Beginners Guide to Camera Types

One of the questions that beginners to photography always ask is “which new camera should I get”. The problem is that there is not a stock answer to this question. Different camera types have different uses or abilities. But, in the hands of a skilled photographer even the cheapest camera can turn out stunning photographs.

My advice always is – learn about the camera that you currently have. Learn about the fundamentals of photography such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed, lighting and composition. Then you will know if your current camera has limitations that you need to address. But by getting these basics down you will also know what you require in a new camera.

Now, most people know about DSLRs but there are a range of other camera types out there on the market which might fit your specifications. Have a look at some of the main types of camera below.

Point and Shoot

point and shoot camera typesPoint and Shoot or Compact cameras basically work as they sound. You just point and shoot. They are a relatively inexpensive camera to get started in photography, ranging in price from $100 upwards. Usually, they have sensors that are 16 to 20+ megapixels and they have a zoom of about 4-12 times optical zoom. When you use the zoom you will see it come out of the camera body and then retract into the body.

Point and shoots will also have an inbuilt flash and some will have a couple of picture modes for you to choose from. The more advanced point and shoots will also have a simple video capability. Usually there is no viewfinder for you to look through but instead you compose your shot using the large LCD screen. As they are compact cameras they are great for putting in a pocket when you go out. But, they are simple cameras and you will not be able to change aperture size, shutter speed etc.

  • Pros: Inexpensive camera great for simple use
  • Cons: No changeable lenses and small sensors so the quality is not as good as more advanced cameras. No real manual options.

Mobile Smart Phones

Yes, I am going to put mobile phones here. Mainly because they have improved in quality over the years and have eaten into the point and shoot market. For example, if you used to take a point and shoot camera to a night out before, now you might not bother with the camera but instead use your phone. They are also great for social sharing as it is so easy to shoot the photo and immediately share online with friends and family.

Now they are not going to be anywhere near the quality of a good point and shoot but for social media and quick sharing they are perfect. You will also have some video capability. Smart phone photography has definitely got more popular. Some of the photography stock sites now even have a special category for smart phone photographs so you can sell good smart phone photographs for stock. Some professional photographers have also done photo series and projects showing what they can do with smart phones.

Taking this one step further, Kodak also have released a smartphone that they have targetted at photographers.

  • Pros: Easy to use and you do not need to carry extra equipment. Great for social media and sharing online and quickly with family and friends
  • Cons: Small sensors so the quality will not be great.

Bridge Cameras

bridge camera typesThese cameras are in between the point and shoot and the DSLR. They have large optical zooms, sometimes 60x zoom, giving them their other name of Super Zooms. Bridge cameras seem to have lost a bit of popularity over the last few years as DSLRs have become more accessible hobbyist market. So basically bridge cameras have some features that resemble compact cameras – eg. the optical zoom capability. And other features that resemble DSLRs.

Features that resemble DSLRs include scene modes and the ability to change shutter speed and aperture size. However, the range of shutter speeds and aperture sizes will usually not be as extensive as DSLRs. They will also have image stabilization which is great when using the full-length zooms.

Bridge cameras will resemble DSLRs in their size and shape. So they will have hand grips and will, therefore be larger than compact cameras. There is a pop-up flash and the capability of fitting your own flash gun.

  • Pros: Better range of manual exposure than a compact camera
  • Cons: It is a bit of an in-between camera and there are no interchangeable lenses. More expensive than a compact.

MirrorLess Cameras

mirrorless camera typesThe difference between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera is that unlike DSLRs they have no mirror that opens up when you depress the shutter. This gives them their name. Therefore, having no mirror makes them lighter and also gives them better frames per second capability. The first mirrorless camera was released by Olympus in 2009 so they are relatively new to the market.

However, they have not pushed DSLRs off their pedestal as without a mirror there is no optical viewfinder. Instead, the cameras rely on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder. Also whilst the camera body is lighter, the lenses can be large and heavy so the camera itself feels unbalanced. However, they do have all the other capabilities of DSLRs such as manual exposure and focusing modes, as well as the ability to change lenses.

Video on mirrorless camera types is pretty impressive as some of the newer models are able to handle 4K video. Whilst I feel that for professional use the lack of an optical viewfinder is a big disadvantage. But, these make great cameras for advanced hobbyists and for pros who don’t want to carry all their kit somewhere. As they are also relatively new to the market they are improving all the time.

  • Pros: Lightweight with all the manual capabilities of more advanced cameras such as DSLRs. Great video capabilities.
  • Cons: Can feel unbalanced with a heavy lens and light body. There is also not such a large range of lenses available as with DSLRs

DSLR

DSLR camera typesThe Digital Single Lense Reflex camera or DSLR started to hit the market in the late 90s. They were designed to match the 35mm film cameras that they were going to replace. Now they are used by serious amateurs, hobbyists and professionals.

The DSLR offers great image quality and a range of manual operations. You are able to change white balance, exposure using shutter speed, aperture size or ISO and can shoot in manual and automatic focus modes. Lenses are interchangeable and you can also get a range of flash guns that can be used. Many DSLRs also have very good video capabilities.

There are now two sensor sizes in DSLRs – the first APS-C is also referred to as a crop sensor and is in a large majority of the DSLRs on the market. Higher end models though are called full-frame sensor cameras and in this case the sensor is around the same size as 35mm film. These full frame models are often used by professionals and are great studio cameras as well as being used by pros for weddings. The full frame cameras are usually more expensive than getting a crop sensor. bodies are hardwearing and some are waterproofed which is great for sports and wildlife photographers.

DSLR bodies are hardwearing and can be made from plastic or aluminium depending on the price range of the body. They are very robust and hardwearing and some models are also waterproofed so that they are perfect for use for sports and wildlife photography.

However, they can be bulky and heavy especially if you are also using a large lens. Lenses can also be very expensive (sometimes even more expensive than the camera body), but the range is very extensive.

  • Pros: Offers great image quality and a variety of custom features with interchangeable lenses
  • Cons: Can be very expensive especially if you buy multiple lenses.

Medium Format

Medium format camera types are the creme-de-la-creme of the camera market. These medium format cameras are used by professional photographers usually in commercial markets such as advertising. They are extremely high quality as they have sensors that are even larger than full frame DSLRs. Therefore, their sensors pick up great dynamic range and clarity of their subjects which is why they are so great for advertising.

However, this quality comes with a hefty price tag with even camera bodies costing many thousands of dollars. A good medium format camera with a lens can cost well over $10,000.

  • Pros: Exceptional image quality
  • Cons: Expensive

As you can see there are a large range of camera types available. Therefore get to know your camera first before you decide to move on to another type.

About the Author

I am a professional boudoir photographer who loves dance photography and teaching others. I have been taking photographs since the age of 12 and have also worked in the past as a photo journalist. Have a look at my other work here.

Leave a Reply 8 comments

Riaz Shah - January 19, 2017 Reply

Hey Evie,
Awesome guide to cameras and I quite agree with you on the mobile smartphone part, their quality has improved drastically over the years.

I don’t really use phones but the iPhone 7’s camera quality is super sharp! I was surprised that its so clear that I actually used the camera phone alone to take product pictures and people still ask me which photographer did I hire.

    admin - January 19, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for your comments

    I have actually just got the iPhone 7 and I am using it a lot when I go out for the day. It is so much easier than carrying my kit with me. Plus I find it great for taking “behind the scenes” shots during my photo shoots which I can immediately put onto social media.

Cosmic Lee - January 19, 2017 Reply

Hey Evie,
Thanks for this guide to cameras.
What camera would you recommend for youtube vlogging?

I have always gone for sony tech and technology. But I think I’m leaning towards Canon’s now. I didn’t see any canons in this article do you have any favorite canons?

All the best
Lee

    admin - January 19, 2017 Reply

    I am not really a vlogger but I would look at cameras that shoot at least 1080p. As video is getting better on most cameras it then comes down to price. You can get compacts that shoot 1080p as well as DSLRs and Mirrorless – again the compacts will probably work out cheaper.

    This list is not listing any manufacturers as it is just a listing of the different camera types that are available. Each manufacturer will actually make a compact, a DSLR or mirrorless etc. Are you leaning towards a Canon DSLR or are you thinking of one of the other types such as mirrorless? Personally I am a Nikon shooter as I have been using them since I was 13. A friend is a canon shooter. My advice if you are buying a DSLR is to try them out in a shop. Pick them up and see how they feel in your hand as they usually have buttons in different places depending on manufacturer so you want something that feels comfortable to you

Blame - January 19, 2017 Reply

I have a friend who takes all kinds of pictures for a living. He does wedding, scenery, and industrial stuff. His line of work is very interesting. Of course, cameras like point and shoot and cell phone cameras are meant for newbies and amateurs who still have no idea what they are doing. He told me that the manual mode of DSLR takes a while to master, but it’s worth all the effort once you get it. He also told me mirrorless is basically bringing cameras back to the way it is before, even though I still have no idea what he is saying. You do have a nice list here. I am going to recommend it to him and see if he likes anything here. He’s a pro so he would probably like some of the equipment here. Thanks for the recommendations.

    admin - January 19, 2017 Reply

    I once tried wedding photography and it is not something I enjoy. I mainly do boudoir, dance and advertising myself. I actually use a smart phone camera when I am out and about and don’t want to carry all my kit with me. It is also great for shooting “behind the scenes” photos at photo shoots for me to quickly put onto social media. I do know a pro who shoots completely with an iPhone and has written books about it. Whichever type of camera you buy is dependant on what you want to do with it, I honestly don’t think that compacts and smartphones are only used by “people who dont know what they are doing”

Steve - January 19, 2017 Reply

thanks for this article.

I am looking at upgrading my camera currently. I have just a point and shoot and really want to move up. A friend says its best to get a bridge but I really think I would want the extra feature of a DSLR.

My only concern is the lack of zoom range / hassle of changing Len’s to get it.

The Zoom range of the Bridge is very appealing but I do think I’m ready for a full featured DSLR…. What do you think ?

    admin - January 19, 2017 Reply

    It is all according what you are looking for in a camera. Yes the zoom of a bridge is appealing but will you actually use that full range? And if you are looking to get more involved in shutter and aperture then you might think of a DSLR or a Mirrorless camera. You will get a better image quality than the bridge camera as the sensor is bigger. You can also get a zoom lens that will fit with the subjects that you are trying to photograph (ie you might not need a zoom with a wider angle or you may not need the full reach of a long long zoom).

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