Point and Shoot or an SLR? Part 2

The SLR.The single-lens reflex (SLR) is a type of camera that uses a movable mirror placed between the lens and the film to project the image seen through the lens onto a matte focusing screen. Most SLRs use a roof pentaprism or penta mirror to observe the image via an eyepiece, but there are also other finder arrangements, such as the waist-level finder or porro prisms.

The shutter in almost all contemporary SLRs sits just in front of the focal plane. If it does not, some other mechanism is required to ensure that no light reaches the film between exposures. For example, the Hasselblad 500C camera uses an auxiliary shutter blind in addition to its in-lens leaf shutter.

This feature separates SLRs from other cameras, as the user sees the image as it would be captured. This aids in accurately knowing the image beforehand.
Since the technology became widespread in the 1970s, SLRs have become the main type of camera used by dedicated amateur photographers and professionals.

So what makes the SLR the main type of camera used by professionals? Ease of use, the ability to change lenses, being able to see what your photo will look like through the lens, the ability to control what happens….the list goes on and on, so I’ll stick with the main points.

Ease Of Use

SLR’s might look confusing, but they are actually very simple. You choose what lens you need – a lens that has been designed to do what you need it to do – you set up or find your lighting, you set your aperture for the effect you want, set your shutter to compensate for your aperture, and press the shutter button.

Does that still sound complicated? Its really not. Today’s SLRs and dSLRs (Digital SLRs) now include an Auto Mode that works just like a point and shoot, yet still gives you the ability to decide what kind of special lens is needed to get that photo that you want.

For myself, I primarily keep it on Aperture Priority Mode. I like choosing what will be in focus and will not, and primarily stick with a large aperture (large aperture = low number, 1.8, 2.8, etc.) so I can separate the main subject from the background. We’ll cover that in a future article.

From wide angle, to “normal”, to extreme telephoto, the ability to switch lenses is enough to warrant the purchase of an SLR, which can now be purchased for the price of a medium / high quality point and shoot. But there is an investment to be made. One problem with SLR’s is that lenses arn’t compatible among the major brands. You won’t be able to fit a Canon lens onto your Nikon or Sony body, nor will you be able to put your Nikkor lens on your Canon or Pentax body. Nikon (Nikkor lenses), Canon, Sony, Pentax, and all the other brands have their own standard for their lens mounts making switching from one to another a near impossible task unless your made of money. Once you’ve invested in a particular brand, that’s the brand you’re going to stay with unless you REALLY want to switch. And within the brands, there are often different kinds of lenses made for different types of cameras. Nikon has been good with this, and any lens made in the last 60 years will at least mount to the Nikon body, though you might just loose your exposure and auto-focusing ability. Canon on the other hand has changed their mounts quite often and in a few cases, a lens you bought for your canon film body might not mount onto your digital body.


(The ability to see what your photo will look like before you shoot.)

The older point and shoot cameras had a little window on the front, and when you looked through the viewfinder you were looking through that little window. You didn’t see exactly what the camera was going to see, and this was a major problem for pro photographers. Nowadays when you look through the viewfinder of an SLR camera, you are looking through the lens seeing the exact same image that your film is going to see.


A lot of the modern point and shoot digital cameras nowadays give you the option of changing the shutter speed and/or aperture, but that’s about as far as it goes. The higher end point and shoot models will give you even more options to take control of your photography, but are still limited. SLR cameras are exactly the opposite. Instead of making everything automatic and then adding in manual features, they give you complete manual control right from the start. In addition, as the prices of SLRs have dropped the manufacturers have started adding consumer friendly automatic features.

Realistically, there are only three basic settings that you need to watch – shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual priority. Of course you also need your aperture ring or dial, and your shutter dial or knob. That’s it. Everything else is just fluff and any kind of effect can be achieved using these three settings, along with the focus ring.

These days the higher end point and shoots are becoming more and more like their SLR brethren, while the lower end SLR’s are dumbing down more and more to become their point and shoot cousins. Either kind of camera will function for you, just know what your needs are so you can make a wise decision before you buy.

There are many many other kinds of cameras that I’ll write about later, including Polaroids, large format, medium format, rangefinders, video cameras, cell phone cameras, toy cameras, 3-D cameras, etc. As long as light is hitting a form of film or a light sensor, it is a camera.

I really hope that these two articles have helped you with your camera decision or helped you understand more about your camera choices. These articles are not perfect and I will be editing them along the way as my knowledge about cameras continues to grow.

Use the comments section of the blog — If you have noticed any mistakes, please let me know, if you want to debate, let me know as well, we’ll make it public, and a good debate is always good. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask, that’s what I’m here for.



1 comment so far

  1. Brad Gillette on

    Excellent article. A few more things though:

    Benefit of rangefinder – although you are not seeing what the lens is seeing, it allows you to see past the edges of the frame which helps determine how you will frame your subject.

    All digital SLRs using the Four-Thirds system have lens mounts that are interchangeable with those of other manufacturers – Panasonic, Olympus, and Leica

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