I’ve been debating about buying a digital SLR (DSLR) vs. a compact point-and-shoot camera. Digital Photography School has a good article comparing the pros and cons, and there are several other sites that cover this debate.
DSLRs are definitely growing in popularity as prices have come down in recent years. According to Google Trends (see figure below), the average web traffic for DSLRs (blue) is now higher than for compact cameras (red) in the U.S. during the past 12 months. Except for the Apple iPhone, the most popular cameras on Flickr are DSLRs. While this is not a very scientific analysis, one can surmise that DSLRs are growing in popularity. Also, notice how traffic increases as the holidays approach and falls off in January.
I believe that camera manufacturers have done a good job up-selling DSLRs as well. Apparently, the margins for compact cameras are pretty thin, and camera manufacturers make more money per camera selling DSLRs.
I’m leaning towards an entry-level DSLR. While not as small as compact cameras, entry-level DSLRs are smaller than the full-size DSLRs; it’s a happy medium. The new micro four-thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic have been getting a lot of interest for their size and picture quality, but they’re still pretty expensive (over $500). Also, my girlfriend already has an iPhone and a compact digital camera (Canon Poweshot SD790 IS) that I can borrow.
One way to end the debate is to buy both a compact camera and a DSLR. From what I’ve read online, most professional photographers have a DSLR as their main camera but also carry a compact camera (like the Canon G11) as a backup. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice as to which type of camera to buy. It really depends on what type of photographs you want to take. I don’t think you can necessarily go wrong one way or the other. As I’ve read many times, it’s the photographer and not the gear that determines how good the photographs turn out.