Compact vs SLR: is it worth carrying a heavy camera to the hills?

Ever since the 1970s, I’ve carried a compact camera (then, a Rollei 35, which I still have) when I’ve been in the hills.  I have always been willing to accept the loss of flexibility and quality compared to a larger, heavier camera because of the low weight and bulk of a compact camera. I like the idea of a camera I can carry in my pocket and where I don’t have to think about how heavy it is.

As I said in my last post, my latest compact is a Canon Powershot G7X, Mark 2., which replaced a water damaged G7X Mark 1.  It arrived yesterday and, naturally, I wanted to have a play with it today.  Firstly, I took my usual bookcase shot using both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 G7Xs. As you would expect, there was no discernible difference between them.

Bookshelves test - Powershot G7X Mark 1
Bookshelves test – Powershot G7X Mark 1


Bookshelves text - Powershot G7X Mark 2
Bookshelves text – Powershot G7X Mark 2


I have always thought that there was a quality compromise with compact cameras compared to SLRS so I decided that I would compare the G7X to my Canon EOS70d SLR. This is a low to mid-range SLR, which doesn’t have a full-size sensor but I have been pleased with the quality of its images.   I used the kit lens that came with the camera, which is an 18-55mm zoom, f3.5 maximum aperture.

The images below came straight from the cameras with no manipulation at all.  Both shot in RAW format with manual exposure (1/1600, f/8, ISO 320).  Sharpness differences won’t show up on a small blog image but when blowing these up in Lightroom, if anything the G7X was sharper. However, this could be an artefact of the in-camera processing as the G7X certainly produced punchier, slightly higher contrast images, which were a wee bit darker.

Dandelions and ploughed field - Canon EOS 70d
Dandelions and ploughed field – Canon EOS 70d


Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2
Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2


It’s a matter of personal preference which of these you prefer – I prefer the EOS image but it is easy to adjust them in Lightroom to be identical.

I then took these images and cropped them in Lightroom to include only the dandelions. This is pretty dramatic cropping but, again, there was no discernible quality difference between the cameras.

Close up of dandelions - EOS 70d
Close up of dandelions – EOS 70d


Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2
Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2

I’ve also linked larger versions of these images so that anyone interested can compare the quality (G7X dandelions, EOS70d dandelions). If anything, the compact image is sharper.

Normally, I use a camera on manual as I like to shoot at a high shutter speed to minimise camera shake. Paradoxically, perhaps, I always keep the camera on auto when I’m out and about simply because you sometimes have only a few seconds to catch an image and if you simply want a record of a place, it’s quicker and easier. So I compared the auto performance of both cameras when I had a river walk alongside the Dee. Again, I didn’t do any post-processing on these images.


River Dee - EOS 70d. Auto exposure
River Dee – EOS 70d. Auto exposure


River Dee - P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure
River Dee – P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure


River Dee - wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure
River Dee – wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure


River Dee - wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure
River Dee – wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure

I had expected that the differences between these cameras would be quite small but that the SLR would be marginally better. I was surprised that I simply could not separate the images on quality. The compact is simply just as good as the larger and heavier SLR.

Of course, there are good reasons for having and using an SLR. The viewfinder is far superior to the screen on a compact and there is a wide range of lenses available. If you need a very wide angle or a long telephoto, then an SLR is the only choice. But in terms of quality, unless you are printing poster-sized images then I don’t think there’s a real difference. I’m delighted with the quality of the Powershot G7X. It has a wide range zoom lens (24-100mm) which is wide-angle enough for landscapes and long enough for shots of distant hills.

I know hill folks who agonise over a few grams in their gear and spend lots of money on a lighter shelter or rucksack. But they still carry an SLR for ‘better quality’.  Guys – it’s just not worth it any longer.

8 thoughts on “Compact vs SLR: is it worth carrying a heavy camera to the hills?

  • May 5, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly Ian. I am still trucking around a Canon Powershot SX40 HS, which must be close to 6 years old now. (still waiting for a replacement from some manufacturer with a bigger detector). It has a great zoom and at f2.7 pretty bright. It is a bit deficient now on resolution but I can live with it since it is all in 1. A great asset when we are doing lots of hiking. I have been on trips with a friend lugging Nikon D SLR + lenses and I can imaging his back at the end of the day! Now if I could just get 20+ MP, f2.7 and big zoom in my next camera I would be so happy.

    • May 6, 2016 at 8:13 am

      Thanks Tim,
      you should take a look at the Powershot G7X, which has a large sensor and an f/1.8 lens and a reasonably wide range zoom. I’m really impressed by it.

      • May 6, 2016 at 2:03 pm

        Yes mine is showing its age after 5 years, but I am impressed with the ruggedness, having taken tens of thousands of pictures on it. It has been dragged through bad weather and bumps around the globe and though the zoom is getting noisier it has never let me down. Not sure how competitors fare in this regard.

  • May 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I agree to a certain extent Ian.
    A small sensor G7 in good light will take an image that for certain purposes is just as good as a APSC or full frame DSLR. But you loose out as you mentioned in the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, you also loose out in quality if you need to crop your image, you loose out if you need high speed AF tracking for sports or wildlife photography, you loose out for low light photography.

    I used to use a full frame DSLR but changed to micro 4/3 a few years ago. For me micro 4/3 is a good compromise. I have a DSLR style m 4/3 camera, it has a much bigger sensor than a compact but not as big as APSC, I have a small backpack and can carry 2 bodies and 6 or 7 lenses plus various accessories. The whole lot is a 1/3 of the weight and size of a full blown DSLR kit but I have the flexibility to tackle all types of photography. I can carry lenses that I may or may not use and not notice if they are in my bag.

    So I agree compact cameras are capable of great results but it all depends on your type of photography and how flexibility you want to be.


    • May 25, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      I agree that the mirrorless camera is a good compromise but the Canon G7X has a micro 4/3 sensor, which I think is the reason why the quality is so good.

      • May 26, 2016 at 8:57 am

        The Canon G7 has a very small 1/1.7 sensor but the G7X has a bigger 1″ sensor.
        Here is a comparison of sensor size
        1/1.7 – 43 sq mm
        1″. – 116 sq mm
        Micro 3/4. – 225 sq mm
        Aps-c. – 329 sq mm
        35mm Full Frame. – 864 sq mm

        For me the best compromise is still micro 4/3 with its big choice of bodies and lenses. But it’s happy days for everyone as there is a big choice of great camera systems available to suit everyone’s needs.

  • May 10, 2016 at 11:39 am

    The big advantage of an SLR (the right one) is in low light. Although the best compromise is probably a mirrorless APSC like the A6300 which has incredible low light per. I you want reallly low light though, try the A7S. However, you’re right, for most work a good compact will do. I love my Sony RX100MIII.

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