Which camera should I buy?

I am frequently approached by people wanting information that will help them choose which camera to buy. Only you can choose which camera will best suit your situation but hopefully the following guide will provide you with a clearer picture about your choices. Additional information can also be found in the Types of cameras & Tips when buying a camera tutorial pages.

Cut to the chase, just tell me what to buy

For those who don’t want to read all the information just choose the statement that best fits your situation:

  • “I want a camera that is easy to use, fits in my pocket and provides fair to good quality snap shots. I want to spend as little as possible” – The compact point and shoot (P&S) if for you.
  • “I want the flexibility of a P&S’s size with some higher end features. I don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money” – The Pro level P&S is perfect for this.
  • “I want a higher end camera that allows me to take photos with excellent image quality. I want most of the features of an SLR without lugging around a brick. I might want to learn about the technical aspects of photography” – A Four Thirds camera would do a great job.
  • “I want maximum image quality and flexibility, I want to learn more about photography, and if I upgrade my camera in the future I would like to be able to use my old lenses on my new camera” – The DSLR is just what you are looking for.


The full story

Let’s face it, everyone wants great image quality from their camera but in reality, unless used correctly, the best camera on the market will not guarantee great images. I also subscribe to the theory that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you. There is no point spending your hard earned cash on something that sits at home in its box because you find it too big and heavy to lug around with you, or it has so many functions that you don’t have time to learn how to get the best from it.

The first thing I ask people when they want to know which camera to buy is what do you want your new camera to do for you? Do you want something you can slip into your pocket for party snapshots, do you want something that you have a moderate amount of control over but is still relatively light weight and easy to travel with, or do you want a high end camera with maximum image quality and control over manual settings?

Types of cameras

There are several categories of cameras on the market which include Phones Cameras, Compact Point and Shoot (P&S), Pro Level P&S, Four Thirds, Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), Medium and Large format cameras.

Camera phones are improving all the time but in my opinion they still can’t match a dedicated camera. Medium and Large format cameras are high end professional kit with price tags of between $12 – $80K (if you are reading this you will definitely not be in the market for something like that). So for the purpose of this guide we will focus on the compact P&S, Pro Level P&S, Four Thirds and DSLR.


Compact Point and Shoot (P&S)

The humble P&S, also known as a compact, is something that has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last decade. Many people who approach me about which camera to buy have already decided that they want more than what a P&S can offer, however, I would not write off the P&S until you have considered all the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • small, lightweight and fits in your pocket
  • lower cost than other types of cameras
  • easy to use with little training required
  • fair to good quality snap shots

Cons:

  • lower image quality than higher end cameras, particularly in poor light (though this is rapidly improving)
  • lower image quality on large prints
  • less control over post processing when RAW files are not available
  • limited manual functions
  • single fixed lens with limited optical zoom

Examples of good quality P&S cameras:


Pro level P&S

An alternative to the general P&S is the Pro level P&S. The Pro P&S has become very popular in recent times for those who want the size of the P&S with higher end features. These are well worth a look at if you if you are after something with a bit more flexibility than your general P&S.

Pros:

  • compact size
  • better image quality than most P&S
  • easy access to most manual functions such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  • better low light capabilities
  • ability to shoot in RAW files
Cons:
  • lower image quality when compared to SLR, particularly in poor light
  • single fixed lens with limited optical zoom
Examples of good quality Pro level P&S cameras:

Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds & Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Cameras (MILC)

Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds and MILC cameras have all seen a recent surge in popularity and to some extent they have taken over a large percentage of the Pro level P&S and entry level DSLR market. These really are great cameras with some considerable advantages that include being full of features found on a traditional DSLR while being significantly smaller.

Pros:

  • smaller size and reduced weight when compared to SLR
  • interchangeable high quality lenses
  • most of the manual control found on a DSLR
  • The smaller sensor increased the effective focal length by double i.e. a 50mm lens will work like a 100mm lens (though this could be a con for wide angle shooting)
  • larger depth of field (DoF) at equivalent aperture settings witch can reduce the risk of out-of-focus photos
  • generally have excellent focusing systems (contrast detection focusing)
  • no mirror vibration (Micro Four Thirds only)
  • larger apertures for lower prices and weight
  • most have excellent video capabilities
  • the difference between the four thirds and the APSC size sensor is not significant

Cons:

  • smaller sensor with a high megapixel count can mean the sensor is crowded with smaller pixels. This can result in a lower dynamic range, reduced image quality and softer images when compared to SLR’s with larger sensor
  • wide angle lenses are limited however manufacturers such as Panasonic are now produce wider lenses such as their 7-14mm

Examples of good quality Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds and MILC cameras:

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)

The DSLR is really all about maximising control and image quality. They allow you to look through the lens and have much larger and higher quality image sensors. If you want maximum image quality and want to learn more about photography then the DSLR will outperform everything else.

Pros:

  • Larger, better quality image sensors
  • Fantastic image quality
  • Interchangeable high quality lenses
  • Better lens quality
  • Flexibility of lens choice
  • Lenses can be used when updating to newer models (conditions apply)
  • Greater range of lenses available

Cons:

  • Size, they are generally bigger and heavier than other cameras
  • Cost, particularly the higher end cameras and lenses
  • Addiction, I warn you once you start it’s hard to stop!


DLSR Lenses

The impact that a lens has on image quality cannot be underestimated and in my opinion when it comes to purchasing a DSLR the lens is more important than the camera. A good quality lens will out last several cameras and still produce great results while the DSLR market is just like any other digital market, regardless of when you purchase it there will be something that supersedes it relatively quickly.

I hope this information has helped you to choose a camera that will best suit your needs. For additional information please read these related tutorials:

  • Types of cameras
  • Tips when buying a camera

* The content contained within the tutorials on Matt Tinker Photography has been provided in good faith and should be considered a general source of information only. The information provided does not express the opinion of others or any manufacturers mentioned. All due care is taken when compiling this information, however we do not warrant that this information is accurate, free from omissions or up-to-date including any recent changes. The content does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. You should make your own independent assessment of the information provided and you should not rely solely on this information when making decisions.


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