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SLR Camera or Bridge Camera?

Bridge camera Sony DSC-F828

Picture 1. Sony DSC-F828 is a bridge camera.
Weight: 906 g
Size: 134 x 91 x 156 mm
Zoom: 28 - 200 mm

18.12.2007 Category: Photography
About four years ago there was a debate in Digital Photography Review (among other places) about whether Canon EOS 300D is a better camera than Sony DSC-F828. The essential difference between these two digicams is that the former is a SLR camera and the latter is a bridge camera. Both cameras were announced at the same time in 2003. The debate itself was insane because it was based first on specifications only, then on sample pictures and finally on a few reviews. I was about to purchase one of these digital cameras, so I followed the debate even though it didn’t really make sense because none of the debaters had any experience about neither of these cameras. Now years later I've had extensive experience with both of these digital cameras and so I can make a fair comparison between them. Today, both of the cameras are somewhat old technology but many of the same differences still exist between bridge cameras and entry level digital SLR cameras.

Image Quality

DSLR camera Canon 300D

Picture 2. Canon 300D is a digital single-lens reflex camera.
Weight (inc. lens): 835 g
Size: 142 x 99 x 72 mm
Zoom (kit lens 35mm equiv.): 29-88 mm

Canon 300D might appear to be roughly similar in size and weight as Sony-F828. However, these are not comparable since the light weight lens of the Canon has only the zoom range of 29-88mm (35mm equiv.).

Generally speaking bridge cameras have smaller sensors than DSLR cameras. A smaller sensor usually means a noisier photo. However, in my opinion the image quality of many bridge cameras is good enough for most purposes. Another aspect of a technical photo quality is sharpness. The sharpness of a photograph depends greatly on the quality of the lens. Because a SLR camera has an interchangable lens it's logical to speak about the sharpness of the lens rather than about sharpness of the SLR camera. Many kit lenses (lenses that are included in the package) are not of very high quality. Additionally, the zoom range of the kit lens might not be sufficient. On the other hand, a high quality bridge camera can have a sharp and bright lens with a wide zoom range which is good enough for most purposes.

Size, Weight and Flexibility

photo of clouds taken with bridge camera Sony DSC-F828

Picture 3. A photo taken with a bridge camera.

A bridge camera can be considerably smaller and lighter than DSLR camera with a zoom that has equal quality and range. And if the the zoom range of DSLR is covered with multiple lenses, the bridge camera is a lot smaller package. That is actually the best thing about a bridge camera. It has everything in a small package. I used to carry a bridge camera with a mini tripod always with me which proved to be a very flexible solution. Nowadays, when I use DSLR I sometimes feel that the bulky gear stands in the way of my creativity. SLR gear can easily produce two problems:

Settings and Features

Landscape photo taken with DSLR Canon 400D

Picture 4. A photo taken with a digital SLR camera.

One might think that a DSLR camera has more valuable settings and features than a bridge camera. However, that's not always the case. For example Sony DSC-F828 has a high speed sync for flash which is missing in Canon 300D. In practice it means that with Canon 300D you can't use flash as fill light if you use a high shutter speed.

Another great feature of Sony DSC-F828 is a live view lcd combined with a swivel camera body. It makes it possible to very easily compose photographs literally from the ground level. Again something that would in many cases be impossible with several entry level DSLR cameras.

Notice that the features (and lack of them) mentioned here are specific to these cameras. Every camera comes with different settings and features. These are just examples of differences between Sony DSC-F828 and Canon 300D.

Learning Curve

Many people are probably worried about the learning curve of a DSLR camera. They shouldn’t be. DSLR cameras have the same automatism as point and shoot cameras. You hit the button and the camera takes a photo with automatic settings. The manual settings are an additional bonus. When comparing a DSLR camera and a bridge camera, I would say that the learning curve is the same. They both have roughly the same manual settings and some differences. DSLR camera has a interchangeable lens but really there isn't much extra to be learned there. So don’t worry, learning curve is the same for both and they both have the automatism of point and shoot cameras.

So DSLR or Bridge?

If you search for the ultimate image quality, the choice is easy: you go for the DSLR. On the other hand, if you want to carry a digital camera along with you everywhere, you might be better of with a bridge camera. One point of view is that if you are serious about photography, you are likely to buy a DSLR camera at some point in the future anyways. I think it all comes down to what kind of photographer you are and what camera features you value. Personally, I really miss high speed flash sync and swivel body with live view lcd when using several entry level DSLRs. On the other hand, when I use a bridge camera I know I am trading image quality for portability. The only solution to get the best from the both worlds might be to get two cameras.

My recommendation is to make an extensive research to find out what is the best camera for you. And remember that the value of a photograph is determined partly by the technical quality but mostly by the composition.