Digital SLR cameras are still the best

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2010 - 2:48 PM

Sensors used in point-and-shoot cameras are tiny.

Q Before going on an African safari, my wife and I each bought cameras.

Hers is a Canon digital SLR with an extra telephoto lens, plus a case for all the accessories for about $1,500. The camera with lens weighs 5 to 7 pounds.

Mine is a Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot camera with 12-times zoom and 12 megapixels. It also shoots video and weighs maybe half a pound. It has a case that fits nicely on my belt -- all for $250.

Looking at our pictures, I've concluded that cameras like her Canon will soon be the dinosaurs of the photography industry. Yes, her photos are sharper than mine when zoomed more than 16 or 32 times, but not much sharper. I now see 14-megapixel and 14x zoom point-and-shoot cameras on the market. Before long, they will have 20 megapixels and 20x zooms and more.

I think that in the days to come the big SLRs will be only for dedicated people who like using all the esoteric options available. But for the vast majority, a better point-and-shoot camera will be the answer.

A I don't agree with your conclusion, although I have no doubt your pictures were nearly as good as hers in this application. Comparing the two types of cameras in one particular shooting situation does not do enough to show all the important differences.

An African safari with bright light is exactly the kind of situation where the differences between the cameras would be minimized. Use the cameras over a wide range of subjects and shooting conditions over the course of a year, and the SLR's superiority will be readily apparent.

Although they have lots of pixels, the sensors used in point-and-shoot cameras are tiny. They perform poorly in low light and are no competition for a digital SLR or interchangeable lens camera, which has sensors with many times the physical area. Not only do you get better low-light performance, but larger sensors also capture a wider range of tones, from delicate detail in white highlights to nuances in shadow detail.

There also is a matter of shooting speed, namely quick focusing and immediate shutter release. In this competition, the point-and-shoot loses. One of the biggest complaints I get about digital cameras is the seeming disconnect between pushing the button and the picture actually being taken. Using a digital SLR or interchangeable-lens camera could be the difference between that magic moment and missing it.

I have not even touched on the big, bright optical viewfinder of an SLR, the interchangeable lenses or the ability to use external flashes for much better pictures.

Point-and-shoot cameras have their place and are adequate for most people. But the best image quality and experience still comes from large-sensor digital SLRs and interchangeable-lens cameras.

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