If you’re just getting into the world of photography and looking to upgrade from your cell phone camera to a “real” dedicated camera, one of the first questions you’ll be hit with is whether a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR is your best choice.
Now if you’ve never shopped for cameras before, you’ll quickly notice that DSLR cameras tend to cost more than point-and-shoot models. There are high-end point and shoots that cost more than basic DSLRs, just as there are entry-level DSLRs that can be had for less than the cost of top-of-the-line point and shoots; nonetheless, these are the extremes. For similar specs, you’d usually pay more for a DSLR.
The big differences between DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras
There are some obvious differences between the two styles of camera, mostly relating to the amount of control you’ll have. With a decent DSLR, you can control the ISO, the shutter speed, the aperture and more. In addition, you have the option to purchase different lenses and filters, giving even more flexibility.
There’s a tradeoff for that extra flexibility, of course. A DSLR will generally be quite a bit bulkier than a typical point-and-shoot, so it might not be the best choice to carry around all day. Taking advantage of the extra settings involves a learning curve, too. And those extra lenses and accessories add a level of inconvenience—if you plan to take them with you (and they won’t do you much good if you don’t), you’ll need a bag.
What about the photos?
Getting past the obvious differences in size and functionality, there are the less-apparent differences that impact the quality of the images. You’ll notice the biggest difference in the color and sharpness of your photos.
Honestly, you can get great shots with either type of camera. More often than not, it is your skill as a photographer that determines how good your photos will be. Also, both styles of the camera have seen vast technological improvements over the last several years. A modern, decent quality, point-and-shoot camera is likely to have better specs than a good consumer-level DSLR from 10 years ago.
The first spec that most consumers will look at when comparing cameras is the number of megapixels. This number often gets more emphasis than it deserves—super-high megapixel counts will really only be noticeable if you need really large prints or want to zoom in on a small section of a photo. Even a decent smartphone camera has more than enough megapixels for viewing on your phone, laptop monitor, or even your TV screen.
Still, more megapixels mean more detail, and more detail means that you can enlarge your photos much more before you start to notice a loss in quality. And with these two cameras, you might be surprised that the lower-priced PowerShot has a slightly higher megapixel count at 20.2, compared to the EOS Rebel T6’s 18. Either would be plenty for the average consumer, and this specification in-and-of-itself doesn’t make a noticeable difference in image sharpness.
This number tells you how sensitive to light your camera’s sensor is. If you’ve been around long enough to have experience with film cameras, this number was often referred to as “film speed.” A higher ISO/higher “speed” means that you can shoot in lower light.
There is a tradeoff, of course. Shooting with a higher ISO tends to produce grainier photos, everything else being equal.
Here, the T6 has a clear advantage, although both cameras have enough range for most types of photography. The SX620 can be adjusted in a range of 80-3200 ISO, while the T6’s range is 100-6400.
The camera’s sensor is where the difference becomes noticeable. While most newbie photographers concern themselves most with megapixels, it’s the size of the image sensor that makes the biggest difference in the quality of your photos.
With a 28 mm2 sensor, the PowerShot can capture some very impressive images. Still, it has less than a tenth the area of the EOS’s 332 mm2 sensors. That extra area is what makes the most difference in the sharpness and overall quality of the images.
Why the sensor matters
The sensor is the digital equivalent of film. It is the part of the camera that detects light and digitizes it, to create the final photograph. To your camera, light is information, and the more information it can pick up, the more detail there is in your photos.
The larger sensor is, in fact, the reason for the Rebel T6’s higher ISO range. Because it can capture more of the available light, it can perform much better in low-light situations than the PowerShot SX620. Additionally, when using the same ISO setting, images captured with the T6 will have less noise than those from the PowerShot. Again this is due to its ability to take in more information in each shot.
What about the lens?
It’s not just the sensor that affects sharpness, of course. The lens makes a big difference too. A large part of point-and-shoot cameras’ convenience is that there’s only one lens, and it’s built in. That means you don’t need to worry about which lens to use for which situation, but it also means that the lens is another limiting factor to image quality.
DSLRs like the Rebel T6 have no such limitation. While many entry-level models are sold with a lens that’s good for a wide variety of situations—we have an EOS Rebel package that includes both a wide-angle and a telephoto lens—all of them have the option of using different lenses for different shots. That means that not only can you select the best lens for the scene you’re shooting, you also have a lot of choice in terms of quality. You can match the lens to the shot, to your budget, and to the quality required for your specific needs.
On the other hand, good quality point-and-shoot cameras like the PowerShot have a high-quality lens built in. For most amateur photographers, that lens is versatile enough to get great shots in the majority of situations. The SX620 has a great zoom lens that’s capable of getting beautifully sharp photos with up to 25x optical zoom.
Depth of field
When you think of an image’s sharpness, generally you’re imagining the picture as a whole. However, often a photographer wants the subject of the photo to stand out against its background. A very common way to do this is by having the subject in sharp focus with the background blurred.
When we discuss the depth of field, this is what we are referencing. In simple terms, it is the “depth” of focus. A shallow depth of field implies that the foreground is in focus while the background is not.
To play with the image’s sharpness this way requires the ability to adjust the camera’s aperture. This refers to the opening in the lens that determines how much light gets through. A wider aperture allows more light while reducing the depth of field.
Most point-and-shoot cameras have limited aperture adjustment and are intended to keep as much of the shot in focus as possible. With DSLRs, the amount of adjustment is determined by the lens, and with many options available it is possible to get that very shallow depth of field.
Color – DSLRs and Point-and-Shoot cameras
Knowing that a DSLR’s larger sensor produces sharper images, the next aspect of image quality that most people wonder about is color reproduction. Once again, it is generally the case that a DSLR is superior here. The size of the sensor does have an impact on color as well—remember that a larger sensor takes in more information, and that includes color (although how is a bit more complicated).
There’s another reason that DSLRs are capable of better color reproduction, and that’s how the photos are compressed. You see, when your camera captures an image, its internal computer does a fair amount of processing. The image you see isn’t necessarily what you were looking at in the real world.
Usually, this is a good thing, particularly if you just want a quick snapshot. The camera attempts to balance the color to produce what it thinks will look good to the human eye. This is what happens with most every point-and-shoot camera, and in most cases the results are great.
Most DSLRs are able to use a file format called RAW that records all of the information that the camera’s sensor captures. There is no compression happening at all. While formats like JPEG compress the file, eliminating some of the data that the camera “thinks” is not-so-important, with RAW nothing is eliminated. This can be good or bad, depending on your needs, but it will usually mean that you need to do some image processing yourself.
Since all of the information is there in the RAW file, you can correct the exposure and white balance yourself. With good image processing software and a little skill, you can get better image quality overall, and you’re not beholden to the camera’s processing choices.
Whether you decide a DSLR is your best choice or a point-and-shoot is best for your needs, it’s hard to go wrong with either Canon camera we’ve highlighted. We have some great package deals for both the PowerShot SX620 HS and the T6 EOS Rebel—either is a great choice, and both come with everything you need to get started.