Guide to decide what type of camera is the one that best suits your needs, budget, and type of photography or video.
Camera: the more expensive, the better?
Bad news first: the perfect camera doesn’t exist.
A camera is a tool. The best camera in the world is the one that offers you just what you need. More straightforward, impossible, right?
Of course, the question is in knowing exactly what I need.
On the one hand, it must be borne in mind that the quality of a photograph or video has to do with the content, the story it tells, and how it reveals it. In other words, the artistic part is very much, but very much, more important than the technical part.
Image quality (the technical part influenced by the camera and optics) is a plus; it is the icing on the cake.
For an amateur user, it is also imperative to be comfortable with the camera. Make it a pleasure to go out with the camera to take photography or video.
For a professional, it is something different. In your case, it is about investing in a tool that allows you to do your job in any situation, often under pressure or in adverse circumstances.
Logically, as we go up the range, the cameras offer more facilities or, let’s say, more margin when working in more critical situations, for example, in less favorable light conditions or adverse atmospheric conditions (rain, dust, etc. )
In conclusion: a camera is not better the more expensive it is.
A camera is better if it is better adapted to what each one needs.
When choosing a camera (photographic or video equipment in general), it will be necessary to take into account the real needs:
- What actual use are we going to give the camera?
- Which are the models that best suit our style or way of working (size, weight, ergonomics, ease of use)
- The cameras fall within our budget or those that offer similar characteristics with better value for money.
As in many other life decisions, we will have to find a balance, a compromise between characteristics that we need and others that we can do without.
We are going to see a series of typical cases that can help us decide which camera is best suited for each situation:
Photo camera vs. high-end mobile?
One of photography’s truths is that the best camera is just the one you carry with you when you need it.
The image quality offered by mobiles has been improving to such an extent that it is comparable to that provided by mid-range cameras in some situations.
What is the limitation of mobile cameras? The size of the sensor and the size of the optics.
In photography and video, the most crucial resource is light. When the lighting conditions of the scene are suitable, all cameras take good photos.
As the light conditions are not so favorable, the sensor’s size and the diameter of the lens become more critical since the quality of the image is closely related to the amount of light that reaches the sensor per unit of time. You can take a look here to find out how a digital camera sensor works.
One of the advantages of mobiles is that they can process images and apply different techniques to offer a desirable final result.
In the case of cameras, subsequent editing is usually necessary for a photographic retouching or digital development program to obtain the final appearance that we are looking for.
For a user who wants to take a photo and get the best out of the camera, automatically and without complications, the mobile is possibly the best option.
Between a mid-range mobile and a low-end compact camera, today, the mobile is a better choice.
But starting with a compact mid-range that allows manual control, the optics’ advantage (aperture control, focal length, zoom) offers more possibilities.
If we go to high-end compacts, the qualitative leap is essential. If we go to cameras with interchangeable lenses: reflex or mirrorless, we again make a qualitative leap in terms of image quality in certain circumstances, in addition to the possibility of choosing lenses specific for each type of photography.
My compact camera is too small for me; I’m looking for something else.
For example, we have a fundamental compact called ‘ point and shoot, ‘which does everything automatically. The focus is slow and inadequate in low light; the indoor photos are regular both with flash and without him, etc. I want something more that allows me to take better pictures and learn at least the basics of photography.
Both SLRs and EVILs are natural leaps. Or if you want a camera as small as possible: a high-end compact.
The advantage of interchangeable lens cameras is that you can choose the lens that best suits each situation: street photography, portraiture, landscapes, wild animals, sports.
The decision between SLR or EVIL is a personal matter. Today they all have similar benefits. Just choose the model with which you feel most comfortable.
As we’ve said, if you don’t want to switch to a camera more significant than your current little compact, you can leap an advanced upper mid-range compact. They are cameras that have a larger sensor, at least 1 inch, and optics specially designed for each model. The performance of these cameras is impressive:
I’m looking for a camera to learn photography.
The most important thing in photography and the creation of video projects is the content and how to show that content to tell a specific story, a message, or capture a moment.
Understanding and knowing how to manage light is another essential aspect, the other pillar of photography.
That is, to understand the artistic part, the camera, and the equipment have little influence.
Therefore, to learn photography, any camera is valid in principle: mobile, compact, SLR, EVIL …
But some cameras will give you more facility and a more excellent range of options:
- For me, the primary thing is that the camera has manual controls that allow us to decide how we want to take the photo.
- Then I would appreciate it that the camera includes a viewfinder (optical or electronic, it does not matter). Unlike the rear screen, the viewfinder isolates us from the environment, allows us to better frame, and helps us educate our ‘photographic’ vision.
- If the camera is with interchangeable lenses (SLR or EVIL), it will give us more play and more options to develop our creativity in the long run. I would recommend a camera of this type.
To learn photography, it is essential to practice, practice and practice. If you don’t enjoy photographing, it will be a very tough task, and you may get discouraged.
So the first rule would be to enjoy yourself with your camera. Choose a camera and equipment that you are comfortable with and want to go out and take photos.
I want to take photos without worrying about parameters or anything technical.
Perhaps the most advisable thing, in this case, would be a mobile with a good camera, usually from mid-range mobiles, you can get quite good results.
The advantage of the mobile is that it has a remarkable processing capacity and can offer beautiful images without the need for the user to know photographic concepts.
The disadvantage would be, for example, that when the lighting conditions are not very good, the image quality will suffer. Also, the optical part can limit at times.
Another option would be a high-mid-range compact camera. All cameras can work in automatic mode; in that sense, any user without any knowledge of photography can obtain perfect quality images and would have a qualitative advantage over mobiles: larger sensor, better optics, and more flexibility (zoom).
Fixed lens (compact / bridge) or interchangeable lens camera?
This is another interesting question that is often asked.
The advantage of the basic idea of an interchangeable lens camera is that we can use the most suitable objective for each type of scene or situation, which we can obtain the best results or a particular effect according to its optical characteristics.
Suppose you will not invest in lenses or are always going to carry an ‘off-road’ lens (wide focal range) in your SLR / EVIL camera. In that case, you will miss the potential of the camera since these types of lenses are not incredibly sharp or have a grand opening, etc.
Perhaps a compact mid/high range can cover those situations with acceptable quality, with much smaller equipment since all the optics are integrated. Those optics are specifically designed and optimized for that model.
Among the bridges (compact superzoom with a format similar to a small reflex in terms of size), we like the Panasonic Lumix FZ300.
It is a complete camera with an extensive focal range (equivalent to 25-600mm in terms of angle of view), a perfect constant f / 2.8 aperture throughout the entire focal range, and overall optical quality. Exceptional for its range. Having a small sensor will suffer a bit in low light conditions, but it is an exciting all-terrain camera for almost any type of photography.
If we jump to the high-end compact cameras, there are real wonders, with already much more extensive (usually 1-inch sensors) and high-quality optics.
They are an exciting option if we want very light equipment that offers outstanding image quality.
I’m looking for a camera to take on my travels.
A very typical case: someone who buys an SLR to photograph on his travels: monuments, museums … He goes with his two new lenses (one for ‘near’ and the other for ‘far’). Now change the lens for a group photo, directly change the lens to take that tower, a picture of the son, and now switch to take that stork up high; now this building needs a wide-angle.
The next day he leaves with a single lens, and the next day he leaves the reflex camera at the hotel because he is tired of carrying it and takes the photos with his mobile.
Well, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggerated story, but it can be entirely based on real events.
Does this mean that there is no point in buying an SLR or that we do not take it on a trip? NO. It is merely an example of real situations in which, for some users, the SLR is not going to be the ideal tool, although the quality of the photos of the SLR is much better than those of a mobile.
In the example that we have discussed, the user has renounced that quality in favor of comfort and happiness. Because if we are not professionals, what it is about is to enjoy photography, not be slaves of a machine.
So what type of camera would be best suited for travel?
If we want to always carry the camera with us and carry the minimum:
- A mid-range pocket-sized compact may be an option.
- There are perfect compacts that offer more than decent image quality, that allow manual control of the parameters, that have a zoom that gives us some flexibility to frame what we are interested in. What do we give up? These small sensor cameras will not provide us with the best image quality; for example, inside buildings, when there is not much light in the scene at night, it may also be difficult for you to focus in some difficult situations.
- A high-end compact if we want to improve image quality when lighting conditions are not so good.
If, for example, we want to have a lot of flexibility, to take photos from wide-angle to images of very distant objects:
- A good option is the compact (bridge) super zoom: These cameras do not fit in a pocket, they have a size and weight comparable to SLRs or even higher in some models, but they have the advantage that they give us a huge zoom range, normally quite good optics. What do we give up ?: They are not light or fit in the pocket, and we will have similar limitations to those of pocket compacts in terms of image quality in low light situations.
If we want more image quality than a compact or super zoom can give us:
- The EVIL cameras/mirrorless: These cameras can be the right choice, a whole system like Micro 4/3 Olympus and Panasonic, which offers the best value – size – weight, including cameras and lenses. We can carry the camera and a couple of lenses in a tiny bag or backpack.
And you don’t have to throw the SLR in the trash:
- For this type of leisure/tourism trip, if we carry an SLR, it may be more than enough to go out with the kit lens (18-55mm) to be lighter and more comfortable. We will have a small zoom range, but it will correctly solve 95% of situations. Or we can take an off-road lens: we sacrifice some sharpness and aperture, but we move with a small team, and we have more margin when it comes to framing. Recommended travel lenses for Canon SLRs. Recommended travel lenses for Nikon SLRs.
I’m looking for a camera to always carry with me.
This is a very similar case to travel. It is about always carrying the camera with us to photograph at any time: we see a scene that interests us, we stop, take out our camera, and shoot.
Taking an SLR out of the house requires at least a little planning, going out with the backpack or the case, what lenses we want to carry, etc.
The options would be similar to those we have seen for a travel camera, but in this case, prioritizing size. The idea is that the camera can even be carried in the pocket of a jacket or in the bag or backpack that we usually have to work or with what we move during our day to day.
- A small mirrorless camera with a compact lens: It is probably the best option in terms of image quality and performance.
- A high-end compact camera: These cameras offer incredible performance as they mount a reasonably large sensor, usually 1-inch or larger sensors. As well as optics explicitly designed for the camera.
- A compact mid-range camera: If your budget is tighter, these cameras give outstanding image quality when the light conditions are not excessively bad.
- A high-end mid-range mobile: The cameras of current mobiles, especially in the upper mid-range, also have excellent performance.
I want to do nature photography: animals, birds.
Landscape photography is not the same as animal photography. Here we are talking about photographing animals in the wild, and we need cameras that give us a lot of scopes.
Especially in birds, it is challenging to approach a short distance unless we use hides.
If we have money: the best option is without a doubt the SLR (or an EVIL, here the type of camera is a bit indifferent) with a telephoto lens that reaches at least a 300mm equivalent focal length.
This combo will give us a lot of image quality, and we will have a more significant margin in light situations that are not perfect due to the size of the sensor of these cameras.
What are the disadvantages of this option ?: Size, weight, and cost of the complete equipment, especially telephoto lenses.
Regarding weight and size, it does not matter whether it is SLR or EVIL because the weight that we will carry will be determined by the lens and the tripod (and the other things that we have in the backpack when we go out to the field).
In some models or mirrorless camera systems, the telephoto lenses may be less bulky than for SLRs, but I think that in this case, the weight is not going to be a determining factor.
If we don’t want to carry so much weight and don’t want to use such bulky lenses, we can get a compact superzoom for a much lower price.
Some models offer us ranges that equal or exceed the reach of large telephoto lenses. And in a much smaller size.
These bridge cameras offer you much more mobility and flexibility. Yes, we did sacrifice a bit of image quality, especially in some less favorable lighting conditions. But it is a perfect option; many bird lovers use superzoom compact cameras with excellent results.
I want to do sports photography: cars, motorcycles, soccer.
In general, for sports photography, medium and long focal lengths will be used since, typically, we are going to focus on scenes that are relatively far away.
We’re also going to need to shoot at reasonably high shutter speeds: firstly, to freeze the movement of the subjects that are part of the scene, and secondly, to minimize jitter if we shoot freehand.
Shake is caused by small vibrations and involuntary camera movements resulting in a blurred image or loss of sharpness.
The worst possible scenario is when we want to photograph events indoors: sports halls, closed venues, etc. In those cases, we find ourselves with insufficient lighting for the shooting speed we need, and we will be forced to raise ISO to reach a reasonable shutter speed.
On the other hand, for photography of objects that move very fast, we will also need a camera (camera + lens) with a fast and precise focusing system, especially in tracking mode.
As we can see, this type of photography is usually quite demanding. If we want good results in almost any circumstance, we would have to go to cameras with a large sensor (to minimize the effect of noise when raising ISO) with long focal lenses (telephoto lenses)
In general, any current mid-range SLR or EVIL camera should cover these situations quite well.
The specific objective will depend on the type of event and where we can position ourselves, but an equivalent focal length of 200-300mm should be sufficient in most cases.
The more aperture the lens has, the better since it will allow us to increase the shutter speed, but lenses with a suitable aperture are usually costly for this focal range.
A compact superzoom can also be an option if we will use it, especially outdoors, in a good light.
I need a camera for product photography.
In this case, we refer to product photography to use the images in online stores, for printed catalogs, advertising brochures, etc.
For this type of photography, lighting is generally much more important than the characteristics of the camera.
But in general, it is advisable to use an interchangeable lens camera; it does not matter the brand and model, or if it is reflex or mirrorless. It also has little influence on the camera’s performance in low light conditions, behavior at high ISOs, noise, etc., because it will be used in optimal lighting conditions. The idea is to be able to use specific objectives.
In small products: jewelry, crafts, etc., macro lenses are often used (they allow you to focus from closer to get the subject to fill a good part of the frame).
Medium-long focal length lenses are often used for larger objects, similar to portrait photography.
The camera’s technological characteristics are not so important since this type of photography is performed in a very controlled environment: good lighting, tripod.
Video camera to improve my YouTube channel or for professional projects
In general, except in very exceptional cases, cameras (SLR, EVIL, advanced compact) offer the best relationship between video quality and price.
Above, there would already be camcorders for professional use in quality and performance, which are cameras with large sensors (the electronic part is very similar) and ergonomics and functions designed specifically for video recording. But we would be talking about a relatively large jump in price compared to a step above in performance. They only compensate if they are going to be used in professional projects of an absolute magnitude.
I seek image quality above all.
In that case, reflex or EVIL, and the decision criteria on the exact type, brand, model, etc. they will be based on other factors: for example, if we give priority to size and weight, or if we look for particular features or functions …
Price is also, of course, an important criterion.
If we go to the highest quality that a Full Frame can give us, we would be talking about high ranges, both SLR and EVIL cameras.
But that would already be more aimed at professional or semi-professional photographers. An amateur user will probably not take advantage of a high-end camera, with the corresponding investment in quality lenses and all the associated equipment.
The issue of image quality would give to talk at length. Understandably, a professional photographer who works with large formats: posters, print publications look for the highest quality, at the pixel to the pixel level, dynamic range, noise level.
Find out, research, find information about what one camera offers and another. But do not be obsessed with the image quality parameters of the sensor or the lenses. All these parameters, in the regular use of an amateur photographer, will have a minimal influence on your photos.
I like fine art photography, and I may pursue photography professionally in the future.
If you like the subject of photography and are looking for a camera to learn, take a look at this article. We discuss what essential characteristics we would ask of a beginner camera that facilitates learning.
The leap to the professional world is very personal; it is assumed that you already have advanced knowledge about the artistic part, light management, and an approximate idea of the minimum technical characteristics that your camera should have, depending on the type of projects you are going to do.
Starting with a complete professional range team is very expensive; it is a significant economic investment. In general, photographers begin their professional careers with more modest equipment.
Virtually any current mid-range SLR or mirrorless camera can handle professional projects with a result similar to what would be achieved with higher-end equipment. Logically it depends on the type of project and the circumstances in which it will be developed.
In any case, the priority in these cases, I think, would be training rather than choosing the team.