Learn the Terms > SLR vs. Compact

SLR vs. Compact

The SLR is big and bulky but offers more flexibility than the compact

SLR is an acronym for a Single Lens Reflex camera. In the digital world, the difference between an SLR and a regular camera is that the SLR will allow you to use a variety of lenses with different focal lengths.

There are two main reasons to choose a digital SLR over a compact. The first is if you have used a film SLR extensively and are used to the way it works. No compact digitial camera offers the same manual controls that you can find on a digital SLR. The second reason to get an SLR is if you already own lenses for a film SLR camera. In many cases the manufacturers have made sure that the new digital cameras work with all of their old lenses which is good news if you already own them.

Differences Between SLR and Compact Cameras

Here are the basic differences between these two types of cameras:

Digital SLRCompact
Interchangeable lenses (hundreds to choose from)One attached lens
TTL (Through The Lens) viewfinder — when you look through the viewfinder of a digital SLR, you are seeing what the lens sees. If the image is out of focus, the photo will be out of focus.The viewfinder is separate from the lens and shows you an image of the scene in front of you. The lens can be out of focus, but your view in the viewfinder will be sharp.
Large camera body, molded gripCan be the size of a credit card — some have a grip for you hand but most don't.
Bulky and heavySleek and small
The camera of choice for professional photographersThe camera of choice for the average consumer
All can use an external flash unitVery few can use an external flash
All offer complete manual controlOnly some offer manual controls — the rest are completely automatic

Photographic Comparison of Compact and SLR

This is a compact digital camera sitting next to a digital SLR. The most obvious difference is size.

On the compact camera you can see that the lens is completely enclosed in the camera body when the camera is turned off.

The lens on a digital SLR can add several pounds to the camera, depending upon it's size.
compact vs slr

How Do I Decide?

If you are really having trouble making up your mind, do what most photographers do: get both. The digital SLR serves as the camera when you know you want to take high-quality photos and have complete creative control. This is the camera that you take on that road trip to Utah.

The compact camera serves as a great everyday camera because it is so portable. Maybe you're walking down the street and see something that catches your eye. Pull out your compact camera, and you can get the shot. This makes a lot more sense than lugging around a bulky 5 pound camera with you every day of the week.

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