Photo: On the road to Pindaya.

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DSLR or high-end P&S camera?

Posted by Seonach on 10/3/2011 at 06:10

Hi all,

I'm planning a year-long RTW trip starting next August. So far on my travels I've only used an ordinary compact digital camera, but I find taking photos to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of travelling and want to upgrade. I've played around with my mother's DSLR and love the quality of the shots, but I don't know enough of the technical side of things to take full advantage of it. I'm also concerned about the weight and safety of a big camera during such a long trip.

As a compromise I've been looking at the more expensive compact cameras (such as the Canon PowerShot G12), and I was wondering if any of you guys have experience with them? Is the picture quality more similar to a regular compact camera or SLR? Or would someone with little knowledge but a lot of enthusiasm benefit more from an SLR on a big trip?!


#1 Seonach has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 12

Posted by Tilapia on 10/3/2011 at 06:58

Hi Seonach,

I don't really consider the G12 to be a compact camera. It's still fairly big. But regardless ... I've gone on big trips with just a compact digital, with a compact digital AND my old G3, with just my digital SLR, and with my compact digital AND my SLR.

Without getting into too much detail, I found that I was far happier with the photos I took with my SLR. I take 3 lenses and use each often. This can lead to problems such as dust on the sensor, but I had the equipment to clean the thing. All-in-all, those were the best of the bunch. At least, they surpassed my snobbishly high standards.

The photos I got with my G3 (the G12 is a far superior model) were also great but I couldn't put on a wide angle lens. I found the 24 mm excellent for buildings and landscapes. You can see my G3 photos here ...

This is a great site for seeing what kinds of photos can be taken with different cameras. Just search the site using the camera you are thinking of taking, and you'll get thousands of images to see.

The compact was excellent for photos that I wouldn't normally haul an SLR out for, like spur-of-the-moment shots with people, in restaurants, etc. The quality of the images is superb, but one is far more limited when it comes to creativity. Sure, you can do all kinds of digital things like colour accent, colour and b&w and sepia conversions, etc., but I'm talking about creating images that you can stamp your name on.

With the SLR you'll be hauling around more equipment. If you have another lens, there will be that. You'll probably want to bring a tripod, charger and extra battery should one fail, cleaning kit, and filters. There will be a lot of weight.

With the other two all you might need is a charger and an extra battery and a small cleaning kit. The weight and space requirements are significantly different.

If you only plan on making an enlargement or two, posting your images on the net, etc. then you will probably be happy with a good quality compact.

If you're serious about your images, and if you plan on spending a lot of time and effort creating photos that you might enlarge, give as gifts, or perhaps create a book with, then you should probably go with the SLR. If you're not really sure about how to use it, take it anyway and learn as you go. The road is an excellent place to learn. Just take your manual and, perhaps, a Torchlight guide or something like that.

If you can't decide, or if an SLR and all the extras are out of your budget, you won't go wrong taking the G12. It has a huge optical zoom. Take a small tripod if you get one.

Good luck.

#2 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,521
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Posted by goonistik on 10/3/2011 at 08:51

What a DSLR gives you is a larger sensor and better lenses. That is why you get a better image quality with a DSLR. There are other benefits such as the ability to add filters easily and swap lenses. To really maximize their use, you do have to learn a bit.

Camera manufacturers mention the number of megapixels but they don't mention the sensor sizes of their cameras. There are some compact cameras that feature fairly large sensors (not as large as a DSLR but larger than most P&S cameras) and decent lenses. I recommend the you take a look at the Panasonic LX-5, the Olympus ZX-1 or the Canon S95.

The LX5, ZX1, and S95 have a shorter zoom range than the G12 but open up to a much wider aperture which is useful for low-light photography. I will take a fast lens over a wide zoom range.

I am not a fan of the Canon G-series. I think of it as the bastard child of a DSLR and a compact camera. :-) It doesn't offer the benefits of a DSLR and it doesn't have the compactness and light weight of a compact. It is this mixed up hybrid of features. I find the micro 4/3 cameras like the Olympus EP2 amore attractive option. Micro 4/3 cameras offer DSLR quality in a reasonably svelte package. Between the G-series and micro 4/3, I'd rather get a micro 4/3 camera.

To be fair, I am not the target market of the G-series. It might be the right camera for you.

If you decide to go compact, look at the ZX1, LX5 and S95.
The Canon G-series is ok if you want a wide zoom range.
Micro 4/3 cameras offer DSLR quality in a package that is not much bigger than the G-series.

#3 goonistik has been a member since 7/1/2010. Location: Philippines. Posts: 563
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Posted by Tilapia on 10/3/2011 at 09:17

Hah!!! Nice one! "The bastard child of the SLR and a compact camera." I have always thought of it as a hybrid, but never as the kid that nobody wants to mention.

Something the G series has that I find quite good is the highly mobile LCD. It's excellent for "candid" shots.

Anyway, yes, sensor size is very important and to add to goonistik's recommendations, the Fuji Finepix F EXR models are excellent cameras with substantial sensors and quite good lenses.

#4 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,521
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Posted by Seonach on 10/3/2011 at 20:01

Thanks to you both, you've given me a lot to think about. Right now I'm leaning more towards an SLR or one of the micro 4/3 cameras (now that I know what they are!) The panasonic DMC-GF2 seems to get good reviews, but I also like the canon S95 that Goonistik mentioned. I'll just have to think about it a bit more and decide what exactly I want from a camera. Good thing I'm not going for another 4 months!

By the way Tilapia, trekearth's a great site and they're some fantastic shots!

#5 Seonach has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 12

Posted by somsai on 12/3/2011 at 09:54

If I had the money it would be on the micro 4/3 handsdown. The only thing the SLRs ever had going for them is sensor size.

All the work around for the view finder is old technology. I'd spend as much as I possibly could on a zoom and one wide and hang onto that thing like you love it.

For a cheap alternative either a Panasonic or a Fuji superzoom. Neither are great in low light but so what, take a mini tripod or rest it on something, light a friggin candle.

9/10 of photography is the person pushing the shutter. Bring that tiny instruction manual and read it when things get slow. Most people just put their fancy cameras on automatic mode and snap.

#6 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 566
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Posted by goonistik on 13/3/2011 at 09:45

I agree with Somsai that it is the photographer that makes the difference.

There are two things that beginners can learn that will go a long way to help them get better pictures.

First, they can learn to use the white balance settings. Many people just leave the camera in Auto White Balance (AWB) but there are many times when AWB will fail, usually indoors. Learn to use the camera presets as needed or manual white balance.

The second thing they can learn is to understand exposure. It is not difficult, the basics can be taught in an hour or two. There are tricky lighting situations and this knowledge will help you deal with those.

#7 goonistik has been a member since 7/1/2010. Location: Philippines. Posts: 563
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Posted by Seonach on 13/3/2011 at 22:55

So I went into a camera shop to look at the different ones, and the guy has me pretty much sold on the Sony Nex 5. Apparently it's the only micro 4/3 with a sensor the same size as a DSLR? I'm pretty tempted. I'm just worried about getting dust on the sensor; he said if I buy from that shop they'll always clean the sensor for free for me, but that's not gonna help me on a beach in thailand somewhere!

#8 Seonach has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 12

Posted by goonistik on 14/3/2011 at 17:20

Personally, I don't understand why the salesman says only Sony offers a DSLR sized sensor in mirrorless cameras bodies.

There are several sensor sizes used by DSLR type cameras. In order of size from biggest to smallest, these are: Full-frame, APS-H, APS-C and 4/3. APS-C are a bit larger than 4/3 sensors but there is no real practical difference between the two. (There are long involved "discussions" on the web on APS-C vs 4/3, I have no interest in repeating them here.) A case can be made either way to buy a camera with an APS-C sensor or 4/3 sensor.

The Sony NEX-5 uses an APS-C sensor. The sensor cleaning service should not be needed that often. So I wouldn't really use that as a factor in my decision.

Look at the lens selection and prices. There is no use buying into a system that doesn't have the lens you need at a price you can afford. The mirrorless cameras are a new standard and the various camera companies have limited selection of lenses. Micro 4/3 probably has the widest range and they are introducing lenses at a quicker pace. Because micro 4/3 is a standard, you can use lenses made by any of the coalition members. Sony is not a micro 4/3 member.

Most beginners make the mistake of buying long telephoto lenses. Usually people will find that going wide is more useful than going long. Long telephoto lenses are used more for sports and wildlife photography. So if you have an interest in these areas of photography, buy a DSLR and not a mirrorless camera. :-) Sorry but DSLR cameras have faster autofocusing.

I'd also play around with the menu system and see which one makes sense to you. There is also "hand feel" which is subjective. For example, my Olympus E420 feels right in my small hands but the slightly bulkier E520 feels clumsy to me.

Incidentally, these cameras are commonly called EVIL which stands for "Electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lenses." So you have the micro 4/3 cameras, the Sony NEX series and Samsung also offers an EVIL camera.

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Posted by AGGIE6680 on 29/5/2011 at 18:29

The basic operation of a DSLR is as follows: for viewing purposes, the mirror reflects the light coming through the attached lens upwards at a 90 degree angle. It is then reflected three times by the roof pentaprism, rectifying it for the photographer's eye. (Note that the diagram below incorrectly shows a non-roof pentaprism.) During exposure, the mirror assembly swings upward, the aperture narrows (if stopped down, or set smaller than wide open), and a shutter opens, allowing the lens to project light onto the image sensor. A second shutter then covers the sensor, ending the exposure, and the mirror lowers while the shutter resets. The period that the mirror is flipped up is referred to as "viewfinder blackout". A fast-acting mirror and shutter is preferred so as not to delay an action photo.


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