The digital revolution
It wasn’t that long ago that you had to take your camera to a shop and wait to get your film developed – but over the last decade or so digital cameras have exploded in popularity. Although early digital cameras were expensive and the picture quality wasn’t great, modern cameras offer high image quality and a wealth of features. Even camera phones are beginning to rival their full-sized counterparts as technology improves.
Digital photography lets you instantly see your photos and only keep the best ones. Digital images are also extremely easy to share with your friends, family or the public via the internet, social networks or email.
If you fancy yourself as a photographer, what type of camera do you need? Should you invest in a big DSLR, or would a simple compact camera suffice? What about just using your smartphone or tablet?
Lets take a look at the pros and cons of each.
DSLRs – the professionals choice
What is an SLR camera?
The large, complex looking cameras often seen in the hands of professional photographers are known as SLR or DSLR cameras.
SLR stands for Single-Lens Reflex. Without getting into too much technical detail, SLR cameras allow the photographer to see exactly what the camera sees when they look through the viewfinder. Cheaper cameras (in the days before digital photography) used two lenses – one for the actual camera and one for the viewfinder. This could result in photos looking different to how they were intended, especially when it came to close-up shots.
DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. Just like older SLR cameras, they accurately show the photographer what the final photo will look like. They can display a preview image on a screen as well as through a viewfinder lens.
Benefits of a DSLR
Thanks to improving technology and falling prices, a decent DSLR is now within reach for keen amateurs. Compared to compact cameras, they can produce better quality, more creative images. One of the main advantages of a DSLR is that you can use interchangeable lenses to produce different effects – such as a wide-angle lens for impressive panoramic shots, a telephoto lens for zooming-in from long distances, or a macro-lense for photographing very small objects. You can also use various accessories such as tripods and different flashes.
As for drawbacks – the obvious one is that they are more expensive than compact cameras. All the extra kit such as lenses and cases can also be pricey. Some people will find them complex and fiddly to use, so if you just want to take a photo with minimal hassle then a DSLR might not be for you. If however youre a wannabe professional photographer and you can afford all the gear, a DSLR could be right up your street.
- High quality images
- Interchangeable lenses
- Wide range of accessories
- Large size
- Can be expensive
- Not the easiest to use
Be aware that not all lens types will fit all bodies, so check for mount compatibility before you buy.
Compact cameras – just point & shoot!
If a DSLR seems too intimidating then a compact digital camera may be right for you. They are much easier to use – you just point and shoot. Most compacts will let you play around with settings such as shutter speeds or exposure, and some offer a range of pre-set shooting modes e.g. action mode, portrait mode, night-time mode etc. If you prefer, you can simply leave everything on auto setting and let the camera do all the work for you.
Compact cameras fit easily into a pocket or bag, are straightforward to use and give decent results.
Some key things to be aware of:
The quality of photos taken with a digital camera depends on the cameras resolution, which is measured in megapixels (or MP). A digital image is made up of millions of tiny, coloured squares called pixels. The more pixels packed into an image, the sharper and more detailed the image will look. Fewer pixels result in a grainy or blurry looking image.
The higher the resolution of you photos, the bigger you will be able to print them. A high-resolution camera will also give you the ability to crop your photos without losing too much detail. The only drawback of taking very hi-res photos is that the images will take up more space on your memory card.
Digital or Optical zoom
Compact cameras have two different ways of zooming-in for close-up photos – digital zoom and optical zoom. Optical zoom uses lenses to magnify the image, and therefore doesnt lose any quality. Digital zoom on the other hand simply cuts out and enlarges the centre of the image, which results in a loss of quality.
Get a camera with an optical zoom if you can.
Your photos will be stored on a memory card (which you usually have to buy separately from your camera). The capacity of a memory card is measured in Megabytes or Gigabytes – the higher the number, the more photo you will be able to take.
Some cheaper cameras will use standard AA batteries. If this is the case you may want to consider buying a charger and using rechargeable batteries. Higer-end cameras will have a lithium-ion battery which can be plugged-in and recharged, similar to a mobile phone.
Pros and cons of a compact digital camera
- Lower cost
- Small & portable
- Easy to use
- Some cameras have advanced features such as facial recognition and social sharing
- Variable image quality
- Lack of precise control
- Cant switch lenses
Smartphones & tablets – good for sharing
Mobile phones that could take pictures used to be a bit of a gimmick, only allowing users to take small, grainy photos. They were handy for taking and sharing quick photos, but they werent suitable for taking proper photographs that you could print at large sizes.
That has started to change however. In recent years smartphone manufacturers have figured out ways to squeeze a lot technology into a small space. The Nokia Lumia 1020 for example has a 41 megapixel sensor, which is better than many cheap cameras.
Another major drawback of many camera phones was the fact that they used a fixed-focus and digital zoom, which made taking long-range and close-up shots difficult. However there are some cameras, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom that look more like a compact camera featuring a full optical zoom lens.
Out of necessity, phone cameras tend to have a very small lens. This sometimes creates a very subtle fish-eye effect, which is most noticeable when taking close-range shots of peoples faces.
Benefits of smartphone cameras
Despite their limitations, there are some areas where smartphones excel. The obvious one is social sharing – using your phone is the easiest way to get an image on a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can upload your photo directly from your phone via WiFi or 3G, whereas you would have to mess around with cables, memory cards and a computer to get pictures off your camera (that said, some newer compact cameras are internet enabled).
Many (but not all) smartphones have front-facing cameras, which allow you to point the camera at yourself and still be able to see the preview on the screen. Bear in mind however that the front-facing camera often has a lower-resolution than the main rear-facing camera. Smartphones also have fun apps that let you add effects and filters to your photos.
Finally theres the matter of cost. Why spend money on a dedicated camera if your smartphone does the job? It may not produce highly professional results, but theyre good enough for a lot of people.
- No need to buy a separate phone & camera
- Good for sharing photos online
- Small, portable & easy to use
- Front facing cameras good for selfies
- Poor image quality on some phones
- Noticeable delay on certain phones
- Some phones dont have a flash
The final verdict
DSLRs are good for enthusiasts who enjoy delving into all the technical aspects of photography. Compact cameras are a good middle-ground that allow you to take quality photos without too much difficulty. Smartphones are best for taking quick photos that you can quickly edit and share online.