Cardiff Camera Club

Choosing a Camera

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There are lots of cameras on the market and they fall into a number of groups.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are the most commonly used among club members. They have larger sensors than most other camera types and this generally gives a slightly better image quality, though for smaller prints or for viewing on screen you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference.
Leaving brand aside DSLRs can be subdivided by sensor size.

  • Full Frame – These have sensors approximately the same size as 35mm film cameras which means that, for a given number of megapixels on the sensor, each individual light sensor is larger and tends to be better for low light photography. They are also at an advantage if wide angle lenses are used. Full frame cameras are excellent if your preference is taking landscape shots.
  • Crop Sensor – These are also known as APS sensors as they have a sensor which approximates to the old APS format film cameras. Because of the smaller sensor, you will get a magnifying effect with any given lens compared to a Full Frame camera. This varies between 1.3x and 1.6x, which means that a lens of focal length 100mm it will typically act in the same way as a 150mm lens would on a full frame camera. Low light quality (noise) is not quite as good with a Full Frame, though newer Crop Sensor cameras will give equal or better performance than older Full Frames.  Smaller frame cameras (Crop Sensors) are often preferred by nature/wildlife photographers and they have longer reach.

Micro Four Thirds –  These are a development of the Four Thirds system originally introduced by Olympus with a slightly smaller sensor  than crop sensor which gives a 2x magnification ratio compared to Full Frame.
This means that camera bodies and lenses are much smaller and lighter for a given equivalent focal length. Quality compares reasonably favourably with APS sensor cameras. Many of these use an electronic viewfinder rather than a mirror or prism, which means that they are even smaller and lighter than previously.

Parcel Delivery Himalayas taken by Vic Chambers

Compact System Cameras (also known as ‘Mirrorless). Many of these use the same Micro Four Thirds sensors as their DSLR equivalents, though APS and Full Frame are also available, as are smaller sensors. They have an interchangeable lens system but not all have an optical through the lens (TTL) viewfinder. Some have an optical rangefinder type viewfinder, either built in or as a clip on accessory but these can give parallax errors where they don’t show what you’re actually taking. Others may have an optional electronic eye level viewfinder, but many require you to compose your shot on the rear display. 

Bridge Cameras – These tend to have the smaller sensors of compact cameras, but with an electronic eye level viewfinder. Quality is on a par with compact cameras, but they often have the advantage of a zoom lens with a very large range This can sometimes be the equivalent of a 28-1000 (or more)mm zoom on a Full Frame DSLR. 

Compact Cameras – The most common type of camera. Light and easy to slip into a pocket. These have much smaller sensors than the other types mentioned above and the quality is poorer, particularly in low light. As with CSCs few have viewfinders, lenses will be non-interchangeable. 

With Compact System Cameras, the Micro Four Thirds types are well respected and it’s an open standard so lenses from different manufacturers can be used.

Others – There are other camera types out there – the most commonly used ones being those built in to most modern mobile phones.

Film cameras are rare new, but many can be picked up very cheaply used. Most will be 35mm but for top quality medium or large format cameras are also available. Film is hard to come by in the shops, but can be obtained on line.

What to Buy

There are many manufacturers and honestly, there’s not a lot of difference between most of them.  When one company goes into ascendancy the other soon catch up and may even take over.

If you intend to go for a DSLR then Canon and Nikon are the big players, with the best ranges of lenses and accessories (which is why the professionals tend to favour them) but that’s not to say that other brands are worse. Sony, Pentax and Panasonic also make excellent cameras. 

I’d always recommend trying out a few models in a shop (or in the clubroom) and seeing what suits you, how the controls work etc. Never buy a camera until you have held in in your hand. Some cameras fit like a glove others seem clunky and awkward.

Don’t be seduced by the number of megapixels – especially with compact cameras. More pixels with a small sensor usually means more colour degradation in the image (noise). Three to Four megapixels is generally sufficient for obtaining a decent A4 s . If you print larger sizes you will need 8 (or more) megapixels.

Most cameras are available with a ‘kit lens’ or sometimes with two. You may save a little money this way, but the kit lenses are often not as good as some of the others in the range. Also, you may be better to buy an 18 -200mm than the kit options of an 18-55 and a 55-200. You don’t even have to stick with the manufacturers own lens as many independents are available.

If your budget is limited you could consider buying a used camera/lens but choose a reputable dealer. 

A good place to start is …

The advantage of buying on line is that under consumer protection law you have two weeks during which time you can change your mind (with some exceptions). This effectively means you can ‘try before you buy’.

If on the other hand you want to inspect your camera or lens before you commit to a purchase you could try some stores closer to hand. 

If you have equipment to sell most of these stores will do part exchange.

So what is the best camera?

That’s easy – it’s the one you have with you. You may have a top DSLR kit but, if it’s sitting at home, it’s not as good as the compact (or mobile phone) in your pocket. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have both.

Still unsure – checkout the following buying guides


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