What type of camera is best for me? This is the question many people are faced with when going out to purchase a camera. Before we take a look at the different types, let’s take a look at some of the questions you need to ask yourself before your search begins. What size camera am I willing to carry around? If I choose something too big, will I not bring it with me, because of the size or weight? What is your interest level in learning photography?
Do you just want to snap shots or are you looking for the most flexibility and creative options? Does or could your photography require specialized lenses, like super telephoto, super wide angle, macro or tilt-shift for architecture?
Compact Digital Cameras
These types of cameras come in ultra compact and compact sizes. They weigh around 4 to 8 ounces for the ultra compacts and 5 to 10 ounces for compacts. Generally, this type of camera is great for point and shoot, fully automatic photography. Many cameras in this category will not have manual overrides for things like aperture or shutter speed. All current day compacts have scene modes that allow the user to adjust how the camera will react based on the type of scene you are preparing to shoot. Your choices include things like portrait, macro, snow, action, beach, low light etc.
Compact cameras usually give you a decent zoom range, however, be aware that you can’t change your lens if you need a wider or longer focal length. Many of these cameras also offer Image Stabilization which helps improve photos that would be lost due to camera shake. Please be aware that compacts tend to have slower shutter release speeds (the time between depressing the shutter button and the actual picture being taken) than DSLR cameras. So you might want to try out the camera you’re interested in to see how fast the shutter is.
One last note: Only pay attention to the optical zoom range not the digital zoom range. The digital zoom range gives you photos that degrade in quality as you zoom further.
Advanced Digital Cameras
These cameras have many different names like advance digital, prosumer and bridge cameras. They come in many different sizes and shapes, from ones similar to compact cameras to ones that look similar to their DSLR brethren. Where the compact digitals can be easily slid into a pocket or small bag, advanced cameras are generally larger. The advanced compacts usually come with good quality zoom lenses and a fairly wide range of focal lengths. And like the compact family of cameras, many include image stabilization.
Another benefit of these cameras is the ability to control the camera manually, kind of like a DSLR, without the ability to change lenses. However this might be a plus for some as you don’t need to carry extra lenses and there is no chance of getting dust on the sensor. Advanced compacts are also generally lighter than their DSLR siblings as well. They range anywhere from 10 ounces up to 20 ounces or more for the larger ones, so handle them to make sure you are comfortable with the size and weight.
Some in this group also allow for attachments such as hot shoes for external flashes. Many also have the ability to add lens attachments like close-up or telephoto and filters.
SLR & DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
The main advantage of the SLR type cameras is the ability to change lenses based on the desired outcome and subject. SLR & DSLR cameras are available in many different capabilities from entry level to professional equipment. They do tend to be larger and weigh more than the other types though. DSLR’s range anywhere from a little under a pound (camera and battery only), up to 3 pounds or more for professional camera bodies.
All cameras in this category give you the ability for fully manual operation and thus can give you the most control over all aspects of taking a photo. As far as Image Stabilization, be aware that some manufacturers place this in the camera body and others choose to add this to their lenses. Most DSLR’s now come with dust removal systems, to help combat dust on the image sensor. Most of the compacts advanced digital cameras and some newer DSLR’s are also starting to offer video capability, keep this in mind if this is important to you.
Also, you do not need to limit yourself to one type of camera, I own an ultra compact for those times when I want something very light. I use it for skiing, concerts and carry it with me all the time in case I come across a great photo opportunity I would have lost without it. Many pros also carry mid level or advanced digital cameras as backup to their main camera.
Whatever you get, go out there and look for great photo opportunities and Have Fun!