An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

Should I Get a Compact Digital Camera or a SLR Digital Camera?

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Should you get a compact digital camera or a SLR digital camera? That depends on what you want to use it for!

Small compact digital camera sensors are about as small as a fingernail. SLR digital cameras have a sensor starting about three times that size and up to 36mm x 24mm, the same size as 35mm film. It is much more expensive to make the large sensors so the cost goes way up the bigger they get. The advantage of having a larger sensor is there is more detail, or resolution, in the picture, and there is less "noise". Noise is fuzzy stuff in the picture when higher ISO speeds are used, sort of like the grainy look from an enlargement of a film negative. Compact digital cameras have more noise, a lot more, then digital SLR cameras at ISO settings of 800 or more.

Compact digital cameras enlarge the photograph from a very small sensor so it won’t be as sharp as a digital SLR, but compact digital cameras have a lot of Depth of Field because of the small sensor size, and are useful for macro photography. Being able to limit the Depth of Field and have good Bokeh for a good portrait can be done with a SLR but is more difficult with a compact digital camera.

Most SLR (single lens reflex) camera sensors have about the same noise level from 100 to 400 ISO. Most SLR cameras go up to 1600 and sometimes even 3200 or sometimes 6400 with out much noise. It isn't that big of deal what ISO is used with digital SLR cameras. Compact digital cameras don't handle the noise nearly as well; at 800-1600 ISO speeds they usually have a lot more noise then digital SLR cameras.

Of course, with digital SLR cameras, there is a wide variety of lenses available. Also, there is much more control over the exposure and settings with digital SLR cameras to help produce the photograph you have Visualized.

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