Lesson I: Different types of digital cameras

With the digital revolution photography has become generally more accessible, mainly due to the reduction in costs as compared to film photography.

One of the first dilemmas faced by the beginner photographer is the choice of camera. “Which camera should I buy?” is one of those fundamental questions one never stops asking.

The widespread use of digital cameras has also been accompanied by an avalanche of equally plentiful and misleading information.

Let us begin by trying to clarify some important points and do away with a few cliches.

First of all, what is the use of the camera we intend to buy? Do we need it to take pictures at our nephew’s birthday party or do we intend to take photography seriously and take it to the next level? What genre will we be focusing on then?

Here below you can find a basic taxonomy of cameras

Compacts: ideal to immortalize your memories, there are the “people’s” cameras though a few pros may have one as their second camera. They cannot compare to mirrorless or reflex cameras since their sensors are generally smaller and qualitatively inferior lenses.


Bridge: these compact cameras with greater zoom capabilities can be tricky to choose due to the greater optical compromises, and therefore lower image quality, resulting from their lenses, typically capable of ample focal excursions.


Mirrorless: like reflex cameras, mirrorless ones allow you change lenses but are devoid of the mirror reflecting the image on the pentaprism and therefore of the viewfinder. These cameras are becoming quite popular, because they are less bulky but still well performing, to the point that they are gradually eating up market share at the expense of reflex cameras, both in the consumer and increasingly in the pro segments. Technology is rapidly advancing and the size of sensors usually varies with brand.


Reflex: cameras with changeable lenses and with a mirror, still widely used by pro photographers, especially the full frame sensor ones. Those who buy this kind of camera must be willing to allocate a generous budget, especially for the lenses, because the default lens, usually a 18-55mm, quickly becomes a limitation.


Medium format: these are cameras with greater size sensors compared to full frame ones. They are conventionally used by pro photographers for studio and landscape photography because they possess a great dynamic range, very low noise even at high ISO and high megapixel resolution. The end result with these machines is very high quality photos, but at a price which remains beyond most budgets.


In the next chapters we will compare sensors in the different categories of cameras.

If you are a beginner, my advice is to purchase a medium-range compact camera, with high focal excursion and which allows you to set it manually. This way you will have an instrument which will allow you to explore and practice extensively different styles of photography. Obviously you will not be able to achieve exceptional quality in all conditions. Yet, this camera will allow you to decide whether you want to take your skills to the next level and purchase a more expensive machine and which genre you wish to focus on.

I begun with a 5 mpxel, 12x zoom Kodak (a bridge, according to the classification above). I used it for two years; some pictures I took with it I still consider acceptable. What counts is the moment you managed to capture. Clearly professional photography imposes standards of quality which are simply unachievable with a compact camera.


After a year of two, if you decided to take your photography to the next level, you may want to purchase a mirrorless or a reflex. Buying one to start with is also an option, though a riskier one for you may end up not fully exploiting the camera’s capabilities or, worse, leaving it on the shelf.

In the next lessons of this course we will give an in-depth look at each component of a camera.

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