"The best camera is the one that's with you." -- Chase Jarvis
This quote is constantly referenced in numerous photography forums, across all corners of the internet. As soon as the topic of discussion turns to camera size, traveling, or point & shoots, that quote is bound to appear. It's an excellent lesson for a photographer to remember, but the unfortunate problem is that the quote is often used as an excuse to purchase the latest and greatest form of small camera gadgetry. When a hot new point & shoot camera is announced, every DSLR-wielding photographer starts to have wandering thoughts:
If only I had a better pocketable camera to carry with me every day, then I'd be able to capture all those little scenes I see all the time just going about my daily business! Maybe my vacation photos will get better if I weren't burdened by all this heavy gear? Perhaps I could get some better street photos if I were to use a smaller, less noticeable camera?
I'm one of the worst offenders when it comes to this. In fact, when the revolutionary Canon Powershot S90 compact was announced back in the Autumn of 2009, I was one of the first to buy one. It was an incredible little camera, and I was very happy with it for three and a half years.
That little camera came with me on all sorts of adventures. I brought it hiking, snorkeling, into clubs & restaurants, and across foreign countries. It was my primary social activity camera, used to document all sorts of life events like birthdays, barbecues, and parties. It was fantastic for those things; I have countless photos of myself and friends that were taken with that camera. It's done a great job of documenting those memories and moments.
Yet, over the course of those four years, I have less than a handful of images taken with the little S90 that I'd be happy to print and put on display. However, over the same period of time, I made dozens and dozens of images with my DSLR that I would be more than happy to display. So, what's the problem? Why was my camera so underutilized for serious photography? Was the hardware simply not capable of producing what I wanted? Well, point & shoots will never have image quality as good as their equivalent-generation DSLR counterparts, but most that have been made since around 2010 are more than capable of producing beautiful images. Sure, they may not be quite as detailed or as noise-free as the latest DSLR, but that's not what photography is about. Photography is about creating or conveying feeling using imagery, and modern point & shoots are more than good enough for that task. If the issue isn't one of hardware or equipment, what is it then?
"Every photograph you've ever admired was taken with past equipment, not the thing you're waiting for someone to announce." -- Thom Hogan
The real problem with picking up a point & shoot instead of a DSLR, is that the mind dismisses it as a toy. It is immediately compared to a serious DLSR, so the mind turns it into something that's not up-to-par for serious photography. Of course, it's not a toy. It's precision photographic instrument that's incredibly capable when placed in the hands of a proficient photographer with the right mindset.
The key to using a point & shoot effectively is having the right mindset. Picking up a point & shoot shouldn't turn you into a snapshot shooter. Adopt the right mindset, and stop treating your small camera as a second-class citizen to your DSLR - it's simply a different type of tool to be considered when something lighter and more compact is necessary.
With this in mind, here are two things that I regularly do when using a DSLR, which I nearly always forget to do when I use a compact camera:
- Previsualize: What story are you trying to tell? What feeling should be conveyed or triggered? Consider the positioning, framing, camera settings, and all elements which are necessary to make it happen.
- Work the Scene: Don't just put the camera away after a first attempt. Slow down and work the scene, taking multiple photos, trying to improve upon each previous shot.
It all boils down to this: to take fantastic photos with your compact camera, then slow down, and use it just like you would your DSLR.