Want to be able to change lenses to match your needs in a variety of shooting situations? Do you want to get blurred backgrounds for portraits or need extreme wide angle capability? DSLR is the way to go. The availability of so many different lenses with so many specific properties is the one and primary reason to use DSLRs.
Want a large range from wide angle to tele without ever changing lenses? Get one of the super zoom cameras available on the market. But be careful: image stabilization is a MUST on such cameras, no chance to handhold a tiny and light camera at 300 mm without it. And watch out for the other number on the lens barrel: aperture might kill the cat. You will find this information next to the focal length, e.g. F2.5-5.8. This means that you will need about three times more light when using the long end of the lens (the tele-side) compared to what you need on the wide-angle-side. The lower the number is, the better it is for most of us, because we will need less light to get the picture, or, with the same light, will be able to use faster shutter speeds, meaning less risk of camera shake.
Zoom lenses have been improved over the past 20 years, but a zoom is always a compromise in lens calculation. The longer a zoom lens is, the more the disadvantages appear. Stick to shorter lenses (with few exceptions like the Panasonic TZ-7, which is great although it covers a range of 25 to 300 mm), you will be rewarded with better image quality and better low light handling.
Lens summary: the lens forms the picture. The best sensor cannot record anything better than the information passed through the lens. Get the best you can afford, no matter if you buy a P&S camera or just the next lens for your DSLR. Don’t concentrate on zoom range, longer is not automatically better.
Now we talk about camera size. From all I wrote before, a DSLR is the way to go. Better picture quality, interchangeable lenses, RAW format files, high ISO for low light photography, and so on. The problem however is size. Do you happen to travel a lot? Want a small camera with you all the time? Missed the picture of your life, because the DSLR was sitting in the hotel room at the wrong time? Size does matter, sometimes. That’s the reason most serious photographers carry a small P&S camera in their shirt or pant pocket all the time (despite some of the disadvantages of the camera, it does have portability and ease of use going for it).
Size has its limits. Some of the P&S cameras on the market are simply too small, at least too small for normal hands. If you happen to be a lady with very small hands, even the smallest cameras might work for you. For most of us however it will always be a compromise of portability and handling.
If you are looking at the larger P&S cameras like Nikon’s P6000, you could take a DSLR into consideration as well: Nikon (with the D40, D60 and whatever will follow), Panasonic, Pentax and Olympus offer tiny DSLR models. Pentax has a range of extremely small lenses (primes, not zooms), as well as Olympus with its 25mm prime. Such a set offers very good portability as well as perfect picture quality. Although Nikon has no really tiny prime (except for the 45mm P, but this is not produced anymore and is rather long on a DX body), Voigtländer offers a valid alternative with the 20 mm 3.5, an extremely small manual focus prime, which makes for a wonderful wide angle walkaround combo when mounted on a D40 or similar. It’s even chipped, so metering will work perfectly even on the cheapest of Nikons DSLRs.
Camera size summary: don’t buy without having handled your desired camera in a shop. Small size has its limits, handling becomes a nightmare with tiny knobs and funny menus. See how different models handle differently, find out what fits best into your hands. Compare.
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