DSLR vs. Point-and-Shoot: Which Camera Should You Buy?

Main differences include price, skill level, and accessories

The Nikon Coolpix L20 is a point and shoot camera with a fixed lens. Nikon

A digital single-lens reflex camera and a point-and-shoot camera differ quite a bit in terms of image quality, performance speeds, size, and price.

DSLR Cameras

DSLR cameras offer more power, speed, and features than a point-and-shoot model. DSLR cameras allow you to manually control certain aspects of a shot, while most point-and-shoot cameras work best when shooting in fully automatic mode. Digital SLR models cost more and are larger than point-and-shoot cameras.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

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

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 the smartphone alone, rather than carrying a smartphone and a digital camera. 

Point and Shoot Cameras vs. DSLR

Using a DSLR camera.
Ida Jarosova/Getty Images

DSLR cameras cost far more than point-and-shoot cameras. DSLR cameras also enjoy a broader market for accessories, such as interchangeable lenses and external flash units.

A key difference between the two models involves what the photographer sees as he frames a shot. With a digital SLR, the photographer typically previews the image directly through the lens, thanks to a series of prisms and mirrors that reflect the lens image back to the viewfinder. A point and shoot camera often don't even offer a viewfinder. Most of these tiny cameras rely on the LCD screen to help the photographer to frame the photo.

Other Camera Options

Ultra-zoom cameras look little like DSLR models, but they don't contain interchangeable lenses. They work well as a transitional camera between DSLR models and point-and-shoot cameras, although some ultra zoom cameras can be considered point-and-shoot cameras because they can be 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 can be made thinner than DSLRs, even though both cameras make use of interchangeable lenses. A mirrorless ILC will be able to come closest to matching a DSLR in terms of image quality and performance speeds over a point-and-shoot camera, and the price point for a mirrorless ILC sits between what a point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR camera cost.