Go, Get a DSLR!

Everyone has legs, everyone walks. Do some people walk better than others? You bet! Hundreds of languages would bear testimony to the thousands of rhymes alluded to mesmerizing walks of the damsels, ladies, princesses, queens…. I hope I don’t get sued by some overzealous feminists. I’ll throw in the gaits of heroes, warriors and princes for good measure….

Talking of walking, it occurs to me that some people can walk faster, as does, Usain Bolt. Excuse me, you say, isn’t Bolt a sprinter? I’d insist however that Bolt’s kind of moving his body at those amazing speeds is a kind of walking. Further, some people have mastered stunning arts, all thanks to their legs. Gymnasts, ballet dancers, ski-dancers, karate kids and kick-boxers are all a visual feast to watch (except probably the last two types who are best enjoyed from a respectable distance).

Why am I going mad with this legs thing? You see, folks, I am trying to pull an analogy. All I want to do is to juxtapose the legs with cameras that most everyone has in their hands most of their waking times these days. Yes, I am talking of those tiny holes in most mobile phones. Many of those mocams, to coin a word, are being put to service profusely. You see the point? Just as the accident of your having legs doesn’t make you a great walker (forgive me if you regularly kill dozens with that feat -pun intended), your ownership of a mocam doesn’t make you an Ansel Adams. The reason I am mad with this mocamtography thing (sorry for coining again) is that I stumbled upon this wannabe-learn-photography thing on the web address of a respectable institution where the writer had meticulously put images shot off a mocam, a point-and-shoot and a DSLR, neatly in a row, and argued that there really wasn’t any difference among the shots of these three at a smaller scale and you need to buy an SLR camera only if you intended to send your images to the National Geographic or something like that, which you obviously don’t.

He could not have been more wrong.

If you harbour even the faintest desire of learning photography, go get a DSLR. Hold it, you think, they don’t come cheap! But friends, just as money doesn’t grow on trees, photography doesn’t grow on mocams! Whoever said there are free lunches in the world?

Photography is capturing of Light in a controlled manner onto a photosensitive material such as a film or a censor as the digital SLR’s have. The light is controlled by two critical mechanisms called the shutter and the aperture. The shutter is like a curtain that has the censor covered and opens for a short determined period to allow the light to hit the censor. The amount of time may vary from an hour to 10,000th of a second or could be more either way. The aperture consists of a number of blades arranged to form circular openings of variable shape. The hole as it changes its size varies the quantity of light entering and hitting the censor in a given period. Because of the behaviour of light as perceived by various tenets of Physics, the size of opening of the aperture has significant impact on the depth of focus that an image would have. There is a third equally important element called ISO Sensitivity of the film/censor and together the three have the final say on how a photograph is going to look. However, since the advent of digital photography, the ISO Sensitivity of a censor can be changed on the fly, and we need to be less and less worried about it as compared to the olden days when one had to rush to a dark room, carefully take out the film and pop in a roll having a different ISO sensitivity. However, clean noise free images at high ISOs (think 6400 where 100 is normal) are the reason why those BIG DSLR’s with BIG Dollar price tags exist, apart form many other matters that you would eventually discover.

Following is a brief list of why absolutely you must have an SLR or a DSLR if you are serious about your photography. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the cameras simply as SLR and Consumer Cameras, with mocams only being a severely low rung adaptation of the latter.

1. Consumer cameras are Auto-everything. If this sounds great then they were invented just for folks like you! Go ahead and enjoy them. However, if you want to take control of your composition, think of an SLR which will normally allow you to take charge of the exposure, metering, shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity and even the flash. In short, you have to decide whether you instruct the camera most of the time or the camera instructs you all the time!

2. Human eye is a highly complex organ which can dynamically focus at near or far objects in a twinkle, in different lighting situations. Cameras, although an imitation, are not that lucky. The act of focusing in a camera is achieved by the lens attached or fixed to it. Till date, no company has invented a lens which will work perfectly in every situation. SLR cameras, or Single Lens Reflex Cameras, being cameras with detachable lens system allow for switching the lens to your heart’s content, limited probably only by the size of your wallet. I have, of course, established and reputed companies like Nikon and Canon on my mind when I say that. Talking of lenses, SLR lenses also have provision for attaching critical filters like a polarizer.

3. With an SLR camera you are actually seeing the world through the lens and there is absolutely no shutter lag when you pull the trigger. On the contrary, the consumer cameras send a tiny replay of the scene on their LCD screens and have various degrees of shutter lags, depending upon their cost. The latter also have an annoying tendency of freezing for several seconds while they are struggling to save the file.

4. Thanks to the marketing blizzards, most consumer cameras are bursting with mega pixels today. However, their censor sizes unfortunately remain minuscule. This brings in serious picture quality issues like noise, over-processing and unreal colours.

5. Most consumer cameras have their apertures starting at F8 or more. It is the impact of the severe crop factor of their censors. You can forget about seriously isolating your subjects. Thus even if some models allow for manual control, the impact of aperture related controls over the image remains pathetic at best.

6. Due to the minuscule scale mechanisms of consumer cameras, low shutter speeds are required to compensate for the inherent small aperture openings in low lights. It makes shooting even simple objects difficult unless you use the on-camera flash, which may result in really flat and unsavoury images.

So, invoking my analogy again, if you would rather use your legs to just keep moving yourself around in an unconcerned way, you would be doing something very natural. However, if you want to accomplish better than that and thus be remembered, learn interesting uses. Lift yourself above ordinary pointing your mobile camera and shooting your subjects dead!

(Post moved from my other blog)


  1. one just can't compare a dslr with mocam. Only a moron (it resembles with mocam also ..) can do it. by the time the mocam replaces dslr the technology will be so advanced that we would be able to shoot with our eyes and store the images in the chip embedded in our brain.

  2. Not at all true. I have enough resons to say why a DSLR does not matter.Fistly, I do agree to the fact that mobile cams cant take good quality pics.But dont blame the high end P&S as well as the 'Promuser ' or ' Bridge' zone. They come much cheaper than DSLRs and there is no question of buying lenses.Agree to the fact that DSLRs take better pics than promuser , but you cant say most or all promusers take bad pics. Take the example of Nikon P90, or the Panasonic FZ50 , or even the Canons G10. Their picture quality is less than a DSLR, but it is not bad. More than enough to get started with photography. In fact, you check out my site ( link below ), all shots are with my Canon SX1000 IS. When one can afford, one should obviously get a DSLR. But you cant say that get a DSLR or forget photography. And for why one should [b]not[/b] get a DSLR :1) Big , bulky.2) Costs high, plus cost of a dedicated lens for your particular genre of photography.3) P&S can be started and used much faster than a DSLR can. Suppose a bird is sitting on the window pane, before you take out and set up the equipmeny, the Kinfisher had already had it's meal for the day ! P&S can on the other hand be just turned on , fed the iso, shutt s , aperture and ready to be shot with :D4) Most of them are not suitable for beginners. P&S are anyday easier to handle than a DSLR.Hope you understand what I try to say.

  3. I took a shot with my camera phone (sony ericsson) which was published in National Geographic Website. In India photos shot with camera phone and compact camera were also published in The Better Photography, The Smart Photography and The Asian Photography magazines There are some genres of photography such as sports, wildlife etc. where SLR is essential but in photojournalism and particularly in street photography small cameras are very useful. The prosumer cameras of recent times are really very good.

  4. Dear Souro and Kartick, I fully agree to your contention that P&S cameras and to an extent even mobile cameras can take great shots. I myself use one! The point I am trying to make is:(1) You can use a P&S for years but still remain alien to basic fundamentals of the art. All along my post I have stressed on the fact that, those who have a desire to understand photography, should start with an slr/dslr.(2) If you are into photography, at times you will certainly want to take control of certain aspects of your instruments, which will not be possible at all with a P&S cam, leave alone a mocam.(3) About that bird sitting on the window pane, if you have left a lens on your slr/dslr, which is what I do and which is what most everyone that I know does, I can assure you it will do a faster and better job than your P&S or your mocam. Both of you are forgetting that a slr/dslr has something called "P" mode. Some have the Waiter mode too.(4) If you are Ansel Adams, you will regularly produce Gallery class images even with pin-hole cameras (assuming they were printable).(5) I also take shots with my mocams at times and have fun, just that!Regards,U.S.Pandey

  5. The true advantage of SLRs becomes obvious when you try to take photos in tricky lighting conditions like evenings, indoors, nights etc.Another great use of SLRs is when you want to take photos that will be printed as large size printsAnd yes, SLR is a must if you are a pro photographer.But I also agree with Kartick.An SLR is not always a choice. You have to consider convenience too, specially in street photography.Here usually you do not want to look like a photographer. You want to look like a part of the place. The moment you take out your big huge SLR, everybody stops doing what they are doing and everybody starts looking at you.Here you want something small and convenient and concealable.Now a days I think the difference between compacts and SLR is reducing very rapidly.Compacts like Canon G11, Sigma DP2 etc and SLRs like Olympus PEN and other range of mirror-less SLRS will finally converge to blurr this difference very soon.

  6. Very nicely written..One can never state an alternate for a DSLR…But I just want to amend one point…U said "If U want to go serious about photography, start with a DSLR"Many of us here, would had started photography just as hobby, more probably timepass….With a small film camera, or a P&SBut as out interest developed, we moved towards SLR and DSLRs….Thus, for taking photos U dont need a DSLR….I had noted a misconception in the mind of peoples of West, that to take a photo, U at least need a DSLR…Thus they go for some D60/1000D like cams with a 18-55 lens…But then for whole life they never outgrow for an another lens….It is just similar to buy a P&S…Outgrowing ur lenses is the optimal need…..Thus taking about India,,If one aim is to take some decent snaps, no better alternate than a P&S and Superzoom is present….But if U r inclined towards serious photography, move to DSLR..Thus there is an extreme need to understand than if U r already having a P&S, then is there need for U to move to DSLR, or a P&S is more than enough for U…Coz I have seen some cases where person sell off his DSLR, coz he later realized that there was no need for DSLR to him and he bought it just to show off….And again shifts to P&S

  7. interesting and nicely written …
    However, you say that “You can use a P&S for years but still remain alien to basic fundamentals of the art. All along my post I have stressed on the fact that, those who have a desire to understand photography, should start with an slr/dslr.”
    I differ.
    Photography is a combination of 1) art of seeing and 2) art of capturing.
    What you are talking here is the technical aspect – how to capture the scene and how to have full control while capturing it- is not all what photography is.
    If I would introduce someone to photography, I would prefer him to start with an automatic, P & S camera, so that he could concentrate more on the content, lighting and composition. Why is it so that photographers trying to replicate Ansel Adams work by visiting Yosemite valley under the similar lighting conditions and with far better cameras do not succeed in their endeavor. Because capturing is only one part of the photography, the technical part and that’s why a trivial part in comparisaion. The major component is the emotional part. Have we ever realized why are we able to take better pictures of the persons who we are emotionally attached to?
    DSLR does not help us to understand the emotional part of the image. DSLR’s IQ is undisputed, but it would be wrong to say that DSLR will help you learn photography. In fact the other way round, owning a DSLR will not help you learn photography.
    Today’s compact cameras are quite smart. G10 pictures taken at ISO 80 or so are quite comparable to that of a DSLR. DSLR’s advantages are shallow depth of field, ability to take better pictures at higher ISOs or in low light situations, the fast lenses combinations and superb control that it offers. There is one more. The DSLR images can take a lot of post-processing load. Besides these, everything else can be done with a compact camera in an equally good manner.
    I have successfully controlled the power of flash in an automatic film camera by covering it with my handkerchief. DSLR makes it convenient to do things – with the cost comes the convenience and not the ability to understand photography.

    1. First and foremost, I express my gratitude to you for stopping by my insignificant blog.

      Sir, there is no disputing the ease of use of a point & shoot camera. And I do agree with you where you state that a DSLR does not help us understand the emotional part of the image. Sadly, nor does a point & shoot camera equip you with that! Again, today’s compact cameras are certainly quite smart. They remind me of today’s cutting edge mobile phones which are more powerful than the computers of yesteryears. And while the pictures taken by Canon’s G10 “at ISO 80” may be comparable to those taken by a DSLR, cost of a G10 is certainly not comparable to an entry level DSLR. I do not know whether you are aware of the sad fact that your G10 costs more than 1000D, the entry level DSLR by Canon, and the latter is no mean piece of equipment by any standards. Go, figure!

      Lastly, your statement which is central to your entire premise, “owning a DSLR will not help you learn photography”, harks an Anonymous adage to my mind:

      “Buying a Nikon doesn’t make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner”.
      I’m sure it encompasses the point & shoot too.

  8. Dear dileep I am posing a portion of your comment

    ” Today’s compact cameras are quite smart. G10 pictures taken at ISO 80 or so are quite comparable to that of a DSLR. DSLR’s advantages are shallow depth of field, ability to take better pictures at higher ISOs or in low light situations, the fast lenses combinations and superb control that it offers. There is one more. The DSLR images can take a lot of post-processing load. Besides these, everything else can be done with a compact camera in an equally good manner.”

    isn’t your mentioned reason enough to grab a dslr?

    point is not that u cant snap better images throught P &S cameras.. you need to understand the topic first…..

    any how i am not here to fight…..nice points umashankar ji…..

  9. I agree absolutely to all you say. G10 or even LX3 for that matter is way too costly. If one has to spend that much amount, a DSLR will definitely be a better choice, any day, with the comprehensiveness and holistic control it offers and definitely equips better, enabling to take aesthetically better and cleaner picture.
    Here, the choice rests with user or the buyer with respect to the bulk, size and other things, as what are his preferences.

    To sum up, I feel learning is not dependent on the equipment. DSLR owners will find the equipment coming to their aid (only)when they delve into deeper realms, whereas P&S owners may start feeling the need of DSLR after a certain point.

    DSLR are for the advanced users. It is similar to the fact that to even recognise or understand, the classical nuances, let alone imitate, in a song by Md Rafi, one has to have a deep understanding of music, then only one can understand what Rafi is doing. But to sing the songs of Md Rafi, you need not do so. Hence, from a developer point of view, there is only DSLR, but from the user point of view, any camera will do. Of course, any camera means only those with manual control if one wants to learn.
    But the point remains- use whatever camera you have, even if it is a mobile. To use your equipment will make learn photography faster.
    As I put it-
    Instead of enjoying the capability to take better pictures, enjoy taking pictures and it will be a major step towards better photography.

    And congratulations on your wonderful night shots! They are simply a treat!
    BTW, did i read D300 somewhere 🙂

  10. Santanub, I never said that one can take better pictures with P & S camera. You can never snap a better image with a P & S camera in comparision to a DSLR. The point which I am trying to put in is that one does not need to have a DSLR to learn photography, one can do it with any camera, one can take an excellent image with any camera, one can learn to photograph well with any camera. The choice of having or not having a DSLR depends on the user and his requirements and has not much to do with the quality of photography.:-)

  11. And Pandey, I do not have a G10, neither a D300. My collection remains the same
    D70, 60mm 2.8, 70-300 ED, 18-70 and SB800. I earned canon A2000 as a prize and gave it to my son. It is when I use A2000, I am amazed at the pictures I can pull out of A2000-that prompted me to say so much. Looking forward to hear more from you.

  12. Sorry dileep if i sounded harsh… it was not my intention…. your points are right that one can learn with whatever cam in his hand… but if the features is good isnt it that you would try more to utilize that? like high iso performances of dslr and also the better lenses available for dslrs?

    See when i bought my canon powershot s3is 3 years back i bought it just as it was 23k INR with bill and the cheapest dslr available then i think d40 or d40x was 45k in grey…. certainly i preferred s3 as the price difference was huge and as it was given by my dad i wasn’t interested to giv him a too much load..and i am still happy with its performance…….

    But now a days a compact zoom comes in 20-30k inr…. where as the dslr price starts from 25/27k….. so isnt it worth to buy a dslr???
    I believe it is….

  13. Yes Santanub, I perfectly agree to what you say. I would also strongly advocate for users to go for DSLR for the simple reason that basic DSLR, are more advanced and now more affordable than “advanced compacts”, and DSLR pictures are much better in quality. But the choice lies with user and his requirement. I believe for a daylight, landscape and buildings shoot LX3 will be sufficient, if you do not have to super enlarge the shots. Pros speak a different language, but as far as enthusiasts are concerned, I do not know how many go for printouts larger than 10×8 on a regular basis. There again, other factors such as portability, one stop-shop cameras such as FZ28, (I have used and found it an excellent camera, I have used G9 and was so impressed by the results and ease that I would use it again and again) have their own advantages. For example I also feel that instead of buying a 12-24mm Nikon why should I not purchase an LX3, which will serve me for more than a purpose. Of course, if I am a pro, then the requirements go to a different plane, and there are no options than to invest in high ending lenses.
    So, for an enthusiast who wants to learn photography to the core of it, DSLR is the best choice. But those who wants a smaller, sleeker, pocket camera, capable of taking good pictures, and want to learn photography also at the same time, can do that ALSO with a prosumer camera. They may want to switch over to DSLR for deeper learning or they may not. But it will be incorrect if someone who wants to purchase a costlier compact camera for reasons of his own, is told that you can not learn photography with this camera and you need to buy only DSLR for the purpose. And I do not agree to that.
    The times have changed. For the same price, you can purchase a compact camera, a DSLR, a miniature camrea, such as IXUX series of Canon. Now, the choice lies with the user and his requirements.
    It is true that compact camera will be unable to produce shallow depth of field, noise free low light photography, capture action, but if someone wants to take low light still pictures and night shot using a tripod, photograph Buildings, nature scape or landscape, compact cameras such as LX3, G10/G11 and the new s90 may prove just as useful as a DSLR.

    1. Most people want to capture images to preserve memories and truly, any available instrument can be used to the effect. Many of us would have invaluable treasures of instant Polaroid prints. Please understand, the post is aimed at those with more than average interest in photography. While I do not doubt your abilities as a professional, you appear to be genuinely overtaken by the power, convenience and portability of “advanced compacts”. And you would certainly do well by adopting in deed what you say in words: upgrading your DSLR to “LX3, G10/G11and the new S90”.

  14. Enlightened, merely by going through all of above comments. Very informative indeed ! Can you tell me which are the lenses choices available and which one I should go for? I am more interested in nature and landscapes, sometimes street and people too…

    1. Akhilesh, the choice of lenses would depend on the DSLR body you choose. Assuming you pick up the entry level Nikon D3000 or the Nikon D5000 and you want to contain the expenses, you should go for

      1. Nikon 18-55 mm VR kit lens
      2. Nikon 55-200mm VR

      (this should cover 18mm to 200mm and most of your needs. Alternatively, you can buy the 18-200mm VR, the ‘all-in-one’ lens – slightly expensive. One great lens to have is the 18-70 f/3.5-4.5G: doesn’t have the VR, but faster at the tele end.)

      3. 50 mm f/1.8 D (will not autofocus on D3000 /D5000), the new 50mm f/1.4 G will autofocus but is slightly expensive.
      4. 35mm f/1.8, if you want a fast normal prime (effectively 52 mm on a DX format )

      Next rung up, If you pick a D90 or a D300s you may still continue with the above list of lenses and get a fair degree of bang off your bucks. However, you’d do well to get at least one “pro” glass to do justice to your camera, specially if it is a D300/s. But if you’ll have none but the the very best of the “Nikkor Glass” (and can manage it without ‘mortgaging your house’ or ‘selling your kidney’ in the process) you may go for the

      1. Nikon 14-24 f/2.8
      2. Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
      3. Nikon 70-200 f.2.8 VR
      4. 50 mm f/1.8

      The FX range DSLR bodies of Nikon will rather have the lenses from the list 2 and some more which I dare not mention! You have to be a gold-digger to be there!

      Similarly, if your starting point is a Canon 1000D or a 500D, invest in

      1. Canon 18-55 mm IS (The kit lens being offered in India doesn’t have the IS, try to get one with IS)
      2. Canon 55-250mm IS
      3. Canon 50mm f/1.8
      4. Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM, a good “walk around” lens.

      The next higher class of bodies like a Canon 50D or a Canon 7D would go with the above list but, again, just as Nikon, get at least one “L” series lens by Canon. A suggestive list is as under, assuming the redbacks ( INR 1000s ) are not a problem:

      1. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM
      2. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM
      3. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM or Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM (pricier)
      4. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM or the f/2.8 version (pricier)

      Further up, you should be deep in “L” land of Canon.

      Hope this helps.

  15. The key to this article is the premise. I quote:

    “Following is a brief list of why absolutely you must have an SLR or a DSLR if you are serious about your photography.”

    You see, it all depends on purpose. In this context, that of being serious about learning photography, I could not agree more with his contention.

    I’ve written an article outlining a few reasons why I think a compact camera (NOT a mobile phone camera) is a better choice for people that just want to take pictures and not really think about much other than the battery life or the memory card being full.



    1. Saibal, to make it short and sweet, while both the cameras have nearly identical outputs, Nikon D5000 beats the Canon 500D in the ergonomics, auto-focus and flash departments. And to me it is a long and good enough list in Nikon’s favour. Then there is the famous vari-angle LCD of Nikon D5000 and I don’t know how you feel about it. It can be a lot of fun except probably when you attach the unit to a tripod. Canon’s display is larger and has more resolution but stays put in the back as is the norm. Canon also has a higher resolution (approximately 2.8 megapixels more) but it really doesn’t seem to be of consequence. As a matter of fact, 500D has a lower rating than the D5000 at DXO Labs and they are not casual folks. Only negative point that the D5000 has is the lack of an auto-focus motor. However, it really doesn’t get you till you happen to attach a non-AF-S lens to it (and end up manual focussing).

  16. Thanks a ton,umaji for ur prompt and fine discussion abt cute d5000,i think tat if we use live view it must be vari-angle tilt,otherwise its nothing worth for live view.although i hav no problem with viewfinder.umaji, my father`s cam Zenith ET was a nice cam with fully manual focus and manual aperture ring too,i never faced any problem.also i need not more than 8mp…12.3 mp r more than my expectation.

    my only confutation with d5000 is ..minimum iso 200,i hav no idea y nikon not opt for lower iso.
    Three more question…
    only DX lens r compatible?
    Nikor kit lens or Tamron 17-50 which is better for dis category,though i like nikor more.
    31.5k is a good deal?

    Thanks again umaji.

    1. The default low ISO 200 appears to be the optimal sensor to Expeed engine setting. Nevertheless, you do have the option of going to ISO 100 if you select Lo 1.

      All DX and FX lenses are compatible (barring a specific list of older generation lenses). Unlike Canon, Nikon ‘F’ mount ensures compatibility of its entire line up of lenses, DX through FX bodies.

      Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 is a rather fast lens. It reportedly has less contrast though. Its best not have third party lenses. Yet, not a bad choice if you plan to do a lot of low light photography and intend to spend less on premium fast Nikkors.

      31.5k for what? Just the body? The body is kind of going for approximately 29.5k in the gray. Check out smartshoppers.in.

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