If you want to learn the basics of digital photography, it really doesn't matter whether you're using a digital compact or a DSLR with the exception of these few important differences.
One of the biggest advantages to digital compacts is the cost. Another thing to consider when buying a DSLR is that you will need to purchase at least one lens for your camera especially if you want to take distant photographs. Digital compacts always come with a built in lens and sometimes even come with a zoom.
If you have an optical zoom on your digital compact, you can get some good quality telephoto shots too. An Optical zoom is always better than digital zoom because a digital zoom works like cropping and takes away pixels. The more you zoom with a digital zoom the lower the image quality. Unlike regular zooms, an optical zoom maintains the quality of your picture.
Some compacts will take such high quality images that many a pro will use one when they don't want to carry all of their DSLR gear. The quality of the photograph is largely dependent upon the photographer's skill.
While digital compacts don't have as many megapixels as DSLRs, with only 5 megapixels, you can produce an 8x10 print of the type of quality you'd be proud to frame and hang on your wall.
Finally, learning the digital photography basics of a compact is far easier then learning how to use a DSLR to its full advantage.
Digital Single Lens Reflexes (DSLRs)
A Digital SLR is the digital version of a single lens reflex camera or SLR. You can call a DSLR a single lens reflex camera but you can't call an SLR a digital camera. With the release of cameras like the Canon Rebel and other moderately priced DSLRs, more photography enthusiasts are enjoying the benefits of using a DSLR.
The big advantage of the DSLR is its creativity and versatility.
For example, by adding a long telephoto lenses, you can capture a close up of an osprey at the top of a towering pine tree or a child at the soccer goal post when you're at the other end of the field. With a DSLR, you can find all kinds of accessories to suit almost any photographer's need.
Another advantage to the DSLR is its ability to take crisp, focused sports and other action shots in places with low light where flash isn't allowed. The larger sensor on a DSLR allows you to do this; whereas with a compact, if you set the ISO high enough to take the shot in the dim light, it would have digital noise (sort of a multi colored grain). If you're taking still shots, it's not an issue. The problem with Sports Mode in a low light setting is that the shutter must close quickly so there is just not enough light to hit the image sensor even with a large aperture setting. The only way this can be compensated for is with a flash or a higher ISO setting.
However, you can get rid of most digital noise by using photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop.
Another advantage of using a DSLR is that you can use an external flash instead of always having to use natural light.
DSLRs have more megapixels than the best of the digital compacts, meaning you can take and print in high quality really big pictures, like posters and large prints for framing. And lastly, digital cameras are slower to take pictures than film cameras but DSLRs are much faster than digital compacts.
Although the digital photography basics do start with selecting a camera, the quality of your images will largely depend upon how you use your camera. So no matter what type of camera you have or will be buying, it pays to practice.
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