A Canon Powershot series camera has shutter priority, aperture priority and complete manual mode that lets the user control the shutter speed and aperture

Even though an Entry-level DSLR has more features, this looks similar to an entry-level DSLR.

In other words, is it necessary for an amateur to own a DSLR over a point and shoot camera such as a Canon Powershot?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/144/… which I think answers your question. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2910
    Oct 31, 2011 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ An important consideration is that controlling aperture has less impact on composition with a small sensor camera, since depth of field is generally large in any case. (See photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9240/…) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 31, 2011 at 19:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ For me, a P&S camera is a portable device I can take anywhere and literally point and shoot, and DSLR is bigger, heavier thing that gives you great images but only if you find the will to carry it with you. So, my answer is - having both seems reasonable. Please note, however, that I'm not a photographer, not even hobbyist one. I don't own a DSLR, but my work is related to them. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2011 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm rolling back my 2012 edit, because in 2018, "advanced compact" might include things like the Sony RX1R. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 27, 2018 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


The 1st difference, and arguably the most important one, is the image sensor's size. DSLR has an APS-C or Full-Frame (35mm) sizes CMOS sensors, where Powershots have much smaller, some CCD some CMOS sensors. this translates to superior image quality in terms of digital image noise - the larger the sensor, the less noise is apparent in the image. In this picture from Wikipedia, the 1/1.6" and smaller rectangles are the realm of P&S:

enter image description here

Also important is the fact that DSLR have interchangeable lenses, as well as TTL (Through The Lens) Optical Viewfinders which lets you see what the sensor sees.

DSLR are generally quicker than P&S, and occasionally have more features (but not necessarily, as the Powershot line has compatible CHDK alternative firmwares which enable many of the DSLR features).

Is it "enough"? This is a very subjective question. Given the price tag, the different size and weight group and more factors, only you can evaluate the "enough-ness" of a P&S camera to your needs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The viewfinder lets you see what the sensor sees in terms of composition. However, you're generally NOT seeing what the sensor will be seeing in terms of aperture. AIUI, the camera will generally stop the image way down while the mirror is down (and thus the viewfinder active), and when the mirror goes up to expose an image, it sets the aperture to the desired setting. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2012 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisWuestefeld - yes, unless you press the little DOF preview button near the lens barrel. Then, the aperture closes and you essentially get the correct DoF in the viewfinder - at the price of a darker image. That said, the DoF seen through the viewfinder is limited to a certain minimum by the viewfinder optics. That means, that even though you may be using a f/2.8 lens, the viewfinder DoF will be equivalent to 4 (or whatever your camera is designed to). \$\endgroup\$
    – ysap
    Apr 9, 2012 at 20:23

What are the differences between an entry-level DSLR and a Canon Powershot?

The main differences between Canon's dSLR bodies and the Powershots are:

  • The Powershot will have a fixed lens that cannot be changed
  • The Powershots use smaller sensors (the largest is the 4/3"-format in the G1X series, more typically a 1" in the high-end and 1/2.3" format in the low end), while the dSLRs use APS-C or full-frame sensors.
  • Current Powershots limit you to liveview to compose (either on an LCD or through an electronic viewfinder), while Canon's dSLRs use an optical viewfinder with a mirror reflecting the light coming through the taking lens up into a pentaprism/pentamirror to turn the view right way 'round again in the viewfinder.
  • dSLRs often have more ways of communicating with additional gear, such as cable release ports, flash hotshoes, and flash sync ports
  • Some lower end Powershots (e.g., the ELPHs) may lack the PSAM modes, relying entirely on scene modes, and most of the powershots (aside from the G# X high-end series) lack RAW capability and shoot only JPEG.

The EOS M mirrorless series is the weird midpoint hybridization of these two types of cameras. The EOS M bodies allow you swap lenses, and use the larger APS-C sensors the lower-end dSLRs use, but you are still limited to liveview for composition and may lack a viewfinder or flash hotshoe.

... is it necessary for an amateur to own a DSLR over a point and shoot camera such as a Canon Powershot?

No. My personal criteria for a "serious" camera is RAW, PSAM modes, and (optionally) a flash hotshoe, all of which can be found on Powershot models (albeit the higher end ones). A smaller sensor and a fixed lens can limit what you can shoot and the effects you can achieve, but within those limits, you can still take great photographs if you have good technique. The reasons to go with an EOS M or EOS digital camera would be if you need to go past those limits.

These days, older used dSLR gear is abundant at prices that are similar to those of new Powershots, though. So, if you're thinking of a Powershot as simply a way to save money, understand, that your major price savings with a Powershot will be in not buying lenses, not in the camera prices.

See also: What do I need to consider to choose between dSLR, mirrorless, or a compact as my first "serious" camera?


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