How Do I Know When To Switch To A DSLR Camera? :: Digital Photo Secrets

How Do I Know When To Switch To A DSLR Camera?

by David Peterson 14 comments

So you've had a cheap Point-and-Shoot camera for ages and are looking to upgrade. But should you go with another Point and Shoot (because, they are easy to use and don't have any complicated features), or should you get a more expensive, but also more capable, DSLR camera?

Digital SLR cameras offer a lot of extra features that simply aren’t available on a standard digital point and shoot camera. When you purchase a digital SLR, you gain more control over the lens, a faster picture taking rate, better automatic and manual focus modes, and a bunch of smaller features that you don’t realize are important until you start relying on them every day. Having said this, many people own a camera that’s too powerful for their needs. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to know why you’re upgrading your camera before you decide to spend more money.

Always Have A Specific Photo In Mind

I have one rule when it comes to buying new camera equipment. Always have a specific photo you want to take in mind. What do I mean by this? Think of a picture you want to take, and if you can’t take that picture with your current camera setup, buy all of things you need to buy in order to be able to take that picture. Back when I decided I needed to switch to a digital SLR camera, I was getting frustrated with my point and shoot’s slow responsiveness in taking action shots. I wanted something that would take a continual stream of action shots for a longer period of time. In order to get a faster picture taking rate, I had to upgrade to a digital SLR.

Certain shots simply aren’t possible without a digital SLR camera. Most point and shoot cameras don’t allow you to switch out the lens (or force you to use less optimal conversion lenses), and this can become a huge limiting factor. When you are stuck with the relatively small in-house lens on your point and shoot, you lose a good portion of the zoom range and quite a few of your aperture options. A digital SLR camera will allow you to switch out the lens so you can zoom in further and open the aperture more.

There are other advantages of a DSLR camera that aren't as easy to produce on a Point and Shoot. For example:

Subject is in focus with a blurred out background

I am sure you have seen these kinds of pictures before, wondering how to get them. Have you ever seen a portrait picture with a very crisp and clear face in front of an out-of-focus background? These kinds of portraits are great because they always isolate the subject and never distract. Unfortunately, they are only possible when you have a digital SLR camera. To get this shot, you need a lens with a very large aperture (small F-number of F5 or lower). The kinds of lenses with bigger apertures are only available on digital SLR cameras. You need to upgrade in order to use them.

Telephoto shots

If you want a bigger zoom range, you’re going to have to get a digital SLR. The lens that comes with most point and shoot cameras usually doesn’t allow you to zoom in past 2x magnification. The manufacturers know this and market a digital zoom of 8x or greater. However, as a follower of my tips, you already know that you should not use the digital zoom. There are telephoto lenses for digital SLRs that allow you to zoom in much further. On top of that, you get wider apertures for better close-up portraits with these lenses.

Action sequence shots

Yet another example. When you make the move up to a digital SLR, you also get a faster continuous photo fire rate. Many point and shoot cameras top out at about 2 pictures per second. When you get a digital SLR, you can take pictures anywhere from 3 to 10 frames per second. Just frame the shot, hold the shutter down, and keep ‘em coming. It's great to be able to take a sequence of photos, and just keep the best one.

Digital SLR cameras are considerably better than their point and shoot counterparts, but they are only better for certain kinds of pictures. If you don’t foresee the need for a greater zoom range, wide-open aperture shots with blurred out backgrounds, or a fast photo taking ability, you probably won't need to upgrade.

You may also want to consider the following. One of the biggest advantages of using a point and shoot is its portability. You can put it in your pocket and take photos anywhere. When you get a digital SLR, the amount of camera equipment you carry starts to get out of hand before you realize it. If you don’t like the idea of carrying more camera gear everywhere you go, a digital SLR might not be the best camera choice for you.

As soon as you get the feeling that more of the shots you want are out of your reach than within it, it’s a good time to consider purchasing a digital SLR. Do all of your research and be 100% certain that the problem lies with the camera, and not with the photographer, before you put your money down on a nice setup. If you do decide to get a new camera, enjoy it! Even the most basic digital SLR is much more of a pleasure to use than most point and shoot models.

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  1. Tobie says:

    Nice topic, David! Bought my first DSLR 2 months ago for one reason: the higher possibility of taking good quality low light shots with or without flash. I just want to add that "Subject is in focus with a blurred out background" is not a reason for going DSLR - you can get the same result by zooming in on a subject. I have taken excellent blurred-background pics with my Canon Powershot S5, simply by using the zoom features! Enjoying your articles - let me go and look for more topics! :)

  2. Mark says:

    If you are thinking about any serious photographing you should get a DSLR, being able to change lenses depending on the application is the most important advantage together with high ISO performance and fast auto focus.

  3. Mark says:

    I do agree when i was looking for another camera recently, being an owner of a couple older SLR Film Cameras and old Fujica with standard and 135 mm lens, a Canon EOS 5 with standard auto focus, Manual Focus Lens, but the budget probably only would of bought me a Canon EOS 1000D, i looked at SLR like Point and Shoot cameras with the versatility of Manual Settings and 24 times zoom IE 624mm lens equivalent or there abouts. I decided to buy a KODAK z980 although the image quality not as good as some of the more Popular DSLR's with the option of Manual Settings, Many Scene Modes, Pop out Flash or External Flash ( I Use the old Flash from My Film Cameras, so now i have the 1cm Macro, Yes have the ability to shoot in RAW Mode with a RAW Develop Feature built in to the camera, and basic editing of JPG

    My Next Camera will have to be a DSLR I don't think i can get much closer to using a DSLR Now

    I do still wish i had gone for the 1000D. but when i am walking with my camera in hand and i see a colourful bird up 20 feet in a tree, or a bee collecting pollen from a beautiful flower, i know i don't have change lenses or get closer to the subject i can shoot most of the time from where i am standing with the flick of the dial or the push of a button i usually shoot in RAW with Aperture Priority or fully manual mode most of the time anyway

    Don't Get me wrong I would love to own a DSLR with all the Lenses
    but being on a low income i just simply Can't Afford it, so i had to settle for the Z980 it is a same the camera is spoiled a little by the image quality, i can still get reasonably sharp images, up to 1600 ISO in RAW mode and 6400 ISO at 3 Mega pixels ( Not recommended Though) some of the noise at 1600 Can be removed but image quality is reduced more

    These are all the things i considered when i upgraded my Camera

  4. Andrew says:

    Sheila - Yes you can use those. Antonio is wrong when saying no. EF lenses will be compatible as Dave has just said, and if you are going to go for a 550D (which I think would logically be a good choice for you) then even all the EFS lenses will work too. There is absolutely nothing wrong with EFS lenses other than they don't work on full frame (ie high end pro models), and I have just spent $900 on an EFS lens as it offered me exactly what I am after with my Canon 50D and I have no intention of going up to a pro body any time soon.

    Also remember that 100-300mm lens will behave more like a 160mm-480mm due to the 1.6x crop factor on the 550D. It is not really those focal lengths as it is "cropped" smaller to look zoomed in, but you must remember about it when at the shortest focal length of 100mm as you will not fit as much in your frame as you did on your film body. Or you can take a few extra steps backwards....

  5. dave says:

    Antonio J S Soares,

    That's not entirely correct. Those lenses are compatible.

    Because Sheila is using a film camera, then those are EF lenses. EF lenses can be used with all Canon DSLR.

    Its the EFS lenses that's you need to look out for. If you want to know if its EFS or EF, just look for the dot on the lens. A white dot is EFS, and red dot is EF.

    Here's a summary.
    EFS lenses can be used only with 1.6 Crop Factor Canon DSLR.
    EF lenses (red dot) can be used on all Canon DSLR.

  6. amotta says:

    i have happily moved from a D40X to a D2X. My pictures improved literally from one day to the next. Depth of field, contrast, bigger F stops, seven shots per second, to name a few. My suggestion is to read the manual, take lots of pictures and get as many opinions as possible. dont be afraid to learn new things. And ask questions.

  7. Antonio J S Soares says:

    Answering Sheila Jackson question about her Canon SLR lenses work perfectly well with the the body of a new Canon DSLR.
    That is not true!!!
    Read and search more about this matter and you will see that your SLR lenses are not compatible with DLSR bodies.

  8. Harry Matthews says:

    The most important reason I moved to a dSLR (a Canon 450D for some years and now a Canon 5d Mk 2) was the larger image sensor. That gives images with less noise, greater dynamic range with the RAW files, higher useful ISO settings, and more cropping options. Portability is a big negative issue, but I woudn't go back.

    Another comment: you can use your dSLR in program mode and it is just as automatic as a P&S. A good way to get started with the dSLR -- try comparing the camera's choice of settings with your own.

  9. Sheila Jackson says:

    I'm a total amateur desperate to improve. I have a Canon Digital IXUS 86- IS and find it very complicated. I enjoy macro and portraiture and have had some great successes but sometimes, for no reason that I'm aware of, my pics are a disappointment. I also have a Canon EOS 30 Elan 7E SLR with an EF Image Stabiliser lens and a zoom lens EF 100 - 300mm bought some years ago and hardly used. I'd now like to move to a Canon DSLR and am told that my Canon SLR lenses will work perfectly well with the the body of a new Canon DSLR. Is this correct and can anyone please suggest a Canon DSLR that won't blind me with science while at my current level and that I won't feel the need to change for a 'better' model a year from now when i hopefully have a better understanding. A Canon 550 has been suggested but I'd be grateful for other suggestions. Thanks.

  10. Lori Mackay says:

    Another option is a high-end point and shoot camera. I moved from having a tiny little point and shoot to a more advanced one, then finally to the one I have now. It has 14.3x Optical Zoom, can get those blurred background shots with manual settings that go down to F2.8 (though I admit there are some circumstances it would be much easier to do this with a specific SLR lens. I can only get three frames per second with mine, which suits me, but if I want more I can always sacrifice some image quality to crank it up to 7fps - something I've never chosen to do so far, but that I would do for snapshots of my pets etc - things I don't want to print and sell. However, I do think that my skill set has increased a lot because of the ways I've had to stretch myself to try to get a shot with point-and-shoot gear.

    Having said that, I would love to move up to a dSLR. This has been my story so far - upgrading cameras every year or two as my skill set has outgrown the capabilities of my former camera. It's time.

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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+.