Looking to buy a new camera, but confused by all of the options available? Don’t know whether to buy a DSLR or a compact camera? No idea what zoom is? We can help you out with all of your questions!
Types of Cameras
Compact point-and-shoot cameras are still cameras designed to give maximum portability, simplicity and ease of use.
DSLR or a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is usually aimed at intermediate and experienced photographers. They are also great for people wanting to learn about photography and how to take better photos. DSLR models typically offer interchangeable lenses, full manual controls, external flash units, and through-the-lens (TTL) viewfinders.
Bridge cameras (Pro-sumer cameras) are cameras which fill the gap between DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. They are often comparable in size and weight to the smallest DSLRs and typically feature full manual controls over shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance and metering. Most lack an optical viewfinder system, however usually feature a high level of zoom.
Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are hybrid cameras that cross a compact camera with a DLSR. They are designed to operate and feel more like that of a compact camera but with enhanced interchangeable lenses and superior sensors which give DSLR photograph quality, e.g. Sony NEX.
Tough camera is perfect if you want to take photo or video in a situation where a normal camera could become vulnerable to damage. These cameras are usually resistant to water, shock, dust and freeze.
Action camera is a relatively new product and is what the name suggests - a camera for action. These cameras are designed to be used in more intense situations such as in motorsports, aerial, extreme sports or aquatic activities or for use in places normal cameras could never go before, e.g. GoPro, Sony Action Cam.
Wi-Fi allows your camera to pair with other Wi-Fi compatible devices, such as a smart phone or tablet, to view and upload photos instantly.
Continuous Autofocus is an automatic focus mode where the camera's computer mechanism constantly adjust the focus of a lens until the shutter release is pressed. This is ideal for tracking a fast-moving subject and taking a consecutive burst of shots or recording video on a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera.
Picture effects let you apply effects to the photo before the photo is taken, allowing for instant creativity and experimentation.
Intelligent Auto lets the camera do all the work for you by using sophisticated image processing to determine the right settings for the type of shot you are trying to take.
Burst Mode allows multi images to be taken in a quick succession - great for action shots and perfect capture those fleeting moments.
Shock proof lets the camera resist a drop up to a certain height.
Waterproof – can be used underwater to a set depth.
GPS geo-tagging – photos taken virtually anywhere in the can be geo-tagged with a built in GPS recording the exact location coordinates of where the shot was taken.
Panorama Mode is perfect for holidays, because you can create an ultra-wide panoramic shot that captures the entire landscape.
Image stabilization reduces blurring when moving the camera whilst recording. This is usually done digitally or optically.
3D gives the photo an extra layer of depth looking in at an image previously not achievable from a 2D image.
Built in projector – project your home movies onto a screen or white wall to create up to a huge 80” size.
Direct copy means that the camera can be connected directly to an external hard drive without a computer for quick and easy download of SD card contents.
Megapixel – The number of dots, or pixels, that make up an image; 1 megapixel = 1 million pixels. Whilst megapixels are a good way to measure the resolution of a camera, they are not always the best way to judge a camera’s performance. You need to factor in variables such as the quality of the cameras lens, image sensor and image processor, as these have the biggest influence on a camera’s picture quality.
Sensor – Located inside the body of the camera behind the lens, the sensor records light electronically to form an image. It’s made up of pixels: the little elements that absorb light to create a photo. The more megapixels a sensor has, the better the detail of a photo (sensor size, sensor quality and lens quality will also impact this).
Lens – An optical device which transmits and refracts light, joining or separating the beam. Think of the lens as the cameras eyeball and the sensor can only capture what comes through the lens, meaning the quality of the lens is crucial. The lens defines how clear a picture is, amongst many other things.
There are four basic categories of lenses:
- 16-24mm on a cropped sensor
- Can take in a wide angle of view, making them great for landscape photographs
- Can’t zoom in very far, but can capture plenty of foreground in a scene
- Focal length of 35mm -70mm
- Allows you to take in a fairly wide angle
- Possible to zoom a good amount
- Focal length of 100 - 300mm
- Plenty of zoom and a narrow angle of view
- Great for shots of subjects and avoid busyness in the foreground and background
- Focal length of over 300mm
- Big zoom!
- Get right up close to wildlife and sport from a significant distance
HD or Full HD resolution refers to the quality of video being captured. HD quality consists of 720 lines of resolution or 1280×720 pixels, whereas Full HD delivers 1080 lines of resolution at 1920x1080 pixels, close to double that of HD.
Frame rate, or frames per second, is the number of frames or images the camera captures per second. In still cameras, a higher frame rate above 7fps is great for sports photography or capturing any other fast moving subjects. Video is generally captured between 25fps and 50fps so that the image can move fluidly.
16:9 ratio is a photo dimension measurement that works well for displaying on a wide screen, such as an HDTV. The photo measures at a ratio of 16 pixels wide by 9 pixels tall.
Aperture is the size of the adjustable opening inside the lens, which determines how much light passes through the lens to strike the image sensor. A digital camera's aperture is measured in f-stops, and higher f-stops signify a smaller amount of light. The aperture changes depending on the camera's settings for a particular shot.
ISO is a measurement of the speed at which the sensor in your digital camera reacts to light. This determines the required aperture size and shutter speed for a well exposed photo. High ISO speeds are useful for freezing motion in low light, but result in high levels of noise (speckle).
Frequently Asked Questions
How easy is it to use a DSLR?
As DSLRs have very clever automatic and scene selection modes, using one can be as straightforward or elaborate as you wish. DSLRs are generally geared towards enthusiasts, so there are many more controls and intricate menus to navigate than a digital compact camera. If you’re looking for simplicity in a camera, you would probably be better suited to using a compact camera or, a professional performance interchangeable-lens camera.
Why do I need AVCHD?
AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) is ideal for when you want the best video quality without large file sizes. Many blu-ray players, TVs and other multimedia devices will playback AVCHD files recorded by your camera, as will most software, though it might be worthy checking compatibility before you buy. Also, AVCHD can be easily converted into different file formats, making it a must-have for both amateur and professional videos.
Do I need a DSLR to take a great photo?
With the current range of technology available on the market, it is not completely necessary to have a DSLR to take a high-quality photograph – all you need is a good quality camera, some inspiration and a little patience. The newest hybrid cameras being released have mirrorless interchangeable-lenses and offer DSLR performance in a compact, easy-to-use unit. Other types of cameras, like performance and bridge models, can help you to achieve brilliant results without the professional DSLR price tag.
How can I record movies on my camera? What is the quality like?
Most cameras usually have a movie record button or mode, which can record very high quality video with many offering either HD or, even better, Full-HD resolution.
What are the top 5 things I should look for in a camera (depending on what it’s needed for)?
- Lens sensor size and quality, not just megapixels!
- Zoom range required (What will you be taking photos of? Landscapes, friends, music concerts?)
- Size / design / layout (Who’s using it, where, when, what’s their level of expertise?)
- Video quality
- Any unique features that may be useful to you
How are images stored on my device?
The vast majority of cameras record into a memory chip (flash memory) or a removable card. Today, SD cards are the most typical type of storage and are available in variety of sizes (gigabyte) and classes depending on the device and your individual requirements. A few devices record to internal HDD (Hard Disk Drives) for those needing very large storage capabilities. A few things to think about when buying a memory card is storage size, i.e. how much video recording and how many still images it can hold; speed, and format.
Why would I need a higher frame rate?
A higher frame rate such as 50i / 50p (50 frames per second) in video recording is perfect for recording fast moving subjects such as sport or action; the higher frame rate equates to a smoother and clearer motion on the recorded image with less blur.
What is the difference between optical and digital zoom?
Optical zoom is the most ‘real’ type of zoom that utilises the camera’s optics – the lens – to draw the image closer. It literally zooms in on an object and takes a clearer magnified image. Digital zoom, on the other hand, is not quite an authentic zoom but rather magnifies the taken image and draws it closer in. Essentially, the section of image that you are zooming in on becomes bigger, not closer. This will result in a reduction in the megapixels and resolution of the photo being taken. Digital zoom can be useful if you wish to make a section of a photograph bigger without using software.