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Disadvantages of Compact Digital Cameras for HDR Photography

With compact digital cameras that feature manual modes and even auto bracketing, you’re set to get started with high dynamic range photography. However, you can’t take action shots or hand-held HDR because the frame rate is too slow, and you won’t have Raw photos to use for single-shot HDR.

These are the tradeoffs you’ll find if you use a compact digital camera rather than a dSLR:

  • Photo quality concerns: Compact digital camera photo quality ranges from surprisingly good to downright abysmal. They tend to show more noise, and high-ISO performance trails far behind dSLRs. This degradation of quality happens primarily because these cameras have a much smaller sensor.

    Having said this, you can take (with a decent camera, the know-how to use it, and good software processing skills) beautiful pictures. Paradoxically, without those skills, you will find it very challenging to take decent pictures even if you have a very high-quality, expensive camera.

  • Small or no optical viewfinder: Many new compact digital cameras have no optical viewfinder. You are forced to frame and compose your shot on the LCD screen. Although this is fine sometimes, it’s harder to see what you’re doing outside in the sun.

    And even if your model does have a viewfinder, as shown in this figure, it’s often microscopically small — and, to make matters worse, it’s not a faithful representation of what you’re photographing. This is one reason why dSLRs are so popular among professionals — because you look through the lens when you look through the viewfinder, seeing what the camera sees.

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  • Small controls: Although these cameras are designed to be easy to use, they are often harder to use if you want to do anything other than put the camera on Auto and start taking pictures. Control knobs and buttons are tiny or nonexistent. This can make it hard to change shooting modes, aperture, focus, and exposure compensation.

  • Touch-screen controls: New Nikons have moved to a touch-screen paradigm, which isn’t the best for HDR when you want to keep the camera steady. Ideally, you should touch the camera as little as possible. When you must, it helps to have controls at your fingertips instead of having to poke the screen several times.

  • Restricted flexibility: One of the biggest strikes against compact digitals is the lack of flexibility compared with dSLRs. This has an effect on where and how you can shoot good HDR:

    • Limited shooting modes: You will often be limited to preset scenes and auto modes, which restrict your ability to be in control of the camera.

    • Limited focus modes: You often have no manual focus — and even if you do, it’s pretty hard to focus a compact digital camera on anything other than the side of a barn. Too, depending on the shooting mode you are in, you might have a limited ability to control focus points. Shooting sweeping landscapes might not be a problem, but focusing on a small detail for HDR might be.

    • Limited metering modes: You might be limited to one or two metering modes (multiple, which you should always have; center weighted; and possibly, spot), which can restrict your ability to set the best overall exposure.

    • Single lens: This could be a pro or a con, depending on who you are. You can save yourself a lot of money because you won’t be tempted to buy new lenses. On the other hand, you can’t upgrade your camera with a better or different lens.

      If you aren’t happy with the angle of view (it may be too “zoomy,” or not wide enough), you’ll have to get another camera.

    • No growth: These cameras are great at what they do, but when you master them and want to continue to grow, there is no alternative but to get another camera.

  • JPEGs: Budget compact digital cameras do not offer Raw support. The only file format available is JPEG, which limits your ability to make pre-HDR processing decisions. This limitation can also affect photo quality. This is not an insurmountable problem, but realize that the upper level of quality you can achieve is limited.

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