If you’re looking for a digital camera, you have several styles to choose from. Each type of camera is suited to different activities.
Check out descriptions, pros and cons of some of the most common camera styles below:
Camera quality is improving every year
Poor image quality compared to digital cameras
No optical zoom
Limited creative control over images
Compact or point-and-shoot
Small and ultra-portable
Easy to use with minimal set-up
Image quality can’t compete with larger cameras
Limited flexibility in terms of zoom, cropping and manual controls
Typically slow to focus
Most do not have an optical viewfinder
Superzoom, megazoom or ultra zoom
Easy to use with minimal set-up
Optical zoom offers more versatility
Cost can approach many low-end DSLRs
Image quality does not match those of higher-end cameras
Can be noisy
Smaller and lighter than a DSLR
High image quality
Interchangeable lenses allow for more flexibility
Fast shutter speeds
Most include built-in image stabilisation or optical stabilisation
Slower autofocus than DSLRs
An electronic viewfinder can be hard to view in low light and some models do not include a viewfinder at all
Shorter battery life than DSLRs
Fewer choices in lenses than DSLRs
Professional image quality
Interchangeable lenses allow for more flexibility
Fully manual control options
An optical viewfinder shows you exactly what the camera will capture
Long battery life
Larger, heavier and less portable than other types of cameras
Expensive, especially if you plan to purchase additional lenses
Require some knowledge of photography to get the best results
Can be noisy
Designed for adventures and extreme conditions
Limited photo quality
Not usually designed for still images
For more information about each type, click on the names below:
Most smartphones have relatively competent cameras and a few like the Huawei P20 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S9 and iPhone X have standout cameras. Phone cameras have come a long way since the early 2000s, but they haven’t caught up to the quality, speed and control of digital cameras. One of the biggest flaws of a camera phone is that you can’t zoom without sacrificing image quality. If you are a keen photographer or feel like you’re being held back by the limitations of your smartphone, it’s time to upgrade to a digital camera.
Compact or point-and-shoot cameras are small, portable and affordable. They can typically fit into a pocket or small bag, making it easy to take them anywhere. This means you can always have your camera on you when a photo opportunity arises so you might take more photos than if you bought a larger DSLR. Most offer better image quality than a smartphone camera and many are significantly cheaper than an iPhone or Samsung. Some models are also waterproof, mud proof and dustproof.
However, compact cameras can’t match mirrorless or DSLR cameras in terms of image quality and they offer limited options for manual control. They are typically slow to autofocus, have small sensors and don’t give you the creative control of a more advanced camera. Compact cameras can be great for those with a limited budget, but if you’re looking for professional quality you should consider a more high-end camera.
Superzoom cameras, also known as megazooms or ultra zooms, are essentially compact cameras with long zoom lenses. They are easy to use and give you more flexibility than point-and-shoot cameras. However, they still have some of the downsides of a typical compact camera including limited manual controls, limited photo quality, slow autofocus and small sensors.
Mirrorless cameras offer better image quality and more creative control than compact cameras, at a higher cost. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras don’t include the bulky mirror and optical viewfinder of a DSLR, which makes them smaller and lighter. You can interchange the lenses of mirrorless cameras, but they typically don’t have as many lens options as DSLRs. Mirrorless cameras are becoming more and more popular, and are a great option for amateurs and pros who don’t want to carry around a bulky DSLR.
DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex camera. Also referred to as digital SLR cameras, DSLRs are what most people picture when they think of a “professional camera”. They are more versatile than mirrorless cameras, but they come at a high cost. DSLRs include an optical viewfinder that allows you to see what your camera is capturing in real time. Because this optical viewfinder uses little power, DSLRs typically have long-lasting batteries. They have the fastest autofocus and tracking of any camera style and high-end models typically offer durable frames with weather resistant materials allowing you to take photographs in virtually any conditions.
Keep in mind, quality DSLRs don’t come cheap. Many models include only the body of the camera, which means you will have to pay extra for lenses. They are also large and heavy, making it hard to carry them around for every-day photos. If you’re interested in becoming a professional photographer, a DSLR will offer everything you need but if you just want to take more photos of your dog for your Instagram, it’s probably not worth the high cost.
Action cameras or action cams are designed for adventure. They are typically mountable and are primarily designed for video. They can be excellent for capturing sports and other outdoor or extreme activities, but they don’t offer the quality of other digital cameras. For more information about action cameras, check out our guide.
How to compare digital cameras
One of the first things you should consider is the size and weight of any potential camera. While a DSLR might help you capture amazing photos, if it’s too big to carry around with you regularly you’ll miss photo opportunities. Next, consider what you need in terms of the following essential features:
Generally, budget cameras are slower performing. The number of photos a camera can take in one second is referred to as frames per second or FPS. The higher the FPS, the quicker the camera can take photos. If you regularly shoot action shots, sporting events or wildlife, look for a camera with a high FPS rating. However, some faster-performing cameras sacrifice resolution for speed.
Most compact cameras offer fully automated settings including shutter speed, aperture and ISO. While this makes a camera extremely easy to use, you have limited options to control your images. More advanced cameras offer a fully manual mode that lets you take the exact photo you want. While using manual mode requires practice, it’s worth the effort if you want full control.
With an interchangeable lens camera, you can tailor your camera to meet your needs. High-end compact cameras can have quality lenses, but they don’t allow you to swap lenses. With a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can buy as many lenses as you want in a wide variety of styles. Keep in mind, lenses can be costly and not all lenses are compatible with all cameras.
Camera resolution is measured in megapixels (MP). Cameras with higher megapixel counts allow you to make larger and clearer prints. If you do not plan on printing large images, there is no need to buy a camera with the highest number of megapixels possible.
A digital zoom works the way your camera phone does, by essentially cropping and blowing up a photo, which reduces the image quality. Optical zoom uses a moving lens to help get a closer and clearer image. If it’s within your budget, look for a camera that offers optical zoom.
ISO is a camera setting that allows you to brighten or darken an image. A low ISO is around 100 and high ISOs can go up to 6,400 or more. Higher ISOs will make photos taken in low-light look brighter. However, the higher the ISO, the more noise or grain an image will have. Cameras with larger sensors allow you to take images with a much higher ISO before image quality is affected.
RAW vs JPEG
Most cameras turn your images into JPEG files. Higher-end cameras allow you to shoot in either JPEG or RAW. RAW images are much larger files that capture the entire detail of a photograph. They give you more flexibility and control when editing photos, but take up around four times or more space than a JPEG.
Pretty much every digital camera comes with autofocus. DSLRs generally have the fastest autofocus, followed by mirrorless cameras. Try out the autofocus on your camera before you buy it. If you end up with a camera that can’t keep up with the photos you want to take, you’ll miss out on a lot of good shots.
Electronic image stabilization (EIS) reduces blur in images but often reduces image quality while doing so. Sensor-shift stabilization or in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is typically more effective than EIS. Optical image stabilization (OIS) is very effective, but typically only found in high-end lenses.
Additional features to look for
An optical viewfinder on a DSLR uses a mirror to let you look directly through the lens and see exactly what your camera is going to capture. An electronic viewfinder (EVF) gives you a digital preview of your shot with your current camera settings. EVFs are easy to use, but can be difficult to see in certain lighting conditions and are not as accurate as optical viewfinders.
Wi-Fi capability allows you to upload and share photos to your phone, tablet or computer without connecting any wires. Some brands have their own apps that you can download to your phone to sync photos automatically and even control the camera using your phone or tablet. If you want to be able to quickly share your photos straight to social media, look for a camera with built-in Wi-Fi.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
As with many Bluetooth speakers, NFC allows two devices to connect simply by being within a few centimetres of each other. If you have an NFC compatible camera, you will be able to transfer images to a smart device by placing the camera next to it. NFC can help you share photos almost instantly and can be helpful if you’re travelling and don’t have access to Wi-Fi.
Not every camera comes with a touchscreen. If you want to be able to swipe through photos and navigate menus as you would on your smartphone, look for a model with a touchscreen.
GPS allows you to geotag your photos to keep track of where each one was taken. Some cameras have GPS built in and many offer options for add-on GPS unity. Either way, running GPS on your camera will drain the battery more quickly so turn it off when you’re not using it.
Durability and waterproofing
Weatherproof and water-resistant cameras are typically sealed to keep out light rain and splashes whereas waterproof cameras are designed to be submerged underwater.
Sarah Brandon is an editor at Finder. She has a degree in Psychology from New York University and loves learning about why people do what they do. Sarah has researched and written about a wide range of topics, from pool fences to private jets to personal loans. But no matter the subject, her number one priority is figuring out what information our readers need to make the best decisions.
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