The number of digital camera models available to the budding photographer is vast. All the main manufacturers have a large number of different models and types of camera to suit every taste and also every pocket. A wide variety of choice is fine but it can be somewhat overwhelming when it comes to choosing a camera for yourself. It isn’t helped by the fact that the distinctions between various types of camera system have become quite blurred as the quality and the capabilities of these devices keep expanding.
With that in mind, we have put together a useful introductory guide to the main types of camera out there. Hopefully it will help point you in the right direction so you get the right camera for the job.
A large number of entry-level digital cameras fall into this category. They tend to be fairly small and light, measuring about 100 x 50 x 25mm and weighing around 120-130g. Modern compacts are normally fully automatic, although some may offer basic manual exposure options. They usually have a zoom lens of up to 12x which folds flush with the camera body and an LCD monitor of about 7cm diagonal size. Unlike larger camera systems, they don’t have an optical viewfinder, relying instead on the LCD screen to be used as a live view monitor.
Extra features may include HD video recording, image stabilisation and Wi-Fi connectivity, and they often come in a range of colours. As sensor technology has improved, it has also given rise to a range of compact cameras for the more advanced photographer. Sporting larger sensors, these offer greater image quality as well as superior versatility, manual controls and better low light capability.
As you would imagine, these more advanced compact cameras can be significantly more expensive but they will give you much greater creative control than the standard models. These models typically offer 16MP – 24MP sensor sizes.
Superzoom cameras are a fixed-lens design of camera that are built to offer both wide angle capability and very large levels of magnification without the need to invest in additional lenses, as you would with a DSLR. In this case, the amount of magnification can be anywhere up to 60x or more. That is equivalent to a 1400mm super telephoto lens.
This immense magnification means it can do the job of much more expensive DSLR cameras, that would require the purchase of telephoto lenses that could cost thousands, all in a relatively compact body.
The downside to having a model of this kind is that although you can cover a huge zoom range from medium wide angle to super telephoto, that is all you can do. If you wanted to shoot a very shallow depth of field macro shot, for instance, you would not be able to do so; nor could you use a fast prime lens for low light shooting.
That said, these superzooms offer image stabilisation, manual control, electronic viewfinders and HD video recording capability too. You can view these types of cameras as a great stepping stone for people who want to move up from compact cameras but don’t want the extra expense of DSLRs and multiple lenses to worry about.
This area of the digital camera world has seen quite an increase in popularity in recent times. Essentially a mirrorless camera, as the name suggests, does not have the movable mirror seen in larger DSLR formats. Although you get a viewfinder as well as a rear mounted LCD screen, the image that you see is an electronic representation provided by the image sensor.
Like the larger DSLR cameras, these devices have an interchangeable lens system, giving you greater creative control over any shooting conditions you might face. A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) is smaller, lighter and less complex to build than most DSLRs.
MILC systems usually offer around 20MP sensor sizes and although the quality of the images may not be up to full-frame DSLR standards, it is shown to be improving with each new camera that comes out.
The price point and compact nature of this MILC system makes it a popular choice but be aware that lens choices are not as varied as those you would get with a standard DSLR. However, they do have a growing range of accessories such as flashguns. They have also become increasingly popular with filmmakers who love them for their good autofocus ability with HD and even Ultra HD video resolutions.
This is another growth area in the digital camera market. Adventure cameras are compact cameras that are tougher than the average camera. If adventuring is your thing, then perhaps a large, heavy, expensive and relatively brittle DSLR might not be the most apt choice.
Although DSLRs are touted as”weather sealed” that won’t protect them from a dunking in a muddy river or being dropped on some granite outcropping. This is where the adventure camera shines. A good adventure camera is fully waterproof and capable of going on a scuba dive down to 50ft.
They are also shockproof, being able to shrug off a small drop onto a hard surface. Their sensors usually offer about 16MP resolution and plenty of shooting modes to make them useful as day-to-day cameras too.
An offshoot of this area of photography has given rise to mini action cameras such as the GoPro range. They are the darlings of surfers, snowboarders and the like who want to be able to mount very small, very light cameras to their boards, or to themselves. Their ability to shoot 4K video also makes them very useful in the videography arena.
There is no getting away from it, the smartphone has turned the idea of a point-and-shoot camera on its head. Smartphone imaging technology has come a long way and your average smartphone is now capable of shooting 16 megapixels with impressive low-light capability for such a compact device.
Moreover, many smartphones now have the main camera backed up with a front-facing, lower resolution, “selfie” cam as well. Typically, the camera built into a mobile phone is around 16MP with a small f/2.0 main lens and an 8MP front camera. They also have LEDs built in to act as a small flash unit to light your subjects at night as well as electronic image stabilisation.
Camera phones are much simpler in design and use than standard DSLRs. Their smaller sensors and tiny lenses put an upper limit on image quality, although a few current models now allow the capture of images in Raw format as well as the more usual Jpeg format.
Some models do boast larger sensors that can rival the quality of some compact cameras. The main advantage of the camera phone is that it is built into a mobile phone; wherever you go, the camera goes too.
Digital SLRs, or DSLRs as they are commonly referred to, are cameras that use a mirror mechanism to reflect light from the lens up into a viewfinder. The viewfinder is optical, meaning that you are actually seeing what the lens sees, not an electronic representation like the LCD screens on compact digital cameras.
When you take a photo, the mirror is flipped up out of the way and the light entering through the lens is allowed to fall onto the camera sensor and an image is recorded. DSLR’s are generally heavier and more complex than mirrorless and compact cameras.
DSLRs have interchangeable lenses and most can use the same lenses as their older film-based predecessors, giving you plenty of creative scope and lens choice. With specialist lenses available for particular tasks, DSLR systems are the choice of most serious amateur and professional photographers, offering superb image quality.
Most DSLRs use a sensor size called APS-C but a few top-end cameras use the larger full-frame sensors that are the size of a 35mm film frame. The range of available lenses is vast, particularly with the main manufacturers. The downside is that DSLR bodies, lenses and accessories can be quite expensive.