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What type of camera should I buy?

Discussion in 'Help Team' started by Lounge Lizard, Jul 22, 2007.

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  1. Lounge Lizard

    Lounge Lizard Well-Known Member

    This question often crops up as either as a direct question or as something that arises when a newbie asks for advice on buying a digital camera and one of the many options suggested is a digital SLR (dSLR) as opposed to a compact digital camera or a small dSLR look-alike called a bridge camera.

    A dSLR is not suitable for everybody and there are times when the dSLR approach will probably be the right choice but how does the newbie know? This post attempts to outline the differences between the two. Before we look at the pros and cons of each, let's just explain the main types of digital camera you will find:

    Compact digital camera or 'digicam'
    These are small pocket or handbag-size camera. Newer models tend to fall into the 'super-slim' category and are little more than the size of a deck of cards. Some have flush lenses, some have protruding lenses. Though the super-slim cameras can produce good results, the slightly larger cameras may have more features or a better lens zoom range. These cameras are really go-anywhere snapshot cameras and in the right hands can produce some excellent images.

    Digital SLR or dSLR
    These are the 'serious' camera for the enthusiast. They parallel 35mm film SLRs. SLR, by the way, stands for Single Lens Reflex and is a type of camera where, by means of optics, you look through the actual taking lens and see what the camera sees rather like looking through a pair of binoculars. This differs from the other digital camera types where you view a small LCD screen to compose your image. This is starting to change though and more and more dSLRs may well offer a 'live view' approach in the future. The big advantage of a dSLR is that it normally has an interchangeable lens system meaning you can remove one lens and replace it with another with a different focal length or zoom range. Other camera types may offer some degree of adjusting the view of the lens with wide-angle or tele adaptors but these are supplementary lenses put in front of the fixed lens on the camera and the quality, while acceptable to many, isn't quite in the same league as a proper interchangeable lens for the dSLR owner.

    Bridge Cameras
    These are a hybrid between the compact and the dSLR aiming to give the advantages of a compact without the complication and expense of the dSLR and hence they 'bridge' the gap between the two camera types. Generally, these look more like a mini dSLR rather than a compact and are generally characterised by features such as a longer zoom range, image stabilisation and more user control. They are, in may ways, a one-cameras-does-all solution.

    Other Camera Types
    There are other digital camera types on the market e.g. digital rangefinder cameras, but these are more specialised and expensive and thus are not covered further here.

    So, now we've explained what they are, what are the pros and cons of each?

    Digital Compact
    • Small and lightweight suitable for pocket or handbag
    • Many use commonly-available AA batteries
    • Good picture quality straight from the camera
    • Easy to use and does not require much knowledge of photography
    • Low starting price (£50 and upwards)
    • May have limited photographic control
    • Usually mediocre for flash photography
    • Not good at high ISO settings if going beyond enprint size (ISO 400 is usually maximum fastest speed/sensitivity)
    • Fixed lens (though adaptors may be available)
    • Shutter lag (delay between pressing button and picture actually being taken)
    Bridge Camera
    • Ideal 'all-in-one' solution for many people
    • Usually a wide focal length range (zoom usually about 10x)
    • Many have image stabilisation (IS)
    • Have more photographic control than a compact
    • Good picture quality straight from the camera
    • Looks like a dSLR (for the image conscious amongst us!)
    • Usually mediocre for flash photography unless hot shoe is provided for additional flashgun
    • Not good at high ISO settings if going beyond enprint size (ISO 400 is usually maximum fastest speed/sensitivity)
    • Non-interchangeable lens (though versatile enough to cope with most occasions)
    • Lens usually not very wide-angle at the shortest focal length
    • Shutter lag (delay between pressing button and picture actually being taken)
    • Maximum versatility with a wide range of accessories
    • Interchangeable lenses so you can cover almost any type of photography
    • Greatest image quality as sensor is bigger than a compact or bridge camera
    • Very good noise performance and has usable ISO up to ISO 1600 and beyond
    • Minimal shutter lag
    • Images often require fine-tuning on a computer to get the best from them
    • Good lenses are expensive and a lens range to match a good bridge camera may cost several time more than the camera itself
    • Bigger and bulkier than a compact or bridge camera (not really a carry it with you all the time type of camera)
    • Most expensive to buy especially if you factor in decent lenses
    So, what do you buy?

    Well, ask yourself what type of photography you do. If you want snapshots of family, friends and holidays then buy a digital compact. If you are a keen photo enthusiast or specialise in wild-life, close-up, low-light photography or you want to produce big enlargements for the wall (or enter in photo club competitions) then the dSLR is likely to be the right solution for you.

    If, on the other hand, you want the best of both worlds - something smallish and fairly compact but packing a powerful punch in terms of lens range and you don't want to spend a small fortune on lenses, then the bridge camera may well be for you. However, be wary of asking others to make your mind up for you. If you don't know what you want then you don't yet understand enough to make a sound decision. Others are even less likely to know your desires and preferences and may well confuse you more with their own personal likes and dislikes.

    The bottom line is to buy what you need for the type of photography you want to do and your level of skill and the effort you wish to put into it. Don't buy more camera than what you need if you aren't into photography because, if anything, you may not have the time or inclination to master it and it may well end up as an albatross around your neck.

    Finally, remember that it's not the equipment that makes great photos, it's you as the photographer. A good photographer can make a masterpiece with a £50 camera. A poor photographer will never make a masterpiece even with a £5000 camera. If you don't get good photos with your equipment but want to, then spend the time learning about photography. It's a fantastic hobby but, like everything in life, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

    Kaz T likes this.
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