I can’t decide if I should purchase another point and shoot camera or if I’m ready to upgrade to a DSLR. What things should I consider before I make the switch? -Kristin

Making the decision to fork out the cash for a DSLR is always a tough one. Here are a few things to consider about the good old point and shoot versus a DSLR before you crack open that piggy bank:

The most obvious plus of a point and shoot camera is its convenience in the form of a compact, lightweight body. You can toss it in your bag, or even in your back pocket. But there are a few other things about point and shoot cameras worth mentioning. Hopefully this list will help you decide which camera you really need and which one will fit your lifestyle the best:

Megapixels aren’t everything. When you compare price per megapixel, a point and shoot camera will win every time. You can get a camera with a lot more megapixels for a much better price. However, it isn’t always megapixels that make the best pictures. It’s the sensors in the camera that really determine how much “noise” (aka grainy-ness) will show up in your photos. And when you compare a point and shoot to a DSLR in this way, a DSLR, no matter if it has fewer megapixels, will take a better, crisper photograph every time.

Fully automatic? Easy. Manual? Not so much. Point and shoot cameras are designed with the thinking that most users will almost always take pictures in automatic mode. So with this in mind, the automatic features are pretty great for taking a good picture in almost any setting. But if you’re hoping to get to know those tricky manual settings on your point and shoot, you’re going to find that they’re a little buried in menus and not always easy to access for regular use.

With point-and-shoots, you get what you get. Point and shoot cameras lack the flexibility and adaptability that a DSLR will have. In most cases, you can’t purchase new lenses or filters to improve or change your camera’s abilities. They don’t hold the same long-lasting value of a DSLR.

Thinking that you might be ready to make the switch to a DSLR, here a few things to consider:

Big and bulky, obviously. If you’re going to start shooting with a DSLR, you’re going to have to face that fact that bringing it along isn’t as simple as tossing it in your bag. It’ll require either a separate camera bag, or at the very least purchasing a smaller soft bag to protect it on the days you do decide to toss it in with the diapers and sippy cups. 

Should you break the budget for a DSLR? Maybe. For the price of a high-end point and shoot, you can get an entry-level DSLR. But because of the ability to outfit your DSLR with lenses and filters, it will be a longer lasting investment than the point and shoot that will be obsolete in two years. And here’s a little hint: It’s not necessarily the camera body that takes the best pictures, it’s the lenses. If you’re worried about the initial investment, get an entry-level DSLR and save up your money for an upgrade in lenses over the next few years. Great lenses give you photographic flexibility and amazing photographs.

Made with a photographer in mind. If you’re hoping to really wean yourself off automatic settings and learn to shoot in other modes, then a DSLR will make those transitions a whole lot easier. Most manual settings are right at your fingertips and are adjusted without clicking through a series of menu options.

You’ll always be the one behind the camera. You can’t always pass the DSLR over to the grandparents, or some stranger at the zoo to snap a picture of you and your kiddos. And while many more people on the street carry DSLRs these days, you can’t just pass it off to anybody. They’re a little more intimidating and the average Joe isn’t going to be able to snap a great picture with your “complicated” camera.

There’s a learning curve. You’re not going to take your DSLR out of the box and start taking amazing pictures immediately. And while you can begin by taking photos in automatic mode, if you really want the most from your camera, the manual will probably become your favorite bedtime reading material.&

While I can’t tell you exactly which camera is the right choice for you, I will tell you that I own a Nikon DSLR and will probably never go back to a point and shoot. Photography is a big part of my every day life and toting around my DSLR is no big deal. But I still see how the convenience of a compact camera can really win out at the end of the day–our editor Liz is absolutely committed to her Sony CyberShot because it’s in her purse at all times, and as a blogger, she never wants to miss a photo opp.

My perfect photography scenario? Having my DSLR packed in my bag, and my iPhone 4 (with its great new camera) in my back pocket. But if you’re still not ready to make the jump to the bigger camera, maybe you should consider one of the newer “hybrid” camera models that pack a lot of the DSLR features into a point and shoot-sized camera body.

Want to see what kinds of pictures a camera takes before you buy? Try the camera finder on Flickr to see how the camera you’re considering for performs in the hands of everyday people.

(photo cred: urban.prairie.forest)

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