Camera Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated August 22nd, 2023
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On the hunt for a new camera? You're going to come into contact with a huge range of camera bodies, lenses and accessories that can all end up looking and sounding the same - especially if you're not clued up on all of the different features and specifications.

That's why we've compiled this beginner’s guide to buying your next camera. It covers cameras for all skill levels, different types of cameras, what to look for in a camera, a brief look at lenses, and more!

The best place to start when figuring out what camera to buy is to consider what you will be using the camera for predominantly. Will it be for photoshoots? For capturing memories of your friends and family? For creating video content? Keep these in mind and let's dive in. 

Different Types of Cameras

To begin with, you'll need to decide what camera you want to buy. Lets take a look at the different types of cameras that you'll see on the market. The most popular options for a 'main' camera are typically Mirrorless, DSLR, and Point-and-Shoot, so we're going to cover those the most. 

DSLR Cameras

DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) refers to a digital camera which has a movable mirror behind the lens; when you take a photo, this little mirror flicks up to allow the sensor to capture your glorious image. DSLR cameras offer exceptionally good picture quality with interchangeable lenses that make them excel in many situations, both for still photography and video.

DSLRs typically have large image sensors which allows for larger pixel size. A larger pixel size can significantly enhance picture quality, producing sharper, clearer images with less noise, especially in low-light conditions. These cameras are one of the most popular types amongst both amateur and professional photographers due to their versatility and image quality. They're becoming increasingly more affordable too with the rise of Mirrorless cameras to compete against. 

Who are DSLRs best for? DSLR cameras are ideal for both amateur and professional photographers who value high image quality and want the flexibility to change lenses based on different shooting conditions. Check out all DSLR cameras!

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras, unlike DSLRs, don’t use a reflex mirror, which makes them considerably compact and lightweight. This makes them a popular choice among photographers who require a travel-friendly option without compromising on image quality. One of the hallmarks of mirrorless cameras is their quieter operation. The lack of a flipping mirror mechanism results in a nearly silent performance. Mirrorless cameras do not compromise on image and video quality despite their compactness. They are equipped with advanced image sensors and processing engines that deliver high-resolution, sharp, and colour-accurate images.

Additionally, mirrorless cameras have gained significant popularity in the field of videography. They often come with superior video features like 4K or even 8K resolution, in-body image stabilization, and log color profiles, which are particularly beneficial for professional videography. Mirrorless cameras are widely picking up in popularity. Especially amongst those who consider video recording a significant part of their work - the advanced video features of mirrorless cameras may appeal more than a DSLR. 

Who are mirrorless cameras best for? Mirrorless cameras are best for photographers who need a camera that combines high-quality imaging capabilities with a compact, lightweight design, and those who require superior video recording features. Check out all Mirrorless Cameras!

Point and Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras, aka compact cameras, are all about simplicity and convenience. They are designed to be user-friendly, making photography accessible to everyone, without the need for specialised knowledge about camera settings. Ease of use is one of the main selling points of a point-and-shoot camera. As the name implies, you just point the camera at your subject and shoot. This simplicity comes from the automatic settings which control aspects like focus, exposure, white balance and ISO, reducing the number of decisions a user has to make before taking a photo.

They are also designed to be compact and lightweight, making them perfect for everyday use, travel, or any situation where carrying large equipment might be impractical. These cameras can easily fit in a pocket or small bag, so you're always ready to capture a moment. Despite their simplicity, point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way in terms of image quality, with many models offering high-resolution sensors, optical zoom lenses, and even some manual settings for those wishing to dabble in more advanced photography techniques.

Who are point-and-shoot cameras best for? Point-and-shoot cameras are excellent for beginners exploring photography, travel enthusiasts seeking compact cameras, and for those wanting better image quality than a phone without the complexities of a interchangeable lens camera. Check out all Point-and-Shoot cameras!

Instant Film Cameras

The instant camera, sometimes referred to as a retro camera or polaroid, prints the photos seconds after they're captured, allowing you to hold a physical print of your captured moment instantly. While many instant cameras may seem designed with a more disposable concept in terms of features and image quality, for many people, this is all a part of the charm. It's like the good old days when you'd flick through a photo album and experience nostalgia and throwbacks via an image that in modern times, could easily get lost in your camera role or photo library never to be seen again. That being said, there are a select few instant cameras that provide larger, superior quality images too. The instant camera truly shines at gatherings. From parties to weddings and other sociable events, instant photography amplifies the fun and people tend to love them!

Who are instant cameras best for? Instant film cameras are ideal for those seeking immediate physical prints and the nostalgic feel of traditional photography, proving especially popular at social events and parties. Check out all Instant Cameras!

Action Cameras

Action cameras are the go-to choice for adventure and sports enthusiasts wanting to capture their exploits. These small and compact cameras can go places others simply cannot. Crafted to withstand extreme conditions, they are typically waterproof, shock-resistant, and dustproof. This rugged build makes them ideal for capturing high-quality footage in activities like water sports, mountain biking, skiing, or even skydiving. Action cameras are explicitly engineered for capturing fast-paced actions smoothly. Equipped with advanced image stabilization systems, they can record hyper-smooth videos, even in the midst of exciting, bumpy movements. High frame rate options also allow the capture of impressive slow-motion footage, enhancing the impact of your thrilling activities. An action camera is a great choice for those wanting to document their adventurous pursuits reliably and creatively.

Who are action cameras best for? Action cameras are perfect for adventure seekers and sports enthusiasts wanting to capture dynamic and high-motion activities in varying environments, from surfing to mountain biking. Check out all Action Cams!

Time-Lapse Cameras

A time-lapse camera holds a unique place among other camera types due to their purpose-specific feature. Known for creating stunningly visual and dramatic sequences, these cameras capture multiple images over a prolonged period, which are then stitched together to create a video that dramatically accelerates the passage of time. Although technically, a variety of cameras (including DSLRs, mirrorless, or even smartphones) can create time-lapse videos, certain cameras are designed specifically for this purpose. These dedicated time-lapse cameras are typically robust, designed to be left in place for hours, days, or even weeks, and often sport features like long battery life and built-in intervalometers for easy setup and operation.

Who are timelapse cameras best for? Time-lapse cameras are best suited for videographers and photographers wanting to capture and highlight slow, subtle movements over extended periods, such as cloud movements, blooming flowers, or bustling cityscapes. Check out all Time-Lapse Cameras!

Key Features to Consider

Now that you have an idea of what type of camera is best for you, lets look at the key features you consider. These will matter most to those shopping for a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, and in some instances, are worth noting when buying a Point-and-Shoot too.

Sensor Size

The sensor size plays a key role in the quality of images your camera produces. Cameras with larger sensors, such as full-frame or APS-C sensors, perform exceptionally well in low light situations and provide a better dynamic range. They also offer better control over the depth of field compared to cameras with smaller sensors. However, cameras with larger sensors tend to be more expensive and heavier than their counterparts with smaller sensors. These are the sensor types you will likely come across:

  • Full-frame Sensor: A full-frame sensor is the largest standard sensor size, equivalent to a 35mm film frame's size. Full-frame sensors are typically found in high-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, offering the highest image quality, better low-light performance, and a larger dynamic range. They also provide a wider field of view, which is advantageous for wide-angle photography.
  • APS-C Sensor: APS-C (Advanced Photo System type-C) sensors are smaller than full-frame sensors, with a crop factor of around 1.5x (Nikon) or 1.6x (Canon). Despite being smaller, they still deliver excellent image quality and are often used in many mid-range to high-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
  • 1-inch Sensor: Found in advanced compact cameras, 1-inch sensors are larger than those typically seen in point-and-shoot cameras. They offer a significant improvement in image quality over smaller sensor sizes.
  • Compact Sensor: Compact sensors, such as 1/1.7" or 1/2.3", are commonly found in point-and-shoot cameras. They're significantly smaller than the above-mentioned sensor sizes, resulting in lesser image quality, but their small size allows for highly compact camera designs.

Megapixel Count

While it's easy to get swept up in the megapixel race, more megapixels do not always mean better images. They can provide more detail and allow larger prints, but other factors like sensor size and image processing also play significant roles in final image quality. However, if you plan on frequently cropping your photos or creating large prints, a higher megapixel count can be beneficial.

Autofocus System

An efficient autofocus (AF) system is crucial, especially if you plan on shooting moving subjects. Cameras offer varying numbers of AF points; generally, more points can allow for better and more precise focusing. Some cameras also offer advanced features like face or eye-detection AF, which can be incredibly useful in portrait photography.

Image Stabilisation

This feature is designed to counteract camera shake, reducing blurry images and shaky video footage. This is especially useful when shooting handheld with slow shutter speeds or while using a telephoto lens. Some cameras have this feature built into the body, while others rely on the lens to provide this stability.

Lenses and Compatibility

Lenses play an integral part in how your photos will turn out. Different lenses offer various perspectives and can drastically alter your image result. When buying a camera, consider the range and availability of compatible lenses. While most manufacturers offer a broad selection of lenses, not all lenses are compatible with all cameras, even within the same brand.

Video Capabilities

If recording videos is essential for you, consider the camera's video specifications. Many advanced DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer 4K or even 8K video recording. Look at the maximum frame rate as well, especially if you plan to shoot slow-motion footage.

Speed (Fps)

For action or wildlife photographers, a camera’s speed can make a significant difference. This is often measured in frames per second (fps). A higher fps allows you to capture a burst of images quickly, increasing the chance of getting that perfect shot of a moving subject. Additionally, when it comes to video recording, a higher frame rate enables you to capture slower motion footage.

ISO Range

ISO is a camera setting that will brighten or darken your photos. It plays a crucial role in determining how your camera absorbs light. When shopping for a new camera, consider its ISO range. Cameras with a wider ISO range offer more flexibility in different lighting conditions. A higher maximum ISO number will allow you to shoot in darker situations without using a flash. However, shooting at high ISO can also introduce more noise or grain into your pictures.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed controls the amount of time the camera's shutter remains open when taking a photo. Fast shutter speeds allow you to freeze action, while slow shutter speeds can create a motion blur effect. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras provide a broad range of shutter speeds to cater to different shooting scenarios, from fast action sports photography to long-exposure landscape photography. When choosing a camera, consider its maximum and minimum shutter speeds, and whether it will meet your needs. For example, if you're interested in night photography or capturing moving water, you'll need a camera that supports very slow shutter speeds. Conversely, if you plan to do a lot of sport or wildlife photography, a high maximum shutter speed is essential.

Viewfinder

In DSLR cameras, you will find optical viewfinders which are appreciated for their clarity and negligible lag. On the other hand, mirrorless cameras come with electronic viewfinders that can display more information including live exposure previews, which can be especially beneficial for beginners. 

Build Quality and Size

Consider the materials used, durability, weather-sealing, and the size of the camera. If you travel a lot, you might prefer a lightweight and compact model. On the other hand, if you shoot in rugged conditions, you'd require a weather-sealed and robust camera. 

Understanding Lenses

A DSLR or Mirrorless is often the perfect first serious camera. They're both manually configurable while still being able to shoot with automated features that will assist in capturing high-quality images, so there’s no need to get overwhelmed if you're starting out.

The beauty of interchangeable cameras means that you can swap, switch and interchange your lenses to suit subject matter, scenery, lighting and the overall vision you as a photographer have. We're going to briefly cover lenses in this article but you can learn more about them in our Top Camera Lenses article. Lets look at a few basic terms + lens suggestions so you can get started on the right foot when choosing lenses too.

What is focal length?

A lens’ focal length is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, more often than not measured in millimetres. In the case of zoom lenses (those with two numbers eg. 18-55mm), they state the minimum and maximum focal length.  In layman’s terms, it’s the range of widths available to be captured by the camera with the lens.

The shorter the focal length (e.g. 18 mm), the wider the angle of view and the greater the area captured. The longer the focal length (e.g. 55 mm), the smaller the angle and the larger the subject appears to be. The easiest way to remember this calculation is the more focal length = the more reach you have on a subject matter, or the closer you can get. 

There are two types of lenses you can get. A Prime Lens has a fixed focal length, such as a 55mm or 35mm lens. A Zoom Lens on the other hand has a variable focal length, such as 18-55mm. 

What is aperture?

Aperture entails how much light a lens is capable of gathering. Apertures can be expressed in several different ways: F4, f/4, 1:4 and so on, but they all represent the same thing. The lower the number, the larger the aperture, and thus the more light the lens will allow to collect.

If you’re wanting to shoot in lower light (eg. at night, in dark places like clubs or bars, or do street/event photography) without a flash, go for a lens that has a lower number in its aperture.

Larger apertures also add a decreased depth of field to a photography (i.e. how much of the picture around the focus point appears blurred), which is an important aspect of creative photography and something to keep in mind. If you’re going to be primarily shooting portrait photography, it’s best to purchase a lens with a low number/large aperture.

What is a Wide Angle lens?

Any lens wider (with a smaller number) than 50mm (full frame) or 35mm (APS-C) is considered a wide-angle lens. It’s able to capture far more subject matter in a shot than your regular focal length lens. (See: Focal lengths 12mm and 24mm above.) A lens is considered wide-angle when it covers the angle of view between 64° and 84°. These lenses are fantastic for street, event and travel photography.

What is a Telephoto lens?

A telephoto lens is a specific type of a long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length. They allow a photographer to produce a close crop on a model, which allows the photographer to take a close-up shot without intruding on their subject. These lenses are great for shooting wildlife, portrait, sport and street photography.

Zoom Lens - 18-55mm

Often when buying a new DSLR or Mirrorless, you have the option to purchase one that comes with a kit lens - a great option for those starting out. These are often the standard 18-55mm zoom lens. Almost all entry-level camera bundle kits will include this lens, but if you’ve just bought a body alone then worry not – every photography brand that manufactures DSLR cameras also manufacture the 18-55mm.

The 18-55mm is a great lens to start learning with. The ‘standard’ of beginner lenses, it suits most immediate photographic needs with a decent wide-angle range and the ability to zoom in on faraway subject matter. This lens is great for learning about rule of thirds, placement of subject matter, cropping, angles, aperture, and all the other basic principles of photography. The lens works with all auto and manual modes on your camera, and gives you the ability to manually adjust focus, or let the camera do that for you.

Prime Lens - 50mm

Upgrading to a prime lens is usually the next step for a photography enthusiast looking for a lens past the standard beginner options. The most popular first prime lens amongst camera owners is typically a 50mm. With a fixed focal point, the 50mm comes in two aperture modes: f/1.8g and the f/1.4g – the latter being more expensive – and offers the ability to take beautifully focused photographs in a constrained depth of field. Coined the “nifty fifty” by photographers worldwide, the 50mm lens gives you eight times more light capture than that of a typical lens kit in the 1.8g alone. Prime lenses typically produce nicer bokeh than standard lenses, sharper focal points, and are light in weight so they won’t weigh you down in terms of portability and ease of use. 

We won't go into all of the lenses available but if you're just starting out, these are first two you may want to pick up: a versatile zoom lens + a 50mm prime. Be sure to check out our Top Camera Lenses article for more options!

Need more help?

We hope this guide has shed some light on the different camera models available for different skill levels and the features of each model. Check out some of our other guides to help you find the best camera and accessories:

We'll continue to update this guide as new technology becomes available to keep you up-to-date and confident as you shop for your next camera. Check out our full range of cameras available over at PB Tech!


Written By

Staff Writer

For the words, not the glory!

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