The world post-2010 witnessed a significant boom in the imaging industry, with numerous manufacturers aiming to lead the game of technologically advanced cameras. Fortunately, cameras no longer require photographers to empty their savings account as there is a device for every budget and need. However, the wide variety of choices lead to indecisiveness. It is reasonably easy to get intimidated by the overflowing market: most photographers come home with a device that does not cater to their shooting needs. Imagine being a wildlife photographer and purchasing a top-notch camera but with a horrible AF system!
Here is our guide on the features you must look out for for a while to purchase your camera.
Most amateur photographers get overwhelmed by the vast camera industry and cannot choose the perfect camera for their job. Moreover, there is an additional risk of opting for a camera by a brand with either negative reviews or, worse, a completely unheard name. Fortunately, the camera industry is dominated by a few manufacturers that made their goodwill by producing robust and reliable devices.
The first brand that comes to our mind when talking about the leading camera manufacturers is Canon. Their vast range of cameras and lenses keep up with technological advancements and prove their dedication to the imaging industry. One of the primary reasons we recommend Canon cameras to everyone is their reliable performance: you get what you pay for without any disappointments. Moreover, it is easy for photographers to select a camera that serves its purpose. Beginners can opt for their entry-level DSLRs, including Canon EOS 80D and EOS Rebel SL3, while wildlife photographers need to keep EOS 7D Mark II on their bucket list.
Canon and Nikon are interchangeable in some photographers’ vocabulary. We are not surprised: with the same reliable yet incredible performance and stunning image results, it is hard to compare. Nikon is comparatively smaller and slightly more expensive. However, their camera range caters to all skill levels, with some excellent options available for professional photographers. Moreover, their D-series DSLRs all the industry is talking about currently, but if you prefer mirrorless cameras, go for their premium Z-series cameras.
Sony owns a significant market share when it comes to point-and-shoot cameras, but their mirrorless cameras are quite famous among enthusiast photographers. We adore their Cyber-shot series of compact cameras and their ability to keep up with recent trends by launching new models every year. Moreover, they have a comparative advantage over battery life; thus, Sony cameras are your best if your shooting hours extend over the day. Additionally, they offer a range of budget-friendly APS-C mirrorless and powerful full-frame cameras.
1. DLSR cameras
DSLR belongs to the top rank of a photographer’s preference, and we are not shocked. The stunning image quality, noteworthy performance, and versatility make it a must-have for enthusiasts and professionals.
There are quite a few reasons why photographers pay a premium for DSLRs. They have a bigger sensor, resulting in minimal noise, exceptional quality, and the ability to shoot under dark conditions. Moreover, the AF systems are impressive, owing to a decent focus speed and precision. DSLRs are the go-to choice for action photographers. Beginners are often intimidated by the crowded layout, but it translates to enhanced control over the performance and final results. Beginners can purchase entry-level DSLRs that offer an easy user interface without compromising the image quality. However, the device lacks in speed and availability of modes.
Furthermore, DSLRs’ robust body makes them compatible with harsh shooting conditions: a treat for passionate filmmakers. However, the solid body adds to the bulk, and it is a hassle to carry along on trips. Compared to point-and-shoot cameras, the size is relatively larger, so you need to carry a bag rather than fitting it inside your pocket. Apart from the high purchase cost, photographers often find themselves paying exorbitant prices for maintenance.
2. Mirrorless cameras
The recent trend demonstrates a wide range of customers opting for mirrorless cameras: it is the strongest rival of DSLR cameras because of obvious reasons. The modern mirrorless cameras deliver an exceptional image quality par to that of their opponents. As a result, photographers pay the same amount of cash to purchase a camera that is comparatively lighter and smaller for their ease.
Mirrorless cameras allow the light to pass through the lens directly onto the imaging sensor without a DSLR barrier. The rear screen automatically displays a preview that helps you shoot perfect images: ideal for limited storage times.
Moreover, the modern mirrorless cameras offer brilliant low-light performance with an impressive focusing speed. However, they need to go through another round of upgrades to match DSLRs’ AF system standards.
On the other hand, mirrorless cameras produce incredible footage: better than their rivals since they have phase-detection capability for accurate and fast videos. Additionally, they offer 4K and Ultra HD modes, making them a must-have device for filmmakers. Moreover, mirrorless cameras rank higher in terms of shooting speed as the missing mirror increases the burst capacity.
3. Point-and-shoot cameras
Unfortunately, they lost their popularity a long time back, but it does not label them obsolete: in fact, they offer photographers better performance in specific departments than their famous rivals. Firstly, the compact size makes them popular amongst travelers and enthusiasts. No one likes carrying a bulky device on long trips if they can quickly get decent images from a pocket-friendly device. Additionally, the fixed lens means that there is no need to carry the bulk of additional lenses. Point-and-shoot cameras convert the massive depth of field into an advantage for some photographers: their inability to separate the foreground from the background translates into sharpness across the frame.
On the other hand, the low price of point-and-shoot cameras lacks in several departments (DSLRs and mirrorless cameras’ popularity was a significant hint). With limited and outdated features and an inflexible build, it is unfair to compare the image results with the higher-end cameras. They are the last option for action photography and a terrible alternative if you want an all-rounder camera.
As mentioned earlier, the price does not determine your camera’s specifications: at least not at this age. Fortunately, most renowned manufacturers have come to terms with a small budget’s inherent limitation by launching affordable cameras with decent features. Similarly, most high-end cameras offer features that prove useless to some photographers, e.g., complex editing options for beginners. Why should we pay extra for specifications we don’t need? On the other hand, it is essential to invest wisely: if you are an aspiring photojournalist, you should opt for a camera with additional features to prosper in your career.
There are cameras for every budget and requirement with decent cameras ranging over $500: they offer an excellent sensor, reliable performance, and superior image quality.
Here comes the tricky part: a mistake that most, including us, made at the beginning of our photography career. Your camera’s performance does not depend on the megapixel specifications but on the size of your sensor. It is easy to ignore this aspect by falling for a 30MP 1/2.3-inch sensor rather than a 16MP full-frame sensor: the latter ranks higher in image quality because it features a bigger sensor.
The sensor captures and converts the light into signals to produce stunning images. Millions of light-sensitive spots inside the sensor record your photos: a bigger sensor captures more light to hit the photosites to create better quality images. Moreover, larger sensors offer full-frame coverage instead of a cropped version offered by their smaller counterparts.
A large sensor increases the photo sites’ size to capture better images in low light conditions. On the other hand, a higher megapixel count with a small sensor backfires with images displaying significant distortion.
1. Full-frame sensor
If you want a camera with the largest sensor, opt for a full-frame camera that bears an uncanny resemblance to a 35mm film frame. It provides full-frame coverage meaning that your image displays the whole scene on the viewfinder instead of cutting it out. This sensor works best with wide-aperture lenses because of their capability to shoot shallow depths of field. However, full-frame cameras are often bulky and more extensive, thus not an excellent option for carrying it along to your next vacation trip.
2. APS-C and APS-H
The APS-C sensor is quite famous amongst photographers for its spectacular image quality and relatively smaller size. It is an ideal option for photographers who want performance similar to a full-frame camera without the extra bulk. On the other hand, an APS-H sensor offers a great pixel count for decent ISO performance and a 1.3x crop factor.
3. Four Thirds
Often found in cameras by Panasonic and Olympus, the Four Thirds sensor offers a 2x crop factor. If you want to gauge the size, it is 35% smaller than an APS-C sensor and a quarter of full-frame sensors.
The 1-inch sensor is the smallest sensor we have worked with that provides a modest image quality: the ones smaller than this are nearly impractical. It delivers a 2.7x crop factor and is suitable for photographers who need a tiny camera, i.e., point-and-shoot devices or the camera of your smartphone.
Recent advancements in the camera industry mean that almost every camera delivers a decent speed for general-purpose shooting. However, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras perform better in this department, with their high-end versions providing staggering speed and impressive buffer capacity. As a result, the AF system detects and focuses on the subject with extreme precision without wasting any time. Higher burst speeds are ideal for action and wildlife photography.
The minimum frame rate per second should rank between 5-7fps as it provides a reasonable assurance of getting your desirable image. Most photographers prefer speeds around 8-10fps because of better quality. On the other hand, video recording requires a different frame rate, with 30fps being the average speed to get clear and smooth footage.
Build and design
Performance and ergonomics run hand in hand with both factors affecting the overall image quality. An ideal camera offers above modest specifications and a reliable build. Until and unless you are shooting within the vicinity of your house or a safe zone, outdoor shooting exposes your camera to unfavorable shooting conditions. Cameras are expensive, and thorough waterproofing is the only way to keep them safe under rainy weather. Most cameras label themselves as being rainproof, weatherproof, or splash-proof. Still, it is often mistaken as waterproof: the former options imply that the camera has adequate sealing against splashes and dust only. On the other hand, waterproof cameras allow photographers to be underwater down to a certain depth: great for marine life shooting.
Most point-and-shoot cameras are shockproof by nature, i.e., you could drop them to your heart’s content without any fear of damaging it. Weatherproofing is essential for outdoor shooting because of unpredictable weather conditions. However, it is necessary to purchase a similar lens. Most people forget that the lens accompanying their waterproof camera is not waterproof, a recipe for disaster.
Most high-end cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras display a complex layout with several buttons to boost functionality. Despite their multiple uses, the crowded setup seems intimidating to beginners. Therefore, we recommend the amateurs opt for beginner-friendly DSLRs that offer a minimalistic layout with necessary control buttons and mode dials.
Furthermore, the control buttons should be accessible for easy handling: no one wants to search for the right buttons through the entirety of the shooting process. Moreover, the menu system should have a proper structure and easy to scroll through, i.e., no extensive list of useless options.
Apart from the layout, the second feature of importance is grip and comfort. Shooting in outdoor conditions poses dangers; therefore, your camera needs a refined and comfortable grip to retain the control camera. Some cameras feature a textured grip for secure yet comfortable handling. Moreover, your camera’s build quality holds importance in terms of protection: most cameras feature a magnesium alloy build because of their robust structure. It is better to avoid plastic bodies as they are not durable.
Image stabilization is a severely understated factor that most photographers do not take into consideration. Bulky lenses or unstable shooting conditions result in image shake and visible distortion if not wholly unacceptable images. Moreover, most long zoom lenses cause a weight imbalance: image stabilization is a must.
Optical image stabilization, used by DSLRs, shifts the internal elements to mitigate blurring and producing sharp images. Fortunately, most lenses feature an inbuilt image stabilization system, but it is always better to ensure your camera comprises one. In other cases, you may need to invest in external devices such as a tripod, gimbal, or Glidecam.
In-body image stabilization, also known as sensor-shift stabilization, is widespread amongst mirrorless cameras. Like its name, the system moves the sensor through vibrations: it works well with most lenses. On the other hand, electronic image stabilization is an illusion: it reduces image blur by downgrading the image quality.
While some cameras feature an LCD screen for an image preview, viewfinders are more famous amongst the masses because of several advantages. Even though they are small and a hassle to use with spectacles, they aid in image stabilization. Moreover, LCD takes off several minutes from your battery because of increased power consumption by the graphics. For those long shooting days when you need to conserve battery life, viewfinders are much more reliable.
However, LCD screens are more convenient as they show an image preview and some critical shooting information like the modes and filter title. They are optimal for playing back shots but are harder to use under bright conditions because of the light reflecting off the surface.
While point-and-shoot cameras don’t feature a viewfinder, mirrorless and DSLR cameras comprise an electronic and optical viewfinder, respectively. However, modern cameras ensure that an EVF’s presence does not add to the overall bulk. We find optical viewfinders the best amongst the available options as they don’t need external power to operate and provide crystal clear images of your chosen scene.
Most photographers have switched over to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from the standard point-and-shoot setup because of interchangeable lenses. The latter comes with a fixed lens limiting your options in terms of photography. With advancements in camera technology, there are several lenses for every scene: wide-angle lenses for landscape photography and telephoto focal lengths to capture magnificent portraits. Interchangeable lenses boost versatility and allow enthusiasts to tap into their creative realm using the right focal length for the perfect shot.
We recommend you opt for cameras that come with a primary kit lens: individual lenses add to the overall cost, and you might end up spending more on various lenses than the camera itself. However, it is better to opt for a general-purpose lens if you are new to photography, as the vast focal length range is great for experimenting.
Further on, it would be best to remain cautious while purchasing lenses as not every lens brand is compatible with your camera. There are various lens brands, e.g., Tamron, Sigma, etc., that cater to lens compatibility by creating lenses fit for most devices.
Video quality is an important aspect to consider, even if the main reason for purchasing your device is to shoot images. Several factors impact video quality. Firstly, you need a decent frame rate to capture smooth footage: you should go for at least 24fps or over 60fps to capture slow-motion videos. Moreover, image stabilization plays an integral role in producing cinema-worthy videos. This is not a huge issue as most modern cameras feature a reasonable built-in stabilization system.
For better quality videos, you should look for cameras with 4K video capability or Ultra-HD videos. The former option boasts incredibly sharp and smooth results: ideal for filmmakers on the go. 4K allows users to crop more heavily without compromising quality, with 4K @30fps producing the optimal results.
Videos are practically useless without audio; thus, your camera must consist of a microphone slot. Internal audio is acceptable for videographers with low standards: we recommend investing in an external microphone for audible dialogues and background noise.
Besides the basic videography features, some other specifications to consider are the design and video recording limit. Most cameras automatically turn the video recording off after a limited time adding to post-production editing hassle. Moreover, video recording is more comfortable with a vari-angle LCD screen and video effects.
After you have narrowed down your options to three or four winning cameras, there are some additional features to help you make your decision. Shooting modes are not compulsory, but they certainly make photography a fun experience. Beginner cameras offer modes that are slight variations of the default mode. However, professional cameras allow you to tap into your creative potential through a diverse layout of complicated controls to suit your images to your taste.
Secondly, there are two commonly used image types, namely RAW and JPEG, which are popular amongst hobbyists. JPEG is the default option that throws away data to minimize the size, whereas RAW images retain the image’s original data. It allows users to edit the photos without any limitations. If you aren’t aware of post-production editing, RAW images are not your cup of tea, as you need to sacrifice a significant amount of storage space to capture them.
We hope you found our guide on choosing a camera helpful in making your decision. It is necessary to understand that the performance and image quality do not depend on the price but the features. Moreover, every high-end camera is not meant to fulfill your photography requirements: if anything, it might cost you several additional bucks.
Fortunately, the market has a camera for everyone. Whether your budget is $300 or $2000, you can find a well-performing camera with a quality sensor and incredible AF system. Moreover, it is relatively easy to find a dupe of an exorbitant device in your bucket list for half the price. Therefore, the only factor you must take into account is the reason for purchasing the camera.