In my previous post on this subject, I explained a few of the major design features that make DSLR cameras better than point-and-shoot cameras (even the expensive ones). These include a larger image sensor, interchangeable lenses, and a through-the-lens viewfinder.
All these features make DSLR cameras larger and more expensive than many point-and-shoot cameras, which means the camera will be marketed more towards serious photographers—amateur or professional—who want more out of a camera than most people. This change in marketing focus brings with it a lot of changes in design goals, and DSLR cameras start to have a lot of additional capabilities geared toward more serious photographers.
Most important to me is that the camera will be quick to use. With my Z3, it takes a couple of seconds to start up from power-saving mode, and then when I press the shutter there’s a bit of a lag before it takes the picture. In low light, that lag can be several seconds, which is time enough for people to turn away or cats to run out of the frame. Sometime, if the light is low enough, it will simply fail to find the focus. And when I say low light, I’m not talking about the dark of night; I have problems just in the dark corners of my living room even though the lights are on. I miss a lot of shots with that way.
A DSLR will be much faster. For one thing, the sensor is blocked by the internal mirror when you’re lining up shot, so all the imaging electronics aren’t doing anything useful and there’s nothing for the viewscreen to display. This saves a lot of power compared to a point-and-shoot camera’s constant viewscreen display. That, in turn, means that a DSLR doesn’t have to be put into power saving mode between shots. Consequently, there’s no wake-up delay, because it’s always awake during normal use.
Also, the engineers who designed the Nikon D200 (or any other DSLR) simply chose to make it faster, usually at the cost of size, weight, or…well…cost. The autofocus mechanism, for example, has better electronics and a faster motor, so it will be a lot quicker and will work a lot better in low light. In addition, the whole image pipeline from sensor to memory card is built to run at professional speeds.
The second most important advantage of DSLR cameras is that, again by design, they have better control of lighting. At the very least, they have a hot shoe that allows me to mount a big flash that you can bounce off of stuff. If you take a lot of close-up pictures of people indoors, there’s nothing you can do to improve the appearance of your photos that’s easier than bouncing the flash off the ceiling or wall. Modern through-the-lens flash metering will take care of everything for you. (To be fair, my Z3 does this too, which is why I chose it.)
Most likely (and definitely with the D200 I’m considering) you will be able to buy several flash units and remote control them all from your camera. This allows you to provide standard key-and-fill lighting and maybe some background lighting. If you want to go all-out (and I may) you can buy or rent a studio lighting system, and your DSLR will have connections (or adapters) that will allow you to control it all.
The third most important reason I want to buy a DSLR like the Nikon D200 is that—again, because of the larger size and weight—it has more buttons. This is not the same as saying it has more features than my point and shoot (although it does) but that the features aren’t all buried deep in the menu system.
For example, on my Z3 I have to push seven buttons to navigate the menus and switch from autofocus to manual focus. Then I have press buttons to run the focusing motor until I get the view I want. On the Nikon D200 (and many other DSLR cameras), on the other hand, I’ll just grab the focus ring and turn it until the image looks good.
All the features I mentioned in this article and the previous one are not specific advantages of the Nikon D200. They’re advantages common to all DSLR cameras. So why did I choose the D200? Mostly for reasons of personal preference, which I’ll explain in more detail in a future post.
Update: Part 3 is up. It’s mostly about the economics of choosing a camera.