Compact Digital Camera (CDC) versus Digital SLR - dummies

Compact Digital Camera (CDC) versus Digital SLR

By Kim Rodgers, Sarah Sypniewski

When taking photos of dogs, you need to consider which type of camera you’re going to use. The digital photography world has two main types of cameras: small, affordable, point-and-shoot type compact digital cameras (CDCs) and larger, somewhat pricier single-lens reflex (digital SLR) cameras.


In today’s market, the price of a CDC ranges anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on its features, whereas the price of a digital SLR starts at about $400 to $500 for a prosumer-level (the level between amateur and professional) camera and goes up to thousands of dollars for a professional camera.

The technologies these two types of cameras use are vastly different, resulting in varying degrees of quality and flexibility:

  • Compact digital cameras: These are the everyday, carry-in-your-pocket cameras that you probably already own. They usually have built-in zoom lenses that you can’t change out and small pop-up flashes for low-light situations.

    CDCs are great for toting around because of their compact size and ease of use, but their small stature also means that they sport a small sensor — the piece of technology that actually captures your photo! The smaller sensor translates into inferior image quality when compared to the larger sensors of digital SLRs.

    CDCs offer a substantial amount of automatic modes (like portrait, landscape, night scene, and so on) so the user doesn’t have to think too much about how to get the shot. Unfortunately, all those bells and whistles can sometimes be detrimental if you don’t know how to work around them.

    Most CDCs also offer some manual exposure options, but they’re often buried within the camera’s menu, making them a pain to quickly access. If you’re not really interested in learning the ins and outs of photography and you want to simply pick up a camera and start shooting right away, a CDC may be right for you.

    You can absolutely take great photos of your dog; you just won’t have as much flexibility as a digital SLR user.

  • Digital SLR cameras: Single-lens reflex cameras sport a much larger sensor than CDCs, resulting in superior image quality overall. They offer more flexibility and manual control over your images, with multiple controls actually built into the camera body itself.

    Instead of having to sift through the camera’s menu to change your aperture or shutter speed, you simply spin a wheel or press the button that controls your exposure. Digital SLRs also afford you the ability to work with different types of lenses and external flashes so you’re not stuck with one range of view or bound to using a pop-up flash.

    They do come with a higher price tag, but if you’re serious about getting the best images possible of your dog, a digital SLR is the way to go. Entry-level digital SLRs still come with many auto functions as well, so don’t feel like you need to be a photography pro to pick up one of these.

    You can always start with auto settings and ease into the manual controls as you become more familiar with them!

    One last feature to note about digital SLRs is their ability to shoot using the RAW file format. If you’re looking for perfection and planning on postprocessing your photos, RAW should be your file format of choice. Seriously, once you try it, you may even feel like you’re cheating — it’s that good!

If you’re deciding between a CDC and a digital SLR, don’t get too caught up in the race for megapixels. A digital photo is made up of millions of tiny pixels, and every camera has a different amount translated into a megapixel number prominently marked on the side of the camera.

Although the megapixel number was an important factor when digital cameras first came out, any camera you buy today is going to have more than enough megapixels for the job at hand, so try not to worry too much about it.

Some of the most affordable CDCs on the market today boast upwards of 12 megapixels, but a digital SLR always beats out a CDC when it comes to image quality, simply because its sensor is so much bigger — even if the digital SLR only has a specification of 10 megapixels!