Choosing a Camera


With so many different makes and models of digital cameras on the market it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Digital cameras can be broadly categorised into three types, depending on the degree of control allowed to the user. The cheapest, most basic  type of digital camera would be  the fully automatic 'point and shoot', followed by the semi-automatic 'compact cameras' and finally the 'digital single lens reflex' or DSLR. Here are a few features of each to show what is available...

Point and Shoot

With the most basic type of digital camera, the focus, shutter speed, aperture value and flash are either fixed or determined by the camera in response to a meter reading. The photographer only has to ‘Point and Shoot’, composing the picture in the viewfinder and then pressing the shutter release button, and while this may be convenient, it means that the photographer has no control over the picture quality.

Camera phones usually fall into this category, as well as the brightly coloured plastic cameras sold as children's toys. They might be easy and fun to use, but the picture quality is rarely good enough to satisfy anybody who is serious about photography.

Compact Cameras

As well as being able to use an automatic system, the camera may have certain fixed Capture Modes, accessible from a dial on the camera body. Each of these modes contains a combination of settings appropriate for various different conditions, ‘Portrait’, Landscape’, ‘Macro’, ‘Moving object’, etc. The photographer decides which mode will best suit the image he wishes to capture, and sets the dial accordingly. There may be an option to control whether the flash fires automatically and possibly also a red-eye reduction setting.

More sophisticated cameras have additional modes such as Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority and may even have a Manual setting as well. These allow the photographer to adjust the shutter speed, the aperture size or both, giving complete control over the finished appearance of the image. The camera may be fitted with a lens that can be used to ‘zoom in’ on a section of the scene, making it appear larger and with a restricted field of view. It may also be possible to fit a selection of lenses, either directly or by means of an adapter ring.

Although these cameras are obviously a step up from the Point and Shoot types in that they give more control when taking a photograph, the sensor is often too small to capture the scene in full detail, which can result in noisy, unsharp images.

Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)

The most obvious difference between a DSLR camera and the previous types is in the viewfinder. Instead of using either a separate lens or a preview screen to compose the picture, a DSLR camera uses a series of mirrors to transfer the image as seen by the main lens to the viewfinder, by-passing the aperture. When the shutter is released, the mirror flips out of the way to allow the light through the aperture and into the camera. As well as providing the automatic features mentioned above, a DSLR will have a full range of Manual settings, the ability to use interchangeable lenses and a larger sensor.

A DSLR camera will be considerably more expensive than the other types, but the advantages in picture quality make it well worth the extra money.