Choosing between a DSLR or a compact camera

Even the most capable compact camera out there cannot do certain things that a DSLR can. For some people, these differences do not matter; for others, they are dealbreakers. Before you decide to get a DSLR, take a look to see if you really need to have these functions.

Flexibility in changing lenses Unlike compact cameras, you’re not stuck with one lens on DSLRs. Having the flexiblity to use different types of lens means you’re free to explore various types of photography just by using a different lens. For instance, a DSLR user interested in sports or nature photography may want to get hold of a longer telephoto lens for the extra reach; someone interested in capturing quirky wide shots could use a fisheye lens.

Focusing speed Even the “slowest” DSLR will put the most expensive compact camera to shame in terms of focusing speed. If you constantly find yourself missing moments because your camera is hunting for the correct focus, a DSLR will definitely help. Without proper techniques though, even the fastest DSLR will not help you capture that perfect moment. Anticipation, prefocusing are two ways to get improve your chances of getting that decisive moment, and we explore them in our practical photography workshops.

Low-light capability Although the more expensive compact cameras are slowly catching up with capturing clean and usable images in low light by fitting on brighter lenses and better sensors, even the least expensive DSLR will easily outdo a compact camera in terms of producing clean images at low light levels. This is due to the larger sensor found on DSLRs which help to keep noise levels down. Again, if you’re not intending to use your images at large sizes, this may not matter that much to you.

Another factor that makes DSLRs better suited to low light photography is the superior focusing system that they are equipped with, which is also responsible for the faster focusing speed that we’ve discussed earlier. Under low light conditions, focusing becomes much slower and even impossible at times. The better and faster focusing on DSLR will help to capture fleeting moments in such conditions.

Getting that nice, creamy, blurred background Perhaps the most obvious cause of DSLR-envy among compact camera users is the abiliy of DSLRs to capture that silky, smooth, out-of-focus background—sometimes known as bokeh, or shallow depth of field in geek speak—with seeming ease.

Compact camera users have resorted to spending hours in Photoshop or hundreds of dollars on expensive plugins trying to recreate that seemingly elusive effect. Contrary to popular belief, a DSLR does not automatically guarantee a blurred background.

The difference in sensor sizes does however indirectly make it easier for DSLR users to get a blurrier background than compact users. However, by thoroughly understanding how depth of field works, you can even get around this limitation on compact cameras and ensure that you’ll always get a blurred background when you want one on DSLRs.

Before you make the plunge

Flexibility is a double-edged sword. Thanks to the endless possibility of adding on to your DSLR system, they can quickly become a costly undertaking if you don’t keep your spending under control. Many photographers end up spending a lot more than the initial costs of the camera body by purchasing additional lenses, accessories, dry cabinets, bags (you’ll have many in the course of using your DSLR) to tote these monsters around.

Good luck with your camera, whichever you end up choosing in the end, and keep shooting!

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