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I'm starting to learn how to shoot. Up until now I've only used point-and-shoot cameras mostly on automatic settings. My view is there are basically three classes of cameras sold by the major manufacturers:

  1. Point-and-shoot: for those who want nothing to do with photography
  2. Advanced: (Canon's G series, or Panasonic's LX) - some settings, but not complete flexibility
  3. SLR: The "real deal"

My question is, if I want to learn how to shoot good photographs, can I start with a camera from the 2nd category, instead of an SLR? There are still options for manually setting the ISO, aperture and shutter speed on those models, I just don't understand how lacking they are and if they would hinder my learning.

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possible duplicate of Should I buy a DSLR to get started? –  mattdm Apr 28 '11 at 15:02
    

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

An SLR is not a requirement. In fact, a high end point and shoot in not even required, but either will make the process easier.

The PowerShot SX20 IS, or the PowerShot G11 are two extremely good point and shoot cameras, and both have a majority of the features included in a entry level DSLR.

The main features that a high end point and shoot will miss are larger sensors and interchangeable lenses:

  • interchangeable lenses - The possibilities that arise with the ability to change your lens are nearly endless. In fact, once you move to a SLR, the lenses are more important than the body. (Keep in mind that non-SLR cameras are now available with the ability to switch lenses, such as micro-four-thirds models)
  • larger sensor - The camera sensor in a point and shoot is much smaller, which limits the size of the individual pixels, decreasing the color saturation and increasing noise. The size differences can be seen in the image below. A point and shoot sensor is generally in the 1/2.5 - 1/1.6 range.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor_format

Besides that, as long as you have the ability to use some manual features, you should be able to learn a lot, and the camera will be far less limiting that a lower end point and shoot.

In particular, you want a camera that has the P (Program), Av (Aperture Priority), Tv (Shutter Priority), and M (Manual) "Shooting Modes". These are the modes where you can really control the exposure.

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Av and Tv modes don't give you full control. You can choose aperture or speed, but the camera chooses the other parameter such that the result is mid-gray. The camera has the final word here. Manual is the way to go. (see also my answer) –  stevenvh Sep 8 '10 at 17:50
1  
I didn't say that Av or Tv gave you Full control, only that you want to have them. For certain situations, you want the camera to do some of the work. The difference is that in Av or Tv, you are only giving it control of specific areas of the exposure triangle. –  chills42 Sep 8 '10 at 19:41

No. An SLR is not a must when learning photography.

In fact, I'd even say that an SLR can be a real hindrance. There are so many controls and functions that it can be overwhelming, and it's pretty discouraging to spend $500+ on a camera kit, and turn bad photos. So much that it might make you want to switch back to full auto-mode.

A camera is a tool. Nothing more. The advantages of having full-manual have been explained in other answers, but knowing the technical details of iso/aperature/shutter are tangential to what you want to learn: How to shoot good photographs.

The fundamentals of good photography are composition, subject, and lighting. All of which you can learn without having a camera with manual controls. While I hardly consider myself a good photographer, I often have people ask how I am able to take nice pictures with my iphone.

I also wouldn't dare say a point-and-shoot isn't for people who don't want anything to do with photography. I know several photographers (including myself) who use point-and-shoot cameras in places where an SLR does not make sense.

My advice for anyone who has questions regarding the relationship between cameras and good photography is to check out flickr's camera finder.

http://www.flickr.com/cameras/apple/iphone_3gs/

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That depends on what you want to learn, exactly.

If you want to learn all aspects of photography, you need a camera that you can control completely. Some aspects are however easier to learn if you don't have to bother with a lot of settings.

Low quality point-and-hope cameras, e.g. Lomo, has been used as a limiting factor to remove most technical aspects of photography, to focus on the creative part of the process instead.

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Why the downvote? If you don't explain what it is that you think is wrong it can't improve the answer. –  Guffa May 31 '11 at 11:18

I started with an advanced P&S, and moved on to an SLR a few years ago when the P&S died. Two aspects where I saw a huge improvement with the SLR:

  • Low light photography. The flash, even the built-in one, works much better. And even without a flash, I can get a much larger aperture with a low-light lens, something that my previous camera did not allow.

  • Depth-of-field. Even with the largest aperture on my P&S, I couldn't get nice blurry backgrounds, even when following all the rules. Others can explain it better, but it has to do with the sensor size.

That said, the P&S allowed me to learn about all the fundamentals of photography, and I got many excellent shots out of it.

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IMO a camera with manual controls is more important than it being SLR: Manual controls meaning manual exposure settings (aperture and speed), and if possible also manual focus, although the latter is often not present on non-SLRs. Automatic settings have the disadvantage that you rely on the camera knowing what it's doing, which is nonsense really: the camera doesn't "know" a thing.

edit
One example where you can't fully trust the camera: the camera thinks all the world is mid-gray (a value chosen because it does occur often in nature. Foliage, for instance, is about mid-gray). However there are lots of situations where the light is different, darker or lighter. In those cases the photographer has to override the camera's aperture choice.

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1  
Just a nitpick, aperture is only one part of exposure, so it isn't the only way to adjust the overall exposure. Often there is a setting for "exposure compensation" that allows you to make an overall brightness adjustment even in an automatic mode. –  chills42 Sep 8 '10 at 19:44
    
Exactly. Exposure compensation is a means to correct what the camera supposes it should do. –  stevenvh Sep 8 '10 at 20:14
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Also, clever use of autoexposure lock can yield good results in a hurry. Just expose for something mid-grey, recompose, focus, and shoot. –  Evan Krall Sep 10 '10 at 8:52

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