How to Choose a Camera

Lesson 1: How to Choose a Camera

They say a good photographer does not care what camera to use when taking photos. Mostly, this is true, but partly not. Without a doubt, a great artist can squeeze the maximum out of technology and get beautiful images surprisingly with a cheap compact camera or smartphone. However, even with an exceptional experience, there are some technical limitations.

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Cameras have been around for a long time. The first photo artists took pictures on special plates. They needed half an hour to get a good shot from a primitive gadget. Over time, photography has acquired new technological features, and the devices have made technical progress. Until recently, film cameras were popular. Now progress has come to shooting in digital format.

If you think that photos on your smartphone are not clear enough and want to capture important moments in such a quality that you would not be uncomfortable in front of your friends – it is time to buy a full-fledged digital camera.

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Four Main Types of Digital Cameras

To begin with, you need to decide which type of camera is most suitable for your purposes. There are four main types of small-format digital cameras:

  • Instant cameras
  • Compact cameras
  • Mirrorless cameras
  • Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras

Each of these types has advantages and disadvantages. So that buying a camera does not turn into a headache and overpayment for functions that you will not use, I would be happy to help you choose a camera.

Instant Cameras

Instant cameras are non-professional and semi-professional cameras designed to capture the moment as it is, without any corrections. The pictures are less sharp, in soft pastel colors. Of course, it takes practice and a lot of bad photos to make images beautiful. But this is a very creative and fun process for which photographers spare neither time nor money.

How to Choose a Camera

These cameras were popular at the end of the 20th century when the famous Polaroid was a dream of many, capable of printing images immediately after shooting. 

Although this technology is outdated these days, an instant camera will help you take retro, intriguing photos to create a photo story or decorate the interior like collages on the wall.

The instant camera can be analog and digital. The former creates an image by its automatic development using chemical reagents (for this, you need photo paper cartridges sold separately), while the latter has a built-in mini printer. 

Digital cameras allow you to set filters, edit a photo before printing, and use Wi-Fi. Still, if good image quality is mattering, and not the moment itself, it is better to buy a classic digital camera and a printer for photos.

The 4 Best Instant Cameras to Buy

Compact Cameras

These are the simplest type of digital camera and also the cheapest and smallest. Often people refer to them as soap dishes. They come in three subtypes: fully automatic, devices with advanced settings, and ultra zooms.

How to Choose a Camera

Fully automatic compacts have a simple condition "push a button - get a shot." The photographer only needs to select a shooting mode (landscape, portrait, macro), frame and compose a shot and press the shutter-release button. Electronics will make all the necessary settings and, if required, will turn on the built-in flash. 

It is the most popular subtype of compact camera produced in millions of copies and easy to use for children and the elderly. Cons: they allow you to get good quality pictures only under ideal conditions, for example, in bright daylight outside.

Cameras with manual control of settings are for those who no longer like the limits of a fully automatic camera. Here you can control the shutter speed and aperture parameters through the use of shutter priority (S or Tv), aperture priority (A or Av), and manual mode (M). 

Sometimes there may be the possibility of shooting in RAW image format, which, compared to JPEG, opens up an order of magnitude more options for post-processing. And finally, most importantly, the matrix of such devices is slightly larger than that of fully automatic compacts. If you plan to purchase a budget camera, you may want to consider models of this subtype.

Ultra zooms are the crown jewel of compact cameras. Outwardly, they resemble miniature DSLRs, but the characteristics are similar to mirrorless cameras.

It is quite possible to take professional pictures with ultra zooms. They allow you to shoot in RAW format, have automatic and manual settings for shutter speed and aperture, and support high-speed burst shooting. Various attachments and light filters are available for such cameras. 

Professional photographers sometimes buy ultra-zoom cameras to get high-quality photos when it is difficult to carry a large backpack with a DSLR camera and lenses.

The 4 Best Compact Cameras to Buy

Mirrorless cameras

In terms of functionality, mirrorless cameras are identical to DSLRs: even if the latter has a reputation for being the best professional equipment, they are also suitable for quality photography. If you want to take excellent photos of your friends, trips, or even become a professional photographer, it would be better to choose a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses.

This type of camera has appeared considerably recently and already gained well-deserved popularity. Mirrorless cameras' lightweight and small size, the possibility of direct focusing using an LCD or electronic viewfinder, high image quality, and the ability to change lens explain this fame. Cons: the focusing speed is much slower than that of DSLRs. Also, due to the constant operation of the electronics, the battery life is not very long.

Sony was one of the pioneers in the mirrorless camera market. Staying long away from the rapidly developing market, Canon and Nikon also started to release their full-frame mirrorless cameras. Perhaps this is evidence that the future belongs to such cameras.

The 4 Best Mirrorless Cameras to Buy

Single-lens reflex cameras

Digital SLRs are still the most popular choice for professional and advanced amateur photographers who value complete control over the shooting process. The quality of images taken with such a camera is the best available in digital technology today.

If you plan to take a genuine interest in practical photography and make a photographer's career, without a doubt, it is better to buy a single-lens reflex camera.

The device basis is a mirror that redirects light from the lens of photographic equipment to its viewfinder (or large matrix). 

Such a camera does not have a separate viewfinder system: you observe the actual and being photographed scene through the lens. At the same time, you can see in the viewfinder all information on electronic systems operation, light metering accuracy, frame number, zoom guidance, flash readiness, the inclusion of manual modes, and prompts. It is for the optical viewfinder that SLRs are so valued.

Single-lens reflex cameras have all kinds of accessories (flashes, filters, battery packs, etc.) and a wide range of lenses of any characteristics and cost. It gives room for creativity. All this allows the photographer to shoot excellently any scenes. Cons: These cameras are expensive and have large dimensions and weight.

The 4 Best Single-Lens Reflex Cameras to Buy


  1. I have a lovely camera that is very much unused. I literally could not tell you where it is at this moment. I tend to use my phone for everything.

  2. This is really great introductory information. There's so much to know, you have to get your info in little doses to retain it.

  3. This is going to help a lot of budding photographers. There's so much to learn and even more to discover as you get better and better.

  4. I love this resource. I never thought about using an instant camera to do retro shots before. That's really cool.

  5. Just the informations I needed to buy a new camera. Thank you for those great tips. This post goes to my saves!

  6. As a food photographer I can say these are really great tips and resources for beginners. Choosing a camera is first and most important step indeed.

  7. This is a great breakdown of all types of cameras! I wish I had read an article like this before I bought my first camera. I own a mirrorless one myself, but didn't fully understand how it compared to other types when I initially bought it.

  8. Unfortunately, we have been using our phones as our cameras for a while. We have a digital compact camera but we don't use it very much -- I think we need to start. My father left me an old Minolta with several lenses -- I would love to figure out how to incorporate that into the new digital world.

  9. I love instant cameras but after reading this I may have to try out a compact camera as well. I had no idea there were multiple variations of starter cameras.

  10. I have dslr and mirrorless camera's that I haven't put into good use. These are great tips that I can make use of.

  11. Great tips for aspiring photographers. I love how detailed it is. Will share to my friends who are keen in deep diving on photography.

  12. So interesting to know!! My husband loves cameras and I'm sure he'll love to read this!

  13. I really want to get into photography, but those cameras are expensive. I am not a fan of instant cameras, so it would be a simple compact camera for me, to being with. Well, I am going to have to plan for that one. Blessings!

  14. Such helpful information! We do need a new camera!