Point and Shoot Vs. dSLR Cameras; How To Capture the Most Disney Magic

This is the second photography article written by our resident photography guru, Craig Hood.  See his HDR photography tutorial, here.

A question I’m often asked is, “What kind of camera do you use?”  It’s usually a question from someone who is looking at a picture I’ve taken in Disney World.

Like this one…

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Or this one.

I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you.  I’m a Nikon guy, and I use a Nikon D80.  I don’t particularly think Nikon is better than any other brand, it’s just what I like.  I’m also not implying that my photos are worthy of display in the Smithsonian, but I like them and the camera helps me achieve some pretty decent stuff.  Consumer grade dSLR’s (digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras) have exploded onto the market within the last five years.  They are becoming more and more affordable and are no longer targeted to “pros only;” Nikon and Ashton Kutcher are making that a priority. Just take notice of how many dSLR’s you see the next time you’re in Disney.  With that said, do you have to have a $500.00+  dSLR to take great pictures in Disney World?  No.  Are there shots that you shouldn’t expect to get with a point and shoot?  Yes.  It all depends on what YOU want to do and what your expectations are.

Point and shoot cameras have come a long way and are capable of producing images of pretty darn good quality.  I think practically everyone who owns a dSLR started with a point and shoot, but soon their desire or ability to take better pictures surpassed the abilities of a point and shoot.  You have to ask yourself what you want to do and where you want to go with photography.  Are you happy with 4×6 snapshots for scrap booking or sharing online, or do you want to expand your creativity and capture really high quality photos in many different lighting conditions?  Do you want to try portraiture that rivals studio portraits?  Do you think weddings would be your niche, sporting events, wildlife, dark rides at Disney, night photography?  There are all sorts of venues for photography that a point and shoot may or may not suffice for.

One thing to consider, the higher image quality of dSLR’s allows for much higher quality enlargements, if that’s what you’re into. I have photos on my wall that were enlarged to 13×19 that are tack sharp and could go even larger.  I also have 8×10’s that were enlarged from point and shoots that look fine, though you would probably be pushing the limits of most point and shoots going much larger than 8×10.  However, there are some point and shoots out there boasting enlargements up to 14 x 19, like this one.

All that said, if you’re happy with the results your point and shoot provides you with, you can certainly take great pictures in Disney World as long as you understand the limitations of a point and shoot.  Point and shoot cameras are engineered and marketed to be a “do-it-all” camera.  Sorry,  there is no such camera. There is no “all in one package” camera that can accomplish everything in all conditions and do it well.  That’s why dSLR’s have removable lenses.

There are only two considerations that I can come up with for a point and shoot, simplicity and size.  They are designed to be compact and incredibly easy to use with little to no input from the user.  Practically any point and shoots will fit inside your pocket and you don’t even realize it’s there.  The dSLR on the other hand definitely will not.  They’re big, they’re bulky and they’re heavy.  The weight and bulk can increase dramatically depending on the lens you choose to carry and if you add an auxiliary battery grip.  And don’t forget, you’ll want to carry those extra lenses around with you, which is more weight and more bulk.  Walking five to seven miles a day in Disney World in the Summer is definitely something to consider.  If you’re one who likes to be minimally burdened when touring the parks, you may get tired of a dSLR very quickly.  I have to admit there are times when I opt to leave the dSLR in the room at least once during the trip.

One of my biggest pet peeves with a point and shoot camera is the lag time between pressing the shutter release button and the photo being captured.  You know what I’m talking about. You frame your shot, press the button and there’s a two to three second delay before it actually captures the image.  If you’ve been on Kilimanjaro Safaris, you know how bumpy the ride is and how quickly the scenery changes.  This is when point and shoots drove me crazy.  They just aren’t fast enough to do what I wanted them to do.  A dSLR is much, much faster. When you press the button the photo capture is instant.  Also, the dSLR sports the “burst” mode or “continuous” mode.  This is where the camera continues to shoot as long as you hold the button down and it does it very quickly.  For my old outdated D80, that’s about three frames per second, which is on the slow side compared to some of the newer cameras.  This is a great feature to use on rides that have a lot of movement, like Kilimanjaro Safaris.  It gives you the opportunity to get at least one good picture, because as we all know the vehicle can not stop for you to take a picture…please sit down, sir.

My favorite feature of the dSLR is the multitude of lenses that are available.  This in itself can take your photography to a whole new level.  You will be able to capture images that a point and shoot simply does not have the capability to do.  Probably the most widely used lens on a dSLR is the zoom lens. The zoom lens lets you get really good pictures from a distance.

This one was taken from across World Showcase Lagoon with a 300 mm zoom lens at 135mm.  At full zoom I would have been able to see what those people sitting on the bench were eating. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.

Here’s Primeval Whirl at 300mm of zoom. Not exactly tack sharp, but not too bad for a hand-held shot of a moving object at 300mm.

Here’s a 75mm zoom on Kilimanjaro Safari

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I especially like to have a zoom lens in Animal Kingdom and Epcot due to the size of the parks. There are lots of photo opportunities that you can’t get especially close to; Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life, Expedition Everest to name a few.  It’s also fun to have when you’re looking for all of those architectural details that make Disney so unique.  Yes, there are point and shoots with varying strengths of optical zoom, but typically it’s a digital zoom. The digital zoom simply expands the captured pixels, then the camera “brain” fills the spaces in between with additional pixels that it “thinks” look correct. It never does, it’s terribly pixelated and just looks bad.  A true optical zoom lens uses glass lenses in the same way binoculars or a telescope would to enlarge what you see.  In other words, all of the pixels are already there. There just isn’t enough room in a point and shoot camera to fit that much glass.

Okay, concerning flash and dark rides, I have to say this – Please, please don’t use flash on dark rides.  It’s against the rules and it really spoils the experience for other guests.  It drives me crazy to see someone snapping away with a flash on Pirates of the Caribbean, blinding everyone and getting bad shots to boot.  The rides are dark for a reason, to convey mood and atmosphere.  It also hides things that the Imagineers did not intend for you to see.  Believe me guys, using a flash on dark rides will produce nothing more than washed out garish photos that will not resemble what you remember about the ride.  Try setting your camera to “night shot”, turn your flash off and just see what happens. You may be surprised.

Pirates of the Caribbean, no flash.

Pirates of the Caribbean.  No flash.

If you’ve been in Pixie Hollow, you know how dim the lighting is in there.  Taken without flash, the end result is warm even skin tones with no harsh shadows or pasty white faces.

As for a point and shoots on dark rides, its pretty much useless.  There are a few point and shoots that tout low-light capability, Canon SD4000IS and Nikon Coolpix P7000, for examples, but I would guess that the image quality is going to be lacking.  They simply don’t have the components needed to gather enough light (without flash) to get a good quality image.  So, if dark ride photos interest you, then you may need to talk to the big guy in the red suit about a dSLR.

After everything I’ve said, I hope you don’t think the intent here was to bash point and shoot cameras, because it wasn’t.  I used a point and shoot for years and enjoyed it.  I’m simply offering you, in my opinion, the foremost pros and cons to each. There just happens to be many more pros to a dSLR. T here really are some great point and shoot cameras out there and the technology is constantly advancing.  Again, it’s a personal preference.  Think about what YOU want to accomplish and what makes you happy, then buy the camera that most closely fits.

Now get out there and capture the Magic!


  1. Hayde Summa says


    Thank you so much for all this info. I am going to Europe this summer and I have a point and shoot camera. The camera is pretty much useless at night and the photos never capture true colors. In the Fall, the colors are so incredible in Seattle, but my camera misses a lot of it. I noticed your article was posted in December of 2010. I wonder if there are any cameras that are not too bulky that will give me the crisp colors I always try to capture. You mention that DSLR’s are pretty big, but it seems that it is what I want. I just don’t want to carry around such a big camera all over. Anything new in 2011 that you might suggest?

    Thanks a lot!
    Hayde Summa

    • Craig Hood says

      Hi Hayde! thanks for reading and you’re quite welcome. To try and answer your question, point and shoot cameras have made leaps and bounds in picture quality over the last few years. Unfortunately, there is just no substitution for a dSLR when it comes to superb image quality in different lighting conditions and color reproduction. It all comes down to what’s inside the camera and the lens. Although, there are some really great options out there in the point and shoot realm, like this P80 from Nikon. It’s kind of a hybrid point and shoot, in simpler terms a cross between a dSLR and a point and shoot. It looks a lot like a dSLR, but does not have interchangeable lenses. Size is gonna be very close to a standard dSLR as well as price, they’re not cheap. But if you’re looking for image quality, a dSLR or the unit I mentioned above is gonna be your best bet.

      Hope this helps,
      Have a Magical Day, and a great trip to Europe!

  2. Krista says

    Thanks for all your posts! Beautiful photos & great tips. I can’t wait for our trip this fall – I think I’ll be packing more lenses than I expected!

    • Craig Hood says

      Hi Krista,
      thank you so much, glad you enjoy the articles. Fall is a great time to visit WDW, low crowds and near perfect weather. Oh, and you can never have too many lenses!

      Have a Magical Day!

  3. sandy says

    I am going to Disney for the halloween party. I checked the price of the D80… holy crap. I am looking to up grade from a point and shoot, but I can not afford anything over 500 for a camera. Do you have any suggestions for a step up from a point and shoot… I am looking forward to shooting with the great ambiance lighting that will be in place. I like the pirates of the Caribbean pic you posted. I like Nikon… anything Nikon that can do that with out changing lenses all the time or costing too much.

    • Craig Hood says

      Hi Sandy, thanks for taking the time to read easyWDW and glad to hear you’re going to the Halloween party. I know you will have a geat time! We go every year and always have a blast!
      What I gather from your comments is that you’re interested in decent low light photos without a lot of fuss or expense. The only camera that will truly excel at this is a DSLR, but if you don’t want to be bothered with changing lenses or spend more than 500.00, that pretty much knocks out the DSLR. That will leave you with the point and shoot “hybrids” which is kind of a cross between a point and shoot and a DSLR. In this category Nikon does offer a point and shoot hybrid that is advertised as the next best thing to a DSLR, The Nikon 1 J1. Looking at the specs, it should perform reasonably well for you in low light settings. It’s selling for around 500.00 USD right now. Another one to take a look at is the Sony RX100 – currently touted as the best point and shoot available, although it is a little above your price point at around 650.00 USD. You can Google both of those and read reviews on them, or better yet head out to your local camera store and actually hold them. Hope this was helpful for you.

      Have a Magical Day!

  4. Paul says

    I think your views may change with age. As a (relatively) young man I travelled with a couple of Leicas and half a dozen lenses. Yes, having those lenses was great, but in the time it took me to change lenses, the view from the tour bus might have changed, or the sun might have gone behind a cloud.
    Now I travel light, with only a Lumix, with Leica zoon 24X lens. If the results are less than I could get with a dslr, I am nonetheless eminently satisfied. What a relief not to lug all that equipment around!

  5. says

    With all the talk about the technical quality of a specific camera there is little about the end result the photograph itself.

    One recent photo that won a “Best Picture” award in National Geographic might have been taken by a fancy Digital SLR but it could have been take by a point and shoot costing $100.00 or so. The end result, the photograph of a Mother holding her sick/dying son or husband should stop the observer in their tracks.
    To me that is what should be sought by Photographers. The “Impact” of the photo…the “Grabing” at a persons heart stringss is what it should be all about not whether it’s technically perfect or taken with a 86 mg pixel $7000.00 camera. We have lost the feeling that photographers use to have in favor of the Glitz and Glamor of the DSLR the Mega pixel the Cost of the camera the Name.

    It’s sad. Ernst Hass, Cartier, Brook (spelling of names ?) and other great photographers would turn in their graves…maybe like the talent that has been lost and the inbaility to capture a tear fom a Granma seeing her Grand Child through the lense of a feeling photographer….has been lost.

    I have said my piece. I wonder if the New Photographers can hear

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