DSLR vs. Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Main differences include price, skill level, and accessories

A DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera differs from a point-and-shoot model in terms of image quality, performance speeds, size, and price. Generally, DSLR cameras produce better photos, allow for more creativity, and offer more speed and features than point-and-shoots, but DSLRs cost more and require more skill. Point-and-shoot cameras are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and adequate for everyday use.

We compared DSLR vs. point-and-shoot cameras to help you choose the camera that's best for you.

DSLR vs. Point-and-shoot cameras

Overall Findings

DSLR Cameras
  • Offer many manual control options.

  • Have more power, speed, and features.

  • Require more skill.

  • Higher cost.

  • Best for hobbyists and professional photographers.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras
  • Work best with automatic settings.

  • Easy for novices to use.

  • Less expensive.

  • Best for casual users.

Point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way in recent years in terms of resolution, options, and image quality. The best choice for you depends on what kind of photographer you are.

If you're a casual pic snapper who prefers the technology to handle the details, you're likely to find a point-and-shoot model more than adequate. However, if you're a serious photographer who values creative control, flexibility, and advanced features, go for a DSLR. Both types typically offer manual control, but the depth of those options is greater with a DSLR.

Creative Control and Flexibility: DSLRs Offer More

DSLR Cameras
  • Allow finely tuned settings.

  • Use a variety of interchangeable lenses for various effects.

  • Lots of accessories and custom options available.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras
  • Best used on automatic settings.

  • Typically offer several preset modes, such as nighttime, portrait, and sunset.

  • Lenses aren't swappable.

One of the biggest differences is in creative control. DSLR cameras allow you to control certain aspects of a shot manually, while most point-and-shoot cameras work best when shooting in automatic mode.

A point-and-shoot camera is sometimes called a fixed-lens camera because it cannot swap lenses. The lenses are built directly into the camera body.

Ease of Use: Just Point and Shoot

DSLR Cameras
  • Require more know-how and technique.

  • Heavier and larger.

  • Viewfinders allow instant previews of shots.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras
  • Very simple to use.

  • Not much of a learning curve.

  • Smaller and lighter.

  • Small (or even no) viewfinders mean more guesswork.

A point-and-shoot camera is easy to use because it doesn't always offer fine-tuned manual control options that a DSLR camera offers. You point the camera at the subject and shoot in fully automatic mode.

A key difference between the two models involves what you see while framing a shot. With a DSLR, you'll typically preview the image directly through the lens. A series of prisms and mirrors reflect the lens image to the viewfinder. A point-and-shoot camera often doesn't offer a viewfinder. Most of these tiny cameras rely on the LCD screen to help you frame the photo.

Availability and Cost: A Tradeoff

DSLR Cameras
  • Widely available.

  • Ongoing technological development.

  • Much more expensive.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras
  • Fewer available as camera phones advance.

  • Cost less.

Camera manufacturers are cutting back on the number of point-and-shoot cameras they create, as the cameras on smartphones are improving to the point where people would rather carry a smartphone than a smartphone and a digital camera. Such drops in demand typically result in cost reductions.

DSLR cameras, with greater capabilities and options, are more expensive. A variety of accessories, such as interchangeable lenses and external flash units, are available at both big-box and specialized retailers in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online. These add to the cost for serious photographers but add versatility and creative options.

Final Verdict

The best camera for you depends on the way you plan to use a camera. Professional photographers use high-end DSLRs. Likewise, if you're taking up photography as a hobby and want to learn the fine points of capturing images, a low-end DSLR is fun, interesting, and challenging enough to help you advance your skills.

If the quality of your shots matters to you more than the average person, but you're not a photography enthusiast, a transitional camera such as a mirrorless ILC or an ultra-zoom model will serve you well. On the other hand, if you take occasional shots of everyday life, friends, and family, a point-and-shoot camera is more than adequate.

As phone cameras advance rapidly in technology, capabilities, and availability, you might opt to use the camera that's always in your pocket.

Other Camera Options

Ultra-zoom cameras look somewhat like DSLR models, but the lenses on these cameras aren't interchangeable. These work well as transitional cameras between DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras. Some ultra-zoom cameras can be considered point-and-shoot cameras because these are simple to operate. 

Another good type of transitional camera is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The mirrorless ILC models don't use a mirror as the DSLR does, so ILCs are thinner than DSLRs, even though both cameras use interchangeable lenses. A mirrorless ILC comes closest to matching a DSLR in terms of image quality and performance speeds over a point-and-shoot camera. The price point for a mirrorless ILC sits between those of point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras.

Was this page helpful?