Everybody knows DSLRs are the best digital cameras, so when someone tells is friends or strangers on the internet he is hesitating buying an ultra-zoom or a DSLR, they invariably get one of two answers:
- DSLRs are the best so there is point buying an ultra-zoom.
- You can’t compare these things, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, so just buy a DSLR.
One should never under-value convenience. The advent of cell phone cameras proves it. Probably millions of
crappy photos are shot every day and people don’t stop themselves just because the quality is poor. For the record, most if not all ultra-zooms are far more capable than most cell phone cameras.
An ultra-zoom has an awesome convenience factor. Modern ones have between 20X and 42X optical zoom, covering a range up to 24-1000mm in 35mm equivalent terms. This provides extremely flexibility in framing and therefore composition. It would take several large and heavy lenses to cover the same zoom range with a DSLR, or even a mirrorless ILC. Expect at least 2 or 3kg (4.4 – 6.6lbs) just for lenses. Compare this to an ultra-zoom which weighs around 0.5kg (1lbs) or never more than 1kg. Big DSLR lenses are also very pricey.
The relatively small size of most ultra-zooms, lens included, make it superior to DSLRs for a great number of people. In fact, one of the common complaints we hear from new DSLR owners is that the camera and lenses are too bulky and heavy, so they get left at home. As mentioned in the Digital Camera Buying Guide, the bigger the camera, the fewer pictures it takes! That’s because you can also shoot with the camera you have with you.
As they say in infommercials, but wait there is more. Size and weight are certainly high priorities but ultra-zooms offer additional conveniences:
- No lens switching: The right lens is always available for shooting from near to far and dust is almost never a problem. There is even one ultra-zoom, the Fuji X-S1 shown above which is weather-sealed.
- Live Preview: They may not all be Exposure-Priority, but the preview shown by ultra-zooms on their EVF or LCD is more accurate than that you see on DSLRs because it takes into account metered exposure, white-balance and image parameters. There is also often an optional Live-Histogram which helps. Modern DSLRs also support Live-View but tend to work much more slowly and awkwardly that way.
Product and Macro Photography
Shallow depth-of-field is the hallmark of bright prime lenses on DSLRs and is extremely useful for portraits and creative photography. Although depth-of-field can be increased with small apertures, there is a diffraction limit and shutter-speed issues that eventually crop up. If you shooting product images or documentary-type macro photography, the shallow depth-of-field of DSLRs simply gets in the way.
An ultra-zoom, like all ultra-compact and the vast majority of compact digital cameras, use a small imaging sensor. While such a small sensor is the primary reason for inferior image quality of these cameras, it also gives them far greater depth-of-field, even at relatively bright apertures. For this reason, we most often recommend an ultra-zoom for product photography, particularly for products shown online where resolution and lesser image quality are unlikely to show.
One key necessity for macro and photography of small products such as jewelry is the ability to focus really closely. With a DSLR or any other type of ILC, you need a specialized macro lens for that. Such lenses alone cost at least as much as an ultra-zoom. Some ultra-zooms can focus extremely closely with a 1cm or 2cm minimum focus distance being common and even a 0cm focus-distance is achievable on some Canon ultra-zooms. Still, at base ISO these modern cameras can produce very nice images which is easily possible when shooting products from a tripod using additional off-camera lighting.
Finally one has to understand that compelling photos have been possible since the dawn of photography, despite ancient cameras not even comparing to what ultra-zooms can do. The truth as that what matters above all else has little to do with image quality or even the speed at which photos can be captured. What makes photos most compelling is its subject, what it says to the viewer and what is happening in the frame. At that ultra-zooms are even highly advantageous given their immense zoom range.