Update: This post was originally posted on 8th October 2019 but after changing my website this post had to be re-published due to technical issues.
Did you know if you just type in the term Digital Camera for Beginners into Google you get 123,000,000 results (well that was correct on the 8th October 2019).
Now that’s a lot of results especially if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, even just going into Curry’s or any shop that sells digital cameras it can be confusing what camera is best for you. Plus, when you go into a shop normally (but not always) the sales people will be all over you like a bad rash as they want the commission from the sale (like I say not always the case). So hopefully this post might help clarify a few points on the different types of cameras and help you work out which one might be best for you.
I remember last year I was out on one of my photo jaunts over in Linlithgow when a gentleman who was walking his dogs asked for directions. As it so happened, I was going the same way, so I accompanied him for what remained of my walk. In seeing my camera in hand, he told me how his partner loved taking photos and asked me what camera I would recommend. My response to him is the same as it is to anyone, if you are just going to shoot in the automatic mode you might as well stick with the camera in your smart phone. The cameras you get in modern phones are usually very good, so if you aren’t interested in making use of at least some of the settings on a real camera don’t waste your money on one.
He told me that she was wanting to learn how to take proper photos and would want to use more than just the automatic setting. So, with that I did my best to explain the differences between all the different types of cameras. And as I said I hope to explain it to you in this post.
So essentially there are 3 types of camera, point and shoot, bridge and DSLR.
Point and Shoot
This one pretty much does what it says on the tin, you point your camera at what you want to take a photo of and shoot. However even these basic camera’s have settings beyond automatic although obviously they are not as advanced as the settings that you get on DSLR. You’ll often find that the f-stops range goes from about f3 – f8. Although this is great to get started with it can limit you when you are starting to get to the point of wanting to take more technically advanced photos.
My point and shoot is a Panasonic that my parents gave me for my 30th birthday and it has been such a great camera. However, I have been frustrated many times when I have been trying to take a photo for it not to turn out how I want it to. And my partner has turned to me and said “use f-stop 16” only for me to turn and tell him I only go to f-stop 8.
Another disadvantage to a point and shoot is that it only has one lens which is normally a zoom lens. Although great for getting for taking some macro photographs and for zooming in to take photos of wildlife or for items you are unable to get close to. However, it means it is impossible to get wide angle photographs which as a landscape photographer I find very frustrating. Also as much as it can zoom in it isn’t a true macro lens so the F-stop can only go down so far and this can also limit the photographs it can actually take.
However, that being said point and shoots are a great jumping off point for those who want to move beyond the camera on their mobiles. Also, they are a great compact size and can easily fit in your bag, or if you have deep pockets in there. Which makes it ideal for always having a camera on you without the bulk of a bridge or DSLR.
Bridge cameras are a middle step between the point and shoot and the DSLR. Although they have a similar sensor size as the point and shoot they look and feel more like a DSLR. They also weigh more than a Point and Shoot although frequently not as much as a DSLR although as time goes on this may not always be the case.
The advantages and disadvantages are in my opinion the same as a point and shoot camera.
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex and basically means that with the help of a mirror light is reflected through a lens to an optical viewfinder or fully passes to the image sensor. Now the actually process is more complicated than this and I’m sure there are those out there that could explain the technical part a lot better than I can but I hopefully have helped you gain a basic understanding.
The biggest advantage to a DSLR is that you can change the lens allowing you to take a better range of photos. I often think of the DSLR as the swiss army knife of digital cameras.
Where as with a point and shoot and a bridge camera your only option is the zoom lens that is on the camera. With a DSLR you can lenses that specialize in macro, wide angle, macro and portrait. However, with this advantage comes a few disadvantages firstly the lenses are normally described in milimeters which I personally find very confusing. However, having spoken with other photographers this is something that in time you get your head round. I suppose it is the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’.
The second disadvantage, at least when you are first starting out, is that the lenses can be very expensive. Sometimes costing as much or more than the camera body itself, however in saying that the advice I am always hearing is that you do not wish to scrimp on the lenses as that is where the really important part is. In time you will likely upgrade the body of your camera however if you stay with the same make of camera you won’t have to upgrade your lenses. So it won’t be as expensive when you upgrade your kit.
Now I appreciate I have just said if you stay with the same make of camera this does not mean that if you change the make of your camera (for example going from Nikon to Canon) you have to change your lenses. There are adapters for some cameras to allow you to use other makes lenses on them, but I must give a word of warning that I have been given. The adapters can cause the quality of your photo to be reduced. I have no first hand experience of this so cannot say by how much the quality is reduced and I would surmise that it depends what you are using your photos for whether the reduction in quality is something you can accept. But please be aware that not all camera makes have adapters for every other camera make out there so do your research before you make that leap.
Now I know I said that essentially there are 3 types of digital cameras and that is true however I would not be giving you all the information if I did not include mirrorless in this post.
Now mirrorless cameras are very similar to DSLR not just in their looks but also in the fact that you can change the lens for one that is more suitable for what you are shooting.
However, the difference comes in the fact that as you’ve probably guessed it doesn’t have a mirror like the DSLR to reflect light and image up to the view finder. With a mirrorless system the image is shown on the electronic viewfinder at the back of the camera. You’ll frequently find that Mirrorless systems are lighter and more compact than their DSLR competitors.
However, there is the disadvantage that there are often less lenses and accessories that go with them. Also, to the best of me knowledge there is no adapter to allow you to put a Canon lens (DSLR) on to a Fujifilm (mirrorless) body.
So that is the different type of cameras you can get. What would be my advice for someone who was just taking up photography, well like I said at the beginning of this post if you are just going to leave your camera on the automatic setting don’t waste your money and just use the camera on your mobile phone.
However, if you are seriously wanting to learn how to take photos using the different settings then I would start with either a point and shoot or a bridge. I would lean slightly more to the point and shoot purely due to its compact nature. I have a bridge and although it has been great to give me the feeling of handling a bigger camera it’s no better then my point and shoot.
Both are great to launch from and without the need to buy different lenses is cheaper than a DSLR or Mirrorless for starting with. They will let you see how serious photography is going to become in your life. In that I mean is this going to be something that you enjoy but not do all that often, or is it going to become a passion like it has for me.
Although at the time of first writing this post I only had a point and shoot and bridge I have since purchased my first mirrorless system. And I will write about my I chose the camera I did and how I find it in another post.
I hope this has helped clarify what has the potential to be a very confusing subject.