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by Bart Arondson

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I have been using a P&S camera (Nikon Coolpix 4600) for about 5 years now. I usually take pictures at family events and at my outdoor trips. I got hooked onto photography once I started getting nice words from people who see those.

I have been reading about terminologies related to cameras (DSLR) and lenses. Though I'm quite happy with my camera, I got really excited once I saw got a chance to use my friends' high-end Canon P&S. I was amazed at how advance P&S's have become.

I would now like to upgrade my camera. My confusion is whether to go for a DSLR or to select a high-end P&S. Since I have already used a Nikon, I'm leaning towards the same brand. I have a budget constraint also. Atleast till I get a pay rise, which will not happen for another year, I do not want to go beyond $450.

I have two models in mind at this point. One is the P100, which is a P&S and fits my budget. The other one is the D3100,which is a DSLR that doesn't fit my budget. But the capabilities of DSLR are luring me towards buying this, stretching my budget a bit. I do not have any contacts at my place where I can trust for getting a used one. I also have apprehensions about maintaining the lenses and the body properly. I live in Chennai, India which is quite humid. It may sound silly but I'm more concerned about the maintanence of the camera and lens.

Should I jump and buy a DSLR or go for a high-end P&S learn the tricks more thoroughly and then do it?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Today's high-end P&S's really are pretty good "jacks of all trades". Considering the fact that you've got one unit to carry around, you can cover an impressive range of photographic needs reasonably well.

In order to cover the same focal range as the P100, you're probably going to need multiple DSLR lenses, which increases the cost and weight of the DSLR setup (in order to equal the capabilities of the P&S). If you find yourself using all of the zoom range of your P&S, be sure you look at what sort of glass you'd need to buy to equal this range in a DSLR.

Don't forget that you'll then have to carry that equipment around. Pick up a DSLR with a decent-sized lens, and compare this to your P&S. The difference isn't significant for most shooting, but if you're backpacking or traveling, the bulk of a DSLR can be a factor.

The DSLR, on the other hand, gives you get more versatility, higher quality, and better performance. If you've ever become frustrated because your P&S couldn't perform the way you want in marginal light or doesn't autofocus or respond as fast as you'd like, these are the sorts of things that a DSLR will help with.

Give some thought to the things you'd like your P&S to be able to do better. What are the things that drive you crazy about your camera? What sorts of shots do you miss? Given these, consider whether the DSLR would help with those issues.

Having said all that, the D3100 looks like a really sweet camera -- especially for the price. ;-)

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Thanks for your suggestion. :-) This is really helpful. –  wannabe Oct 8 '10 at 2:58

Given your budget and what you intend to use the camera for, I'd lean towards the P&S. You can still take decent pictures with a P&S if you choose to go out and shoot scenery or buildings, etc. and the P&S's have come a long way in allowing you to specify how the shot can be taken. Good luck with your search.

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The key step ups you will get by going for a DSLR are, in my opinion:

  • an optical viewfinder - you get to see the light coming through the lens, and this will have a higher resolution than any screen on the back of a P&S.
  • the ability to have a shallow depth of field (example) - the small lenses and sensors of a P&S preclude getting a really shallow depth of field.
  • better low light performance, again because of the bigger sensor
  • more responsive - quicker focus, quicker taking of photos (from pressing the shutter release) ...
  • more direct control of zoom - I much prefer adjusting zoom by twisting a grip on the lens than by pressing and releasing buttons on the back of a camera. I feel much more in control because of it.

So it's up to you if those advantages are worth the extra price and weight of a DSLR.

Also I wouldn't worry about brand loyalty going from P&S to DSLR, they are quite different markets. And Olympus do some pretty nice, fairly small, relatively cheap DSLRs. The Olympus E-420 often gets good reviews, as does the Pentax K-m.

You could also consider a MILC/EVIL/SLD camera. Basically the sensor and interchangeable lenses from a DSLR, but a smaller body and no optical viewfinder. However last time I checked they were more expensive than the cheaper DSLRs.

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2  
The optical viewfinder is one of those subtle "features" that make a big difference. I had a Canon G3 (which actually had a quasi-optical viewfinder), and I found this was one of the things I missed most when I changed to a superzoom P&S. I've yet to see a decent electronic viewfinder. –  D. Lambert Oct 6 '10 at 16:47
    
"I've yet to see a decent electronic viewfinder" -- I love my Panasonic G2 :-) –  Jason S Oct 7 '10 at 1:52
    
Thanks for your detailed explanation, Hamish. –  wannabe Oct 8 '10 at 3:00

One factor to consider, is in what kind of places do you typically take pictures? Although DSLR's physical size have been gradually getting smaller, it's still not nearly as small as point and shoot. I traveled to different places in South East Asia, and have taken some picture in bad neighborhoods in New York city. In places like that, I would be hesitant to be carrying around an expensive DSLR out in the open. Decent P&S with good range of ISO, shutter speed and apature size is really useful in that kind of situation.

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