photography. It’s impossible to calculate the number of times I’ve waited for a subject to move just a few inches this way or that. Having access to instant response in the shutter release is absolutely essential in such cases.
TTL or through the lens is the term used to describe what happens when you look through the viewfinder of an SLR. You’ll see the actual composition recorded on the sensor. With point-and-shoot film cameras (most digitals have an LCD view screen), you’re usually looking through a viewfinder and not through the lens itself. This factor can introduce something called parallax error, a visual distortion resulting from the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points. In other words, you’ll photograph a slightly different picture than what you saw through the viewfinder. Parallax error increases as distance to your subject decreases. This makes photographing close-ups without TTL problematic. While many newer cameras use “live view” to show you what the lens sees on the camera’s LCD, this is hard for some people to get used to, so TTL is the best choice.
Lenses – With SLR cameras, you have a wider range of lenses available. Whether you need a macro lens for close-ups or long telephoto lens to pull in wildlife, you’ll be able to attach one to your SLR body. This is something you can’t do with a point-and-shoot camera. Yes, there are macro attachments and digital zoom available on point-and-shoot cameras, but they are almost always for appearance sake and are quality compromises due to low-quality optics.
F/stops – By using a variety of interchangeable lenses, you’ll have a wider range of available f/stops to work with, giving you greater creative control with depth of field.
Shutter Speeds – SLR bodies also offer a wider range of shutter speeds, often from 30 seconds to 1/8000 of a second, as well as bulb setting. A wide range of shutter speed settings is a requirement for good general photography. Most point-and-shoots have a very limited shutter speed.
Metering – SLR bodies have more sophisticated metering systems. They also give you the choice between different metering patterns such as matrix metering, spot metering, and center-weighted metering. Many even permit you to shift the point of focus.
Auto focus – SLR bodies will give you faster auto focus. This is especially useful if you want to include fast-moving subjects in your photography. Most point-and-shoot cameras won’t permit manual focusing, something that is essential for landscape and close-up photography.
Filters – Lenses on many P/S cameras don’t allow for the use of filters. At a minimum, you’ll need to be able to attach a polarizing filter.
Flash – A modern SLR camera body gives you much greater creative control when using flash. You’ll be able to use more than one flash, and you’ll have other creative controls, such as rear-curtain sync and repeating flash.
Depth of Field Preview Button – A main reason I recommend the SLR camera over a point-and-shoot camera is the depth-of-field preview button. The DOF preview button shows the effect of your chosen f/stop on your image. You see what the film or sensor will see. This way you can fine-tune your image before pressing the shutter and avoid unpleasant surprises in the final image. I don’t know of any point-and-shoot camera that features a depth-of-field preview button, but most midrange to pro-level SLRs offer one. If you’re serious about any sort of outdoor or nature photography, I don’t recommend buying a camera without this feature.
In the next installment of this series, I’ll discuss more specific features to look for in a DSLR body.