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Apples cannot be compared to oranges… or so they say. We often hear this when people compare the merits of two somewhat different things, one person says something is better, another says none is better because you cannot compare apples and oranges, instead you must compare apples to apples.

Well, it is easier to compare apples to apples, because there are less differences. However, reality is that you can compare vastly different things. Why? First, you simply can, after all these things are so different. These who say that apples cannot be compared to oranges have to admit it, but will say that such comparisons are not useful.

That is right, not all comparisons are useful. Yet we can usefully compare apples and oranges. Here is how: set a goal and compare how each item suits the goal. For a picnic, which is better, the apple or the orange? I even asked this from an 8 year old kid and got an answer: the apple is better. Why? I inquired. You don’t have to peel an apple said the kid. Indeed, apples are easier and less messy to eat, sure you can bring an orange to a picnic, but an apple can be a better choice. Does that mean an apple is better than an orange? No. It means an apple is more suitable for a picnic, that is all.

How about a plane and a car? Compare them in the void and you get nowhere. Set a goal, like going from New York to Montreal, and then you can chose which is more suitable for you. A 5 hour drive for only the cost of gas and some mileage? Or a 1 hour flight plus airport air time and luggage constraints at the cost of $230 per person? With that in mind, it is not too hard for people to decide which is better for their situation.

Apples vs Oranges

How about a point-and-shoot digital camera and a DSLR? Neocamera got many requests to do that. So, we did. Why did these people ask? Simple, they were concerned about image quality. They wanted to see the difference between images from a point-and-shoot and those from an SLR. As we did, we got letters asking why we did so, saying that it is ridiculous to compare a point-and-shoot to an DSLR, apples cannot be compared to oranges.

Interestingly, there were roughly the same number of people asking to compare these apples to those oranges than people saying that you cannot compare them. The disagreement lies in the fact that not everyone is shopping for a picnic. There are some people who want good quality pictures, but who don’t care for the flexibility and bulk of a DSLR. Many people have bought a DSLR camera with a single lens and never changed the mode-dial from P or Auto. My first film SLR was a gift, it had been used for 10+ years with a single lens on it and the mode dial had never moved. In fact, its previous owner did not even know you could change the lens.

Another related observation is that not everyone agrees what is an apple and what is not. In one review, Neocamera compared more than one fully-automatic point-and-shoot Being automatic, these point-and-shoot digital cameras did not produce the same exposure for the same subject under the same lighting conditions. Some people wrote that since the exposure was different, the comparison was invalid, apples were not being compared to oranges. Again, this is a matter of perspective. What are we comparing? The result of the same exposure or the result of taking pictures in the same situation? Well, obviously the latter. After all, the results shown are what these particular cameras would produce for that situation.

When we had the DSLR vs the point-and-shoot, we actually could control the exposure of the DSLR. So we did. The point-and-shoot obviously chose the exposure automatically and then we replicated the exposure on the DSLR. That way we could compare apples to apples, after all, this time we did get the exposures to match. To that, some readers wrote that we should have done the comparison differently. Their point was that the point-and-shoot had chosen an optimal exposure for itself and by using the same exposure on the DSLR, we chose an exposure that was not flattering images from the DSLR.

The bottom line is that all comparisons must be looked at in context of what they demonstrate rather than what they do not – and they do all demonstrate something, we just have to be clear on what that is.

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