Types of Cameras to Consider when Choosing your First Camera

I do not have many articles and reviews on my blog dedicated to photography equipment. I prefer to concentrate my efforts on teaching skills instead. But, you can not start learning photography without a camera. Here is my breakdown of different types of cameras to help you to make a right choice.

Four types of cameras to choose from

If you are new to the wonderful hobby of photography, you might be confused by all of the camera types and models staring back at you from the store shelves. It’s true that there are many different brands of cameras but, in fact, the different types of cameras represented by those brands are not as confusing as they seem. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a bit of help with a concise guide to the different types of cameras available.

Camera Type 1: DSLR Cameras

When people think of professional cameras, they often think about Digital SLR cameras—or DSLR, for short. While companies like Canon and Nikon are busy trying to decrease the overall weight and size of their models, DSLR cameras as a whole are still quite chunky.

Nikon D850 FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body

The SLR in DSLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. The DSLRs of today are highly sophisticated digital cousins to the old SLR film cameras. Unlike the film cameras, DSLRs feature digital sensor technology and a wealth of other sophisticated features.

Features are one thing that people new to owning a DSLR often get confused about. The mode dial, LCD screen and other buttons look daunting to a beginner, but it is still possible to shoot in fully automatic mode on a DSLR. Of course, to get the most out of such a flexible camera, it is always best to learn the technical aspects of photography and what the camera offers in terms of its features.

The great thing about DSLR cameras is that it is possible to change lenses, which provides photographers with a lot of flexibility in their shooting. The photo quality from DSLR cameras is also generally higher than compact cameras because they often feature much larger digital sensors.

Should you buy DSLR camera?

This really all depends on your photographic needs. If you already have a compact camera and want to step up to something with more flexibility that can offer more control and photo quality, then a DSLR might be a good choice. However, it is wise to keep in mind that they do offer a lot of functionality and this comes at the price of “out of the box” ease.

Check my in-depth guide: Best DSLR Cameras for Every Budget

Camera Type 2: Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are a relatively new development in the world of photography but they are taking the industry by storm. As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras do not contain the mirror mechanism that DSLRs have. This means that they can be engineered to be smaller and lighter. In fact, one of their biggest selling points is that they are smaller and lighter than their DSLR compatriots, but still pack in a great number of features. This means that it is possible to find mirrorless cameras that are aimed at both beginners and professionals.

Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) - Silver

Think about mirrorless cameras as DSLR models where the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) has been replaced with an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). In a nutshell, the mirror was replaced with a computer screen. Instead of looking through the lens like in using a DSLR, mirrorless cameras read information directly from the sensor and display it on the EVF screen, giving us a more accurate representation of the scene.

By removing the bulky mirror mechanism, this has allowed mirrorless manufacturers to significantly reduce the size of their cameras.

The size and weight of a mirrorless camera appeals to many people but, some still prefer the solidity and weight of a DSLR in their hands and find mirrorless cameras to be a little fiddly. This is especially the case for people with large hands and fingers!

Current mirrorless cameras feature digital sensor sizes that rival DSLRs. It is now even possible to buy a mirrorless camera with a so-called full frame 35mm digital sensor.

Should you buy mirrorless camera?

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Mirrorless Digital Camera with 14-42mm II R Lens (Silver)

If you are planning to buy your first camera with interchangeable lenses, you should definitely consider the mirrorless system. As fast as camera technology progresses, in a few years there will be no way to distinguish between DSLR and Mirrorless. The two systems will morph into a single category—Digital Cameras with Interchangeable Lenses.

Also, if you find that DSLRs are just too big and heavy, and you are wanting something smaller and lighter to more easily fit into a bag, then mirrorless cameras might be of interest to you. Even though they can be finicky for people with larger hands, technology has developed so quickly that the best mirrorless cameras on the market are indeed feature laden and do not pale in comparison to their DSLR brethren in this respect.

Camera Type 3: Compact Cameras

As the name suggests, compact cameras are the smallest digital cameras on the market. Before smartphones with the cameras hit the market and became popular with consumers, compact cameras were the most popular digital cameras available.

Sony RX100 III 20.1 MP Premium Compact Digital Camera w/1-inch sensor and 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 ZEISS zoom lens (DSCRX100M3/B)

In the last decade or so, the compact camera market has drastically changed. When people realized that the iPhone’s camera was as good as a compact camera and there wasn’t any reason for having a dedicated camera beyond their phones, they stopped buying entry-level compacts. Now, the most popular camera on Flickr is the iPhone.

Even Canon, the biggest manufacturer of entry-level compact cameras, stopped producing compacts and exited the market.

The industry had to adjust to a new reality. This led to the introduction of new types of compact cameras, such as the premium type. In order to distinguish a new model of compact cameras from existing point and shoot smartphones, manufacturers managed to squeeze the functionality of DSLR cameras into the tiny bodies of compacts. Some manufacturers like Panasonic even managed to introduce large sensors in their compact models.

These days, compact cameras are not exactly point and shoot, and they are far from affordable. They are highly sophisticated, feature-laden advanced cameras.

Should you buy compact camera?

If you want and need the functionality of a DSLR in a small body and do not mind having a smaller sensor without the ability to change the lens, the advanced compact is exactly what you need.

Also, if you are already own a DSLR and need a second body for your travels, the compact camera is often a perfect fit.

Check my in-depth guide: Best Compact Camera for Travel

Camera Type 4: Bridge Cameras

The original definition of the bridge camera was the bridge between a compact point-and-shoot camera and a full-blown DSLR. It had some features of an entry level DSLR including some manual controls, but still had a small sensor like compact cameras and no interchangeable lenses.

Sony DSCRX10/B Cybershot 20.2 MP Digital Still Camera with 3-Inch LCD Screen

These days, the definition of a bridge camera is constantly evolving. The new bridge cameras on the market, in certain aspects, bypass even high-end DSLR or mirrorless cameras. This was possible because of advances in camera sensor technologies that allow us to achieve an astonishing quality of images even with small sensors. The smaller sensors have an additional advantage in the speed of reading the information, which allows incredible shooting speeds of up to 14fps, 4K video and up to 960fps video recording in SD mode.

Another advantage of the smaller sensor is the ability to build a fast telephoto lens around it.

For example, for $1400 Sony has a 24–600 mm F2.4–4 lens. To achieve a similar reach and speed on a DSLR, it will cost you more than $10,000 and will be 10 times bigger.

Should you buy bridge camera?

PANASONIC LUMIX FZ80 4K 60X Zoom Camera, 18.1 Megapixels, DC VARIO 20-1200mm Lens, F2.8-5.9, 4K 30p Video, Power O.I.S., WiFi – DC-FZ80K (USA BLACK)

If you are planning to get into wildlife photography or sports photography and do not have budget of $10,000 to $15,000, the bridge camera is a perfect entry level candidate.

Conclusion

Though all types of cameras can obviously take photos, they all offer different features and a unique user experience. The camera market is crowded with choices but, once you have worked out exactly what you want to shoot, your budget, why you would like a camera and how you will be using it, you can decide on the right type of camera to suit your photography needs.

>