Why you Don’t Need to Buy a DSLR Camera

Since I’ve been in Europe I’ve noticed that there are more entry level DSLR cameras out there than I ever imagined seeing.  Normally I would say that this is a good thing, I love seeing more people getting into photography.  However, after watching a number of them use these camera one thing has become clear: most people don’t need them.  In many cases people would actually be better off using one of the compact digital cameras out there right now.  If you don’t use a DSLR properly, you wont get better photos, in fact you’ll likely get worse images and find yourself annoyed.  Here are some questions you should be asking before you decide if you should be upgrading to a DSLR.

Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada

Do you have enough time to learn how to use it?

Contrary to what appears to be the common thought that you can simply buy an expensive camera and it will magically start taking better pictures, it is not the camera that makes the photograph, it’s knowing how to use the camera.  If I was to hand the average person my DSLR camera with the 200mm f/2,8 lens on it, throw it on manual, and let them fire away chances are they wouldn’t be able to get a photo out of it.  To shoot properly with a DSLR you need to learn at least the basics of how to use the camera.  You’ll also need to learn things like Depth of Field, Exposure, and a number of others.  If you’re not willing to learn chances are that any one of the usual point and shoot digital cameras will do the trick.

Do you want to use auto?

Over the shoulder of people shooting pictures in London the other day I checked to see how many had their cameras on auto.  I would estimate that that number was around 75%.  Now, that’s not a bad thing, however, what’s the point of having a $1,000 camera if you’re going to take pictures on it like it’s a point and shoot?  Sure, you might luck out every now and then and have auto do something exactly how you want it, but more often then not you’re going to look at the image and wonder how the pros get their photos to look like they do.

Howth Oct 2013-40

Do you want to pack around a bunch of gear?

If you really want to take your photos the right way on a DSLR you’re probably going to need to invest in things like lenses, a good tripod for travel, and maybe even filters.  However, this can be a pain.  I carry around a 25 liter backpack with all my gear everywhere I go. You never know when that perfect shot is going to come up, so you need to carry the appropriate gear.  If you just want good images to show to your friends look at a camera like a Canon G16.

How do you hold it?

I think there’s money to be made on teaching people how to hold DSLRs.  To me, it seems like an obvious skill: hold the grip with your right hand and cup the lens from the bottom with your left hand.  However, I lost count how many people I saw them holding their cameras in completely irrational fashions.  If you want to hold your camera out in front of you and take a picture looking at a big screen, buy an ipad.  And if you for some reason seem to think that focusing/zooming with your left hand on the top of the camera works, well… I can’t help you.

Djenne Day 2-14

What are you using the photos for?

So many people are tricked into buying DSLRs because they want a high megapixel camera so that they can blow up their photos and put them in frames and posters.  Well, the truth is that even an 8MP photo is big enough to do that.  If you’re just going to look at them on your computer screen then you probably only really need 5MP.  The megapixel fixation is one that will make you spend far more money than you ever need to.

Is this a gateway camera?

Many people buy an entry level DSLR because they want to learn on a smaller camera before they more up to the big leagues.  If this is the case, then yes you should buy a DSLR.  However, there’s no need to buy a $2,000 version.  There are plenty of great entry level models like the Canon T3i which will make you feel more comfortable in the transition and has more room for error.

Do you Think your Point and Shoot doesn’t “Take good enough Photos”?

Chances are that isn’t the case.  Cameras don’t take pictures you do.  My guess is that you don’t understand the basics of photography and think you need to learn them on a nice DSLR camera.  However, there is plenty you can do with a point and shoot camera as well.  If you want cheap advice you can check out my eBook on “How to Take Great Travel Photos with a Point and Shoot Camera”.

Photography eBook

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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34 Comments

  1. Great advice, Brendan. I have a Canon G11 and really love it. I still don’t know how to do most of what is can do, so even buying a camera like that and learning how to use it might be a good idea before investing in a dslr. I like the fact that it can do a lot, but I don’t need to carry a lot of gear around. It would be hard for me to do so with all the kid-related crap I have to lug around!

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    • Jenna – I think the G11 and G12 might be the best non-slr cameras in the world. They are amazing. If I could afford one I would definitely use it as my backup! Keep on shooting! 😀

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  2. Great post! I am definitely not a photography expert, but I am a determined learner and one thing that really annoys me is when people say: your camera takes great photos! It’s amazing how much people spend on a DSLR without taking the time to learn how to get the most out of it.

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    • @Katy – Get used to it. I get told that all the time. At first it’s annoying, but then you learn to smile and say thank you. It doesn’t matter what other people think, what matters is that you enjoy your art and your skill.

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  3. This is the most obnoxious article I’ve read in a long time.

    Firstly, who are you to judge how people hold their cameras? I have a very specific way of holding my SLR, which doesn’t meet your criteria, does that make it pointless I have a dSLR? no – of course not, it’s absolutely irrelevant.

    Secondly, I do agree that people should consider before they invest in a SLR, as many people would be satisfied with the quality of a high end point and shoot. But for many people, like myself, who buy a SLR it’s a hobby – I enjoy searching/buying new lenses.

    You might be able to take good photos on a point and shoot, but when it comes down to it there’s no real comparison between what I could personally achieve on my camera and what I could achieve on a point and shoot.

    I chose to buy the best SLR I could afford; 5d mark ii. One of my main motivations for that was so I knew it was not my camera restricting me; if my photos were crap, it was my fault.

    I think that it’s sad that you go around judging what people are shooting with, how’re they’re shooting and how they’re holding their cameras. If they’re happy to spend the money and happy with their photos; then good on them.

    Also, I’m fairly small, backpacking long term, lugging around a 5d mark ii and three lenses – and I do it because I appreciate the amazing photos I can take with my camera (and personal skills)

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    • Hi Izy,

      Thanks for your comments. And you make really good points.

      The point of this article was not to tell people that they are wrong. The point was to let people know that if they have a certain goal for their photos then there is no need to buy an expensive camera.

      For you, obviously, you have a passion for your photography. You want to create an art and improve your skills. Thus, you fit the criteria for someone that should be buying an SLR camera.

      The fact of the matter is that loads of people believe that buying a great camera is going to instantaneously make their travel photos amazing. When in fact, unless they want to put some work into it, it will actually hurt their images and leave them frustrated trying to take pictures rather than allow them to enjoy their holidays.

      I definitely don’t judge anyone for how they take pictures. I love all types of photography and love that so many people are getting into it. I definitely don’t judge what camera they shoot! Just yesterday I gave up my tripod to let a guy shooting a point and shoot, who was frustrated with his camera not taking a clear night shot of the Eiffel Tower. I shot a point and shoot for years, and even though I now shoot a DSLR, I understand that it’s not the camera that’s important it’s the idea behind the photos.

      Good for you for packing around all the gear, again… you fit directly in the category of people who SHOULD shoot an SLR camera. Personally I carry a heap of gear, but if someone doesn’t want to do that, they should probably just buy a cheaper point and shoot or a prosumer… do you get the points I’m making.

      Sorry if I was “obnoxious” just trying to get the point across that if you love photography, but you don’t have the desire to make it a passion, then there is no need for someone to buy an expensive camera.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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  4. I need a new camera and have been struggling with whether to get another point and shoot or spend the money on a real camera. This is helpful advice. Thanks a lot for writing this!

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  5. I appreciate some of your thoughts in the post. Plenty of people make the most of fancy cameras, but here in SF and often when I travel, I’ve found that DSLR has become the in thing for no apparent reason – it’s become cool to be seen carrying one, even if you don’t know how to use it and have no artistic vision. The type of camera used can definitely make a difference when it comes to picture quality, but the viewpoint of the person taking the picture is the most important thing. When I look at a travel photo I like, I am not interested in what camera was used or if it’s absolutely perfect, I’m more inclined to love a photo that was shot with feeling and honesty or an image that makes me feel like I am there alongside the photographer. I feel that anyone can capture a meaningful photograph whether or not they have the funds for a DLSR. I think the underlying thing that irks me about this topic is that there’s quite of bit of snobbery and exclusion at the heart of the DSLR and “This is what it means to be a true photographer” craze.

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  6. Thanks for your response Brendan, I understand your points a bit clearer now – your original article just seemed snarky which is really unnecessary. If people want to pour away their own money into an SLR and don’t use it to it’s potential, it’s their loss – entirely. But as I said, for me, it was great having the best camera I could afford because I stopped blaming my limitations on the camera and looked upon myself for improvements.

    I have a quote that you might enjoy (Katy too)

    “A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.”
    Sam Haskins

    Haha 🙂

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    • Izy, that is a brilliant quote hahahah. I am definitely going to use that someday hahaha. genius.

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  7. You’re spot on Brendan. There are so many people out there with DSLRs that really just don’t need them. Why carry a big camera bag around when you can take exactly the same picture with a camera that fits in your pocket?

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  8. I completely understand what you’re saying here. At the same time, not all point and shoots are created equal. The canon G12 is way above the level of point and shoot most people having (yours truly included). There are days when you want to throw your “pretty good” point and shoot in the sea when the pre-adjusted settings can’t be modified and manual settings are very limited. Many people I’ve talked to don’t realize that there’s any middle ground between a basic point and shoot, and a dSLR.

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  9. Some of the best photos I ever took were back in the sixth grade, using an $8 plastic camera and spools of 120 black-and-white film. Not because of the camera or the film, but because my school had received a grant for a professional photographer to come in and show us what to do with them.

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  10. Reading this comments are really therapeutic. I love Izzy comments and will be checking her blog if the 5d mark something really works!lol just joking Izzy

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  11. I saw Izzy’s blog and I’m not impressed with her pics. Maybe she needs to spend time with her expensive 5d mark and less about commenting. A little help from Brendan will also go along way. BTW Brendan, those pictures are great.

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  12. Hi, Brendan. I enjoyed the article because you address the point of not needing a DSLR to produce beautiful photos.
    Currently I am with a program that helps women achieve goals, of which mine is to possibly freelance as a photographer. I don’t know yet which area. I’m really just playing around for the time being.
    Recently I bought a used Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom from an online ad. The couple moving back to England from Canada were sad to let it go -it was just $50!!!- but felt much better when they realized how much I would love it. This is a fantastic camera!
    I showed my mentor (a wedding photographer) who, while she agrees it’s very nice, continues to insist that there’s no way I can be taken seriously unless I have a DSLR. It has caused me some dismay, as being on a disability income makes such a purchase quite impossible. Even an entry-level DSLR would require saving for a year, and that’s just the body. Lenses? Maybe if I won a lottery. Yikes. (meanwhile, I noticed a few days ago that my younger brother has a Canon EOS something, collecting dust. I’d ask to try it, but he’s a kind of a grouch so.. nahhhh. I digress.)

    What are your thoughts on the insistence I absolutely need a DSLR to have any hope of making some money as a photographer? I lean towards believing it’s the person’s skill more than the camera.

    (on the upside, I DO have a film SLR: my Dad’s old Praktica LB)

    Kim

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    • Hi Kim,

      Unfortunately, I think that your mentor is probably right. Even if it’s not all that true, as soon as you show up to a wedding with a small camera people lose faith. Moreover, when people see you shooting a big camera with a nice lens their immediate thought is “oh she must be good!!” Moreover, for wedding and lifestlye photography chances are that you’ll need that big lens to capture the moments close up. A wide angle isn’t going to do the trick.

      That being said, there is a way around this to keep you shooting until you can afford a new camera. You can rent a camera and lens! For example, you can usually rent a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for about $30-40 a day. You can rent a Canon 5d body for about 60$ a day. Thus, it’ll cost you $100 for the day of shooting and most weddings pay between $700-1000 to photograph on 2 days (engagement and wedding). So you’d still be making a profit. Think of doing this as a stop gap until you can afford to buy a good camera yourself.

      On the other hand, you can also set up yourself as a business “freelance photographer”, and get a business loan to cover the costs of equipment?

      Let me know if you have any other questions… I’m glad to help.

      Cheers,

      Brendan

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  13. Hi All.

    Just wanted to point out that DSLRs are not the best in terms of image quality, they’re just the best compromise between image quality and convenience (viewing through the lens).

    When it comes to actual image quality (especially with wide-angle lenses), rangefinders (and mirrorless ILCs) are much better because they can allow the lens much closer to the sensor/film (there’s no mirror).

    Unfortunately, if you want a rangefinder at the moment, your only option is Leica, and that’s gonna cost you a bit more than your typical DSLR…

    I currently only shoot SLRs for film (and then, mostly medium format) and I’ve switched to a mirrorless ILC for my digital needs, the flexibility and easy access to virtually any legacy lens mount is nice. The smaller size is nice too…

    Mark

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    • Very good point Mark! I think the famous line from any photographer is “I would love to shoot a Leica” haha.

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  14. Enjoyed the read as always Brendan . I actually attended a gig last night in The Royal Burgh of Dunfermline and was amazed at the quality of my mates camera on his smart phone (in very low light) – albeit he is also very creative with it. Whilst the gig was very good, I spent most of the evening studying the backstage photographer and it was noticeable that he often switched between his compact and DLSR so I guess there is a place for both depending on what you are trying to achieve. Liked your considerate response to Kim’s question also!

    Kevin

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    • Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yeah the truth is that in low light compacts and cell phones get decent shots because the ISO is high. The problem is that if you blow up that image bigger than a computer screen the noise is very noticeable. However, I know many band photographers that shoot a DSLR and a compact so that they don’t have to switch lenses between wide angle and telephoto, and they simply can’t afford/carry two bodies.

      The quality of the sensors are getting better and better on the compacts. The one area they’ll always struggle is that they pack way too many pixels onto a tiny sensor which creates really bad noise, they also lack the depth of field and zoom capabilities. That being said, if you know what you’re doing, you can get great shots.

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  15. Hi

    I enjoyed reading your article, it is very true that people buy DSLR’s and dont know how to use them. I am guilty of borrowing someone’s DLSR to take on holiday and keeping it on auto the whole time!

    I love to go to music concerts and take photos of bands. For this I need a camera that works well in low light, (I have a problem with a lot of noise in my photos) has a good zoom for when I can’t get near the front, is quick to take the shot (every camera I have owned takes so long to actually focus and take the photo the artist I’m trying to capture has moved so is either somewhere else entirely and not int he photo or is a blur!) and isn’t an SLR because you are never allowed a camera with a removable lens in these venues.

    I’ve been told by someone that the Fuji Finepix X10 is quite good as a high end compact and works well in low light but I’m not convinced there isn’t better before you get into the realm of DSLRs. Is there anything better/else you would recommend for my needs?

    Thanks.

    R

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    • Rachel – You might want to try one of the mirrorless cameras, people can’t even tell it’s a removable lens. I know that they’re expensive, but your best bet is probably a Leica. If you want a cheaper version Sony does some great mirror-less cameras as well.

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  16. great advice and points here.

    I also get annoyed at the bundle of people who buy canon 7ds at costco and never take it off auto. seems silly to lug that thing around if you dont even want to *try* to figure it out.

    I took 2 photography courses with my canon g11 before i ventured into dslr-land and Im so happy i did. I figured out how to use it and THEN i figured out what type of dslr i would want based on what i liked to shoot etc.

    I ended up getting a canon 60D when i think i might have just gone with the Rebels had i not really understood the basics of photography.

    Now i only shoot on manual and im trying to learn everything i possibly can about the equipment i have.

    great post!

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    • Thanks for the comment Annie, I’m glad you like the article!

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  17. OK…so it is now seven months since your original “suggestion” regarding the G11 and G12. Like many, I carry my camera with me on each trip.

    I went through the SLR lens thing for years with 35mm. For me, finding the best of the current crop is very important. I want a non-SLR that I may use to shoot still images for a catalogue page or blog…but still has enough lense to pull in a high flying bird. I like shooting low light and directly into the sun…so the ISO and other versility is really important to me.

    Hang on…be kind…but I had been using the Kodak Z981 and after two years I wore it out! This was not the camera…this was the user~!!~

    Is it still the G11-G12??????

    Thanks…ed

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    • Hey Ed, I think they are actually up to a G14, maybe even releasing the G15 soon. For me, there are better smaller cameras out there that are the mirrorless variety. However, if you really want that zoom, the G line cameras are likely your best bet.

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  18. This is a good article. I want to get into photography, but I don’t want to spend a billion dollars on something that A) I can’t afford and B) I can’t figure out how to use. Thanks for the article, bro!

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  19. just surfing the web and came across this article. i’m kind of in the same boat as you, and i do find a lot people throwing money down for a DSLR for it’s ‘cool factor’ – friend of mine bought one recently because of the ‘cool factor’…turns out a lot of people think that a DSLR will magically make good photos for them, and when they discover they need to learn some basics, a good part of the lot will suddenly want to own something simpler – or throw it on auto…

    your article was very nice read!

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  20. This is a very useful article for s novice like us. I have used Dslr on auto and manual modes both the most interesting part is using DSLR on manual but i dont owe the Dslr and i am keenly interested in owing one but as i am not able to spend much time except in holidays and free time with cams so i got confused whether I should invest in Dslrs or not. i love taking pictures every now and then but using the compacts annoy me because of its limitations. please help me figure it out…

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  21. Living in London I see this all the time.

    You can tell very easily that someone hasn’t got a clue what they are doing. That in itself isn’t a problem but you just know they aren’t going to do anything about it and will brag to their friends about how their camera takes great photos.

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  22. I loved reading this (at this admittedly late date), and I really just want to reinforce your message just with a bad attitude instead of your gracious one. I don’t mind admitting it; I have a snooty attitude about DSLRs and I don’t apologize for it because there absolutely is a trend here, the one you described; a lot of people are walking around with DSLRs they don’t know how to use because they have money to spend, they think it will automatically take better pictures, and it looks cool to have one. they don’t really care too much about progressing into a DLSR’s true value because it’s more about the ‘image’ of being seen with a fancy camera. 75%? I see more like 90% in central london carrying around a DLSR for the artsy image it projects alone. obnoxious on my part sure, but wrong? hardly. heck I have three friends who bought DLSRs making this very mistake; it’s a cool gizmo that will take better pictures for me.
    your article was spot on and shouldn’t be taken as offense at all; you like myself and others are just noticing a trend that is worth pondering; why are so many people spending money on a DSLR then leaving it on auto? why do I see sooooo many people using the built-in flash through a window? if it a rare sighting well sure, that could be the same with any hobby, but, this is a HUGE trend, so it’s worrth thinking about, no snootiness in that.
    if you use auto on a DSLR, and never progress beyond that, that’s the signal that it was a waste. auto will not do anything a point-and-shoot won’t do, unless you get very lucky.
    if your article doesn’t apply to izy then I don’t know why she took offense. I’m sure anyone, myself included, could find a way to take offense if the truth hurts however.
    the best part about this is that my snootiness can be used against me; it’s all a continuum; there are photographers much better than me who would laugh at me for having the DSLR I do and I know it, and could take better pictures than me with a lesser camera.
    I’m really only here to indulge my peeve, and boy does it feel good.

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  23. Interesting article..I have been a DSLR user for a few years and when I start to travel and also took more and more street photos I found out that the DSLR wasn’t convenient enough. I really want to have the quality from a FF DSLR but at a smaller size. Last year I tried the Sony a7 with my Canon lenses and haven’t looked back since.. I have even ditched my zoom lenses to get a smaller and lighter camera and recently bought my second Sony body.

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  24. i have no SLR to clik picture

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