First things first – a point and shoot and an SLR are two different types of cameras. The main difference between a point and shoot and an SLR camera is in what you see when you take a picture. Using an SLR, what you see through the viewfinder is what you get; using a point and shoot, what you see through the viewfinder is…almost what you get. Now, to the average user, the difference in the point and shoot is going to be so small as to not even warrant conversation. But to a photographer, it matters. I’ll explain…read on.
Point and Shoot Cameras: A point and shoot camera is what most people associate with a regular ol’ consumer camera, the type that most of us have and bring with us to parties, family gatherings, etc. You know what I’m talking about…a small silver/black/whatever rectangular body, wrist band on the side, one lens on the front that zooms in and out…
This type of camera gets its name from the fact that, well, you can simply point and shoot: aim the camera at your subject, press a button, and bam you’ve got a picture (and then everyone comes running up saying “Can I see it??”). The camera might have some settings like “nighttime” or “macro” or “party”, but the settings are in the end still controlled by the camera (a glorified tiny computer) instead of the user. The camera takes a light reading, decides what the aperature and shutter speed should be, etc.
The other difference (as I mentioned earlier) is that a point and shoot uses one lens to show the image through the viewfinder and another to record the image on the viewfinder, meaning what you see isn’t what you get. To the average eye, the difference in the images won’t be noticeable…UNLESS you have your finger in front of the lens but don’t see it through the viewfinder. It happens to me all the time… But for the most part, this isn’t really an issue for a basic photo.
SLR (Single Lens Reflex): SLRs get their name from the viewing system they have. Every SLR system is created so that what you see through the viewfinder is what you get on film even though the viewfinder is not in direct line with the lens. This is achieved by use of a light prism and a mirror. When looking through the viewfinder, the light enters the lens, hits a mirror lined up with the lens at the back of the camera, and shoots up into the prism at the top of the camera which in turn sends the light out of the viewfinder so you are, in fact, seeing the light as it’s reflected off the subject. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror retracts, allowing the light to travel straight ahead onto the film/sensor and be recorded.
The other major factor with SLRs is the amount of control a user has. Yes, a user can just throw the camera into automatic mode (which essentially just creates a really fancy looking point and shoot) but a user also has an huge amount of creative control over the final image by manipulating the aperture and shutter speed.
So……now that you know all this, you can now make other people’s faces go blank by asking “Do you know the difference between a point and shoot and SLR camera?” Isn’t that fun??