What camera shall I buy?

There are so many cameras on the market today it is hard to decide which sort will be most suitable for the needs of the individual photographer, and all the technical terms can be confusing. This is a simple guide to some of the advantages and disadvantages of different camera types. The main considerations when buying a camera are: what sort of photos you want to take, how much camera equipment you want to carry around with you, how much you want to be able to control the picture taking process, and how much you have to spend.

Compact camera

This refers to any small camera that takes 35mm film and has one lens, a separate viewfinder and automatic or semi automatic functions.

a picture of a simple camera

Advantages - this type of camera is light and portable, relatively cheap and easy to use. There is a huge range of built in functions that can be useful and don't add extra bulk and weight - built in flash, sometimes with anti red eye systems, zoom lenses and twin lenses, automatic focusing, self timers, DX coding readers to set the camera automatically to the film you are using, etc. Some of these cameras are very sophisticated and really do combine convenience with quality. Good for photographers who are travelling light or don't want to be bothered with lots of camera controls.

Disadvantages - the photographer has limited control over the picture taking process.

Single lens reflex

This refers to any camera which has a through the lens viewing and light metering system. These cameras have separate bodies and lenses, which means lenses can be changed.

a picture of a single lens reflex camera

Advantages - this type of camera is versatile and flexible. The photographer can build up a system of high quality interchangeable lenses for all photographic needs. The system of viewing the subject through the lens means that what you see is what you get; there is greater accuracy than is possible with a viewfinder system. Most SLR cameras have some sort of automatic or semi automatic function for convenience, but which can usually be overridden if required, leaving the photographer in full control of the photographic process. There is usually a hot shoe attachment for flash, which means the photographer has a choice over what sort of flash to use. There are other points for attaching accessories, tripods, studio lighting, etc. on most of these cameras, meaning the SLR system can be used in any photographic situation, and is often the choice of the professional photographer.

Disadvantages - The SLR camera can be heavy, bulky, complex to use and expensive to buy. The photographer has to be prepared to carry around items such as extra lenses, flash guns etc, which can be awkward, while the extra accessories and attachments required add further expense. Setting up equipment can be time consuming.

Digital cameras

The same considerations apply, as the lens functions and camera controls work on the same principles. If you are considering a digital camera, you should think carefully about what is being used to replace film - how many images will fit on the card or disk, and what sort of quality images the camera is capable of producing.

If you want to print high quality digital images from a digital camera, it makes sense to buy a camera capable of producing high resolution images and a good inkjet printer. If your aim is to send images by email, or put them on a web site, then quality can be sacrificed for convenience and economy, as screen resolution is only 72dpi, and that is how images will be viewed. Make sure the camera is compatible with whatever computer you use. Be aware that digital cameras eat batteries, so invest in a high power battery recharger.