DSLR or Point and Shoot?
February 6, 2009 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a low end DSLR or a high end point and shoot?

Yes, this has been asked before, but not this month.

So my wife is pretty happy with her point and shoot compact camera, but has recently expressed two dissatisfactions with it- she’d like a bigger zoom and she’s frustrated with the shutter lag. I figured a nice valentine’s gift would be a second camera, one that would not replace the compact but supplement it. I started researching high-end compact ‘superzoom’ cameras, and I figure she’d be real happy with a Canon SX10 IS (about $350).

I got very close to ordering when I noticed that I could get an entry-level DSLR (Canon Rebel XS) for about $460. The big attraction of the DSLR is the greatly reduced shutter lag, a real frustration for my wife. It would also take better pictures, tho this is not actually a real big deal- we’re quite happy with the pictures the little compact takes. It comes with a 18-55mm zoom lens, which of course isn’t as exciting as the 20x lens on the SX10 IS, but if that was a big issue I could always buy a bigger zoom lens when we had more funds.

So I can afford the extra ~$100, but I’m not sure which camera would fit her needs better. She’s a point and shoot picture taker and would be quite happy, I’m sure, with the pictures taken by the cheaper camera. OTOH, she’d just love to capture our kids’ expressions without the frustrating shutter lag she’s had to get used to. With either camera, she’ll be using the automatic settings and is unlikely to spend much time learning how to take advantage of more advanced features or manual settings. So I guess my question boils down to this: assuming a point and shoot attitude, which camera will take better pictures?

Incidentally, weight is not a big deal, since she’ll not be carrying this camera except when we specifically want to be taking pictures- the compact camera will be the default for spontaneous shots. Recommendations for alternatives to the Rebel XS are welcome, but understand that spending $600+ for this purchase isn’t really an option.
posted by carterk to Shopping (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you can, borrow a DSLR for a week and see if your wife likes it. DSLRs are larger, heavier and less likely to be carried around. Manual controls are a big plus, image quality is significantly better, especially if you learn to shoot on Manual. Good lenses are very expensive, expect to pay $300+ for a good 50mm prime and then double and triple that for good zoom lenses (check Amazon for lense prices before you commit)

If it's for casual photography I'd go for the point and shoot, as it is small, convenient, automatic and easy. You shouldn't have shutter lag issues with the new models.

Just because you can afford a DSLR doesn't mean you should buy it.

Again, if you can, borrow one and see if she uses it.
posted by andreinla at 7:42 PM on February 6, 2009

It seems like the thing she wants is portability and less shutter lag. I'd suggest another point and shoot with a lithium battery in it, not one that uses AAs. They generally shoot much faster. Go to a store and actually test them out shot after shot to see what the shutter lag is.

I don't even know if I'd bother with a superzoom. I have one, and they aren't that portable. They don't fit in a pocket, and if you're going to go with a superzoom, just get a DSLR. They're about the same portability-wise.
posted by sanka at 7:45 PM on February 6, 2009

Do you know how much lenses for SLRs with a good zoom range (that is, a zoom effectively equivalent to the point and shoot) will cost you? At least as much as the camera and up to several times the cost of the camera. They're also quite heavy and that may be a turn off if she's never lugged around a few pounds worth of camera on her neck before. Sounds like SLRs are a bad match for your budget and her picture taking style.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:49 PM on February 6, 2009

I would go with the DSLR, and check out pawn shops for lenses, as an alternative the route I went with was to get the Olympus 510 with the 2 lens kit, because the Olympus kit lenses were better quality then the stock Canon lens, right now Amazon has it for $515 Link (new window)
posted by kanemano at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2009

Have you thought about a Canon G10? The shutter lag on it (half->full press) is only 150ms which compares favorably to 50-60ms on an SLR (1/10th second difference). Zoom is 28-140mm.
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:54 PM on February 6, 2009

Response by poster: Portability is not an issue. We have the portable camera that will always be with us- I'm looking to buy the camera that we bring specifically when we want to shoot photos.

I've read a number of online reviews which generally suggest that shutter lag, while better than it was a few years ago, continues to be an issue until one goes to a DSLR. Apparently the superzooms are a bit worse than average as at larger zooms the AF takes longer.

The kit lens' 18-55m amounts to ~3x zoom, yes?
posted by carterk at 7:54 PM on February 6, 2009

Had a P&S (Canon A70), wanted more zoom. Got a SuperZoom (Sony H1, 12x), was great, but it was also much bigger and too slow, eventually upgraded to the Canon XTi, 18-55 was not enough zoom (3x), so we dropped another $450 on a Tamron 18-250 zoom lens. The whole package ended up costing me about $900, but it is the best camera setup we have ever had. The 18-250 (13x) is a great walkaround lens. I never take it off.

A few months later, we bought a Canon 870IS to fill-in the carry-around P&S void that was now missing. It's nice having the combo of a good DSLR + the portability of the P&S. The 870 is so small that it actually fits in one of the side pockets of our DSLR case! It's great to carry around when the DSLR is too big.
posted by stew560 at 8:01 PM on February 6, 2009

DSLR! Even though she's not interested in taking "better" pictures maybe she'll have fun with the DSLR and want to!
posted by austinlee at 8:04 PM on February 6, 2009

Response by poster: So, I'd heard conventional wisdom was that P&S were set up for the novice user, and that getting good images out of a DSLR took a bit of of time learning how to use the settings and such.

However, there's a previous MF thread where at least one poster insists that the new DSLRs have the same automatic settings that the P&S cameras have; that the pictures taken by a novice user with a DSLR will be noticeably better than those taken with a P&S. If this is true, then I almost certainly want the DSLR.

See, she wants 2 things; the superzoom gives her the zoom but the DSLR eliminates shutter lag. Each of my options only gives me one of her objectives, but the DSLR sounds more attractive at this point because the bigger zoom *could* be achieved at a later date with another lens, and meanwhile all her photos could look better (if the second of the 2 above viewpoints was closer to the truth).
posted by carterk at 8:11 PM on February 6, 2009

I've got a Canon G10, and it's a great camera. Shutter lag isn't noticeable in the auto mode, and if you eventually want to get artsy it can do that, too. Prints are comparable to what I get from my D20. It's a little more expensive, but it's Canon's top-of-the-line point and shoot. It's been out less than a year, so it won't be obsolete too soon.

The trick to catching the moment with it is to press the shutter button til focus locks, then all the way when you see something you like. Haven't missed anything yet.
posted by theroadahead at 8:14 PM on February 6, 2009

The biggest problem I've had with DSLRs is that they immediately cause people to jump off the deep end and start talking about equipment like prime 50mm lenses and 18-250mm zoom setups, both of which are (a) very expensive and (b) totally unnecessary to get started and take pictures that are far, far superior to P&S cameras.

After spending a while hunting for deals I stumbled into a package for a Nikon D40 with its kit lens and a VR 55-200mm lens for about $500. (This same package is now almost $600 on Adorama, but it was fluctuating wildly day to day when I was shopping around.) The pictures are fantastic and started out that way basically right out of the box. My wife uses it in full-automatic mode and her pictures look great.

A lot of people reserve special passionate anger for Ken Rockwell, but I've found a lot of his advice pretty compelling, and became pretty won over by his extensive love affair with the D40.

At work I have access to a bunch of higher-end DSLRs and I just spent a couple of days shooting with a D200. I think I actually like my "inferior" D40 more, if only because it's easier for a non-camera-nut like me to use.

Sorry to go on so long. I'm ranting because I'm depressed at how long it took me to get a DSLR -- it's a huge difference. The points made about them being less likely to go everywhere with you are quite valid, but it's been trivial to shove my little old P&S in my bag just in case, and bring the DSLR when I know I'm in the mood to take pictures.
posted by range at 8:30 PM on February 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

See, she wants 2 things; the superzoom gives her the zoom but the DSLR eliminates shutter lag.

As I said above, I have a superzoom. I have a Panasonic FZ-8 (12x), now replaced by the FZ-18 (18x). Great cameras and very little shutter lag. Comparable to a DSLR for sure. Then there's even a setting where you can just hold the button and it'll take shot after shot for as long as you hold it.
posted by sanka at 8:40 PM on February 6, 2009

the DSLR option is like giving her a whole new visual world to work with...using a viewfinder instead of looking at an lcd screen...having the ability to use your fingers to zoom or focus rather than pushing a button...it is more of a visceral experience...and it is faster.

The automatic settings work great, and once she discovers all the photo blogs about taking pics of kids, she will want "bokeh" and a prime 50mm lens...but Canon's best lens for the money is the 50mm f1.8...and it is $70-80. I've taken magazine cover shots with a lens that cost me less than $100. Of course the $1000 lens is better, but that is a whole different world, where you are buying cameras as a secondary thought to the lens you use...don't worry about that at all. If you have any friends that have been shooting DSLRs for a while they may even have lenses just laying around. I gave my co-worker a sigma 30-70 zoom i hadn't used for a few years. It works fine, but has been dropped and so i wouldn't have felt right about selling it.

my wife uses my 20D with the 50mm1.8 every day for taking pics for her Etsy shops and has no problems, and has had almost no instruction from me.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:42 PM on February 6, 2009

Short answer: DSLR. (Specifically, I love my Nikon D40.)

She can set it on Auto and fire away if that's what she wants. Zero shutter lag. Great battery life. (Keep in mind that ANY camera may have lag if it's waiting for the flash to recharge, but that's not technically the same thing.) If she wants to learn more, she can take it step by step and go as far as she wants. Or not. I have friends who keep their D40 on Auto all the time, and love it.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:48 PM on February 6, 2009

Thirding the Canon G10.
posted by cazoo at 8:49 PM on February 6, 2009

I set my Nikon D50 on auto and let my 6 year old granddaughter take photos, and they come out just fine, thankyouverymuch. I've never seen anyone regret a DSLR once they've tried it.
posted by pjern at 9:01 PM on February 6, 2009

What does she generally take pictures of? I'm just wondering why she would want, for example, 20x zoom. If it's mainly of your kids, I would go for an SLR - kids move fast, and SLRs are quicker to respond to what you want (as others have said). In my experience, it's much more intuitive using a kit zoom lens to zoom in with an SLR than with buttons on a compact. And if the zoom's not enough, use your feet and actually move in closer to your subject.
posted by minus zero at 9:39 PM on February 6, 2009

Absolutely! Get her a DSLR! The Nikon D60 is under $500 now with the 18-50mm kit lens. I got it for Christmas with a 18-200mm mid-range zoom lens ($600, but I think I certainly could have spent a much, much longer time learning with the kit lens), and it's been the best gift ever (I didn't even know what "SLR" stood for until about a month ago). My pictures get better every single week, and I have a wonderful new hobby. In summary, it's worth it. No doubt about it.
posted by halogen at 9:47 PM on February 6, 2009

Response by poster: So much useful advice, thanks. Yes, this is all about taking pictures of the kids- I think she got the idea of having more zoom when the kids were playing a hundred feet away on the beach and she wanted photos.

Um, it's easier to zoom in with an SLR because... you grab the lens and do it manually? Or am I missing something?
posted by carterk at 9:59 PM on February 6, 2009

With a P+S you have to push the fiddly little zoom lever, wait for the zoom motors to actuate and move the lens, and you only get a limited number of zoom levels. With an SLR lens you just twist the barrel; going from wide to all the way zoomed can be done practically instantly, and you can zoom exactly as far as you like.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:25 PM on February 6, 2009

why don't you just ask her?

take her to Best Buy and try out cameras together. The camera that fits best in her hands is the camera that she will want. I have both a p&s and dslr (actually, two now that I finally have my Canon 5D MarkII)

Shutter lag is easily solved by the newer p&s cameras. The dslr has a fast shutter- but it's also bigger, bulkier, heavier and has a steep learning curve for a person who has used only p&s'es before. That person was once me. I missed using my p&S for a long time before I could easily use the Rebel, and now the MarkII.

Sure there's shutter lag when you are taking a picture with your p&s. But you will also take a moment or few to adjust the lens when you are taking a photo with the dslr. Will it be a wide angle, or zoomed in? Will you even want to be changing lenses before a photo opp? The p&s obviates all that.

If you don't want to bring your wife to the store then buy from an outfit that allows you to return the camera and exchange for another, up to 30 days after purchase.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:27 PM on February 6, 2009

It's easier to zoom quickly and precisely with a DSLR, sure. Being able to whip between wide and portrait on that kit lens is nice—I missed having that kind of framing control during the years I was shooting on a P&S.

Shutter lag is huge. If the P&S crowd has closed in on that some, that's great to hear, but I haven't used one yet that didn't feel sluggish to me. There's "not much lag" and then there's a real SLR feel, and the two are distinct experiences.

If you do decided to go with the Rebel line, there's a fantastic value in the "Nifty Fifty" 50mm f/1.8 II; it's an $80 lens that is just fantastic value for the money—great images, nice and fast (huge for shooting low light or for grab candids of fast-moving objects like kids).

That lens on a camera with a decent sized sensor plus a little bit of judicious cropping and your wife won't have to worry about zoom so much. Get the shot and crop it down as necessary.
posted by cortex at 10:33 PM on February 6, 2009

If your wife didn't already have a point-and-shoot camera, I would be on the bandwagon pushing the Canon G10, as it has all the size and simplicity of a pocket camera, plus manual controls and available converter lenses that will give an extra 2x telephoto effect to its 5x lens (mathtime: up to 10x optical, and if you use the 4x digital zoom, up to 40x). It has a great feel in the hands, and will support a developing photographer of any level.

Since she already has a camera, go with a dSLR. If you're looking at an entry-level Canon, I would advise you to check out the Canon Rebel XSi instead of the XS. It's got some features that make moving up from a point-and-shoot a little easier for a casual photographer, such as the Live View feature on the LCD screen, and the use of the same sort of memory cards that many point-and-shoot cameras use.

Get the "nifty fifty" Canon 50mm 1.8 lens as recommended above by th3ph17. It's under $100 and excellent. If this combo was my Valentine's Day present, I'd be happy as a clam.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:35 PM on February 6, 2009

...and Cortex.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:35 PM on February 6, 2009

I'd recommend either the Panasonic DMC-FZ28 or the Panasonic DMC-FZ50. Either of the two are a nice compromise between a P&S and a DSLR. The benefits are better, bigger (Leica) lens, more shooting options and just better overall photos than a regular P&S. The benefit over a DSLR is that it has a longer telephoto option and because the lens doesn't come off you wouldn't have to worry about lint getting trapped in the camera. This is a huge problem nobody talks about.

The Panasonic DMC-FZ50 is a step up from the Panasonic DMC-FZ28, because there's a manual focusing ring and manual zoom ring. The manual zoom ring comes in handy when you're shooting video. It also has a flash hot shoe so you can buy a nice external flash that bounces light, which produces excellent indoor pics. These are both great cameras and well within your price range. If your wife has no experience shooting with a SLR or DSLR you might want to look into one of these cameras, especially if she has no desire to really learn about the art of capturing light. It would kinda be a waste to buy a DSLR and just use it on auto mode. With these Panasonics she could learn a lot about photography and her next camera could be a DSLR is she so chooses.
posted by wherever, whatever at 11:06 PM on February 6, 2009

...wouldn't have to worry about lint getting trapped in the camera. This is a huge problem nobody talks about

???. Don't change lenses while standing next to your dryer exhaust vent. For the very rare spec of dust, compressed air or a cleaning device work fine.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:40 PM on February 6, 2009

Hey OxFCAF, most of the professional photographers I work with wouldn't think about cleaning their own sensors. They recognize the delicate nature of DLSR sensors and choose to send them out for cleaning. It's not worth the risk to DIY when you have a $5000 camera body. Dust accumulation is a recurring problem with DLSRs and compressed air is not the way to go to clean it off. Here's a decent Macworld article about cleaning off your sensor, if you should so dare.
posted by wherever, whatever at 12:33 AM on February 7, 2009

You could do way worse than the two lens Nikon D40 kit mentioned by range in the second paragraph of his/her answer.

That represents a huge amount of picture taking capability per dollar spent.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:07 AM on February 7, 2009

I'd also like to point out a minor correction upthread... as I understand it, an 18-55mm DSLR lens is not a 3x zoom, but a 2x zoom. It's loosely equivalent to a 28-80mm SLR lens, and the normal focal length for one of those is around 40mm, so zooming in all the way is only 2x zoom, not 3x zoom.
posted by vernondalhart at 3:03 AM on February 7, 2009

I'd highly recommend going for a DSLR. I had the 400D (aka XTi) and thought it was brilliant. Either that or the 450D (aka XSi) are worth going for. The XS is very similar to the XTi, and I think that she'll get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

The 50mm lens that's been noted is good for portraits (hell, I still use it on my 5D!), and the 18-55 IS (image stabilisation) lens is a fine piece of glass. Make sure it's the IS version, as the non-IS one is probably worth skipping.

I'd also recommend a small camera bag that you can throw over your shoulder. I have a Crumpler Ben's Pizza Medium, which fit the camera and an extra lens very snugly, and was small enough to never bother me. I don't think they still sell that, but you should be able to find something similar.

I personally wouldn't worry about a learning curve. I've lent my XTi to my housemates plenty of times, stuck it on Auto, and they've taken some brilliant pictures. So much so, in fact, that one of them is saving up to buy her own one, simply based on playing with it in Auto. If your wife wants to take her photographic interest further, then she has the capability of doing so, but that's always merely an option.
posted by Magnakai at 3:25 AM on February 7, 2009

As others have said I would recommend you ask her or go somewhere where you can try out the models. Apart from that I would give another vote for the Panasonic cameras mentioned above. In terms of size the valid comparison is between the P&S and an SLR with a fairly large sized zoom lens and perhaps another one for wide angles shots.

In the end I believe you should be looking for the solution which leaves you with the collection of the best photos. With the SLR each photo she takes will probably be or higher quality - but she will probably take fewer than she would if she had a carry-anywhere P&S.

Finally I believe you need to gauge the degree to which she will be interested in learning about the camera. Both high-end P&S and SLR cameras are complex devices with many shooting modes -and both will reward those who are willing to spend hours reading about and experimenting with different settings. The sexist cliché of photography is that men are drawn to it by the equipment and women by the subject off the pictures (and just want a camera that does the right thing). P&S cameras are a superior solution for somebody who would prefer to keep the camera set on "auto" almost all the time.
posted by rongorongo at 5:39 AM on February 7, 2009

I'd also like to point out a minor correction upthread... as I understand it, an 18-55mm DSLR lens is not a 3x zoom, but a 2x zoom. It's loosely equivalent to a 28-80mm SLR lens, and the normal focal length for one of those is around 40mm, so zooming in all the way is only 2x zoom, not 3x zoom.

"Zoom" is a relative term when it comes to lenses. The zoom of a lens is calculated as the ratio between the minimum and maximum focal lengths, in the case of 18-55, 55/18 = 3.05x zoom ratio.

It's also confusing because a fixed focal-length 100mm lens is not considered a "Zoom" lens, even through relative to the 50mm "Normal" length of a full-frame lens, it is 2x from life size, but you cannot actually "zoom" the lens to any other focal length.

18-55 (28.8-88 equiv) on a DLSR with a APC-S sensor is a good fit because you end up with some wide angle and some telephoto around the 50mm mark. By this logic the 18-55 is both a (88/50) 1.7x Telephoto and a (50/28.8) -1.7x wide angle lens.

Also, this is how P&S's are marketed, so why should DSLR's be any different? The G10 is advertised as having a 5x lens, but it really has a 28-140mm equiv. They don't take into account the difference from 50mm, they take into account the full range of the lens.

(Nevermind the fact that the G10 actually has a 6.1-30.5 lens with a MUCH smaller sensor)
posted by stew560 at 5:46 AM on February 7, 2009

I have a panasonic luminix with 10x zoom and 8 mega pixel. I just bought a nikkon d40 . Basically the nikon version of the cannon your looking at. I like the dslr nikon much better then my point and shoot.

By the Dslr for her. She can always use her current point and shoot when she doesnt want to bring the dslr .

I get much better pictures out of my 6 megapixel dsl then my poitn and shoot at 8 megapixels with 10x zoom.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:21 AM on February 7, 2009

  • An 18 - 50 lens is not a telephoto lens. It is, however a "zoom" lens that goes from wide angle to "normal." If you want telephoto you'll have to get a lens that goes closer to 200. Wide angle is good for getting lots of scenery or lots of people into a picture, which is why they're popular with point & shoot cameras. Telephoto is good for taking close up pictures of things that are far away. If you want both with your SLR you'll need a very expensive & heavy 18-200 lens. The alternative is to get a kit with 18-50 and 50-200 and keep changing lenses. note: My 18-200 cost around $800 - more than the camera, you can find them cheaper, but not with image stabilization (see below) she’d like a bigger zoom ... She won't be happy with an 18-50 lens. Anyone who says they want a "bigger zoom" means they want to get close in to details that are very far away.
  • With longer zooms also comes more camera shake This is when small jittery shakes at your hand are amplified by the fact that you're zooming in on something so far away. Imagine holding a 20 foot pole. Tiny movements in your hand will result in big movements of the pole on the other end - it's the same for zooming in with a camera. Many modern cameras (and/or lenses) can compensate for this, so be sure to check this before you get a "big zoom" lens.
  • Modern SLRs can be used as point-and-shoot cameras The automatic ("Auto") settings on a modern SLR are basically the same as the automatic settings on a point-and-shoot. Nikon cameras have a slight edge over Canon cameras here in that the ISO/ASA "film speed" (sensitivity in dark conditions) can also be set on automatic. (This feature is on almost every point & shoot camera in the world.) Newer Canon SLRs have this, but almost all Nikons do. However, overall, Nikon cameras are more difficult to use when you start getting into advanced features - many things are hidden behind menus that are slightly more evident on Canon cameras.
  • Don't expect shutter lag to completely go away, or expect to take out of focus pictures When I first got my Nikon D200 I loved the zero shutter lag when I was shooting outdoors or had focus already. I got it home and took some pictures around the house and wondered why it almost seemed to refuse to shoot when I pushed the button. I heard the motor hunt for focus & then nothing - no shot. Then I realized there's a "Focus priority / Shutter priority" setting in the menu - will it only shoot when it's in focus / will it shoot at any time you push the button, even when it's not in focus. When in auto, your SLR will likely want to focus before it releases the shutter. If you've "push the shutter halfway down to focus the camera + then fully press" it should be fine, but in situations where it has to hunt for focus (low light/low contrast situations), it may not take the photo right away because it's not in focus. Of course, your wife may learn to live manual focus & then this won't be an issue.
Worth taking into account
  • Research zoom lenses that go to 200. Either 18-200 or 50-200. See what that would realistically add to the cost of your purchase. There are "18-50 + 50-200" camera kits that are reasonably priced, but do you really want to exchange lenses all the time? FYI, The SX10 has a lens equivalent to "28-560mm" - I was very happy with a (film) SLR that went up to 400. She'll be trilled with one that goes to 560. note: as others have mentioned, the modern SLR 18-200 is really more like 28-300... the reasons are complex, but it makes comparing apples-to-apples difficult unless you know what you're looking at.
  • Make sure either the lens, or camera, has Image Stabilization. (The SX10 does)
  • I found this data for shutter lag on the SX10: Full Autofocus 0.604 - 0.543 sec Prefocused 0.079 sec This is very respectable - half a second if it hasn't been focused, near instantaneous if it has been focused. [source]
Recommendation: Get the SX10.
posted by Muffy at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2009

OK looking at the two cameras you've picked to choose between, these are the deciding issues I see:

Noise / ISO: Point and shoots have come a long way, but they're still fairly noisy at higher ISOs (anything above 400) because of the smaller chip size. A dSLR will have less noise, which will be great for low light (indoor) shots. [Winner: dSLR]

Zoom: The p&s SX10 has a 20x zoom, which is equivalent to 28 - 560mm (ref.). You would have to shell out a good bit of money to get that much zoom on a dSLR, especially one with IS like the SX10. (Though I have to say if your wife isn't taking photos of wildife, is that kind of zoom really necessary? The most popular portrait lens for pros is 70-200mm.) [Winner: P&S]

Shutter Lag: Having a hard time finding exact specs for the SX10 because it's so new. But the SX100 (announced at about the same time) has an Off to Shot Taken time of 2.5sec. The Rebel XS has an Off to Shot Taken time of less than 0.1 sec (ref.). [Winner: dSLR]

Auto Modes: The SX10 has 8 modes and 10 scene modes available, beyond the basics. The Rebel has 5 modes and 6 picture styles (+ 3 custom) available, beyond the basics. The P&S has a slight edge numbers wise, but they don't elaborate on the differences between the modes and frankly, you can achieve all of those effects with some basic shutter and aperture understanding. [Winner: Tie]

Auto Focusing: The dSLR has 7 focus points while the SX10 has 9 focus points with face assist. [Winner: P&S]

Continuous Shooting: (For capturing quick moving action.) The dSLR can do 3 frames per second JPG, the SX10 can do 1.4 frames per second. [Winner: dSLR]

The X Factor: The dSLR can shoot RAW, which if your wife is interested in using in conjunction with Photoshop's RAW editor, can save shots that would have otherwise have been tossed. With RAW, if a photo comes out too dark, you can lighten the photo in Photoshop's RAW editor up to 2 stops while losing hardly any image quality. This sort of thing is not possible with JPG photos, but again, is only useful if your wife is willing to use RAW and Photoshop.

So there you have it. Personally I would go with the dSLR, but I'll admit I'm a bit biased seeing as how I already own two :) I think your best move is to compare the options carefully and choose what you think fits your wife best. I got most of my info from these two sites: SX10 IS specs and Rebel XS specs.

(FWIW, Costco is currently selling a package with the Rebel XS, 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses for $700)

Good luck!

posted by geeky at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2009

As they say, the best kind of camera is the one you will carry around with you and actually use! I have both compact P&S cameras and DSLR's, and for casual snapshot shooting I MUCH prefer the compact P&S. However, if I want to "take photographs" then there is no comparison, get the DSLR. But I agree with former posts, go to a camera store and have her try out a few models. She'll probably naturally gravitate to the one that works for her and makes the most sense. Also, the fun of a DSLR is that it will open up the world of photography to her, especially if she's willing to go past the "Auto" settings. That's when the real fun begins, when you actually feel like you have control over the image.

Also, it's probably a good idea to stick with Nikon or Canon for DSLRs. If she decided to get more serious with photography, she won't be stuck with a camera system that will limit her.
posted by jcmilton at 6:42 PM on February 7, 2009

Neither my wife or I are photographers, even hobbyists level compared to some of the comments here.
We had an old P&S with terrible shutter lag.
I got a pentax d100 a year ago. It is a fantastic DSLR. It takes great photos, is easy to use on auto mode, and was cheap. It also can use old manual pentax lenses. I bought a 300mm tamron lens off ebay for $30 that gave great pics last time we went to the zoo (albeit with manual focus and aperture).
For christmas I got my wife a little point and shoot - a cheap pentax, with the goal of giving her a step above a cell phone cam that could live in her hand bag..
She now dislikes both the lag, which is compounded by a slower auto focus than the DSLR kit lens and the lack of a real viewfinder on the P&S.
I had my first real go of it yesterday, and it was much more cumbersome to use (things like turning off the flash, adjusting zoom levels) than the simple "point and shoot" of my lowest end, cheapest DSLR set on auto.
If you have a satisfactory P&S, definitely get a DSLR. And I can recommend a Pentax as being full featured enough to last well into an advanced hobbyist level of interest, although I think the same is probably true of any other DSLR.
The worries about dust on the image sensor up thread are overblown.
Get a DSLR with a kit lens to start and have some photos fun.
posted by bystander at 4:33 AM on February 8, 2009

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