The Question of Point and Shoot Cameras

My friend Ed Hansberry made a post to the Mobius mailing list, where we were discussing digital SLR cameras, asking whether or not he was the only one that liked point and shoot (P&S) cameras. This was my reply.


I think everyone that has a DSLR also has a P&S – the two technologies are not mutually exclusive in any way. I never leave my P&S behind, even if I’m bringing my DSLR, but I will sometimes leave my DSLR behind and only use my P&S. P&S cameras are great, but there are some things they’re not so good at:

  • fast shutter release (for getting that picture right away – even the worst DSLR is faster than the fastest P&S)
  • flexible lens choices (though there are some P&S cameras with amazing zoom)
  • low-light photography (noise free, focusing without much light)
  • super-sharp images (I love my Canon SD 870, but the image quality it has pales in comparison to any DSLR)

On the other hand, P&S cameras have video while “real” DSLRs do not. The best camera you have is the one you have on you – so there have been many instances where my P&S camera got great pictures that my DSLR did not simply because I have my P&S on me.

Ultimately this comes down to the question of using what works best for you. If you’re happy with your P&S, then that’s all that matters. On the other hand, I know several people that are going to be buying DSLRs this year because they’re frustrated with missing photos because the camera doesn’t react fast enough. The whole issue of camera vs. photographer is something we could probably debate for hours on end. Ken Rockwell stirred up the hornet’s nest here with his post entitled “Your Camera Doesn’t Matter”. It’s mostly inflammatory bunk, but there’s a grain of truth in there. If you’re only taking still-life photos, sure, with enough skill and post-processing work, you can get some amazing results from a $200 camera.

That guy is clearly a talented photographer, and his vision transcends the limitations of his gear. On the other hand, I can tell you exactly what kind of photos that guy would have gotten if he were sitting where I was sitting for the Sumo match I was at. Amazing landscape and still-life photography can be accomplished with even the most basic camera, but sports/action/people photography…not so much. There’s simply no replacement for having a big enough zoom to get closer to the action.

– Jason

PS: …I forgot to add that it’s a myth that everyone who’s using a DSLR is using it in full manual mode. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a “P” shooter (full auto) much of the time. More often than not, I’m out taking pictures in environments where what I’m seeing is only going to happen once – the risk of putting it to manual and making an error in the settings, thus missing the shot, is too great. It’s like automatic vs. manual transmissions: I trust that the car knows more about shifting gears than I do (yeah, yeah, I know it’s “more fun” to drive stick), and in the same way if I don’t have time to really stop and figure out the DSLR settings for a particular shot, I’d rather set it to auto and let the wonderfully smart camera do it for me. As a user, I focus on the things that the camera can’t do: framing, composition, angle, etc. The beauty of a DSLR is that there is that manual control – at the Sumo match I was at, I started in full auto, then switched to shutter priority because full auto wasn’t stopping the action with a fast enough shutter speed.