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Do you need a DSLR?

oFlamingo 3,799 September 27, 2012 at 03:09 PM
So you have a camera phone and from time to time, you bring your 12-megapixel point and shoot digital camera that you got for $150 on Slickdeals. A couple of times a week though, you see these larger, professional-looking cameras called DSLR’s that everyone seems to go gaga about. So you’re curious - do you actually need a DSLR? Is the picture quality that important for you to invest hundreds if not thousands on this new toy? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about DSLRs.


Practical Difference between Point-and-Shoot and DSLRs

A point-and-shoot camera is the compact digital device that elementary schoolers now get as Christmas presents. It’s usually under an inch thick and has a large digital screen where you see the image you’re about to take. Point and shoots have one irreplaceable built-in lens and are generally smaller, lighter and more portable than DSLR’s.

“DSLR” stands for digital single-lens reflex (camera). These are the bigger, bulkier cameras that professional photographers and enthusiasts use. DSLRs have interchangeable lenses depending on your needs, which makes them very adaptable for different situations. This means that if you’re shooting close-ups, you can use a specific lens that will produce the best image for the situation. Likewise, if you’re shooting landscapes, you can switch to a wide-angle lens to capture the image in its entirety.

Technical difference between Compact and DSLRs

A regular compact camera uses two lenses to capture an image. One lens goes to the image recorder (either film or flash memory) while the other goes from the physical lens to the viewfinder. This duality works fine when shooting at mid-range distances (optimal range for the built-in lens), but once you want to capture an image close-up or in wide angle, the image you see on the viewfinder doesn’t accurately reflect what’s being captured.

With an “SLR” (single-lens reflex), there is a mirror and prism mechanism that allows a photographer to see the actual reflection of the image that’s about to be captured with only one lens. Up until 3 or 4 years ago, you had to look through a physical viewfinder to see the image you want to capture with a DSLR and then use digital screen only to preview the photo. Newer DSLRs now have the capability of showing you a preview of the image on the screen before taking the picture.

So...do you need a DSLR?

DSLRs are far more powerful than regular point-and-shoot compact cameras. If taking pictures were the same as computing, the point-and-shoot and DSLR difference is comparable to owning a tablet and a computer. A point-and-shoot will do fine if you’re taking pictures of people who pose for a camera and are always in brightly lit areas, but if you’re capturing movement, unpredictable emotions or milestones, we definitely recommend investing in a DSLR. Image quality is far more superior with an SLR than with a regular point and shoot. Vibration Reduction (VR)/Image Stabilization (IS) lenses produce sharper images due to reduced noise. Having interchangeable lenses lets you find the ideal kinds for specific situations, and the ability to add a flash, use a remote trigger and a number of professional accessories are just some of the DSLR benefits.

Going back to the computing analogy however, if you only need to get on the Internet to check Slickdeals and your email everyday, it makes more sense just to get a tablet than a computer. Bringing the analogy to photography, if you don’t particularly enjoy taking pictures, then maybe sticking with your camera phone is sufficient.

Before you buy...

If we’ve managed to convince you that you do in fact need a DSLR (and not all of you do), here are a few things to consider before making your first purchase:

Brand Consciousness

Unlike most point-and-shoot cameras, brand is actually very important when it comes to DSLRs. The best lenses are usually exclusive to the brand, so when you buy a Canon camera body, you are most likely going to get Canon lenses. The same goes with Nikon, Sony or Panasonic. There are a few brand-agnostic manufacturers (e.g. Sigma, Tamron) who provide the same types of lenses across brands, which may have a few gems in their lineups. Adapters are available to switch from one to the other, but most camera enthusiasts would warn you to stay away from them. The two largest and most popular brands of DSLRs are Canon and Nikon and though there’s a premium for the brand, the accessibility of deals and lenses for these two are worth the initial investment. For Slickdeals in particular, we’ve seen a number of Canon deals on our front page, usually 10-20% cheaper than Nikon ones, and considerably cheaper than Sony and Panasonic.


Recent Slickdeals on DSLR packages


Canon EOS Rebel T4i *Live*
18-135mm STM Lens
PIXMA Pro 9000 Mark II Photo Printer
32 GB memory card
$894 after $400 rebate

Canon EOS Rebel T3i
18-55mm Lens
PIXMA Pro 9000 Mark II Photo Printer
Gadget bag
Replacement battery
$624 after $400 rebate

Canon EOS Rebel T3
18-55mm Lens
EF 75-300mm Lens
EF-S 55-250mm Lens
PIXMA Pro 9000 Mark II Photo Printer
UV Filter
50-pack Photo Paper
$487 after $400 rebate

Nikon D3100
18-55mm VR Lens
$400

Lenses

The most important thing to remember here is that your shot will only be as good as your lens. Even the cheapest DSLR paired up with a good lens can produce images that will trounce a $5,000 camera with a mediocre lens on it. Quality lenses also keep their value should you ever decide that you are tired of swapping them (and get rid of the whole setup).

On the technical side, the Focal Length is a measure of distance where an image focuses. The magic number for camera lens focal length is 50mm. This is the distance where magnification is the same as that of normal vision’s. When a lens is less than 50mm, it’s considered a wide-angle lens and sees more than the eye can see. This would be ideal for landscapes and longshots. Lenses longer than 50mm are telephoto lenses, ideal for capturing close ups and focusing on specific targets.

Most camera starter kits come with an 18-55 lens and many brands have lineups that can complement the kit, such as the Canon 55-250mm or Nikkor 55-200mm as beginner zoom lens.


Recent Slickdeals on Lenses

Image from: http://one.nikonusa.com/V1.aspx

Canon EF 24-105mm $780
Canon EF-S 18-200mm $399
Canon EF-S 55-250mm $240

Accessories

You can buy your accessories as you build your collection, but the one thing you’ll need off the bat is a reliable camera case. It would be a shame to lose a $500 investment because of a $10 case. The neoprene covers are fine if you’re planning on keeping your camera within a sturdier bag, otherwise, it’s best to get a thick name-brand bag that will protect your camera and carry your lenses through events like picnics, graduations and hikes. An immediate second on the list would be a multi-coated UV filter to make images sharper and to protect the lens from dust and scratches.

Cheat Sheet

If you need a quick reference to the pros and cons of point and shoots vs. DSLR's, take a look at chart below:




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If you have ever wondered about anything on Slickdeals, please send a PM to oFlamingo with the subject line, “News & Articles”.

Community Wiki

57 Comments

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#2
I'm sure this little article will help many people. I would like to add a few points. When you are first buying a DSLR, you are buying into a family. I think it is very important for you to physically go and pick up the cameras you are considering. Ergonomics are different and a good starting point is which one feels better in your hands. Another thing to consider is what your friends shoot. Trying out new lenses is more fun when you can just borrow a friends.

Another thing that first time buyers don't understand is just buying a DSLR does not guarantee better pictures. Yes you can get really good pictures, but sometimes you have to understand exposure and technique to get great pictures.

I think mentioning "adapters" might really confuse people. Very few cameras can actually use lens adapters for another brand.

I am not a Pentax user, but the newer Pentax cameras are very highly rated and people should be aware of them.

Of course, ymmv...
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#3
Thanks for the input! I definitely agree with everything you said. One of the reasons I chose my Nikon was because I have more family and friends who shoot with one and I knew I could always buy, sell or trade lenses with them (haven't done so yet, but at least it's a possibility!)

And I definitely do agree with holding the camera first and getting a feel for the camera. It's almost like a golf clubs. One brand will just feel like it's weighted more evenly for you.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#4
I looked at sample pictures between the Nikon and Canon. The Canons always looked a bit brighter but the Nikons had overall better exposures, with less blown out details in brighter areas. The Compact system cameras are definitely something to consider. They are also known as Micro 4/3's. These cameras are pricey but they are smaller and more compact than a DSLR which is huge and bulky, like a professionals camera. I rarely took my DSlR with me because it as too heavy on a hike. Panasonic has a good one in the GX1.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#5
Yes, I do agree The Canons always looked a bit brighter but the Nikons had overall better exposures,
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#6
I understand the need to keep the article simple, but it really should mention bridge cameras. Many provide near-DSLR quality without the price tag, learning curve and hassle of lugging around a lot of DSLR gear. Plus, a bridge camera's manual settings can help a budding photographer learn technique while having auto settings as a fallback.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#7
DSLRs have more moving parts that wear out. The durability of those is listed in the specs and figures into the cost of ownership (if the camera will get lots of use). Repairs are expensive.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#8
90% of people buying SLRs have no business buying these cameras. They are not professionals, they do not even know how to use anything other than auto mode, which defeats the purpose.

These cameras are big, bulky, not practical to carry around, and no one wants to be farking with shutter speeds and aperture when taking a birthday picture.

Do yourself and your wallet a favor buy buying a regular camera.

I just hate the average slugs who buy these cameras and think they're hot shit for owning one because they were told its "the best" when realistically they don't know wtf they're doing and have no business owning one.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#9
It all depends how big you want the printouts to be.

Most people considering to buy a DSLR should really buy a $350-$500 12MP micro four-thirds mirrorless camera. Its sensor is nearly as big as a 1.6x crop DSLR. Even with lenses, it's very lightweight. The money saved can be put towards better lenses. If you budget 2x on lenses as you did for the camera you will likely be satisfied.

If you have $5000 burning a hole in your pocket, by all means, buy a ~$2000 Canon 5D or Nikon D600 full-frame and $3000 in lenses in accessories. Add $2000 if you want to be a bird or sports photographer.

If spending $10000 on Canon/Nikon and lenses would make you the lesser of your trust fund baby peers, by all means, buy a $6000 Leica full-frame and lenses.

If you have $100000, buy a Hasselblad medium-format and lenses.

If you have more money than that, just hire a photographer to accompany you on all of your vacations.

No problem.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#10
Great article, but I just want to put one point of emphasis on portability. I have owned several SLR over the years, but found myself constantly protecting my investments instead of enjoying the moments that I should have been a part of. I am much older, and I can tell you from experience I have had far more fun breaking my point and shoot camera or giving them away to my kids/grandchildren, than I ever did with my $3,000 Leica at maybe 10% of the cost. Unless you need an professional quality photographs, most quality point and shoots will provide 95% of consumers with the memories that are needed to warm your heart in the future.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#11
Quote from suslick View Post :
Yes, I do agree The Canons always looked a bit brighter but the Nikons had overall better exposures,

Another big point is to use a color correcting software. One of the big sellers for these cameras is the control - a.k.a raw mode. I think most of these things can be corrected in such software.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#12
i think this article is helpful, albeit necessarily oversimplified.

simply put, if somebody is reading this article in order to figure out if they need a DSLR, then they don't. Smilie hopefully it will just convince a bunch of folks not to buy one. of course, this is just my humble opinion.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#13
this article is very helpful for me
nice job
thank u...!!!
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#14
It's a good introductory article, but what most responses fail to point out is that the "needs" of the person is really what determines the type of camera they need. Sure, mirror-less cameras offer another option for the consumer but it is not for everyone. Image quality may be on par with a DSLR, but only in situations with good lighting and that don't require a fast shutter, like landscapes. But the sensor is too small to really be useful in say, low-light situations. Price isn't a factor anymore because a mirror-less can cost just as much if not more than a entry-level DSLR like the Nikon D3100 or Canon T3i. Someone mentioned the Panasonic GX1, which was about $700+ when released. Lens are also limited in selection and just as pricey as DSLR.

For someone that is brand new into DSLR, I think the only factor that will really matter is the size/weight of it. Most likely, they will not be investing in high end lenses or even take full advantage of the camera. But considering the price of a high end point-and-shoot vs. mirror-less vs. entry-level DSLR, only main difference for someone considering their first DSLR is portability and size/weight.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
#15
+1 to BargainBob's comment. Most people can't handle their DSLR and should just get a P&S or a mirrorless. I spent a year getting proficient with mine. Also there are a ton of hidden costs after the actual camera. I spent 150% more on lighting gear than the camera kit itself and another 200% on lenses.
Reply Helpful Comment? 0 0
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