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Beginner's Guide to Digital Cameras

Beginner's Guide to Digital Cameras

Written by Louise Wright



So, you’ve decided to jump into the world of digital photography, or may be coming back to photography after time off due to life getting in the way. Welcome, it’s a fascinating journey ahead.

You only need to go online or to any camera store to see that there are literally hundreds of options on the market, all with different features and benefits. We get it, it can be intimidating.  

Fear not! As we here at CameraPro can help you through this potentially overwhelming process.



First things first. There are five main categories of digital cameras on the market today:

Don’t have time to read about all the different cameras? Use the links above to jump to each section quickly.

Otherwise, read on to find out the key differences between these five categories of digital cameras.



What Are DSLR Cameras?  


The DSLR as we know it today is the digital version of the SLR (35mm film) camera.

DSLRs replaced film SLR cameras in the early 2000s, and despite the recent rise of mirrorless cameras, DSLRs still hold a large share of the market today.


So, how does a DSLR work? Simply put, light comes in via the camera lens, the movable mechanical mirror inside the camera is switched into the down position (45 degrees) to direct light from the lens to a focusing screen via a condenser lens and pentaprism/pentamirror to the optical viewfinder eyepiece above.



To take an image, the shutter button is pressed, the mirror swings up, the focal plane shutter opens to reveal the sensor, and the image is then captured on the camera’s sensor.



It’s worth noting that not all DSLR cameras are the same, as there are two types of sensor size available.

The two sensor types are:

  • APS-C sensors (often referred to as cropped sensors) – 23.60 x 15.60 mm (or 22.20 x 14.80 mm for Canon).
  • Full frame 35mm Sensor (the size of a 35mm piece of film) – 36.00 x 24.00 mm



While knowing how the DSLR works is great, this doesn’t really answer the question – Is a DSLR right for you? Let’s think of it this way.

What sort of photography can I create with a DSLR camera?

Due to the ability to change the lens, DSLR cameras are suited to a wide range of photography. The type of photography you can create depends largely on the lens you use – be it portraits, wildlife, sports, travel, architecture, landscapes or street photography. 


Who should buy a DSLR camera?

DSLR cameras are often the choice for professional photographers due to their durability. Some entry level DSLRs will offer “Auto” mode, however more advanced models will not.

Canon 80D DSLR Camera Canon 80D DSLR Camera

Here are some key advantages of the DSLR system:  

  1. Interchangeable lenses! Being able to change the lens on the front of your camera means you have more creative control. There are a wide range of lenses to choose from, to help you with all sorts of shooting scenarios – from prime, wide angle zoom, to telephoto zoom, and macro. Interchangeable lenses also mean more room to grow as a photographer. It’s lenses that make the biggest difference to image quality, and having different lenses will enable you to explore different styles and genres.
  2. Bigger sensor = High resolution, high quality images. Great if you want to print your images really large! If you’re planning to print your images larger than A2 size or want to see a certain level of detail in your prints, it’s preferable to get a camera with a sensor that’s at least 24 mega pixels. However, it’s worth noting that most APS-C DSLRs, mirrorless and compacts we stock will produce an image suitable to print A4 size.
  3. Often considered the best choice for professionals due their high quality design, professional model DSLRs are built for daily use. Some DSLRs are also weather sealed, for use in inclement conditions.
  4. Full manual controls = More creative control. Shoot in full manual mode to control the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture exactly how you like! Don’t worry though, most DSLRs do come with other modes so you don’t have to shoot manually! This means choosing a DSLR means that your camera that can grow with your skill. Many entry and mid level DSLRs are designed to help new photographers get up to speed and offer a lot of automatic and semi automatic shooting options so you don’t feel overwhelmed – but also offer the ability to go full manual when you are ready will mean you won’t outgrow the camera too quickly.
  5. Optical View Finder (OVF) – Due to the design of the DSLR, what you see in the viewfinder is what you get. 
    Optical viewfinders provide much better clarity, better dynamic range (roughly, ability to resolve scenes with extreme differences in brightness) and an instantaneous view of the action lacking the delay found in some EVF systems.
    It’s worth nothing that there are two types of viewfinders: optical (OVF) and electronic (EVF). Electronic viewfinders use a tiny electronic display much like the larger LCD screen on the back of most digital cameras, whereas optical viewfinders use mirrors and prisms to represent the view of a scene.
  6. Longer battery life = more shooting time! Approximately 1000 shots per charge. 
    DSLR batteries typically last a lot longer than other types of digital camera, as the DSLR “sleeps” whenever your finger isn’t on the shutter button.  Generally, DSLRs offer longer battery life, as they can shoot without using the LCD screen or an EVF, both of which consume a lot of power. However we’d always recommend having a spare battery in your back pocket, no matter which camera you buy. 

The main downsides to owning a DSLR are:

  1. Size and weight. Due to the design of the DSLR and lenses, they are typically much larger and heavier than other types of cameras. While the DSLR produces beautiful images, if it’s uncomfortably heavy to carry around, you’re less likely to get out there and actually use it.
  2. Cost. Typically DSLR cameras are more expensive than their mirrorless counterparts.  



Examples of DSLRs on the market today: 

Nikon D610 D810 D750 Nikon D610 D810 D750

What Are Mirrorless Cameras?


The biggest difference between mirrorless and DSLR cameras is that the mirrorless cameras have (you guessed it) no mirror – mirrorless cameras use electronics rather than mechanics like the DSLR.

Mirrorless cameras are great choice for those wanting an interchangeable lens camera, but not wanting the size and weight of a DSLR. There are many professional photographers that we’ve met who have made the switch from DSLR to mirrorless camera systems because of the smaller size and weight. As with everything in photography it’s about what works best for you. This means that high end Mirrorless Cameras are just as capable of creating a beautifully polished  image as a DSLR, and so it’s worth bearing in mind that a high end mirrorless camera would give you as much room to grow as a DSLR.

How does a Mirrorless Camera work?

Comparatively to a DSLR, mirrorless cameras work quite simply. 
Without a mirror or pentaprism, mirrorless cameras do not use an optical viewfinder. This allows for smaller camera bodies and more compact lenses. Instead of an optical viewfinder, a high resolution electronic viewfinder can be used which takes a live feed directly from the mirrorless camera sensor itself.

As there is no mirror, when the camera’s shutter button is pressed shutter opens to reveal the sensor and the image is then captured on the camera’s sensor.


What sort of photography can I create with a mirrorless camera?

Since you can change the lens at any time, mirrorless cameras are great all rounders. The type of photography you can create depends largely on the lens you use – be it portraits, wildlife, sports, travel, landscapes or street photography. 


Who should buy a mirrorless camera?

Mirrorless cameras are great for those who want to have creative control over their photography, but not the size and weight of a DSLR. 

A variety of skill levels are suited to mirrorless cameras as they often have both full manual controls, and auto mode. 


Some of the main advantages of the Mirrorless camera system include: 

  1. Interchangeable lenses = creative control!
  2. Smaller size and weight than a DSLR = more portable! Without a mirror, mirrorless camera bodies are much smaller in size than a DSLR, which makes them great for travel.
  3. A great step up from a compact camera due to the bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses
  4. Autofocus systems improving all the time, (almost) on par with a DSLR
  5. Mechanically simpler than DSLR – less moving parts inside the camera
  6. Full time ‘live view’ with fast autofocus – the camera will give you an image preview on the screen, and the Electronic View Finder (EVF) simulates the Optical View Finder of the DSLR.

The main disadvantages of the Mirrorless camera system are: 

  1. Some models aren’t built as robustly as some DSLRs, even at entry level. Generally speaking, the most robust cameras are professional quality DSLRs.
  2. Shorter battery life – approximately 400 shots per charge. Mirrorless cameras need to constantly power the EVF and the LCD screen when shooting. 
    We’d always recommend having a spare battery in your back pocket, no matter which camera you buy. 

Examples of Mirrorless cameras we love that are on the market today:

sony a9 and 85mm gm sony a9 and 85mm gm

What Are Bridge Cameras?


Bridge cameras are a great choice for the photographer who doesn’t want to have to worry about changing lenses – just grab the camera and you’re good to go!

Bridge cameras have built in zoom lenses, offering flexibility while keeping the camera and lens size smaller than a DSLR.


These cameras are often referred to as ‘fixed lens’ cameras. And their name comes from bridging the gap between compact cameras and DSLRs.


What sort of photography can I create with a bridge camera?

Bridge cameras are great because they often have super zoom lenses – capture birds and wildlife, take it travelling, photograph your kids and pets, or out to the markets on the weekend.


Who should buy a bridge camera?

Bridge cameras are great for beginners as you don’t need to worry about changing the lens, and often they offer a variety of auto modes. 

A bridge camera is a great choice because: 
  1. It’s a ‘Do it all’ camera, with super long zoom lens built in = very versatile
  2. It often have DSLR style controls and features  
  3. It’s a big step up in quality from a compact
  4. Bridge camera = bang for buck! Great value as you don’t need to buy lenses separately.



The main disadvantages of a Bridge camera are: 

  1. Autofocus systems rarely match DSLR in terms of responsiveness and speed
  2. Sensor size is smaller than DSLR and can limit image quality


Bridge cameras we’d recommend are:

Panasonic Lumix Fz300 Panasonic Lumix Fz300

What Are Compact Cameras?


Compact cameras are characterised by their small size, and their ‘all in one’ build with lens attached. These cameras are often referred to as ‘fixed lens’ cameras, as you can’t take the lens off.


Compact cameras have a wide range of models to choose from, however at CameraPro we only stock the best quality compact cameras with excellent picture quality (some entry level compact camera’s aren’t really better than your mobile phone).  Top quality compact cameras will  produce images as good as you’d get from some entry level DSLRs.


What sort of photography can I create with a compact camera?

Compact cameras are versatile – take them travelling, do street photography or take them to a party on Saturday night. Some models are also waterproof, perfect for snorkelling trips (or Saturday night parties).


Who should buy a compact camera?

Anyone wanting a small sized camera to put in your back pocket. Compact cameras are also good for beginners as they have less buttons, and often have a variety of “Auto” modes.


Main advantages of a compact camera: 

  1. Great step up from your mobile phone or action camera: larger sensors, more exposure control
  2. Smaller and lighter than DSLR, Mirrorless or Bridge cameras, easy to hold so you’ll be more inclined to take it with you. As the photographers saying goes: the best camera is the one you have with you!
  3. Some compact cameras have super zoom lenses, making them very versatile  
  4. Can sometimes shoot in RAW file format
  5. Often can shoot HD (or sometimes even 4K) video
  6. Great as a second camera when you don’t want to carry a DSLR or mirrorless camera 
Sony RX100 M4 and M5-2 Sony RX100 M4 and M5-2
Some disadvantages of a compact camera are: 
  1. Can’t change lenses
  2. Can sometimes be more expensive than some bridge cameras 
  3. Battery life is generally shorter than a DSLR

Compact cameras we love are: 


Going swimming? Take these models with you:

Fujifilm X100T Fujifilm X100T

What Are Action Cameras?


Want to capture all the adventures life throws at you, no matter the conditions? An action camera could be a great choice for you.


Action cameras are typically very small in size, and are built to withstand the harshest of conditions.


What sort of photography can I create with an action camera?

Capture the action in a super wide angle view! Take it snowboarding or attach it to you dog’s collar.

Who should buy an action camera?  

Action cameras are great for beginners as they are easy to use (but they create a very different look to a standard camera due to their fixed wide angle view and limited manual controls.) Action cameras are also a good choice for anyone starting out with capturing video.


What makes action cameras a smart choice?: 

  1. Easy to use – with fewer manual controls, action cameras are very simple to use
  2. Ability to capture still images and video. Shoot HD or sometimes even 4k video
  3. Super great for travel as they’re very small and lightweight  
  4. Take them with you anywhere! Attach your action camera to your skateboard, bike helmet, surfboard or dog
  5. Affordable compared to other categories of cameras


The main disadvantages of an action camera are:  

  1. The lens is fixed, often extreme wide angle – meaning you can’t zoom in or out
  2. Little to no control over exposure – due to the compact design there aren’t a lot of options for creative control


Great action cameras currently available are: 

Olympus Tough TG Tracker - outdoors Olympus Tough TG Tracker - outdoors

What now?

As you can see, the right camera is the result of many factors, including use, experience, budget and convenience.

This post covers the basics of choosing which one is right for you. However if you have any questions, we’re always happy to help – at CameraPro we are all about helping every photographer, no matter where you are in your journey.

Want a simple explanation of what camera exposure settings mean? Click on through to this blog!

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