Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

Choosing a Camera - Page 2

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A digital compact camera
My compact camera, a Lumix TZ40.

DSLR or Compact Digital Camera?

All the cameras on the market can be categorized into a few simple groups. The most important two groups are 'fixed lens' and 'interchangeable lens'. The fixed lens cameras tend, with a few exceptions, to be smaller, lighter and more pocketable, therefore you are more likely to have it with you when you need it. Well that's the theory anyway but I think we can say that you are more likely to be bothered to take it with you on that outing to the beach or a trip to the zoo.

However, even with the zoom lenses built into today's compact cameras, which are pretty wonderful, you will often find that you are too far away or too close to get the picture you want so you need to be able to change the lens for a longer telephoto or a wider angle.

The other major advantage of these single lens reflex (SLR) cameras is that you have a proper optical viewfinder to view through which you put right up to your eye. On most compact cameras you view the world on a screen at the back of the camera which means that you have to hold the camera at arm's length while you are taking a picture, this makes it more difficult to hold the camera steady and can easily cause you to take blurred pictures in lower light (see camera shake & holding the camera).

The down side of these DSLR cameras is that you very soon end up with quite a heavy bag of gadgets and are less likely to carry it everywhere with you. Although, however much I yearn for a compact camera for it's 'handiness' I know I would be frustrated by it's shortcomings so for me, when the photography is going to be serious, the choice is DSLR every time.

Having said that, when I am traveling for fun, I sometimes prefer to travel light. This shot was taken with an ancient Canon A220 which still sees plenty of action, although it's old I still love it because, unlike most modern compact cameras, it has a real optical viewfinder so I can hold it up to my eye.

System Cameras

Canon EOS M 18.0 MP Compact Systems Camera

There is a new category of camera that has become popular in recent years called the 'system camera' or 'mirrorless interchangeable lens camera'. These are compact cameras with interchangeable lenses. Price-wise they are about the same as an entry level DSLR, sometimes a bit more. The advantage is they are smaller as they don't have a viewfinder or prism, and they can be thinner too for the same reason. They still have to be held at arm's length (see my tutorial Holding the Camera), as with most compact cameras, to view the screen and they are going to be heavier than a compact with that fancy lens on the front, so even more unstable.

I have not tried one of these cameras myself but I feel that they fall between two camps and will be neither as good as a DSLR or as convenient as a compact camera. However I will keep an open mind until I have tried one.

Photo taken with an iPhone 6

Phone Cameras

Until recently I looked on in despair at people taking photos with their phone but, recently, I have had a major rethink. Not only have the quality of these cameras improved quite dramatically, but also the whole concept of what we do with our photos has changed. In the old days the casual photographer would have prints made of every picture they took then collect them all in a shoe box under the bed. Now the majority of people post their pictures to an online site such as Instagram or Facebook. The fantastic convenience of being able to upload a picture to your favorite site, moments after pressing the shutter, even leads me to use my phone occasionally for some 'not too serious' shots. However, if you want to get serious about photography you need a serious camera. Apart from anything else, you can't expect those tiny lenses and sensors to be the same quality as the glass in your DSLR. There is much more to quality than just the number of pixels you have on your sensor. However, it is the one camera you can guarantee to have with you at all times, so it might be worth getting to know how to use it properly.

Digital vs Film Cameras?

Do they still make film cameras? Oh yes they do and I wouldn't mind betting that they continue to do so for many years and I wouldn't mind betting that at some time in the future there will be a retro backlash and a large number of 'serious' photographers will return to the darkroom. Some will probably claim that they have never used digital at all, ever.

You might think from the remarks above that I am a die-hard supporter of film. Nothing could be further from the truth actually, I am fully converted to digital and loving it. As far as I am concerned film is completely dead, it has not entered my head to use film for at least ten years. The only thing I lament from the old film days is that cameras were much, much cheaper, but then again you had to spend lots of money on buying the film and processing it. Viva digital!

Other tutorials in this section


A short introduction to the types of cameras available and a discussion on what you need to look out for when buying a camera.

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What you need to know when choosing a new lens.

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Lens Conversion Factor

Confused comparing 35mm lens focal lengths to the new DSLRs? This will make it all clear.

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What you need to know before you go shopping.

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More of a 'why you need a tripod' than a buyers guide, but it does include some tips on buying and using a tripod.

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