Do you need a dSLR or will a Point and Shoot do?

Point & Shoot sample straight out
of the camera.
This might be an odd one to compare, but in the age of miniaturization, why would anyone want to carry around a 4 lb camera around on a regular basis. There's a compelling argument to tote around the best point and shoot camera you can afford, mainly because of the weight. But what about the image quality?

There is no doubt in my mind that a dSLR camera system is better, but to most people's eyes their expectations are generally well met by most point and shoot cameras.

The original point and shoot image I took when viewed through the LCD display was also a bit deceptive. Even at the smaller size displayed here, it looks pretty good, but once it was viewed larger on my screen I could see the issues a little more clearly.

Knowing what I know about photography helps, but also my understanding of processing also makes another difference. There was sensor blooming issues with this subject I shot, so I had to be very careful how I did my lighting. Still it produced over exposed images and noise, even at ISO 100. Once I started to do some post processing it started to match the dSLR version quite well.

Shot with a Nikon s600 at ISO 100 F/5.8 @1/20 of a second - retouched in Adobe Lightroom
A little adjustment with the black point, tone recovery, white balance and clarity fixed up the image quite well.  Considering that it's easily 10% the cost of the dSLR set-up I think the images are very comparable.

Shot with the Canon 5DmkII with the 100mm F/2.8L @ 100 ISO, F/8.0 @ 1/6 second

On the dSLR I also dropped the aperture to match the depth of field as close as possible to the point and shoot. I didn't go to extremes because I also wanted to maintain some subject isolation. In some ways the point and shoot camera is much easier to set-up a close up shot like this. I didn't have to think about a lot of settings and controls to create the image that I created on the dSLR. Which brings up the main point of this exercise, is a point and shoot camera all you ever need?

Simple answer is yes, but the more complicated answer is, it depends. The subject isolation isn't great on the point and shoot, and frankly, the over exposure and the lack of aperture control was very frustrating. If you care about creative control then you should at least consider a fully manual point and shoot like the Canon S90 or a Panasonic LX5. Both great point and shoot cameras that gives you full control of your exposure.

Lastly, if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you can get great results out of a point and shoot camera. Just be aware that there are limitations. If you learn to work within those limitations, there's no reason why you can't have great images out of them.