Stepping up to a DSLR camera: 4 types of cameras compared

Stepping up to a DSLR camera: 4 types of cameras compared
The market is adapting to photo enthusiasts with a number of better-than-compact technologies and camera sizes. Here's a 5-minute primer to the pros and cons of four different types of digital cameras

Camera vendors tell us that one of the big obstacles for many people wanting to step up from a compact point-and-shoot camera is the size and complexity of DSLRs. The market is adapting to meet this need with a number of better-than-compact technologies and camera sizes.

DSLR

Canon's 5D Mark II with full-frame sensor has excellent low-light ability and depth of field
No matter what marketing types tell you, DSLRs like this Canon 5D Mark II still provide the most creative freedom and best picture quality for consumers and enthusiasts

Pros: larger sensor than other formats meaning better signal to noise ratio and overall image quality, more control over exposure settings, interchangeable lens, high quality lens options, RAW image format.

Cons:
Big, bulky, can be heavy, expensive when you factor in cost of several quality lenses.

Power Zoom (also known as superzoom)

Canon's SX1 IS: a smaller sensor than a DSLR, and no interchangeable lens, but you get a massive zoom
Canon's SX1 IS: a smaller sensor than a DSLR, and no interchangeable lens, but you get a massive zoom

Pros: slightly smaller than many DSLRs, big zoom range in relatively compact size, more responsive live view (LCD for viewing scene) system similar to point-and-shoot, some features not found in DSLR such as face detection.

Cons
: smaller sensor than DSLR and some high quality compacts, electronic viewfinder rather than the optical viewfinder found in DSLR, can't change lens, bulkier than compacts

High quality compact (including small body Micro Four Thirds)

Canon's G11: full manual control and smaller than a DSLR, though low-light photos won't match a DSLR
Canon's G11: full manual control and smaller than a DSLR, though low-light photos won't match a DSLR

Pros: light, compact, better image quality than sub-$500 compacts, more responsive live view (LCD for viewing scene) similar to point-and-shoot, some features not found in DSLR such as face detection and panorama sweep.

Cons: limited zoom, image sensor usually smaller than DSLR (except in case of Micro Four Thirds), usually no interchangeable lens

Large body Micro Four Thirds

Panasonic's DMC-GH1-K: more creative freedoma nd better image quality than a power zoom, but bulkier and more expensive than a compact (in some cases)
Panasonic's DMC-GH1-K: more creative freedom and better image quality than a power zoom, but bulkier and more expensive than many compacts (in some cases)

Pros: slightly smaller than many DSLRs, interchangeable lens, bigger sensor than high quality compacts, more responsive live view (LCD for viewing scene) system similar to point-and-shoot, some features not found in DSLR such as face detection.

Cons: image sensor not as big as DSLR, electronic viewfinder, restricted to Four Thirds lenses, bulkier than high quality compact

Also in this series, Stepping up to a DSLR camera
Part 5: Should you buy a DSLR?
Part 4: Digital camera checklist, know your gear
Part 3: Should you consider a power zoom instead?
Part 2: Should you consider Micro Four Thirds instead?
Part 1: The megapixel myth

Also see our Group Test of 11 Digital SLR Cameras

 

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