When should I upgrade to a DSLR?

DSLR cameras are perfect for enthusiasts and for capturing special occasions

by Sebastian Anthony on January 12, 2011

There comes a time in every person's life when upgrading or replacing something you own is a necessity. Take cameras, for example; if we never upgraded or replaced our cameras, we'd still be walking around with huge, black, cumbersome boxes that can only take one photo — one photo that takes a lot of time and money to process. The fact is, when something breaks or doesn't perform at the standard we require, we have to get a new one — and cameras are certainly no different.

The question is, though, do you upgrade or do you merely replace?

The size vs. quality dilemma
There's one basic fact when it comes to taking photos: the amount and quality of the light entering the camera through the lens ultimately dictates the quality of your photos. Try taking a photo of someone in a dark room without a flash; it's hard, and the photo will probably be very low-quality and grainy.

That's the problem with point-and-shoot cameras: Because they have to fit in your purse or be easily holdable in one hand, the lens on the front is small. Technology is always improving, so a new point-and-shoot camera will certainly be better than an old one, but it can never compare to a real DSLR.

canon-t2iWhat is a DSLR, anyway?
SLR cameras, or single-lens reflex cameras, are the big, chunky cameras with large lenses on the front; the "D" simply means it's a digital SLR. Usually, you hold an SLR with two hands, with your second hand being used to control the zoom and focus of the lens. In essence, a DSLR is basically a point-and-shoot camera with a big lens stuck on the front — and because the lens is big, more light (and higher-quality light) can enter the camera. As a result, the quality of even the cheapest of DSLRs far outstrips even the most advanced point-and-shoot camera

What are the trade-offs?
Obviously, a DSLR can't be flat-out better than a point-and-shoot — otherwise, everyone would own one! The fact is, for many people, the sheer convenience of a point-and-shoot camera is enough to nullify the advantages of a DSLR. A DSLR, for example, simply won't fit in a purse or fanny pack, and if you plan to carry more than one lens, you will need a big bag (which soon gets pretty heavy).

As always, then, it comes down to what you plan to do with your camera. If you know what you want to photograph or where you want to photograph, choosing between a DSLR and point-and-shoot is easy.

  • Family photos: In most cases, a cheap DSLR is your best bet for family photos. Houses are generally quite dark, and using a DSLR instead of a point-and-shoot means you can avoid using a flash.
  • School plays: For any kind of low-light indoor event, a DSLR is your only choice. Bear in mind that you will need a zoom lens if you are standing at the back of the room, though!
  • Social events and parties: Point-and-shoot all the way! A big DSLR will usually cause people to cower behind the nearest human shield.
  • Travel photos: If you want to take photos of beautiful landscapes or romantically lit restaurants, an expensive DSLR camera such as the Canon 5D is the only real choice. Big DSLRs can get quite heavy if you have to carry them around everywhere, though!
  • Travel snaps: On the other hand, if you just want to take photos of your hotel room, swimming pool, and one or two sunsets, a new point-and-shoot camera will do the trick.

It's also worth noting that DSLRs are inherently more expensive than point-and-shoot cameras. A basic DSLR kit doesn't cost much more, but by the time you've bought 1 or 2 lenses, you will have spent $1,000 or more. Unless you have an exact purpose in mind for a new DSLR, I would recommend you stick with a point-and-shoot.

sa-300-micro-four-thirdsOther options
In the last few years, a new breed of camera that skillfully bridges the gap between DSLR and point-and-shoot has emerged: the compact system camera. Basically, compact system cameras are a little bit bigger than their point-and-shoot cousins, but more compact than DSLR cameras, plus you also get the benefit of interchangeable lenses. Price-wise, most compact system cameras are between DSLRs on the higher end and point-and-shoot cameras on the lower end. But the image quality is typically much better than point-and-shoot cameras.


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