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Compact or DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera

 19th Jul 2009

Compact Cameras...

compact cameraThe number one advantage compact digital cameras have is their size. They're small so they're easy to have with you all the time. They fit neatly into a pocket or handbag so you've always got a camera handy - when you see a shot you can just whip it out and shoot. 

Provided you understand composition and a bit about light you can get great images out of a compact. Lens quality, build, tonal range and image resolution are all superb provided you buy a well known brand like Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Pentax etc.

The little Nikon Coolpix D50 here actually has more megapixels than the professional cameras I was using until only a year ago (D1X pictured below) - but don't let megapixels rule your head.

You don't need more than 6 megapixels unless you're printing big commercial images (20 inches plus) or just enjoy filling up your hard drives as quickly as possible!

The Downside

You can't take complete control of a compact camera so you won't be able to create some of the most beautiful effects in photography, like choosing what's sharp and what's not in your pictures, or using the shutter speeds to blur or freeze motion.

Every compact camera I've tried suffers from shutter lag. That's the annoying wait between pressing the button and taking the picture. If you're photographing people or something on the move you'll almost always miss the moment with a compact. You can get around it by following these steps ...

  1. Point the camera at your subject
  2. Press and hold the shutter button half way down
  3. Press it all the way down the instant you want to take the picture

- but it's still a pain

There's more chance of 'red eye' in flash photographs with small cameras. Despite manufacturers putting ' red eye reduction' modes onto their cameras, there's almost nothing you can do about it. Red eye is caused by light from the flash reflecting off the blood vessels in the back of the eye. The closer together your lens and flash are the worse the 'red eye' problem becomes.

In a nutshell compact cameras are ...

  • Small and easy to carry with you at all times
  • Automatic settings take good pictures most of the time in most circumstances
  • Image files from most modern compacts can be printed up to 12x16 inches
  • The camera does it all for you
  • Starting price is lower

If you're happy for the camera to be in control of things then compacts are great.

Find out how to get the best out of your compact, learn about composition and lighting by watching our Photography Videos.


Digital SLR Cameras...

Nikon D1XThe biggest thing with a DSLR is that you can buy a range of lenses and other accessories to put you firmly in control of your photography.

DSLR cameras can do it all for you - or you can take over and tell it what you want! Once you know what to do you can achieve pretty much any image you want.

Now I know DSLRs look kind of scary if it's your first time, but with a bit knowledge and some  practise you can soon be shooting amazing professional looking pictures. Our photography courses are written to get you over the scary stuff - and into the exciting!

Most of the time you can let the camera do the work for you. But to get the really great images you'll need to take control to some degree. All automatic camera systems can be fooled because they don't know what it is you want to achieve with a picture. They can only do what they are pre-programmed to do - to make an average picture.

Making the background softThe DSLR will let you step in and take over. This picture on the left was shot on a bright summer day. A camera on automatic (compact or DSLR) would automatically set a small aperture to get the correct exposure because of the brightness in the background.

Small apertures make it almost impossible to make the background blurry and the subject would have less impact because the background would be just as sharp as the foreground.

Taking control yourself and setting a wide aperture will make the background  soft - like it is here! You can't do that with an automatic camera.

towermotionstairsBy choosing your own shutter speed you can make moving objects or people blur - like here on the stairs in Portsmouth's  Spinnaker Tower. This was taken at 1/8th of a second - any faster and the person would be frozen still.

A slow shutter  = movement:     A fast shutter = frozen

On auto all cameras will select a fast shutter because normally we don't want blur in a picture. This is where a DSLR camera really scores.

DSLRs also have a massive range of lenses to choose from. All the way from extreme wide angle 'fish eyes' right out to massive long zooms.

Wide angle lenses aren't simply for getting more in, nor are long lenses just to bring things closer. There's so much more to it. Long and short lenses each have characteristics which we can exploit creatively to make interesting, dynamic images. With a DSLR and a little knowledge you can explore image making in ways you might never have dreamed of.

In a nutshell..

  • DSLRs will do everything for you just like a compact camera
  • They have a vast range of lenses to help you achieve amazing images
  • Red eye can be almost eliminated by using a dedicated flash gun
  • No shutter lag
  • Greater freedom to be creative with all the tips you can learn from our Photography Videos.