Choosing a Camera

Before spending, what can be quite a lot of money, take time to consider all the factors first. Straight off the bat you need to decide what type of camera you want depending on the type of photographs you want to take. Generally speaking amateurs and professionals go for the SLR or DSLR but that doesn’t mean you have to. Here’s a quick run-down on the 3 main types of camera

  • Compact
  • Bridge
  • DSLR

There are other types but we’ll not go there as it’s not necessary for beginner level.

Compact Cameras

As the name suggests these are compact pop in the pocket cameras which can go anywhere with you. What’s great about the compact is it’s not a problem if you are travelling and don’t want to lump heavy gear around. The downside being image quality and restrictions on lenses or other features. The biggest downside for me, that I’ve found with compacts is the speed at which it takes the photo after I’ve pressed the button. It can be a bit of a delay, so things can move in the scene and it misses what you wanted. The other annoying feature is that pre-flash they tend to come with. What happens there is the camera fires a flash that’s designed to reduce red-eye. They claim that flash makes the subjects eyes close up their retinas. What happens in reality though is when the subjects see a flash they think the photo has been taken and they look away or move around. Then the real flash comes with the photo missing the moment completely.

In recent years the compact market has been severely hit by mobile phones. With phone manufacturers running out of phone feature ideas they are ganging up on the built in camera and making improvements in that area. The lens size is very small so obviously that is a quality restriction. Although lens diameters on compacts are not great they are bigger than the ones on phones so it figures they can do more regarding image quality.

Compacts generally come with a zooming method. Be careful when comparing the zoom feature. There’s two types that will be thrown at you – Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom. Optical is the one to look for. Basically that means how much the lens itself can zoom. Digital is where they stretch the image after it’s been taken. So that’s a bit of a cheat really when you think about it.

As with everything else in life, the more you pay the better you will get. I think it’s fair to say photography follows this rule. You can buy a compact camera for less than £100 but you can also spend over £1000 for the more sophisticated models.

Bridge Cameras

No it’s got nothing to do with photographing bridges, although you can do that if you wish. The name comes from the idea that these cameras are a bridge between compacts and DSLR’s. They tend to be bigger than compacts and in some cases as big as a DSLR.

In simple terms you are looking at everything in one box. You’ll get a zoom lens that covers most of the range you would want. Examples like the Nikon P900 has a fantastic 83 times zoom. That means optically you can go from wide 24mm to an incredible 2000mm. Digitally you can zoom to 4000mm.

Bridge cameras are great for holidays where you just take the one bit of kit and you’ve got it all covered. Plus they double up as an easy to use video camera. They are not cheap though. The new Nikon P950, has a release price of £799.

DSLR Cameras

The favoured choice of professionals and amateurs alike due to its versatility and a never ending supply of additional kit. You name it there’s a lens for it, not to mention flash units or even entire flash systems. Generally speaking you start off with a camera body and you build on that. Although most dealers offer combo deals with a lens or two to start off with. If you opted for one of the other types of camera, there will be plenty of occasions where you wished you had a DSLR in your hands.

If you are new to photography, don’t look too high up the ranges because they tend to be more complicated than needs be and it can overwhelm you. Best bet is to go more entry level until you find your feet. Most photograhers end up with several bodies anyway and the lower end ones are not that expensive.

The biggest decision of your life comes though when you have to decide which brand to marry. Once you’ve made that choice you are stuck with it. Trust me, getting a divorce is easier than trying to switch brands. The problem is, you will get lenses and other kit to go with your camera body. Now if you then want a different camera brand all you’ve bought with become useless to you. If you buy a lens to fit a Canon then it can only be used on a Canon. And the same goes for all the other brands out there.

The golden rule is simple – you get what you pay for.

The two biggest choices, and one which has caused endless civil wars to break out with owners arguing over which brand is best, are Nikon and Canon. There are others, but those two are the main players. I’m not about to tell you which is best, personally I’ve used both and they are both great brands. Where Nikon does have a slight edge is they’ve never changed the lens mount fitting. This means any Nikon lens will fit on a Nikon body. They may not work properly but they will fit, which does sometimes open the door to do some creativity with older lenses. Generally speaking though you are never going to stick an old lens on your new body anyway so don’t let that be the deciding factor.  Here are some of the things I look at:

Is the autofocus in the body or the lens only? If it’s in the lens only then only lenses with autofocus built in will autofocus on that camera. Other bodies has the motor in the camera itself so it can take any autofocus lens.

Don’t worry too much about pixels. The reason being, the more money you pay the better the sensor is going to be generally speaking. With DSLR’s image quality is going to be good anyway. Obviously an entry level body won’t be as good as a high end one. A quick passing note about the sensor – higher end cameras have a full frame sensor, whilst the lower end ones have a smaller sensor. At this point the only thing you really need to know about that is the lower end causes a change to the length of the lens, usually about 1.5x. What this means is if you have a 300mm lens it will be 300mm on the posh full frame cameras but it will be 450mm on the lower end ones.

Speed is a massive decision maker for me. Look at how quickly the camera can process the photos. It will be in the spec so look for it. It’s no good having a camera that can spin off hundreds of shots if the on board computer can’t process them quick enough. So a manufacturer may well put on the box a nice high number of shots per second it can do but hide the slow processing speed in the small print.

Another speed issue is how quickly you can take a shot after switching it on. All of these things tend to take care of themselves the higher up you look but they are serious considerations in the entry level game. High end cameras also have other benefits such as being weather proof. Lower end ones are not going to be as robust, which isn’t a problem really because we all take good care of our kit anyway. If you want to photograph live sport you might want to only do it in the nice weather. Aside from that, before making your decision, take a look at what kit is out there for each brand. Even if you’ve no intention of buying any of that right now, you may well want to in the future.

Are you made for this?...