D-SLRs Vs. Advanced Compacts
Both digital camera types offer real advantages—which one is right for you?
As photographers, we've always faced choices—automatic exposure vs. manual, slides vs. negatives, large format vs. 35mm. It's no surprise, then, that digital photography has created another one—digital SLR (D-SLR) vs. advanced compact. Both camera types offer their own advantages and disadvantages; which one is best for you depends on the kind of images you like to shoot and the trade-offs you're willing to make.
Some of the differences, like size and cost, are easy enough to see with a casual look around at a camera store. Other differences, though, won't become apparent until you handle the various models or go out shooting, and still others won't show up until you've downloaded your images. We'll show you what to look out for so that you can find the camera that's right for you.
A camera's viewing system is central to how it behaves and the kinds of images you can make with it. In the past, you'd choose between viewing and focusing your image with a ground glass or peering into a straight-through optical finder. In addition to these systems, we now have rear-panel LCD monitors and electronic viewfinders (EVFs). D-SLRs and advanced compacts each display images using two of these methods, and each camera's combined approach offers distinct pluses and minuses.
D-SLR Viewing. A D-SLR's main viewing system bounces light directly from the lens off a mirror and onto the ground-glass viewing screen that you see in the camera's viewfinder. This approach offers several advantages, not the least of which is that the image is seen in real time, including whether your image is sharply focused. Of all the available viewing systems, a D-SLR's ground glass offers the clearest viewfinder image.