Last March, I attended a media event with Sony, where I was fortunate enough to spend three full days on location in Park City, Utah learning how to use a variety of their newest cameras, video cameras, and tablets. I now have enough knowledge to make a decision about bringing my DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot Camera wherever I go. I traded in my trusty Nikon point-and-shoot for the duration of the trip, and absorbed the information and in-the-field tutorial of Sony experts. I’ll tell you, I was a bit nervous. I’m not especially tech-savvy, despite using cameras in my line of work as a travel writer for years. I was sure the Sony experts were going to push me out of my comfort zone (the world of point-and-shoots) and make me leave mine behind. So what is really the best?
DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot Camera
Instead, I came away from the experience buoyed by two facts:
1. While DSLR (which stands for digital single lens reflex) cameras are often the go-to choice for specific functions and results, they don’t have to be complicated.
2. Point-and-shoots still have their place in my day pack or purse.
What a relief! I didn’t want to give up the convenient size of my point-and-shoot, which fits so nicely in my pocket. And those intimidating DSLRs? They’re not so scary as you might think. Oh, and plus? Video cameras can be quite small now, and I’m not just talking about the one on your phone.
Best camera for…
Taking pictures of kids and action-packed vacations
If you’re trying to capture intense action while on-the-go, it is best to use an action cam. It can be mounted on your helmet, bike handlebar, or even strapped to your chest. Turn it on, record the action, and turn it back off. After being introduced to Sony’s Action Cam, I’ve been able to actually keep up with my skiing kids (whereas I used to be way behind, trying to film with one hand and hold my poles in the other). Because action cams (not just the Sony version) have waterproof casing, they can come along for the ride in kayaks, through mud puddles, and in dirt. Even when you’re not traveling, an action cam is the best camera for taking pictures of kids. Which type to buy? Sony’s Action Cam features WiFi, which can be used to download videos directly to phones and Facebook as well as for you to see the angle of your shot via your screen as you’re filming. The well-known Go Pro HERO does not feature WiFi, but does enjoy a on-camera screen and more intuitive programming.
Waterproof camera for outdoor travel
If you’re planning to take photos while rafting, swimming, backpacking, or hiking, you need a camera that will fit in a pocket or waist-belt pocket of a day pack, is immune to dust and dirt getting into the lens, and is waterproof. Opt for a waterproof, dust-proof point-and-shoot like the Sony rugged Cyber-Shot with both video and still shoot capability. I’m planning to take mine swimming with whale sharks; horseback riding through the Tetons; and kayaking in Alaska. The Olympus Tough compact digital camera has similar features for a similar price tag, and like the Sony, also claims to be shockproof and freeze-proof.
Night shots, landscapes, and portraits
This is where a DSLR and interchangeable lens cameras really shine. Maybe the point-and-shoot will suffice while you’re trying to grab a shot while riding behind sled dogs or navigating a Class III rapid, but when you can take your time to set up your shot, you’ll want a manual lens. And if you’ve tried to take really great night shots or interior shots with your point-and-shoot, you know that you really need to know what you’re doing to be successful.
After only a few days with a Sony NEX-6, an interchangeable lens camera that has the features of a DSLR without the weight or bulk, I was able to take great shots of city lights, close-ups of food and faces, and gorgeous landscapes. The key? Being able to adjust shutter speed, and frame my shot in a viewfinder. For a great overview of DSLRs, read the Best Digital DSLR Cameras for Every Traveler’s Budget. If you want the best camera for night shots, landscapes, and portraits, a DSLR or high-quality interchangeable lens camera is the way to go.
Below is a shot I took of the perfect snow at Park City’s The Canyons while ‘on location’ with the Sony NEX:
If you can’t afford a DSLR or other high-quality interchangeable lens camera (they are pricey!), a nice almost-hybrid point-and-shoot is the Nikon Coolpix. This is the camera I put aside during my tutorials in Park City, but which I do still use and find to be a trusty camera. I use mine to carefully set up landscape shots and grab action on the go.
If you’re tech-impaired like I am, here’s what to look for in your first DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera:
1. A viewfinder. Yes, cameras still have them. No, your point-and-shoot hasn’t boasted one for quite a few years, and I know you don’t think you need one, but you do. I was amazed by the different in my ability to frame a good shot when I was looking through a view finder.
2. A screen in addition to a viewfinder. Sometimes, you do need to see the ‘whole picture’ or be able to see your view at a different angle. Look for a camera (like the Sony NEX) that offers an adjustable screen. This really comes in handy when you have your camera on a tripod (or set on a ledge or bench) and need to see your view.
3. An auto feature. Yes, your DSLR will have a zillion settings, but even the experts I talked to at the Sony event recommended that as a novice, I use the auto feature 90% of the time. And I got great photos. The auto feature takes the guesswork out of a DSLR for when you need to capture a moment without over-thinking it.
That’s our roundup of a DSLR vs point-and-shoot camera. If you’ve never considered a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera because all the settings and user-control intimidate you (as it did me), I hope you’ll reconsider. They really are only as complicated as you want them to be. And if you’ve been trying to use a DSLR while in the midst of action, don’t be leery of giving a point-and-shoot a chance. Many perform better than you’d imagine. Think about your activity, the pace of the action, and the conditions (water, etc.) and go from there.
Photo credit: Gwenael Piaser and Amy Whitley.