Difference Between Compact Camera VS DSLR Camera

Photography literally means painting with light. It is the scientific art form of capturing light and transforming it into an image. In the 200 years since its inception, photography has undergone phenomenal developments on account of the remarkable technological evolution. The camera went from a plain box producing blurry photographs to the hi-tech mini-computers found in today’s digital cameras.

Possessing the latest technology, digital cameras are fast becoming a convenient way to capture and store memorable moments. The two of the most popular options right now are the Compact Cameras and DSLR Cameras.

Differences between Compact Cameras and DSLR Cameras

While both Compact Cameras and DSLRs create excellent picture quality, the distinguishing features of both are enumerated below.

  • Basic operating technology

surrealism photo of white and black DSLR camera during golden hour

Compact Cameras or “point and shoot cameras”, are small easy to operate cameras, with fixed lenses, built-in flash, and automatic exposure and focus. All one has to do is point at the subject and click a button. These are a good option for amateurs who just want to take good quality photos without requiring technical expertise about photography.

A DSLR or a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera on the other hand, employs a more complex prism mirror mechanism that either splits or directs light towards the viewfinder and onto a sensor. With a great variety of features and manual control, this type of camera is more suited for more advanced photographers.

  • Lens

Compact Cameras have a single fixed lens which means you are restricted by the focal range and aperture of the pre-installed lens. Lenses on a DSLR can be interchanged to suit different scenarios and to provide a variety of effects and creative options. Unlike compact cameras that have a built-in flash for taking photos in low light conditions, certain DSLR lenses allow you to take sharp photos even in low light conditions without a flash.

  • Viewfinder

black Fujifilm bridge camera

Compact cameras come with a built in LCD screen at the back which displays the image in front of you. The viewfinder mechanism attempts to guess what light will reach the sensor and is therefore not very accurate. They use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) as opposed to an optical viewfinder in DSLR cameras. Thus, the image displayed on the screen will be sharp even when the lens is out of focus.

On the other hand, though DSLRs do not consist of a LCD screen and you have to look through the viewfinder, it shows exactly what the lens sees. If the image is blurry the photo will also be blurry unless the lens is adjusted.

  • Sensor

An integral part of any digital camera, the size of the sensor plays a major part in the quality of photographs. The bigger the sensor, the better the image quality will be. Compact cameras are smaller in size (small enough to fit in a pocket) and as such, the sensors in a compact are smaller as well. It reduces the image quality and low light performance as the focal range is not fully reflective.

floating black Canon DSLR camera

This is because the pixels are much smaller owing to the smaller sensor. They need to work at a slower ISO level producing noisier or grainier shots. Despite this, the image quality of a compact camera is suitable enough for most people unless you use them professionally or need to enlarge them significantly.

The larger sensors in a DSLR allows for larger pixels and significantly better image quality with faster ISO. It leads to faster shutter speeds and less grain. Larger sensors mean that DSLRs have a higher dynamic range and can capture images in a greater range of light to dark while keeping the chances of blown highlights to a minimum. They provide more detailed images even in deep shadows. This makes them especially suited to low light or night photography with reduced noise or grain.

  • Control and Camera Settings

On one hand is the compact camera which has a few fixed settings you can switch between to adjust your photo quality. You can shoot indoors, outdoors or in low light conditions including a range of creative modes.

On the other hand, the DSLR camera includes not only built in custom settings but also gives you more manual control. It allows you to adjust the focal length, zoom, exposure, duration and a greater range of ISO settings. It gives greater flexibility while shooting in different conditions.

  • Size and Portability

With a smaller sensor, compact cameras are usually pocket sized and can even be as small as a credit card. It is light and easy to carry which makes it perfect for outdoor use. Whereas, DSLR cameras are larger and bulkier owing to the larger sensor and the prism/mirror mechanism housed within it.

The flipside of interchangeable lenses and adaptability to other accessories like a flash means that they take up extra space and have to be carried separately.

  • Cost and Maintenance

One of the most important features distinguishing a compact camera from a DSLR camera is the cost. Compact cameras are relatively cheaper than DSLRs and require very little to no maintenance as opposed to DSLR cameras that are significantly expensive and you have to be careful to keep the sensor dust free while changing lenses which can affect the final image quality.

Compact Cameras are extremely user-friendly and can be operated by amateurs and professionals alike. DSLRs come in a variety of ranges suitable for amateurs as well as professionals and offer a wider range of adaptability to suit your needs based on your proficiency. 


With the advent of digital photography which negates the use of film, anyone with access to a good camera can generate professional quality photos. There is a vast variety of cameras available today for casual photographers who are happy clicking photos with their phone cameras. But the professionals who want to explore the art of photography a little but more, there are a treasure trove full of equipment available.

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