by Mal Booth
Back in the old days, it used to be that those who wanted to take just snapshots would just get a point and shoot camera. The serious photographers would all get SLRs. With today’s wide variety of electronics, consumers have a huge set of options when it comes to choosing a camera, and these lines are no longer so distinct. Because of the more advanced features available on consumer level cameras with the advent of the digital revolution, you can take some very high quality pictures without going the full SLR route.
So, how do you find out if you need an SLR? To answer this questions, we’ll assume that you’re choosing between a high level, “prosumer” digital camera, and a quality digital SLR from a well known company. These prosumer cameras have the high image qualities, and full feature set that allows them be competitive with an SLR on many fronts. But, there are a few areas where they fall short of the capabilities of a full blown SLR.
If any of these features sounds unfamiliar to you, or you have no idea why you’d see yourself using them, you can safely choose a camera other than a digital SLR. If, however, you can’t live without any of the following features, it looks like a SLR is in your future. Keep in mind that all these differences may not apply to all models, but on the whole, this serves as an accurate comparison.
The first and probably the most obvious differences between a SLR and a prosumer grade digital camera is speed. An SLR is faster in almost every way. Since you have an accurate, real time view of the scene through your viewfinder, and a very low shutter lag, you can literally “capture the moment” with an SLR. With most prosumer cameras, you’re viewing the world through an LCD display, which has some inherent lag involved. Additionally, these cameras are also saddled with shutter lag, which means that even after you push the button, the picture isn’t captured until a little bit later.
Another obvious difference between SLRs and prosumer models the the SLR’s ability to use interchangeable lenses and accessories. Most prosumer cameras have a wide range zoom lens that covers a good portion of popular focal lengths. However, if you need a wider angle, or more magnification, you’re out of luck. SLRs have lenses available for every purpose. You pay for this capability in terms of both money and weight, but for many, its worth it. External flashes are an option in some prosumer cameras, but these are an option for all SLRs. If you need to use a serious flash, you’re getting an SLR for sure.
Another large difference is the size of the sensor. Simply put, a larger sensor means a better image, and SLRs deliver this in spades. Larger sensors also allow you to use higher ISOs without noise, which can be a lifesaver in low light and/or fast action. Also, the image from the SLR will simply look better, all else being equal.
Finally, you should consider that SLRs, being built for professionals, are very durable when compared to most prosumer digicams. If you need equipment that will hold up under abuse, you need to get an SLR.
I hope all this helps clear up some of the differences between high end digital cameras and true SLRs. Generally, once you understand the differences, it should be pretty clear whether the extra weight and cost of the SLR are worth it for you. Happy shopping!