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Superzoom or DSLR? Selecting One That's Right for You

Updated on November 4, 2013

Both DSLRs and Superzoom Cameras Offer Advantages Over a Compact

If you're thinking about upgrading from a simple compact camera and are torn between a superzoom and a DSLR, your quandary is not surprising. Both offer advantages you won't find in a standard compact. So which one should you choose? The answer depends on many things, including how much interest you have in creative control and what type of photos you'll be taking.

I own two Canon DSLRs, but I recently purchased a Pansonic superzoom, and (despite years of DSLR snobbery) I have come to absolutely love it! The Panasonic can't do everything my Canon does, but my Canon can't do everything my Panasonic does either.

Here's the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to comparing superzoom vs DSLR.

(Image compiled by Lisa Howard)

The best thing about a superzoom is undoubtedly the focal range, making it a great option if you like to take photos of birds and other wildlife, or if you shoot a lot of sports photos and want to be able to get closer to the field or court.

It's also great for those who don't like the bulk and weight of a DSLR, anyone on a budget, and folks who are more comfortable with compact camera simplicity.

Here are four reasons to love a superzoom compact camera.

  1. ZOOM!

    Well, this one is pretty obvious. The main reason to buy a superzoom camera is because you'll be able to achieve a much wider zoom range than you'll get with a standard DSLR kit lens. For instance, I own a Canon EOS 7D, which often comes with a 28-135mm lens. If you want to get closer than 135mm, you're going to have to buy another lens and/or teleconverter. In comparison, my Panasonic Lumix Fz200 has a 25-600mm equivalent range in a single body without the need for additional lenses.

  2. Price

    Most compact superzoom cameras are much cheaper than a DSLR. If budget is a consideration, you're definitely better off with a superzoom. I purchased my Panasonic superzoom because the Canon lens I want is $2000, and it only has a range of 70-200mm. My Panasonic FZ200, on the other hand, has a 600mm range with continuous f2.8 aperture, and the entire camera cost less than half of the price of the 200mm Canon lens I am saving up to purchase.

  3. Lightweight flexibility

    Superzoom cameras may have DSLR-styling, but they still fall in the category of "compact" cameras. That means they're much smaller and lighter than a DSLR. (See photo above for a comparison of my DSLR vs superzoom). I can easily hold my Panasonic superzoom in one hand while shooting, and because it has an LCD screen rather than a viewfinder only, I can frame shots while holding the camera high over my head in a crowd, or down low to the ground without actually having to get on the ground, as I must do to use my DSLR;s viewfinder at a very low angle.

    DSLRs are much heavier and bigger, particularly when you move up to prosumer or professional models and/or add zoom lenses. You're usually going to want to use both hands to take shots with a DSLR.

  4. Ease of Use

    A superzoom compact is usually going to have fewer buttons and knobs on the camera body than a DSLR, making it less imposing. In this respect, a compact superzoom is easier to use than a DSLR. Manufacturers of these cameras know that buyers may not want to learn all the ins and outs of creative photography, so you're probably going to get pretty good results if you simply set the camera on Auto or Program and never fiddle with anything else.

    If you're already used to shooting with a DSLR, having fewer manual settings at your fingertips can be a bit annoying, but if you're used to scrolling through screens on a compact to find the setting you want, you'll probably find a superzoom easy to use, but with many more options available than a typical compact.

    (Image of Canon EOS 7D DSLR vs Panasonic FZ200 superzoom compact by Lisa Howard. Notice how the Canon DSLR is significantly larger than the Panasonic, even with the lens hood on the smaller camera.)

How Close Can You Get With a Superzoom? - Untouched images show comparison with a typical zoom lens

These photos were taken from the same spot in a local park. The top one was taken with a Canon EOS 7D DSLR with a 28-135 lens at its maximum focal range. The bottom one was taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 superzoom camera. Neither has been cropped or edited.

The Superzoom Camera I Own - Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

There are a lot of superzooms on the market now, but they're not created equal.

The camera I chose is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. Every SLR/DSLR I've owned since the days of film have been Canon, so why didn't I go with a Canon superzoom, specifically the Canon Powershot SX50, with an unbeatable 50x superzoom? One word: aperture.

The Panasonic FZ200 "only" has 24x optical zoom (25 -600mm equivalent) compared to 50x (1200mm equivalent) on the Canon. But the Panasonic has something more valuable to me - full f2.8 brightness across the entire zoom range. That means I can zoom to 24x (600mm) and still use a fast 2.8 aperture with a low ISO to achieve maximum speed and the smallest depth of field.

The Canon, like most other superzooms, can't do that. The SX50 has an aperture range of f3.4 to f6.5. What that means is that your depth of field changes as you zoom, and as the f-stop numbers go up, your shutter speed must go down and/or your film speed must go up to compensate for less light coming into the lens. It makes it harder to take crisp action shots of moving objects (such as at sports events) or to use a low ISO to get the clearest image with the least "noise" (or graininess).

The ability to maintain f.28 aperture across the full zoom range makes the Panasonic one of the best superzoom choices on the market. CNET called it "the megazoom that has it all" and dpreview.com said it's "darn close to perfect." I highly agree!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom - Black
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom - Black

Product features:

- 48x Intelligent zoom, less ghost with Nano Surface Coating Lens, Power O.I.S.

- 60p Full HD Video Recording with OIS Active mode

- Full range F2.8, 24x Optical Zoom Leica DC Lens

- 12MP new high sensitivity MOS sensor

- High resolution EVF (1.3M dot),

- High speed AF 0.1 sec

- High speed burst shooting 12fps

 

Another Superzoom Sample Photo

Another Superzoom Sample Photo
Another Superzoom Sample Photo

Advantages of a DSLR - No compact can compete with a DSLR on these points

If you have any interest in professional photography or if you simply want the most creative control, a DSLR is the only way to go. They're fast, have the most creative options and take the best quality photos. Here are three reasons to choose a DSLR.

  1. Photo Quality

    When it comes to superzoom or DSLR, there's no question which camera can produce the highest quality images. It's a DSLR. They have larger sensors inside that can capture a wider range of light and create higher quality images, particularly in low light. You simply can't get that in a compact. Until they find a way to put larger sensors in smaller bodies (as they're starting to do now with mirrorless models), the best quality is always going to come from a DSLR. However, that doesn't mean that the quality of a compact superzoom isn't good enough for most purposes. Take a look at the sample photos on this page to get an idea of what to expect.

  2. Speed

    DSLRs are simply faster at focusing and capturing an image. The minute you turn the camera on, you can start shooting, and there's virtually no "shutter lag" (the amount of time between when you press the shutter button and the camera actually captures the photo). Although high-end superzoom compacts are faster than their standard compact camera siblings and are adding features such as burst mode to capture multiple images within one second, they still can't compete with a DSLR when it comes to overall readiness and response time. The biggest complaint I have with my Panasonic superzoom is that it simply can't focus as quickly as my DSLR.

  3. Creative Control

    If you really want to control the way your photo looks, not simply rely on the camera's auto settings and hope the image turns out, you need a DSLR. If you choose a DSLR and learn how to operate it, you'll be able to be much more creative with your images. A superzoom camera can offer some options, but not nearly as many as a DSLR.

More Sample Images - Another comparison for your review

Like the samples above, these photos were taken from the same position with two different cameras. The top photo was taken with my Canon. The bottom photo was taken with my Panasonic. Neither has been cropped or edited in any way.

My Favorite DSLR - Canon EOS 7D

As much as I love my new superzoom, there's no way I'd ever trade in either of my DSLRs for a compact. No way. A compact camera simply can't take the same quality photos as a DSLR due to the smaller sensor inside. If you really want the best quality, a DSLR (and particularly a full-frame DSLR, if you can afford it) is the best option.

I have always been a Canon owner and currently have a Canon Rebel T1i and an EOS 7D. I mostly use the 7D. What I love most about this camera is the speed. When I turn it on, it's instantly ready to shoot, and there's no waiting for the lens to focus. My biggest complaint about the Panasonic is focusing speed. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it has a hard time locking on a subject. I never have to worry about that with my DSLR.

That's why a DSLR is priceless when it comes to capturing spur-of-the-moment shots. My Canon can also track moving objects MUCH better than the Panasonic, and the image quality is (of course) better because it has an APS-C-sized sensor vs. the much smaller sensor in the Panasonic.

More Superzoom Sample Photos - Photos by Lisa Howard

Click thumbnail to view full-size

So Which One Should You Buy?

If you're serious about photography, a DSLR is always going to be a better - but pricier - choice. However, if you need extended focal range and can't afford a DSLR with a long zoom lens, a superzoom camera is a great backup.

Other Pages You Might Enjoy - More photography articles by lisadh

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What Do You Think - Superzoom or DSLR? - Leave a comment!

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    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 3 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for this lens. You just confirmed that I made a good choice by, just today, purchasing a

      Rebel T2i. instead of upgrading my point & shoot. I have 30 days to try it out.

    • Wayne Rasku profile image

      Wayne Rasku 4 years ago

      I have a Panasonic P&S, but it has just 12x zoom. I have read the reviews about the FZ200, and it looks really enticing. Of course, if I spend the money on an FZ200, I won't be able to afford a 7D. What's a guy to do?

      Thanks for a great comparison.

    • LeopoldBlatt profile image

      LeopoldBlatt 4 years ago

      Your comparison photographs are excellent and really add to this article. I like it.