Handle Your Camera Like A Boss | Lesson 1 | DSLR vs. Point & Shoot

Yay!  I'm so happy you're here to learn more about your camera.  I swear, it's not as intimidating as it might seem at first.  In a little while I bet you'll be wondering what you were so worried about.    So lets just jump right in with the first lesson.  

How is my new DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera different from my Point & Shoot?

1.  Control.  You will have WAY more control over the settings when you use a dslr.  More control means better pictures.  YOU are making the decisions, not your camera.  You will also have control over which lens you use.  A point and shoot does not have interchangeable lenses.   Most likely your current camera has a zoom lens that you can use to move closer or farther from your subject.  If you want or need a different lens, too bad.  You get what you get.  A DSLR has a TON of lenses you can choose from depending on what you’re attempting to shoot.  Prime lenses, zoom lenses, macro lenses, specialty lenses, professional grade lenses...your head will spin until you figure out what they all mean to your photography.   We’ll go over some of the options later in the series.

2.  A point & shoot camera uses a separate viewfinder that you look through in order to frame your shot.  But the actual camera lens is looking at something slightly different, so the image that you see in the viewfinder is not the same image that passes through the primary lens of the camera and onto the sensor.  DSLRs on the other hand, have only one lens (the “S” and “L” part of DSLR-- single & lens) and a snazzy little mirror on the inside.  The mirror is the “R” part-- reflex.  When you look thru the viewfinder the image you see is the actually a reflection from the mirror that’s being passed along to your eyes.  Press the shutter button and the mirror flips up and out of the way, allowing the light to pass thru the camera and onto the film (or in the case of a digital camera, onto the sensor) and the image is recorded.

3.  DSLRs typically have a much larger sensor than a P&S, which translates to crisper images, much less ‘noise’ (the grainy looking effect you get when you try to take a pictures and it’s too dark outside) and much more sensitivity to light.  You’ll be able to use a faster shutter speed because of this.  And that means you’ll have the ability to ‘freeze frame’ the action shot without getting any blur.  

4.  This goes back to #1, but it’s worth mentioning on its own because people are always asking me about this.  I bet it’s the number one thing moms want to know about photography.  Here it is:  With a DSLR you will have full control over your depth of field.  Huh??  What’s depth of field?  It’s the ability to separate your foreground from your background.  Um...what?  It’s when you take a picture of someone and they are sharp and clear, but the background is all blurry and soft.   By controlling your camera’s lens aperture, you get to decide what is in focus and what is not.   You can’t do this with most of the point and shoots on the market.  

5.  There will be less ‘lag time’ when you use a dslr.  Lag time meaning, the amount of time between when you press the shutter button and when the camera actually snaps the image.  A lot of what people consider shutter lag is actually the time the camera takes to decide which settings it’s going to use.    The adorable face your kid just made might get missed if you’re using a point and shoot because the camera is thinking about how long to keep the shutter open and if it needs to use a flash, and how big the opening of the lens should go, etc. etc.  When you use your dslr, you have (and hopefully use) the option to choose your settings ahead of time thereby freeing up the camera’s computer brain and letting it just open and close the shutter.

6.  In addition to jpeg and tiff files, a DSLR is also able to shoot in a file type known as RAW.  RAW is sort of like a digital negative and it gives you a lot of creative control over your final image.   When combined with some post processing software such as Photoshop or Lightroom (both from Adobe) you will be able to enhance and correct quite a number of mistakes that you might make when you snap your photo.  And while the idea is to ‘get it right in camera’ and not mess around with fixing stuff, there are some times when you mess it up.  Things happen.   A P&S will only shoot jpeg files and even though you still can fix some mistakes, it takes a lot more time and not everything works out in the end.  


If you choose to leave your dslr camera on “auto” mode and not learn how to use all those fancy dials, you have essentially bought yourself an expensive point and shoot.  The problems you have with your P&S images might get marginally better, but you’re still going to end up with most of the same blurry, dark, or overexposed pictures.   Take a little while to read some of the Users Manual that came with your camera.   Once you start experimenting a little bit with the different modes and settings, you will find that it’s not nearly as intimidating as you thought it would be.   When you start to take better pictures, you’ll have more fun, you’ll get the camera out for more than just birthdays and you’ll have many more keepsakes for your family scrapbooks.

Next:  Lesson#2:  The Exposure Triangle