DSLR vs point and shoot in full auto mode
August 23, 2011 4:21 AM   Subscribe

Will a quality - but not necessarily top of the range - DSLR produce better photos in full auto mode than a compact point and shoot? How much better?
posted by puffl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends what you mean by better. If you are referring to pure image quality, then:



Why? It was have a significantly better quality lens, a much bigger sensor and a more complex metering system. The ergonomics are also much better, meaning that you're more likely to capture the photo that you want, not the one 3 seconds later.
posted by Magnakai at 4:26 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

It depends, on what sorts of pictures you take and how you use them. In low light situations, a DSLR will be a lot better. Big lenses admit more light. Notice how tiny the typical point-and-shoot lens is?
posted by jon1270 at 4:34 AM on August 23, 2011

Yes, a lot. Better resolution, contrast, and especially performance in low light. It won't make a shit photo good, but your options explode with a DSLR.
posted by smoke at 4:39 AM on August 23, 2011

The lenses make all the difference, and the sensor is huge compared to a point and shoot. So the answer is yes, much better.
posted by gertzedek at 4:42 AM on August 23, 2011

DSLRs have larger sensors and better lenses, both of which let them collect more light in much less time than a point and shoot. This is particularly visible in low light conditions, and results in better, less noisy pictures.
posted by mhoye at 4:47 AM on August 23, 2011

Yes it will BUT I have a dslr and got a New sony point and shoot . I got tired of carrying around the dslr and the lenses and having to put on the lens and then taking a picture.

A dslr will take better pictures in auto mode BUT if your only using it for vacation the size of it might be worse then the picture quality.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:51 AM on August 23, 2011

Depends on the definition of "better". I carry and use both; each can do things the other simply cannot do.

For example, in terms of perspective, the PNS can get insane perspective (perspective, not magnification) that my dslr can't. OTOH, my dslr has much faster frame rate - so.... it's more like the right tool for the job not "better".
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:59 AM on August 23, 2011

You should listen to people who know more than me.

But I have been on holidays with a normal Panasonic TZ10, and friends had DSLR. At more than one occasion, with different friends each having DSLR.

At the end of it all, comparing photos, I would not say the DSLR took better photos. At least, when a regular person using it. What was interesting though, is that we took 2x-3x more photos, because we *always* had the camera, whereas they would only bring, or take out, the DSLR camera when "deemed a photo time".

After culling many photos from our camera, and only keeping the good ones, those left were as good as, and more often better, than DSLR images. With exception of night, or dark shots. (caves/twilight)

Just normal people being on holiday. If you are actually into cameras, and want to go down that route, I am certain that you can, and probably will, take better photos with DSLR.

But I'm just a regular Joe, so you can ignore what I said :)
posted by lundman at 5:23 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the hidden question is, will I take better pictures if I buy a dslr, the answer is in some very small subset of pictures. Pictures that are somewhat shoddy because there wasn't enough light will look better because of the larger lens and sensor. Pictures where you shot the picture just a little too late because your camera had a slightly longer lag between button press and shot taken will be better timed.

On the other hand, what makes a good picture is a good eye, a good sense of what makes a good picture. The best way to do that is to shoot lots of pictures and then critically cull through them. If getting a new dslr gets you excited and you shoot a ton, then great, you are on your way. If the convenience of having a small compact camera on you at all times makes you shoot more, then that's awesome.
posted by advicepig at 5:42 AM on August 23, 2011

How "good" a photo is is dependent more on the photographer than the camera. A brilliantly detailed shot which the camera can sort of auto-correct for lighting can still be crap if it's framed wrong. An interestingly posed and framed shot will still be interesting even if the detail is low.
posted by valkyryn at 5:49 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unless you have a top of the line P&S you will almost always get better quality with a DSLR. The best DSLR will not shoot well under poor light conditions, will not make a crappy photographer into a pro, or prevent subjects from blinking.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on August 23, 2011

Just checked our holiday we took in July and we took ~1800 shots with P&S, after culling, and they took 334 with DSLR. I have sets of photos taken with both cameras at almost identical positions, if people were interested in seeing them and compare.

But as I said, we are just two normal families on holiday, neither of us are particularly into photography.

While looking for doubles, I thought for sure that the DSLR would beat us in the caves, but of course it turns out that they did not take the camera with them, since it was bulky to take on the mini-train into the caves, etc. And relied on our camera.

Another smaller issue, they never took any videos with DSLR, whereas I took a few 720p videos.
posted by lundman at 6:06 AM on August 23, 2011

I'll echo what a few others are saying, which is essentially if you're asking such a basic question then you're probably not asking the right question.

I own a Canon 7D (DSLR) and a couple of pretty nice lenses. But if a friend asks which sort of camera to buy, and they are only ever likely to want to use it in full auto mode then I nearly always push them towards a point and shoot. In the scheme of things the better quality that a DSLR offers is only obvious in a few sorts of situations if you're only going to use it in full auto mode. And the inconvenience of bulk and weight are almost certainly going to outweigh the benefits in your case.

As lundman pointed out, the question most people should really be asking is which camera will I take more photos which I really treasure with? And the answer for most people is almost certainly a P&S.

But if you do want a DSLR then rest assured even the cheapest ones take a remarkably good photo. If you can't specifically identify why a more expensive DSLR would help you take a better photo then in all likelihood it won't and never will.
posted by puffmoike at 6:10 AM on August 23, 2011

Way better. Lenses. All that really matters is the glass and the photographer.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to fondle my Hasselblad.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:21 AM on August 23, 2011

Which DSLR versus which P&S? I believe a Fuji Finepix X100 will take pictures as fine or better than any DSLR in its price range. That price range is $1200, though.

The important thing is to first figure out what you want to do with your camera, and then find the camera that meets those needs. A $400 P&S is not going to compete with a $900 DSLR, if that is what you are asking.
posted by Quonab at 6:33 AM on August 23, 2011

You will tend to take your best photos on the camera that you use to capture the most pictures. Lundman' - posting above - is an example of who who are motivated to take more pictures by having a DSLR: they have a device that will give them better results in marginal conditions and which will allow them to creatively play around with settings more; since they have the best camera in a group others may rely on them to take the pictures.

But the opposite can also apply: you get sick of carrying around a bulky camera that cannot fit in your pocket and which is a magnet for thieves, you get overwhelmed by all the settings, you get tired of being the person who is always spending time behind a camera rather than talking to friends, you don't want to look like a stereotypical tourist. So eventually the DSLR gets left at home in favour of a P&S. You end of taking your best pictures on the point and shoot because that is the one you always have with you.

If you can try to anticipate which of these groups you are likely to fall into then I suggest it will help you find an answer more effectively than a study of purely technological differences.
posted by rongorongo at 6:35 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

It really all depends in what sort of photos you want to take, and why.

What do you want to use the camera for? Do you examples you can link to of what you mean by 'poor' and 'good' quality, and the reasons why?
posted by carter at 6:55 AM on August 23, 2011

I don't have a DSLR, but I have something similar (Panasonic GF-1 with the 20mm lens) and many people have commented on how great the pictures look vs. a point and shoot. It's a great lens and that makes a difference.

That said, I've seen a professional photographer's blog with a section that was a bunch of pictures he'd taken with his iPhone.

They were really good. Really, really good.

So maybe it's the photographer.

Ultimately, a camera that you have with you will always take better pictures than a camera that you left at home.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:01 AM on August 23, 2011

I agree, it's a lot about the photographer. The camera only records what the photographer sets it up to do. I'm using a $350 Samsung at the moment, having previously had a Lumix LX2. I liked both, and get good results, especially at web resolutions, although they're both a bit of work to use to get the right results.

One interpretation of the original question would be, "Will quality paintbrushes help me to paint better pictures?", and the answer here is obvious.
posted by carter at 7:20 AM on August 23, 2011

> One interpretation of the original question would be, "Will quality paintbrushes help me to paint better pictures?", and the answer here is obvious.

I also wonder if the OP is asking if they'll need to learn how to use all the DSLR's settings in order to produce superior photographs.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:46 AM on August 23, 2011

I've given my DSLRs to friends that are camera novices but were interested in better cameras while they went on vacations. I'm sorry to say that even on auto mode, their pictures probably weren't as good as they'd have been with a smaller "easier to use" P&S.

What I always say to people is get a cheap camera that you initially like, be it a P&S or a totally base model DSLR off of ebay. Don't spend any large sum of money. Use it a lot.

Once you know for yourself specific reasons for wanting a better camera, you'll be able to go out and buy exactly the right one for you along with the right types of lenses you'll be able to do well with.

Picture quality per camera isn't all that it is marketed up to be. Some of your favorite photos were probably taken on cameras that people would say are bad.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2011

I've seen amazing image quality from point and shoots. For a lot of people, the size and complexity of a DSLR are probably not worth any improvements they'd see in their pictures. For landscape photography, architectural stuff, anything that doesn't involve motion, you could get pretty nice shots out of lots of cameras these days.

However, my retired father gets 500% more keepers since he bought a Nikon DSLR. He mostly takes pictures of his grandkids running around and playing and his point and shoot just wasn't up to it. He doesn't compose better images and the subject matter is what it is. And an A/B comparison of the image quality of his point and shoot vs. his DSLR are probably quite similar - digital noise, color quality, number of megapixels, pretty much everything you can analyze.

But... his DSLR is responsive enough to capture what he's aiming at most of the time, so when he's shooting stuff that moves, his images are absolutely better. The difference between a blurry kid running out of the frame (because they always move RIGHT BEFORE your point and shoot is ready!) and a sharp picture of a kid rounding first is huge. Almost all his frustrations about photography disappeared just because his DSLR is that much faster.

(He is in fully automatic mode 100% of the time and he uses the 2 kit lenses that came with his camera and nothing else.)
posted by mullicious at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2011

I like my DSLR. But I have big hands, and it's easy for me to hold. My wife has small hands, and she likes her point and shoot. She also doesn't like having to look through the viewfinder, she likes the LCD. I don't like it, because for me it makes it harder to frame shots and there's a delay imposed by having to draw the screen, while the viewfinder shows me what the camera is seeing right now.

She takes a few photos with her point and shoot. I take lots of photos with my DSLR. We don't always have the larger camera with us, true, and it can be bulky and heavy to carry around (especially with the longer lens attached, that thing almost doubles the weight!), but when we do have it, I shoot far, far more photos with it than she does with the point and shoot. We've had a digital camera of some kind since 2004; we purchased the DSLR in 2008, and have always had a point and shoot along with it. Since 2004, we've shot ~45,000 photos. About half of them were taken with the DSLR, and that's just what I kept, not counting the shots I deleted because they were out of focus, framed poorly, etc., etc. Since my wife bought her current point and shoot in 2009, we've taken a total of 7200 photos with it. In the same timeframe, we've taken probably 10,000 or more photos with the DSLR.

YMMV. But we use the hell out of that camera, bulky or not. There are any number of times I've been without it, and have been annoyed as heck that I can't get the shot I want because all I have is a weenie point-and-shoot or a cell phone camera. I miss the zoom, I miss the sharp focus, I miss the flexibility of the lenses and flash setup we have. And we have a relatively cheap camera, with relatively cheap lenses. It still crushes the point and shoot.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2011

I have an entry-level DSLR, and a point&shoot, and a camera in my phone. I also have two very small children who frequently do things I think are photo-worthy. If I can reach for any of them in time, I will always always go for the DSLR- the image quality is better, is more forgiving of lower light situations, and there's no shutter lag issue that plagues the p&s.

Now there are times where I stick the P&S into my pocket as we head out the door to the park, but I often wind up wishing I'd brought the DSLR, because of the damn shutter lag.

A DSLR is bulkier than a P&S but the weight very much depends on the lens you put on it- a super zoom lens will weigh a lot more than a nifty fifty, and like caution live frogs, I use the hell out of the DSLR, despite the bulk.
posted by ambrosia at 8:51 AM on August 23, 2011

Professional photographer here. Magnakai answered this correctly in the first answer. Lots of other conflicting and extraneous info in the thread.

Your question was very straightforward, and the answer is equally straightforward. A DSLR will exceed a point and shoot in every way that matters. Bigger sensor, better lens, instant shutter, better meter, better high-ISO performance, etc.

The image quality will always be better. Period.
posted by hamandcheese at 10:27 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also wonder if the OP is asking if they'll need to learn how to use all the DSLR's settings in order to produce superior photographs.

Sure. But the real difference can also be in the 'eye' for a photo, as much as it is in the equipment and settings. Having said that, DSLRs can be good in many situations. Mullicious' point above is one good example.
posted by carter at 10:33 AM on August 23, 2011

Generally speaking, DSLRs are capable of much more than a P&S. DSLRs will win image quality hands down, every day of the week. But the best camera is the one you have with you. Most people, serious photographers included, don't want to be encumbered by a DSLR all the time. That's why I have a P&S.

Even if a P&S has more limitations than a DSLR has, equipment is not the essence of great photography. It's far more important to understand what makes a good photo, to have a good subject, to know the limitations of your equipment and then get the shot anyway.
posted by Hylas at 12:21 PM on August 23, 2011

Perhaps a small DSLR? Micro Four Thirds or similar?

The perfect camera captures any beautiful moment you want it to.

The camera will be small enough that it'll tend to be in your hands when the moment appears, and the quality of the light capturing mechanism will help catch those last hard to attain pictures – the ones you saw in front of you but just didn't quite arrive in the photographs ...

Small DSLR.
posted by krilli at 12:42 PM on August 23, 2011

If you're in a low-light situation, the DSLR with own.

If you're in a casual situation or stumble into an unexpected opportunity, the point and shoot will own, because you won't be lugging a DSLR around at the time, while you would have a compact camera in your pocket.

Perhaps a compromise might be to get a cellphone that has a really good camera (ie a very mediocre camera but highly compact and on you at all times) for the unexpected opportunities, and a DSLR for the planned opportunities.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:46 PM on August 23, 2011

Gross, but true generalization: The cheapest bottom of the line current DSLR with a kit lens will generally be better on its worst day than a top of the line P&S camera will be on it's best.

Everything from the sophistication of the autofocus algorithms, the sophistication of the image processing, and the fact that a DSLR will have (for most people's purposes) virtually zero shutter lag, make the DSLR a clear winner.

All P&S cameras, all micro 4/3 cameras, and any non-DSLR is a compromise. Generally, it's a big compromise.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:44 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your qualifier of "full auto mode" kind of limits the potential of what you could accomplish with either camera. The basic answer would be that the DSLR has an advantage over the P&S, simply due to the technology involved. P&S cameras have come a long long way from their initial introduction and I think they've very nearly closed the gap if you start to compare high-end P&S models with mid-level DSLRs. But again, you're only looking at it from a "full auto mode" view, and sometimes that's dependent on what a specific camera has and how well it can accommodate every kind of photo opportunity.

It really does depend on what you're trying to photograph. Is there a lot of action? Is there significant depth of field? "Full-auto" essentially is a best-guess of what kind of photo to take, based on what the computer sees and how it processes data; it's not a mind-reader. DSLRs typically have enough shutter speed to capture action photos, whether fast like sporting events or moderate like people walking. DSLR lenses can allow you to adjust focus and depth of field (or the camera itself does) so you have greater control on capturing your subject. DSLRs also have the technology such that when you take your pictures with 16MP or higher resolutions, you can take more of them instead of waiting for your P&S to process each shot.

If you only see yourself taking "group photos" of your friends and family, or otherwise static shots of people and places, I think a nice P&S will do very well. Even camera phones have enough capability to handle these kinds of pictures. Having a DSLR just means you have potential to capture a wider variety of photos, and if you practice with manual settings you can achieve some pretty interesting results (starry sky, bee in flight, blooming orchids, etc).

Anecdotal example, I took my Canon Powershot SD850 IS (P&S) to the San Francisco Zoo and snapped some photos of the animals in their enclosures. I usually press the button halfway for the auto-focus, and usually there'd be a green box on my LCD display showing me where the subject is. Great!

Afterward, going through the photos I noticed that a lot of animals were blurry. But man, I got really great detail on the fencing! I could see a bit of rust, maybe some paint chips, and even some tufts of hair that got caught sometime in the past.
posted by CancerMan at 11:36 AM on August 24, 2011

IMO, it depends on if you're using the on-board flash on the DSLR. If you are, I don't think you're going to get much better pictures. You will in the sense that you can take a picture immediately instead of waiting, but the flash is going to wash everything out.

If you can get away without using it (or even better, getting a flash like a speedlite), your photos will be much better.

And even better when you learn how to use the manual settings and upgrade from the kit lens, etc.
posted by pyjammy at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2011

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