Differences between P&S and the various SLR model cameras :: Digital Photo Secrets

Differences between P&S and the various SLR model cameras

by David Peterson 7 comments

There are more than a dozen ways to upgrade your camera setup. If you’ve just started, and you own a point-and-shoot model, you might want to step it up to an entry level SLR. Some of you with entry SLRs might wonder what a pro model can do for you. That’s why I’ve decided to put all of this information in one place so you know exactly what you’re getting when you upgrade. Maybe it’s a good idea right now. Maybe it’s not. After reading this guide, you’ll know for sure.

By the way, the image above is of the awesome Nikon D3X. One of the most expensive camera bodies available to the ordinary consumer.

Point-And-Shoot Cameras

Everyone starts with a point-and-shoot camera. It’s the bread and butter of photography. Interestingly, the point-and-shoot camera covers a fairly wide range of the camera market in general. We’re talking about the lowest quality model on up to something that can compete fairly well with most entry level SLRs. No two point-and-shoot models are alike.

The Canon Powershot S95 is a powerhouse point-and-shoot camera.

At the lowest end of the chain, you’ll find point-and-shoot models with a very limited feature set. With those sorts of cameras, you can usually shoot in automatic and the pre-programmed scene modes (think sports mode, sunny day mode, macro mode, indoor mode, etc.). While this isn’t bad for people who want something very low cost, it’s difficult to get pictures exactly the way you want them.

The more expensive P&S cameras have more and more features. Some rival a digital SLR. In most cases, the only thing missing is the ability to remove the lens. You get full access to programmed automatic mode, aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, and of course manual mode. Each of these modes is essential for creating precise and technically correct images.

Here’s a quick description of what these modes do and why they’re so useful:

  • Programmed Automatic Mode. Exactly the same as automatic mode, except you get to tell the camera whether you want the picture to be a bit brighter or darker (also called “exposure compensation”).
  • Shutter Priority Mode. You tell your camera which shutter speed to use, and it automatically picks a good aperture setting. Ideal for sports photography
  • Aperture Priority Mode. A great way to get into the habit of picking the aperture first. It determines everything in the photo. Your camera then picks the shutter speed, and you’re good to go.
  • Manual Mode. The ultimate in pro photography. This mode allows you to control everything in the shot from shutter speed to aperture and ISO speed.

Entry-level Digital SLR Cameras

Removeable Lenses. The big distinguishing feature of any SLR camera is the ability to remove the lens and use any lens of your choosing. This is helpful in a lot of ways. You can pick lenses that are ideal for one shooting situation or another. A good example is macro photography. It’s nice to have a lens that gets a lot of magnification. Yes, you can get adaptors for your point-and-shoot lens, but they often distort your images slightly. It’s better to have a lens designed for one specific purpose.

With an entry-level digital SLR, you can get lenses that zoom in or out much better than point-and-shoot models. You’ll notice this as soon as you get your first telephoto lens. It’s like night and day. Suddenly you feel like you’ve got eagle eyes.

Better apertures mean better portraits

Another limitation of point-and-shoot lenses is the aperture. A higher-end point-and-shoot camera might have a decent lens with a sizable aperture, but the lower end ones definitely do not. What does a better aperture give you? In short, it’s an excellent tool for getting great looking portraits. Using your aperture at its widest setting (F4 or F5.6 on most entry-level SLRs), you can isolate your subject from the background, creating crisp and clear portraits like this one.

A lens with a better aperture allows you to draw attention to your subject’s face.

Through the lens viewfinder. Point-and-shoot models usually only allow you to frame and view your images from the LCD on the back. This is sometimes an issue when you want to cut down on the vibrations that can cause blurring at low shutter speeds. When you look through the viewfinder, what you see is what you get. It tends to help out with composition quite a bit. Newer DSLR cameras can also show the image on the LCD prior to you taking it, but until now that has not been a feature of DSLRs.

Better continuous fire mode. There’s one more nice thing about your average entry level SLR. Continuous-fire mode is a lot better. You may or may not have used continuous fire mode. It’s a setting (even on point-and-shoot cameras) that allows you to keep taking one photo after another in a sequence. With point-and-shoot cameras, you can usually take around 1.5 photos in a second. Once you’ve got an entry-level SLR, that number goes up to 3 photos a second. Huge difference.

In fact, I would argue that the last feature is the most important reason anyone should upgrade to a digital SLR. When you have a lot of photos to choose from, the likelihood of getting a good one goes up dramatically. I always keep my camera on continuous fire mode because it’s the best way to never miss a shot. If you can do it, why not?

Mid-Range Digital SLR Cameras

At the mid-range, you’ll see a lot more improvements on the basic digital SLR stats. This means faster continuous fire mode (up to 7 frames a second in some cases), better autofocusing, faster image processing, better light metering, more megapixels, and a sturdier more weather resistant construction. Let’s have a closer look at why each of these is important.

The Nikon D7000 is an excellent mid-range camera,
and arguably one of the best pro cameras on the market as well.

Better Autofocusing. On a mid-range digital SLR, you can autofocus faster and more precisely. Autofocus is built on a grid that sense differences in distance. This grid is a bit more complex on a mid-range SLR.

Faster Image Processing. This is a practical necessity when you’ve got a camera that can pump out images at seven frames per second. Most mid-range digital SLRs have a bigger image buffer too. The image buffer stores all the photos before transferring them to a memory card after processing. When both are fast, you can take a lot more pictures in less time.

Better Light Metering. This won’t help you one bit when you’re taking pictures in manual mode, but it does give you better results in the automatic modes. That’s one of the nice things about upgrading to better digital SLRs in general. Automatic modes get a lot more accurate.

More Megapixels. You probably don’t need them, but the resolution is nice to have should you ever decide to print your images in a larger format. That’s why some of these mid-range cameras are called pro-sumer models. Pros are the only people who really need this sort of thing. They’re the ones doing most of the big prints.

Sturdier Construction. When you grab a mid-range digital SLR, it just feels sturdier in your hands. More of the parts are built from metal alloys, not plastic. There is better weather sealing too. So you’re really getting a camera that will last a lot longer in harsher conditions.

Pro Digital SLR Cameras

Once you get to the pro level, you’re basically buying a camera that is designed for continued everyday use at a high level. What separates a pro digital SLR from everything else isn’t the extra large sensor or the faster frame rate. It’s the customizable controls. It’s just a lot easier for you, as a pro photographer, to switch between different shooting modes of your choosing. Everything is accessible as a button on the outside. While this might seem so important, it’s huge when you need to switch settings quickly.

A lot of pro photographers have multiple cameras with different settings on them. They devote each camera to one kind of shot. With a pro model, you can customize your shots so quickly that you don’t need to carry an extra camera. Pro digital SLRs are built for power users who aren’t afraid to learn a little more to make their photography workflow much more efficient. That’s what you’re really getting for your money.

If you are taking photos every day, and it’s your job, you’ll appreciate the difference between an entry level SLR and a professional grade SLR. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid the extra cost until you get the most out of a basic setup. A camera is only as good as the lens on it too. If you aren’t willing to fork out the money for a nice lens, you better hold off on the pro grade camera body.

Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. John James says:

    Also worth mentioning is the importance of the ability to shoot in a RAW format. This is very important if you are planning on post-processing. It just gives you so much more to work with.

  2. Lyn says:

    What I mss in this article is "crop sensor" or "full frame". My experience is that a full frame camera gives very sharp photos and the crop sensor are "nearly there". Sorry for all the crop sensors.

  3. David Peterson says:


    If you are just starting, go for a Point and Shoot or Bridge camera rather than straight to a DSLR.


  4. saurabh swami says:

    I have just started to use digital camera. I shouldgo for SLR or dslr but in low budget??.
    Please tell , any advice would be greatly appreciated....

  5. Sheila says:

    HI I need help!
    I have my first DSLR and do tons of nature photography also shoot animals in kennels etc...rarely able to use a tripod, so i need a telephoto/zoom lens, at a low price, money is tough :( . can anyone recommend a lens that I will get great clarity/sharpness without a tripod on shots such as action birds or even landscape? obviously I need one with Image stabilizer, but dont want to get ripped off. any advice is greatly appreciated. I have a Canon EOS Rebel xs with a kit lens

  6. John Leslie says:

    Hello again David its been a long time since I Last replied to any of your posts,there is one thing you did not mention about Pro Level D SLRs & that is the EXTRA WEIGHT involved,a Pro Level Camera plus a 24-8o F2.8 Lenes and a Dedicated Flah weigh something like 4-5kg and thats only a basic kit,a mid range DSLR weighs mabe 750grms a Pro camera about 1350grms quite a diference if your out all day,I can testify to that because I currently own Konica Minolta Dynax 7D withs a 28-105mm a 100-300mm a 105,,Macro and the 5600HSD Flash plus a selection of filters flash cables etc etc all in one canera bag plus I have the Nikon D2SX camera 24-70 f2.8 70-200 f2,8 80-400f4 and the SB800&SB900 flashes the weight differce is huge as a serious amature I consider these pretty basic kits,but as ive said the weight diference is HUGE to Lug around all day

  7. Matt says:

    Why do you say that with an entry level DSLR you get a lense that zooms in and out better than a P+S camera. I use a the latter camera and i don't have a any real problems with zoom. I would thought I had more versatility and the macro takes some beating. I would love to upgrade to a DSLR, when I'm financially to, but I'm still not thoroughly convinced as to why as I should

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.