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Digital Picture Basics Lesson 2 - DSLR Vs. Point and Shoot Cameras

You've probably heard about DSLR cameras, but the average person doesn not know the difference between this and the traditional point and shoot camera. Most people think that the difference is that one is compact and the other tends to larger and bulky. This is usually right, but there is a very big difference in how the two operate.

The main difference is how the photographer sees the scene.

Point and Shoot Cameras


In a point-and-shoot camera, the viewfinder is a simple window through the body of the camera. You don't see the real image formed by the camera lens, but you get a rough idea of what is in view.



1. Lens

2. Image Sensor - CCD

3. Processor Chip

4. Liveview LCD

5. Memory Card

Point and Shoot Camera Operation

The light passes through the Lens(1) directly onto the Image Sensor-CCD(2) which then uses the Processor Chip(3) to re-create and image of what the lens sees on the Liveview LCD(4). The result is a "liveview" of what the lens is seeing.

When a picture is taken, the Processor Chip(3) takes the light information from the Image Sensor-CCD(2) and stores it on the Memory Card(5). The Liveview LCD(4) then temporarily displays the picture that was taken.

This has become the standard way that most people have learned to use digital cameras. There are a few disadvantages:

1) The extra step of processing (the chip) what the lens sees before you get to see it on the viewfinder, means a split second delay in capturing a photo. If you taking a picture using the LiveView on the LCD, you are actually seeing things a split second after they have happened.

2) Because of their compact nature, Point and shoot cameras usually have a smaller sensor which means lowe image quality.

3) Lenses/adjustments are 100% computer controlled which severly limits the types of photography you can do with your point and shoot camera.

There are, however, some definite advantages to point and shoot cameras including:

1) The cost of the average digital point and shoot is far less than a DSLR ($100-$300 vs. $600-$10,000)

2) The more compact nature of point a shoot camera makes it portable and more user-friendly. Hence you are more likely to carry it with you and capture pictures you might have otherwise missed out on.

3) They are pretty much idiot-proof. Set the camera to auto-mode and start clicking away! Many high-end point and shoot cameras allow you to set features like ISO and white balance, but if you don't know what you're doing you'll never miss out.


DSLR Cameras - (Digital Single Reflex)

dslr4The biggest difference in using a DSLR camera is that you don't use the Liveview LCD to take photos. Instead, you use the eye-piece. This may seem like a bad thing at first, but the difference is, that you are seeing the photo exactly as in would appear from the lens at the precise moment that it is happening. This means that the resulting photo is exactly what you see through the eyepiece.



1. Lens

2. Relex Mirror

3. Shutter

4. Image Sensor (CCD)

5. Focusing Screen

6. Condensing Lens

7. Pentaprism

8. Eyepiece

9. Processor Chip

10. Memory Card

11. LCD Screen

DSLR Camera Operation

In a DSLR, light passes through the lens(1) and reflects off the Reflex Mirror(2) which is tilted at a 45 degree angle. From there, the light travels through a Focusing Screen(5) and a Condensing Lens(6) before it is redirected by the Pentaprism(7) to the Eyepiece(8).

When a photo is taken, the Reflex Mirror(2) swings up as the Shutter(3) opens exposing the Image Sensor - CCD(4) to the light from the lens. This is the distinct "click" sound that you hear when using a DSLR. The CCD then transfers the information to the Processor Chip(9) which then stores it on the Memory Card(10). The LCD(11) on the back of the camera then displays the resulting image.

There are a few big advantages to DSLR cameras:

1) The fact that there is no Liveview LCD give you a more precise picture.

2) Bigger body means a DSLR can accomodate a bigger sensor. This means a significant increase in image quality. The sensors in these cameras are also more expesive and thus, tend to be more sensitive to light making DSLR cameras more adaptable to areas with low light and allowing you to capture photographs that would not be possible with a point and shoot camera.

3) A DSLR allows you complete control over features like shutter speed and aperture. The features are flexible because of their predominant use by professionals.

4) A DSLR also allows you to use a wide variety of lenses which allows for different kinds of photography. So you can use wide angle lenses, telescopic lenses, fish eye lenses, etc. The best part is that if you do want to bother with the controls you can always set the camera to auto mode.

DSLR disadvantages include:

1) Bulky and heavy, with many attachements, lenses and accessories to lug around

2) Can be expensive, but depending on your reason for purchasing, could be a good investment long-term.

3) DSLR cameras require maintenance. Frequent cleaning and inside and out is must if you expect to preserve picture quality.