Monday, November 8, 2010

The dSLR versus Bridge Debate – Are you a serious photographer?

There is a debate raging in the minds of a few bridge camera fans regarding whether one needs a bridge camera or a dSLR to perform serious photography. By bridge camera, I mean advanced bridge cameras that are about the same size as the entry level dSLRs and have similar controls … sometimes even more controls on the body. These things weigh about the same as small dSLRs and tend to have a fairly long range on the zoom …

So why do I use the qualification “in the minds of a few bridge camera fans” instead of just presuming that the debate rages everywhere?

Well, that’s because the serious (aka advanced) bridge camera is pretty much dead nowadays. The Fuji S100fs is the last really good one, and it has been gone for a year or so by now. The Fuji HS10 has decent controls and a comically long lens -- 720mm :-) -- but a tiny sensor and mediocre image quality at anything but web sizes … and even then. The Fuji S200EXR is the S100fs body with the smaller F200EXR sensor without a lens redesign, so it does not even go down to 28mm … it stops at 31mm. That’s just embarrassing in a modern camera. And that one is dying out anyway. Adobe never even bothered to support its RAW format in Camera RAW.

Panasonic bridge cameras tend to have tiny sensors and shoot very nicely at base ISO only, but they are not versatile at all where light is concerned. They fit in that convenience category for vacation cameras, as do the compact long zooms that I favor. Thus, the bridge market is effectively over.

Now, this does not mean that one cannot do a decent job with these cameras with sufficient planning, and especially at web sizes, where their sensor compromises are not fatal. The S200EXR does have the largest sensor in the genre, and so can make some fine images in good light. But even the most rudimentary modern dSLR (e.g. the inexpensive Pentax Kx) will pretty much stomp it into the dust in the vast majority of shooting situations, and in all light that is less than perfect.

The bottom line is that there is no debate. None. The dSLR is where people go now to do serious photography. The bridge is where people go to have fun. To shoot vacation images and to putter around with wicked long lenses to get a feel for what birding might be like with expensive equipment. But those into serious birding know that there is no substitute for the expensive gear.

So it is with great amusement that I continue to see statements like the following:

I have been slammed for saying this as it apparently is the statement of a lesser than photographer..but I take my S200EXR with me more often than my D90. Its a pretty good rig -not a SLR but it is a good effort by Fuji and versitile..[sic]

Some people still feel that they have to justify taking their bridge camera along when they pop off a few vacation images (this statement was attached to a series of vacation images allegedly shot in 15 minutes) … so I ask – why even think about that issue? Why even care enough to mention it? No one else does. Seriously. The absolute last thing that would have crossed my mind when looking at these images is “I wonder if he also owns a dSLR and I wonder if he has an all in one for it and I wonder why he did not bring that instead?” It’s ludicrous to think anyone else would even notice.

If you think you are a “lesser than” photographer because of the equipment you carry, then you are. And it is not actually because of the equipment, but because you are still thinking of the equipment as a limiting factor. Being ashamed of the equipment enough to preemptively defend it whenever you post is also a really bad sign :-)

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