August 2, 2011

What’s the real difference between a cellphone, a point-and-shoot and a dSLR?

What are you really paying for when you buy a camera?

More megapixels? The ability to shoot more photos per second? Extra control over the look of your photos?

All of these things are true, but what’s most important is how the images look. I went out with pro video blogger Tej Babra (on the hottest freakin’ day of the year) to find out. After we’d frappucinoed up at the Unionville Starbucks, we went into the fading light to see what our cameras could do.

Cellphone – iPhone – grainy, weird exposures.

Taken with an iPhone. Stuff is blurry and grainy.
The good thing about a mobile phone is that you’ve probably got one attached to your body somewhere. If you’ve got enough light, it should do a pretty good job. You won’t get zoom and the camera software can make some weird decisions for you, but you can use these to your advantage. The nifty trend in cell phones is that the pics aren’t supposed to look all ungrainy and well lit. Apps like instagram apply filters and let you do allllll sorts of cool stuff.

Point-and-Shoot – Canon G11 – good images, but has trouble in the low light.

Similar shot with the G11. Loads less grain. (The shot is underexposed on purpose).

Good things – small, more control, better overall pictures. Bad things – slow, often grainy in low light, too easy to set everything to “Auto” and hope for the best. I’ve got a high end point-and-shoot and like its performance overall. It gets challenging when I try and use the manual settings. Controls are buried in menus or jammed under buttons that don’t make a whole lot of sense. A great middle ground between the phone and the DSLR.

Yikes! G11 no like super low light.
dSLR – Canon 5D Mark II, 7D and 40D – fast shooting, but heavy and lenses count.

Exact same settings as G11 - except this one's on a better camera with a wider aperture. Notice how smooth everything looks.

If I could shoot with nothing but a dSLR, I would. Absolute control. Great flexibility. Photos look fantastic. We tried the 50mm 1.8 (about $100) and 50mm 1.4 (nearing $200) on the bodies and the results were sharp (anda bit startling – check out Tej’s blog on the lenses here). The problem of course is that dSLRs are big, bulky and not fun when you’re on family outings. Try holding a newborn while changing lenses at the same time. Nobody in your entourage – kids, girlfriend, passersby – will be impressed. 

40D. You don't have to spring for the top of the line camera to get good results from a dSLR.

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