everything down into a more manageable and streamlined process.
On the way we’ll explore the different types of digital camera available – from cheap and cheerful ultra-compacts to enthusiast-level DSLRs – and explore some of the key technologies you should be looking out for. We’ll also throw in some practical advice as to what you should and shouldn’t do in the shop or online, and do our best to break down all that complicated-sounding camera jargon into plain English.
So, where to start? Well, the best way to begin is to ask yourself two simple questions: how much money do you have to spend and what, primarily, are you going to use the camera for? The answer to the first question will automatically narrow the field down quite a bit, while your second answer should help you focus on what kind of features you would really like your camera to offer.
Let’s say your uppermost budget is £250. The big question now is what do you want to do with your new camera? Do you have any special demands that you want to place on it? Does it need to be able to get wet, for example? Or do you want a camera with a far-reaching zoom so that you can bring far-away subjects closer? Perhaps you’re interested in photographing flowers and insects, in which case you should be looking for a camera with excellent macro abilities. In other words, many cameras are built to specialise in one area or another – and it’s up to you to figure out which of these features will be most useful to you.
Of course, as with all consumer goods ultimately you get what you pay for. But even if you’re just after a cheap and cheerful £75-£150 point-and-shoot to slip into your pocket for general snapshots, then the good news is that the market is awash with no-frills budget compacts. And while these will be light on features you can at least expect the vast majority of them to deliver noticeably better image quality than your smartphone. It may also be worth having a look to see if you can find a better-featured model from the previous year’s range at a knockdown price.
Spend a bit more – £150-£250 – and you’ll find yourself in the realm of specialised compacts, from ‘travel compacts’ with their extended zoom ranges, to ‘ruggedised’ tough compacts that you can take to the beach and even in the sea. There are lots of great compact cameras in this price bracket, many of which (especially at the higher end of the range) will specialise in a certain area – be it HD video recording, high-speed shooting or the creation of one-touch 180-degree panorama shots.
Spend more than £250 and you’re into superzoom/bridge camera and advanced-compact territory, where cameras tend to offer much richer feature-sets alongside manual/semi-manual shooting controls. Sometimes these models even have the ability to record Raw files for greater flexibility in a digital darkroom. If you already own a DSLR and are on the lookout for something more portable but with all the manual controls you are used to then this is where you should be looking.
On the other hand, if you’re already a compact owner looking to make the step up to your first DSLR then the best advice we can offer is not to feel daunted by all the jargon that surrounds cameras or the complexity of the cameras themselves. Don’t forget that nearly all of them have a ‘fully automatic’ option that you can always fall back on while learning how to use the more advanced shooting modes. Some entry-level DSLRs even offer ‘Guide modes’ to help you learn what does what.
Otherwise, the main things to consider when looking for your first DSLR are build quality, resolution and how quickly it can shoot images. Also, don’t forget that when you buy a DSLR, you also buy into a ‘system’, so be sure to check how many accessories – from lenses to flashguns – are available for your system and how much they will cost in relation to other manufacturers.
Lastly, there’s one further type of camera that you might want to consider. It’s a relatively new type of camera that offers everyone from first-time compact buyers to seasoned DSLR enthusiasts a flexible new option: interchangeable-lens compact system cameras (CSCs). These cameras don’t use an internal mirror system to reflect the image into an optical viewfinder, which means they are considerably smaller than DSLRs and yet, thanks to their larger sensors, produce much higher image quality than regular compacts. And, of course, you can swap lenses too. Better still CSCs come in a range of styles and designs too, so you should be able to find one that suits your needs.
Whichever route you decide to embark upon, just be sure to arm yourself with all the facts and you’re sure to come away happy with your new purchase.
Good luck and happy camera hunting!