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Point and Shoot or an SLR? Part 1

So which one is best? Both.

Then why write about this? Well, they both play their own rolls (no pun intended) in the world of photography.

In one corner you have the point and shoot camera, the staple for every family. You put your film or memory card in the slot, point at what you want to take a picture of and hit the shutter button. Simple.

In the other corner is the SLR, the staple for every professional photographer and a lot of amateurs. You choose your film, choose your lens or lenses, grab your flash, point at what you want to take a picture of, zoom in or out, focus either manually or automatically, make sure your shutter speed and aperture are correct, then press the button. Simple.

Your reaction after reading the above paragraphs will either be “Then why would I want an SLR?” or “Then why would I want a point and shoot?” Each of these tools does the same job very differently, you just have to decide which is best for you.

Point and Shoot

In the first part of this article we will be looking at the point and shoot style of cameras. First of all, what is a point and shoot camera? The simplest description is a camera that simply requires that you to point the camera at what you want to take a picture of and press the shutter button. But for the sake of this article, a point and shoot camera is any camera other than a single lens reflex camera (here on out called an SLR) or a rangefinder.

Millions of point and shoot cameras are sold each day. You can find some type of point and shoot for sale at almost any store, from your local camera boutique to your local drug store. Search your local thrift shop and you’ll find them selling for a buck a piece.

These cameras are a staple for one reason: they are incredibly simple to use and they’re getting easier every year. You use to have to decide whether you needed to use a flash or not, but now the camera decides. You used to have to compose your shot before you pressed the shutter button if you wanted that perfect “Kodak moment”, not anymore.

Yesterday’s point and shoots where nothing more then glorified pinhole cameras. In the old days when film was used they simply opened a very small hole in combination with a flash to produce a picture. The shutter speed was a constant speed (in most cases 1/60th of a sec) and the aperture was extremely small (in most cases around f/16) and that’s how they managed their “auto-focusing”, by using a small aperture (for more explanation, please wait for the upcoming article “F YOU!“).

Today’s cameras automatically look at the picture your taking as you press the shutter button, compare it to millions of digital examples in a database of photo scenarios to determine the best shutter speed and aperture for that setting, decide if you need a fill flash, a background flash, a red-eye pre-flash, a slow-sync flash, or any of the other types of flashes that cameras can do these days… make the changes, and expose the digital sensor – all within a millisecond as you press the button. Many of the newer point and shoot cameras will even help you compose the image by displaying suggestions in your viewfinder. All of this work goes into helping you get the best possible shot every time.

But that’s not all. The latest point and shoot models are also coming out with better lenses that allow for massive telephoto shots, some in the neighborhood of 12x. These normally resemble a full SLR camera, with the difference being that the lenses are not removable. They come with image stabilization, high mega-pixel numbers, and a bunch of auto modes. For about 80% of the population, these cameras offer everything they need in a camera, and very often more than they need.

What are the benefits of a point and shoot? In most cases, a smaller form factor is their most attractive feature. Most of these cameras are so small that you can slip them into your shirt pocket and go about your day. Also, point and shoot cameras are increasingly offering more and more reach with their lenses, which allows you to take a photo of your kids playing soccer without having to chase after them. Along with the increase of their telephoto abilities comes the ability to stabilize that lens so you get sharp photos.

My favorite use for a point and shoot camera is getting those intimate moments. Sticking an SLR in someone’s face can intimidate your subject. Want to do some street photography? Leave the SLR behind unless you’re good and aren’t afraid of being challenged. Instead, grab your point and shoot! No one cares about them, they don’t see you as a professional, and that leads to more chances to take intimate photos. In reality, there is only one kind of camera that will get you really amazing street photography, but that’s another article.

So then what is the biggest pitfall of the point and shoot? For me, it is a lack of wide angle. Want to take a picture of the setting sun on the beach in Hawaii? Stand back. Get off the beach, then you might be able to get the beach in the picture. Also, the image quality is lacking compared to even the older digital SLR models. This is due to the ├╝ber-small image sensor. That also means high noise in low light.

In the end, if your a beginner to photography and don’t have aspirations of becoming a professional photographer, a point and shoot will suite your needs very well. Just make sure that you test the camera before you buy it. Bug the people at the counter – that’s what they get paid for – but don’t expect them to be able to answer all your questions. For that, head down to your local camera store (in the Grand Rapids area we recommend Norman Camera, Marks Photo and Video, or The Camera Center) and pick their brains.

Next time: Point and Shoot or an SLR? Part 2: SLR