Purchasing a new camera? 9 points to consider…

01 Mar

With the festival of Holi right around the corner, there might be some people looking to buy a new camera. Even without the “season” or “reason”, sometimes, we get a new one anyway…

There is always the hope that a more modern camera might deliver better results. Quite a few of us buy an expensive DSLR hoping that this would increase the quality of the photographs. After all, a DSLR is way more expensive than a Point & Shoot and has to be better.

Well, the answer is a “yes” and “no”. The only point that is completely correct is that a DSLR is expensive and will continue to add to the expense to get anywhere close to the range of even a mid-range P&S camera.

A better understanding of the use, pros and cons of both will go a long way in making a better informed purchase decision. This is what we will look at first.

Hype & Jargon

Just like DSLRs, P&S cameras are also surrounded by marketing jargon and hype. Let’s clarify some of these and see how they actually impact our decision regarding a digital camera.

The first thing to keep in mind is that all “measurements” in the digital camera world are based on the legacy 35mm film format. This is where the terms like “full frame” and “cropped sensor” come from.

The focal length of a lens is also specified in terms of the same 35mm standard, or, a full frame digital camera. To arrive at the effective focal length of a lens, it has to be multiplied by the crop factor of the sensor in a given camera. Canon uses a crop factor of 1.6 and Nikon uses 1.5 for their entry-level DSLR sensors. These are also known as APS-C sensors.

The size of the sensor in the camera also comes into play when computing the DoF (Depth of Field) besides the focal length of a lens. There are quite a few related concepts and terms that would have to be understood to get a better idea of how digital cameras and lenses work. This understanding is critical to achieve better results.

One of the most common terms thrown around is “Zoom” in the P&S category. The “Zoom” is nothing more than the ratio of the longest to the shortest focal length of the lens. A 100-400mm lens would have a “zoom” factor of 4, but, it offers far more reach (generally perceived as zoom) than a 18-140mm lens which has a zoom factor of 7.78. There is also a magnification factor as well as a closest focussing distance, which, we will get into later.

Another frequent term in both categories is “MP” or “MegaPixel” count. When considering the “MP”, take into account the fact that the HD video and “Full HD TVs” are around the 2 MP mark. So, where are you actually going to see a 8 or 12 MP photo in full resolution? A 14 MP sensor would capture approximately 4500×3000 pixels depending on the format. Compare this with a full HD resolution monitor, or TV, which has 1920×1080 pixels.

Which is better for you?

Attempting to use a DSLR in auto mode and hoping for better results is wishful thinking at best. If most of the above did not make complete sense, then, look at a P&S camera. If you are prepared to spend a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, then, you might want to consider a DSLR.

Another major factor to consider is the typical use of the photos. Let’s face it, most of us will probably never print a photograph. Even if we do, it would probably not exceed a 4×6 to a 8×10 inch print. A vast majority of the photos would probably be viewed on the web (Facebook etc) or a computer screen and not even be archived.

Since the intent of this post is to figure out the differences between P&S and DSLRs for general use, let us consider a few basic points.

  1. One of the main reasons for blurry shots (not sharp) is camera shake and/or subject movement. P&S cameras have the benefit of a fixed lens and some kind of image stabilisation. The pop-up flash, although not the best solution, is generally adequate for most purposes. A secondary factor is the exposure triangle (ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed) as well as the focus point coupled with the DoF. Most P&S cameras will fare far better than DSLRs here as well (primarily ’cause of the same points as earlier, fixed lens and smaller sensor).
  2. P&S cameras, in general, are not prone to dust on the sensor, viewfinder or mirror. This means cleaner shots with no maintenance. The live view in almost all P&S cameras works as expected unlike some DSLR models.
  3. It can be extremely costly trying to match the fixed lens range on a mid to high level P&S camera on a DSLR. For example, the “30-40x zoom” P&S cameras will have a general reach of a wide-angle lens to a 700-1200mm equivalent focal length or more. Trying to get a decent 400mm-600mm lens for a DSLR would cost around $1500-$2000 US. This amount would increase with the quality and reach of the lens.
  4. The smaller sensor on the P&S cameras has a larger DoF (Depth of Field) at small apertures. This keeps a far greater area of the subject in focus and is great for Macro and Close-Ups. Most of the better P&S have a close focussing macro mode built-in. To achieve similar results on a DSLR, the lens would cost more than the P&S itself.
  5. Changing lens and getting dust inside the camera is part of life with the DSLR. It is cumbersome and requires cleaning at times. Some people purchase an expensive zoom lens for their DSLRs to avoid changing lens. This defeats the very purpose of a DSLR. A P&S with fixed lens has no such issues.
  6. Carrying a DSLR along with lens and perhaps some other gear is no comparison with carrying around even a high-end P&S. If you cannot take your gear around easily, there is no valid reason for getting a DSLR.
  7. Like the changeable lens, all DSLRs have the ability to save images in a raw format. This also implies that you would land up spending some time and effort in post-processing (PP) all your shots. Just like changeable lens, unless you are shooting in raw format, you would lose some of the advantage a DSLR offers. Some P&S cameras do offer this ability as well.
  8. P&S cameras offer features geared towards a more general use and social sharing. Some DSLRs offer limited functionality in this area as an afterthought.
  9. Last, but not the least, virtually all mid-range and better P&S cameras offer “creative” and “manual” modes. Effectively, this offers all the modes a DSLR has. These P&S cameras do not limit the user in any way compared to a DSLR in terms of the ability to shoot in different modes and be more “creative” than the simple “auto” modes.

Purchasing or exploring online?

Although I will come up with specific models and their online availability links later. Here are some locations you can explore for the P&S cameras in the meanwhile…

I will have more information on the DSLRs in the next post and then get into links for the same. Some of the information regarding the various brands in DSLRs should be considered carefully before investing in that brand. In general, you would land up purchasing lenses and other gear that would work only with a given vendors’ camera.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 1, 2015 in Gear, Photography


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