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by Bart Arondson

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I am an beginner enthusiast and I don't want to become professional ever. However, I want to be able to shoot good quality photos that can be used for personal purposes or sold off to say people, local business etc. but not to National Geographic, art gallery etc. I do not want to be that good.

I have seen many posts here with variations of the theme "point and shoot vs. DSLR". But none of those answer my question. Is there any P&S (camera or mobile phone) which is comparable or equal to an entry level DSLR such as Nikon D3100 or Canon T3i, in terms of image quality, low light quality, changeability of lenses etc. at a SIMILAR PRICE ? I am a beginner and don't know if there are any other factors involved in the comparison. I don't really care about the portability.

Also, I noticed that many P&S cameras have much more optical zoom (10X to 50x) vs. basic DSLR (3x zoom with 18-55 lens). Is the higher zoom of P&S not better than having to change lenses?

PS: I am trying to select a beginner camera and I am confused.

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Just as an annecdotal, I began with serious photography by buying a Canon 1100D/Rebel T3 and I like the degree of personalisation I can get out of my DSLR, thing that's not very possible nor easy with a P&S, I think I wouldn't have learnt as much if I just went with a P&S, also, if I had bought the P&S I would have limited myself to just a lens and would never have explored into other kinds of photography. –  Pato Sáinz Mar 24 at 2:37
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I'm confused - you want IQ, low light, changing lenses, and you don't care about portability....why don't you want a DSLR? What are you calling a P&S? –  rfusca Mar 24 at 3:14
    
@rfusca - actually, I was hoping to get a slightly cheaper pos if its image quality was 30-40% less than a DSLR and had far more zoom. I doubt if that is even possible. –  Borat Sagdiyev Mar 24 at 3:49
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zoom factors are relative, not absolute. you can have a 16x zoom 18-300mm, and a 1x zoom 800mm that "zooms in" a lot more, in layman terms. and generally speaking, the less "zoom factor" the better quality. –  Michael Nielsen Mar 24 at 9:27
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Sounds like you might like to read What are the differences between an entry-level DSLR and an advanced compact P&S camera? You know, there is a search function on this site, and every question is also tagged with the topic (like keywords) of the question. Combining tags with search tool you can easily find a lot of good information here :) –  Esa Paulasto Mar 24 at 15:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Let us dispose of the term "point-and-shoot" for a moment, and replace it with "fixed-lens". "Point-and-shoot" implies a mass-market snapshot camera, and the class of fixed-lens cameras goes well beyond the mass market into the realm of cameras that would easily wipe the floor with any entry-level DSLR or MILC in their specific use case. But when you get to that level, fixed-lens cameras become very specialized, very expensive, or both.

The Sigma DPx Merrils, for instance, will give you utterly breathtaking image quality at low ISOs, but the cost a thousand dollars apiece, can't really be used above ISO 400 at all, and you need a whole different camera to change focal length. The Fuji X100s is a street-shooter's dream come true, but it's rather expensive and has a single fixed focal length. The Sony RX1 is a full-frame camera you can put in your pocket, but again costly and a fixed focal length.

You can get a good compromise between IQ, large-enough sensor, relatively good, fast glass and a large zoom range in a fixed-lens camera (at least one, anyway: the Sony RX10), but you are kissing the entry-level DSLR price range a fond farewell and are stepping up into what can only be described as "enthusiast" territory. (And if you want a prestige brand, Leica and Hasselblad will gladly sell you rebranded versions of other cameras at a huge markup.) Other high-IQ fixed-lens cameras tend to have zoom ranges not significantly different from the entry-level DSLR/MILC kits.

The entry-level DLSR or MILC will give you more for less, at the penalty of having to buy a two-lens kit (or an additional lens to go with the standard kit). Yes, the system will be bulkier and have more to fumble with to go from wide-angle to long tele, but there is, in compensation:

  • a considerable cost savings;

  • greater possibility for expansion; and

  • an easier upgrade path.

Of those, the "considerable cost savings" is probably most important to present you. You really have no idea what future you may or may not want, and paying more right now for something you might find completely unsuitable in the near future makes little sense (especially since fixed-lens cameras don't hold much in the way of resale value). If you were experienced enough to say with certainty that a particular fixed-lens camera will completely cover your needs, you might be able to justify spending the extra to get the convenience. But as a beginner, you'd be locking yourself into a range of photography that you cannot step out of unless you buy another camera.

That is not to say that there's no value in having something like a small-sensor superzoom/ultrazoom/bridge camera. If you don't particularly need shallow depth of field except in "macro" shots, don't expect to work in low light and don't foresee using you images for anything other than screen presentation at reduced sizes or small (8x10 or smaller) prints, there are plenty of cameras out there that fill that niche, each of them more-or-less equivalent to the others, but with minor feature differences. For some value of "good enough", they really are good enough; you just need to know what "good enough" means to you, and it is very hard for a beginner to know that. It may be the best $500 you ever spent, or it may be $500 down the tubes.

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It sounds like you are describing mirrorless system cameras. They have the interchangeable lenses and some of them have larger sensors, but they always use the sensor directly to an LCD or OLED display rather than using a viewfinder (or in rare case, use a viewfinder that doesn't go through the lens), which saves on size and weight (while giving up a few other more minor things like AF speed, though even that is coming around).

X multipliers for zooms don't matter. P&S can have such long ranges because of the very small sensor size, but they give up a lot of quality and light sensitivity because of it. The bigger your sensor, the higher quality the images, the more background blur you can achieve, the better it does in low light, but also the larger and more complex your lenses have to become to support it.

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Not all mirrorless cameras use liveview on a back LCD screen vs. a viewfinder; some also have eye-level EVFs (electronic viewfinders) built-in or available as add-ons, and the Fuji X-Pro uses a hybrid viewfinder that can switch between an optical view with LCD overlay and an EVF that displays the sensor data. –  inkista Apr 16 at 18:34
    
@inkista - fair point, updated to mention non-lens viewfinder cameras. EVFs are still either an OLED or LCD display, just one that is viewed through an eyepiece. –  AJ Henderson Apr 16 at 20:02

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