Good, Better & Best: The Camera Debate Rages!

Photos by: DSLR and Iphone!     

Which is good, better, and best: Point and shoot, DSLR, or iPhone/smart phone? I have spent multiple days on the water gaining perspective on all three of the camera types listed and have tried to compile what I feel is the positive and negative attributes of each camera category and maybe this will help some of you decide on the best one to suit your needs.

Before I open this can of worms, let me give you a quick disclaimer. I am by no means a pro photographer nor do I possess all the super technical jargon that many others do. I simply enjoy taking photographs. I also enjoy using this as my excuse for not being as good of a fisherman as many of my friends. In writing this piece, it is noteworthy that I am using the perspective of what experiences I have had exploring the great outdoors.

It seems like with each year that passes, the line gets more and more blurred because of advances in technology. Remember when you had to have a shoulder-mounted camcorder that recorded video directly to a VCR cassette? How about the car phone or the first cell phone that had its own briefcase? When is the last time you saw a beeper for that matter? It's amazing to think what we were using to what is available to us now.

The technology available today makes it very difficult for fisherman to continue the art of making a decent catch into a bruiser. It used to be that a nice 13" rainbow morphed into a 20"+ bruiser very quickly. Now it is standard fishing forum procedure to say that if there aren't any pictures, it didn't happen.

Point and shoots have been around for quite some time and even dominated the film market (think disposables) prior to digital camera prices coming down. They are small, compact, and really easy to carry and access when the catch is at hand. Much like the other categories, the resolution (number of megapixels) of point and shoots continues to increase. Another area that point and shoots are improving is in their low light capability (lower aperture). For $200 or so, a good quality, feature-packed point and shoot can be yours. Many point and shoots currently being manufactured have HD video capability. In fact, I think you'd have a hard time finding one that doesn't shoot video. If you have 4 Ben Franklin’s burning up your wallet, a fine choice would be something along the lines of a Nikon P7700 or the Canon G15, both of which give you more manual control of your settings, good low-light abilities, and very high resolution.

Here is where my bias may come into play: the DSLR category. I carry my DSLR on all fishing trips, backpacking adventures, and family vacations alike. To me, the DSLR is better in almost every facet: faster shutter speeds for freezing action, higher resolution (important for enlarging photos), better color rendering, and the list goes on. For me, the two main advantages to using a DSLR are the manual controls you can adjust to best suit the type of photography they enjoy and the myriad of interchangeable lenses that are available. From ultra-wide landscapes to shooting wildlife at extreme distances, there are lenses out there that can fit any need. Like point and shoots, many DSLRs available today have HD video capabilities. One area where it falls flat on its face is compactness/portability. Carrying a heavier, bulkier camera along with multiple lenses is tough, not to mention the mental anguish that could settle in should you inadvertently bath your camera in the creek. Only thing that could be worse than that is breaking the tip on your fly rod 3 miles from the car.

The iPhone/smartphone presents the most commonly debated category of the three and this is where the usefulness factor comes into play in a major way. The iPhone is a compact, multi-talented digital marvel that can do everything except walk your dog (but there may very well be an app for that). Knowing that there is more technology in an iPhone than what was in Apollo 13 pretty much sums it up for me: smartphones are amazing. They have GPS/navigation, internet access, some chick named Siri, HD video, tons of apps to customize the phone to your liking, Angry Birds, Facebook, iTunes, Instagram and the list goes on (forever). They also have morphed into very capable digital cameras with many iPhones having 8 megapixel resolution or better. So, where does this fit on the list when examining it purely on its usefulness for shooting photos? Truthfully, this little device performs well. There are many apps available to smartphone users that allow for all kinds of unique situations (360 panoramic, etc.) They aren't fast operationally because there are not external dials; everything is touchscreen. Let's be frank and honest with this comparison; they don't possess the color rendition, high resolution, and shutter speed of a DSLR or high-end point and shoot. What features they do possess is so wide and broad they simply can’t be ignored. There are more accessories and gadgets available for anything from fish-eye lens adapters to inexpensive underwater housings. They are super compact and can be stashed in your chest pack without you knowing they are even there.

Granted, this is only a helicopter's view of the 3 categories we come to the point where each person has to make a decision based on their needs and desires. If I had one option and one option only, I would take the iPhone/smartphone. Why would I choose it over point and shoots or DLSRs? Because it can do EVERYTHING and then some! Not to mention it is the smallest of the 3 categories. If I had to pick solely based upon photographic abilities, I would easily choose the DSLR. It is better in all measures when taking photos. If you are, like most of the world, already have a cell phone and are looking for a camera, then you have a tough decision to make. Do you want a more flexible system that produces more detailed photographs but is bulky, heavy, and often cumbersome and certainly more expensive? Or is your main concern compactness while still providing a good photographic feature-set without having to steal from junior's piggy bank?

The final word: just hit the freakin' shutter! A not-so-great picture is better than no picture at all. Use what you have in your hands and make it happen. Examine your past photos and/or experiences to determine what you desire to produce in the future and then pick what category fits your need best.

Being the father of 2 and expendable cash poor, I want to pass on some ways you can save some greenbacks for flies, reels, and other fishing gear. You can save some serious dough by shopping around and buying used camera gear. Without endorsements, I will tell you that I have ordered used items from Adorama, B & H, and KEH (which is based here in Atlanta) and I have yet to be disappointed by any of them. I have sold some stuff through Craigslist as well. Second, don’t think you need the latest and greatest to take great pictures. If you like fly fishing photography, you have likely seen the work of Louis Cahill. As of August of 2012, he was using a 12 megapixel Nikon D300s, which made its debut in 2008. Top shelf, older models can be had at unreal prices. Pick up an older body and toss your cash at a high-end lens...you won't regret it. Lastly, read and research. Let the online forums be your guide. Don't take the salesman's word for it, learn for yourself. There are some great photographers out there that fish, too. Email them questions, post comments, and pick their brains. Their past experiences and working knowledge can help you make your decision. Narrow down what features are most important to you, find the camera that meets as many of those as possible, and pull the trigger on some quality camera gear...your man cave walls and taxidermist (for you Gene) will thank you.

Here's the results of our recent DSLR vs. Iphone shots:

Landscape 1:

Landscape 2:

Shoot em' if ya got em'!