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6 Important DSLR Advantages over Compact Digital Camera

| August 29, 2010 | 1 Comment

Pentax k-7

Pentax k-7

During last couple of years, prices of an entry-level DSLR cameras have dropped significantly, making them affordable to almost everyone. Consequently, we see an increasing trend favoring DSLR’s over compact digital cameras, so it only seems natural to examine the advantages of purchasing a DSLR instead of compact camera.

Modern compact digital cameras have come so close to the DSLRs in terms of Megapixels, features and even accessories that to a beginner theline separating them might seem blurry. Therefore, we will illustrate the advantages of a DSLR using Pentax K-7 versus Samsung NV100 HD compact digital camera. Both of them feature 14 Megapixel sensors, for easier quality comparison. All of the photos have been shot in Krk, Croatia.

1. DSLR cameras are built for speed

If one of your priorities when choosing a digital camera is speed, a DSLR is a natural choice. Have you ever experienced the following scenario: You want to capture a fleeting moment with your compact digital camera, but here is what happens:

Samsung NV100 HD - a compact

Samsung NV100 HD

  1. Digital compacts takes up to 1 sec to start.
  2. You aim the camera at the subject, and press the shutter release button, and the camera takes additional 1 sec to lock focus
  3. When the focus is locked, the camera takes additional 1 second to take the shot

That is 3 whole seconds when trying to capture a fleeting moment. For some people, that is eternity, meaning that your shot is gone. Some digital compacts provide the “drive mode” feature, allowing the user to make a couple shots in quick succession, however those shots will either:

  • Be of lower picture quality – to allow for faster recording speed, or
  • Have locked in exposure and focusing – which makes tracking moving subjects very difficult

DSLRs are much quicker and more effective when it comes to speed. They take virtually no time to start, and all of the preparatory actions such as focusing, exposure metering, and others take a fraction of time compared to a compact digital camera. And all of the photos shot with a DSLR will:

  • Have the same picture quality – as defined in camera settings
  • Will have individually adjusted exposure and focusing

In order to test this, I have measured the time it took me to turn on my digital compact and shoot a single photo with it (by using a stopwatch), and then repeated the procedure with a DSLR to see how many shots can I get within the same timeframe. Here is the result:

Digital CompactDSLR
1 photo with compact9 photos with DSLR

It took approximately 1.8 seconds to take the photo with the digital compact, during which time I was able to make 9 photos with a DSLR. The image recording speed on a DSLR greatly depends on the camera model, and the market segment it is aimed at. Pentax K-7 is considered a mid-range DSLR with ability to shoot approx 5 frames per second (JPEG). A professional DSLR can shoot up to 16 frames per second, ensuring that you capture the image you are after.

2. DSLR camera delivers better picture quality than compact digital camera
DSLR cameras are able to deliver pictures with significantly better picture quality than any digital compact. It is quite common that a DSLR with 10 Megapixels will easily outperform a digital compact with much higher Megapixel count. If this sounds strange to you, we recommend you read an excellent post by titled: “Enough with the Megapixels Already”. Basically there are 2 reasons for this:

  1. DSLR cameras usually use much higher quality lens than digital compacts.
  2. DSLR cameras use bigger imaging sensor than digital compacts (bigger sensor = more sensitive to light, and much better noise handling)

These factors are most easily visible in low light conditions. The table below best illustrates the difference in the ability to cope with the noise in low light conditions, where high ISO needs to be used. Please note that both digital cameras feature a 14 megapixel sensor.

ISODigital CompactDSLR
ISO 100compact_ISO_100DSLR_ISO_100
ISO 100 1:1 Cropcompact_ISO_100_1_1_cropDSLR_ISO_100_1_1_crop
ISO 800compact_ISO_800DSLR_ISO_800
ISO 800 1:1 Cropcompact_ISO_800_1_1_cropDSLR_ISO_800_1_1_crop
ISO 1600compact_ISO_1600DSLR_ISO_1600
ISO 1600 1:1 Cropcompact_ISO_1600_1_1_cropDSLR_ISO_1600_1_1_crop
ISO 100 Long Exposurecompact_ISO_100_long_exposureDSLR_ISO_100_long_exposure
ISO 100 Long Exposure 1:1 Cropcompact_ISO_100_long_exp_1_1DSLR_ISO_100_long_exp_1_1

It is clearly visible that already at ISO 100 (1:1 Crop) that a DSLR rendered colors much more accurately and that digital compact is already struggling. At ISO 800, the noise is clearly an issue at 1:1 crops, where the church tower is no longer clearly defined on a digital compact. At ISO 1600 noise becomes an issue even on a full scale image (if you observe darker areas of the boat). The DSLR is also affected with noise at ISO 1600, yet the church is still distinguishable on the image. I have added an additional ISO 100 long exposure, to show that even in lower sensitivity levels the bigger sensor and better lens used on a DSLR, still makes a big difference. Speaking about the lens…

3. DSLR camera features interchangeable lens

One of the perhaps most distinct advantages of a DSLR over digital compact camera is the ability to change the lens. This gives a DSLR a huge advantage in terms of versatility. Digital compact cameras usually come with a single (zoom) lens, and a decent set of features. Some compacts might even have a decent zoom that covers broader focal length range than an initial (kit) lens of a DSLR. Diagram below illustrates the lens focal range for an average compact digital camera.

Focal Range of compact

Focal Range of compact camera

However, once you buy digital compact, you are stuck with it. With DSLR, you could have a lens for every occasion. If you need broader range, you can always purchase asuper-zoom lens. If you want to make close-up shots, you could buy the macro lens. The possibilities are virtually limitless, but this freedom comes with a hefty price tag, since good glass (lens in the photographer slang) is very expensive. Diagram below shows the lens focal range for a DSLR.

Focal range of a DSLR Camera

Focal range of a DSLR Camera

4. You have control
While one of the major benefits of the digital compacts is its automation, it’s also its biggest drawback. Everything is automated including exposure, aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. While this is a great feature for making snapshots, a photographer prefers also to have manual control over the digital camera, and here is where DSLR cameras really shine. While some digital compacts give you some control over the recording settings, only DSLRs provide full creative freedom by allowing you to take a full control over your exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance. Why is this so important? It is important, because humans are still much better at evaluating the scene then a piece of hardware (without even going into the creativity topic). It also allows you to create images like this one:



You can read more about how this photo came to be in our article Photography – Painting with light.

Speaking of creativity, there is also one big benefit to using a DSLR, which is…

5. Ability to use filters
Using filters with your digital camera gives you greater creative freedom when taking your photos. The ability to use filters is usually also reserved for DSLRs (except for a few notable exceptions). The photos below, demonstrate the use of a circular polarizer filter, one of the most common filters used in the landscape photography.

Krk townscape - Unpolarized

Krk townscape - Unpolarized

Krk townscape - Polarized

Krk townscape - Polarized

Note that in the second photo (polarized one) the sky shows more contrast and the colors are richer and better saturated. This is the only filter whose effects cannot be easily reproduced digitally in post-production. Which brings us to the final benefit of a DSLR over compact digital camera.

6. Video recording
Until recently, the ability to record video was strictly reserved to digital compacts. Fortunately, with the advancements in DSLR design it has recently become possible to record video as well. While the ability to record video is not an advantage of a DSLR over a compact digital camera, the quality of the recorded video certainly is. Thanks to higher quality lens, and bigger imaging sensor, today’s DSLRs can record video with the similar quality to the professional video cameras.

There you have it folks. I hope that you have enjoyed our little guide on DSLR advantages over compact digital camera as much as we have enjoyed assembling it. Post your comments and opinions. Happy shooting.

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Category: Beginners Photography, Photo Equipment, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at

Comments (1)

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  1. kool naveen says:

    Excellent explanation which can BE very easily understood by any common man who wants to upgrade his photography.

    Good communications

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