Thought that this might be useful for beginners and might go into the beginners section. What do you think? It is not meant to be a definitvie guide and doesn't include every advantage and disadvantage of each camera. Have I left anything out that you think is important?........
Main Camera Types
These cameras are, as their name suggests, compact and usually lightweight. In the digital versions, they have a sensor that is significantly smaller than the sensor of a 35mm sensor of a full frame digital slr (24mm x 36mm). This means the camera can be made a lot smaller than its larger cousins with a few drawbacks. The smaller sensor has smaller pixels giving the camera a limited dynamic range, and a noisier image. Compact cameras usually produce images with a large depth of field, however some can produce narrow depth of field images with the use of their macro function. In fact, macro on compact cameras is so good, that many professional wedding photographers use a compact during their shoots in lieu of a dedicated macro lens.
Film compact cameras were the main style of cameras purchased by consumers in the 70's and 80's, and with some of the more expensive compacts, could produce images comparable to the more expensive rangefinder and SLR cameras. This was due to the fact that they could accomodate the very same film as one might use in the afforementioned cameras.
Compact cameras have limited flexibility and the camera's operator may find the need to supplement or replace their compact for a camera with more control.
TLR's are not as popular as they were in the 50's, 60's and 70's. TLR stands for Twin Lens Reflex and as the name suggests, the camera has two lenses of the same focal length mounted one above the other. This allows the user to see through the top lens, whilst the image that is recorded onto film, passes through the bottom lens. The lenses are coupled so that when focusing the image through the top lens, you are affecting the focus of the bottom lens. There are a few caveats that one must be aware of when using the TLR camera. Because of the slight difference in lens positions, when focusing on close subjects, the camera must be moved upwards to compensate for the parallax effect. You will also need to be aware that the depth of field in the top lens does not relate to the bottom lens. This is because the top lens is a designated viewing lens and does not have a diaphragm, hence the lens is always at its maximum and only aperture. The other thing to be aware of, which is soon overcome once you are used to it, is that the image is reversed in the waist level viewfinder.
The advantage the TLR has over the SLR is that the mirror does not need to move out for the way in order for the image to be taken. This means that the camera does not suffer from viewfinder black-out, and vibration caused by mirror movement. This is particularly useful when taking photographs "on the fly", and this made the the TLR particularly popular with wedding photographers. TLR's are medium format cameras that use 120 or 220 film. They are usually available with a standard 80mm lens however some manufacturers offered other focal lengths as well.
SLR's are the most popular cameras today for professionals and amateurs alike. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, and as opposed to the TLR camera, the SLR uses just one lens. Their popularity for consumers is likely due to their ease of use, and for amatuers and professionals, they offer a versatile package that can provide them with adequate results for a large number of applications. The advantage of the SLR is that the photographer can view the scene through the lens that the image will be recorded through. This gives the photographer a direct view of depth of field (if the diaphragm is stopped down via the 'depth of field preview' button or lever), effects of filters mounted to the camera, and the field of view with any given lens attached. SLR cameras are available in small and medium formats, and digital and film are both available as recording formats. In the case of some medium format SLR's which can be modular in design, a digital back can be interchanged with a film back. Telephoto lenses can be used with ease on an SLR camera, and combined with their speed, this makes them popular for sports and nature photography. Modular medium format SLR's such as the Hasselblad V have a high sync speed making studio flash work a breeze and the higher image quality afforded by the medium format means that they were consider de rigueur for studio photographers over the last fifty years. Interchangeable film backs mean that film can be changed easily and fast.
SLR's have interchangeable lenses which add to their versatility and creative possibilities, and there are a number of other enhancements that can make an SLR adaptable to different needs. These include vertical grips, various focusing screens, and filters. No other style of camera can accommodate a wider range of lenses as easily as the SLR camera. Small format SLR’s almost always include auto focusing or can accommodate lenses that autofocus in conjunction with the camera. This is an advantage in fast paced situations like a sporting event where your subject is on the move. Lenses for SLR’s require a retofocus design to accommodate for the mirror movement. This is challenging for the designer, and the lenses are more complex and larger compared to lenses that suit most other cameras types. High image quality, particularly in wide-angle and normal lenses is harder to achieve with SLR lenses. This is more noticeable when a lens' diagphram is opened to wider apertures. Although acheiving focus for SLR cameras is not as accurate on wide angle and normal lenses, longer focal lengths beyond 90mm are generally considered more accurate than a rangefinder camera.
No other style of camera can accommodate a wider range of lenses as easily as the SLR. All modern SLR’s feature TTL metering, and are usually at the cutting edge of technology due to their popularity.
The large influx in photography over the last six or seven years is largely due to the release of mainstream digital SLR's, or the DSLR. Nikon started the trend with the D1, which was the first mass produced small format DSLR at a reasonable price. The modern DSLR can be used by consumers and professional alike, and can be used as a very big point and shoot camera with auto focus and autoexposure and matrix metering, in full manual mode, or somewhere in between depending on your shooting preference. There are no shortage of DSLR's to choose from, and although some will offer specific advantages over others for specialised applications, most DSLR's of any brand will produce similar results at normal to moderate ISO's. DSLR's have features similar to those found on compact cameras, and some medium format and rangefinder cameras, such as Live View and on-board image processing. DSLR's can also incorporate the ability to capture high definition digtial video capture.
Rangefinder cameras came about early in the 20th Century and are still made and sold today. They are not as popular as they once were, but still have a loyal following with those photographers that can take advantage of the benefits they offer. Rangefinders are currently enjoying a resurgance due to availablity of digital version. A rangefinder camera has a viewfinder that can include a rangefinder, or these two can be separate as they are with the Leica IIIa. The basic principal behind the rangefinder is as follows: the photographer looks into the rangefinder/viewfinder and composes his/her image. The rangefinder portion of the viewfinder (usually a rectangle in the centre of the viewfinder) will show the image and a second ghost image. As the photographer focuses the lens, the two separate images converge, and when the photographer sees only one image, he/she knows that the image is in focus. This makes focusing fast and accurate. There is no mirror with a rangefinder camera, and combined with their small size , a photographer can hand hold a rangefinder camera two to three stops slower than an SLR camera. Where a photographer has up to a 100% view of the image with an SLR, a rangefinder can have a much broader view of the scene allowing the photographer to anticipate or see what is happening outside of the frame. Because of their small size and unimposing look, they are popular with street and event photographers where candid natural images can shine. When an image is taken with a rangefinder, there is no mirror black-out, so a photographer can see exactly what was happening when the shutter fired.
Rangefinder cameras are available in 135 format, 120/220 format, and also large format cameras such as those used by press photographers in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. Due to the fact that rangefinder cameras do not have mirrors, lens manufactures do not have to allow for mirror travel, making the lenses smaller than similar focal length SLR lenses, and usually of a higher image quality.
View Camera/Large Format
The view camera is the ultimate camera for the photographer who wants complete control and creativity with their camera. A view camera is large and heavy, and generally promotes a slow thought out process prior to taking a photograph but they produce the ultimate in image quality and are still the standard camera used by professional landscape photographers the World over. A 'view camera' is a broad term used for most large format cameras, however they can be broken down into different types. There are rangefinder large format cameras, field cameras, and monorail cameras. They each serve a purpose for the photographer that chooses to work with the larger format. Because of the 'movements' available with a view camera, a user can overcome issues he/she would not be able to overcome with most other cameras. The user can tilt, raise, shift and swing the front and/or back of the camera (the 'standard'). These movements allow the photographer to control converging lines, and also to control the focal plane. For example, an architectural photographer may find a view camera essential to prevent buildings looking unnatural due to different focal lengths or camera angle vs the angle of the building, by adjusting the standard to bring lines back into perspective or parallel. A photographer can also use the movements of the view camera to maximise the depth of field so that he/she can get tack images front to back. This is called the Scheimflug Effect. Another benefit is to be able to take front on images of windows or mirrors without the camera appearing in the reflection.
The user will see the scene at the back of the camera on a ground glass, and because there is no mirror or pentaprism, the image will be upside-down, and reversed left to right. You will often see a photographer using a view camera with a dark cloth draped over his/her head to assist in seeing the image on the ground glass.
View cameras do not generally use roll film (unless using a medium format 120 roll film adaptor) and this makes them both expensive to shoot with (cost per sheet of film) with, but more versatile, as the photographer can develop each image differently as opposed to roll film where every image taken on the roll will be developed the same. A sheet of 8x10 film has over fifty times the surface area of a 35mm film frame or digital sensor!
As you can see from the list above, there is great variety available to the photographer and having more than one camera in your bag can afford you some creative advantages. There is no camera that can do everything to the highest standard so it is important to realise the limitation of your cameras and lens combinations and to know in what areas they exceed.