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Digital SLR vs digital mega-zoom which to get

Updated on March 14, 2015

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The explosion of digital photography

With the growth of digital photography, almost everyone now has at least one digital camera. Most digital cameras will take fairly decent pictures. But what if you want to go beyond decent, and move into the area of great photos, which will make them into cherished images that will become lifelong memories for you or the people you shoot the photos for.

To do this, you must move beyond the point and shoot camera, and into a camera that gives you more control over the things that it takes to make great photos. Then you have to decide, should you go for a DSLR, or can you get the great shots with a megazoom fixed lens camera that can theoretically do everything? There are pro’s and cons for both types of cameras. We will go over both choices to see which will best fit your needs.

Here is a fun shot I took with my DSLR

A candid zoo shot
A candid zoo shot

How much to spend

I used a megazoom, which at the time was a 28-300mm, and 2mp way back when they first came on the digital market. I took several thousand photos with that camera,and they still look very good, even by today's standards. They may not look great as a wall size shot, but I have a few framed 11x14 prints on my walls that I see everyday, and I still enjoy looking at them.

Price is likely the biggest consideration. To get a DSLR with a full complement of lenses to cover what the megazoom covers, will cost you several thousand dollars. The magazooms are in the $200 to $500 range. Nikon has a megazoom that has a 24mm to 1000mm lens, for less than $400. One decent lens for a DSLR will cost more than that.

Manual or auto settings

Second you need to determine what type of photos you will be taking most often. Are you going to need a small camera that will be easy to carry and give you quick access to when you need it? My bag with my DSLR and my lineup of lenses is big and heavy. It gets hard to carry for a day of shooting. A megazoom has only one lens that can cover most shooting situations, and it’s light and easy to carry.

Are you going to need to have more control of the aperture and shutter speed? Are you going to need to be able to have total manual control? Many of the megazoom cameras, do not have manual controls. They do have several scene settings that will let you pick the type of shot you’re making, but not be able to set it manually, which does take away control to give your shot that something different. There are currently models from Sony, Nikon and Canon that do offer full manual controls on their megazooms.

Pictures I've taken with a 5mp megazoom

MPLS sculpture garden
MPLS sculpture garden
Daughter and her Neice at wedding
Daughter and her Neice at wedding

Sensor size and flash

A DSLR will generally have a larger sensor. Having a bigger sensor will give you better quality photos with a lower MP rating. Here is a great article that shows the different sensor sizes and gives a bit more information about what it means to your photos.

Most megazooms have image stabilization built into the camera, Only Sony has it built into the DSLR. This can make a huge difference in the price of the lenses, as well as your ability to take long zoom shots and low light shots. If your looking at the DSLR, take a hard look at Sony, they are making some fantastic cameras.

Another consideration is flash. Most megazooms don’t have the option of using an external flash. An external flash is critical if you want to make pro quality photos for weddings or high end portraits. The megazooms are also very limited on using any type of studio lights. The on camera flash for most megazooms will not be usable for many situations that require studio lights.

As you can see from the shots below, you can take very good photos with a megazoom camera.

BWCA wilderness area
BWCA wilderness area
Another BWCA wilderness area shot
Another BWCA wilderness area shot
Palisades head on Lake Superior
Palisades head on Lake Superior

Lenses are key

For that average person who is not a professional photographer, it will take years to build up a collection of lenses that will cover everything you want. A megazoom will get you there instantly. You will give up control and some quality going with the megazoom.

From my experience, I use my iphone camera, a point and shoot camera I can carry in my pocket, a megazoom and a DSLR. I use them all in different situations, they are each in their own right, the best for some situations, but none are the best for all.

Decide where your photography plans and goals fit into the different situations, how much you want to spend, how much you want manual control over the settings, how much you want to carry around, do you want built in image stabilization and will you need an external flash.

After you have all those decisions sorted out, then you will need to decide from the options available for the megazoom or the DSLR. If you choose the DSLR, the decision will be one you will probably make for life. Once you start buying lenses, you will not likely want to change camera manufactures and start over again. This makes the decision of what brand of camera you go with, something you will want to take some time researching so you make the right decision for you.

Sony HX 20 megazoom


If you decide to go with the DSLR, take your time, do research, read online forums. Read what reviewers say, but also read what people who have and use the cameras. Look at Nikon, Canon and Sony. If you live in a city where there is a large camera store that rents good cameras, rent one for a day and play around with it. Like I said earlier, it's likely a decision you will not ever want to change, once you get a couple of good expensive lenses from one manufacturer, you won't want to change. Whatever you choose, learn to use it well and have fun making great photos.

I have thousands of other great shots I took with my SLR camera's. The reason I showed more Megazoom shots is to show that you don't have to feel that you can't take good shots if you don't spend the thousands on a SLR. Knowing how, is the key to making great photos.

How about you?

What do you use?

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    • TrahnTheMan profile image

      TrahnTheMan 5 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

      Interesting and helpful hub. If readers want to know more then is a good source for sensible, comprehensible photographic advice, including camera reviews.