This week’s Ask David question comes from Ernie Everest. He’s an avid photographer looking to upgrade his point-and-shoot setup to something with a little more power. He wonders why people purchase digital SLRs when there are a lot of cheaper and lighter solutions.
See the image above? Notice how the background and foreground are blurred out. To get this effect, you need to use a very big aperture, something you just can’t do with a point-and-shoot or “bridge camera.' If you don't know, a 'bridge camera' is a camera inbetween a Point and Shoot camera and a full DSLR.
“A good bridge camera seems to me to possess all the characteristics of an SLR with several lenses, and is a lot cheaper, no to mention lighter. However, most opt for the SLR. What am I missing?”
A few things. With a digital SLR you get a faster frame capture rate for continuous shooting, a more accurate viewfinder that allows you to see through the lens itself, the ability to switch from automatic to manual focus, zoom and wide angle lenses that surpass a bridge camera’s ability to zoom in or out, and less shutter delay so you can capture the image the second you press the shutter button.
Digital SLRs, in my experience, have an overall professional feel to them that’s quite different from any point-and-shoot you’ve used. It’s difficult to quantify exactly what it is, but I think it amounts to an increased responsiveness to everything you do. Digital SLRs “boot up” faster, so you don’t have to wait for the camera to get ready every time you turn it on. And, because the frame capture rate is much faster, you feel more like the camera is in sync with what you want to do.
The component quality is generally better with a full DSLR camera too, which you pay for with the higher price.
Regarding your point about lenses, I don’t think a good bridge camera will ever possess the same zoom capabilities as a consumer-end digital SLR. That’s because you can only fit so much of the zoom range into such a tiny space without sacrificing some of the things that can truly make an image stand out.
In this case, I’m talking about aperture. With a digital SLR, you can get larger apertures like F4, something that really comes in handy when you’re taking portraits. Most bridge cameras stop somewhere around F5.6, which isn’t bad. It’s just not great. It isn’t enough to blur out a good portion of the background, an effect that can make someone’s face stand out a lot more, creating good contrast in the image. (For a detailed runthrough of how Aperture influences what's in focus of your image, see my Depth Of Field Secrets course.)
A digital SLR may or may not be the camera for you. It all depends on what you want to do. Most people do end up purchasing more camera than they need, but a camera’s overall build quality, and the feeling you get when you use it, do amount to something that’s not insignificant. Responsiveness is one of the most overlooked features of higher end cameras.
At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself if you can still get the shot with a bridge camera. When you go by that criterion, the answer is likely to be yes. As long as you aren’t taking long action sequences, getting portraits with the background blurred out, or zooming across the ocean to catch a surfer catching a wave, you should be okay.
But if you’ve got the money, and responsiveness / professional feel are important to you, by all means get a digital SLR. You’ll definitely notice the difference.
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