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Newbies Guide to Cameras (Types, Brands, models, lenses and more)
We often get asked “what camera or what lens should I get”. These questions frequently come from those just starting out in their new found hobby of photography. This thread is designed to give you some answers, and some information in regard to these questions. Note that the question of ‘what camera, or what brand, should I get’ is really just a personal choice, as is buying a Mazda, Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi. There is not a wrong answer and ultimately brand loyalty is just that. There is no ultimate answer, with one particular brand or model camera being the best one. All we can do on Ausphotography is give you advice, but in the end which brand/model you buy is entirely up to you.
This thread will discuss:
· Camera types
· Camera brands
· Camera models
· Grey Vs Authorised
This thread will not give you the answer to your question with “Buy a Canon xxxD, with a yyy lens and a zzz lens”, but it will give you a background into the cameras and lenses available (in general), to assist you to decide what you want to buy.
Point and Shoot: These cameras are also called Compact Cameras, cause generally they are small ‘fit in your pocket’ camera. All the major camera brands make them, they usually are just designed to take them out of your pocket, aim and press the shutter button and you have a photo. They usually have quite complex (and good) software inside them that detects what the lens is pointed at and the software makes a judgement about the settings to be used. The feature things like face recognition and some can even detect if a subject is blinking or not smiling and will wait before taking the photo to ensure you get a smiling, non blinking subject.
Point and Shoot cameras come in a range of bright colours, and as the name suggests, you point them at the subject and press the shutter. Viola, photo!
But, by being compact (small) they also have very small sensors, and the limitations of a smaller sensor are that in low light, you get grainy photos. Also there is often a delay between when you press the shutter and when the photo is taken as the camera assesses the scene and works out what settings to use, and then adjusts those settings, before it actually takes the photo. This is called Shutter delay, which if the moment is fleeting, means people often miss the photo opportunity, sadly.
Get a point and shoot if you want something that is easy to stick in your pocket, you don’t want to play with camera settings, don’t want to change lenses and don’t want to print photos huge.
Pro-sumer : These are often also referred to as Bridge Cameras. They are bigger than a point and shoot, smaller than a Digital SLR, have a fixed lens (it cannot be changed), but they often also have a bigger range of features and options to a Point and Shoot. They generally look similar to a DSLR, in that they have a lens that protrudes out the front, is larger than the lens on a Point and Shoot. These camera’s are losing popularity as the Evil camera begins to take over from them.
EVIL camera : EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens. Evil cameras started to appear in 2010. They offer a compact body, with as the name suggests interchangeable lenses. They are a relatively new type of camera, that seem to offer the best of both worlds, with a small compact body and the ability to change lenses. The lens range is specific to the brand, and the lenses cannot be used on DSLR’s. However some DSLR lenses can be used on EVIL camera’s using a converter ring, but sometimes this also limits the automatic features of the lens. They offer full manual control, so the photographer can use an EVIL camera in a similar way to a DSLR. EVIL cameras are likely to gain bigger market share as more models are released, along with more lenses. Their big selling point is the small size and interchangeable lens system.
EVIL camera’s are tending to be silver in colour, but as they are the newest range available, coloured ones are starting to appear.
Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR): These are the most common camera used by photography enthusiasts, advanced amateurs and many/most professional photographers. DSLR’s offer larger sensors than the above camera types, a large (huge) range of interchangeable lenses that often are designed specifically for a particular photography genre/style and therefore a DSLR system can be specifically created for the genres of photography that each photographer enjoys. This means they have the advantage of being highly adaptable. There are a huge range of accessories, and even third party companies make devices (lenses, flashes, shutter releases and more) that are compatible with the DSLR system. DSLR’s range from consumer models to full professional models and come in a vast range of sizes, from quite small to very large.
They are usually black in colour, but silver has also been popular in the past, and some DSLR manufacturers do make coloured bodies, often to celebrate a specific event, like anniversaries of the company, etc. It is generally not possible to go to a camera shop and ask for a DSLR in a specific colour.
Medium Format : These are generally used by very enthusiastic amateurs and professionals. A digital medium format camera (without lenses) can set you back from around $8000 up to over $50,000. Medium format is a film nomenclature, that relates to the size of the film used to take the photo. Digital medium format cameras use large sensors. They are often used for commercial studio work.
All of the above camera’s (except the EVIL, and Pro-Sumer) are available in film versions. Film is still a very popular medium and whilst a lot of camera stores may not stock, or have limited stock of film cameras, in recent years there is a trend for some to shoot with film. People like the uniqueness of film.
Across all of the above camera types there are also a huge range of manufacturers. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Samsung, Fuji, Olympus, Kodak, Leica, Hasselblad, Casio, Ricoh, Sigma, Mamiya, and more. A reasonably comprehensive list is available here.
Which brand you choose is based on a few factors. Firstly, you need to decide what type of camera you want to get, from the above information, and then you need to look at which brands produce that type (not all brands produce all types of cameras). Once you have chosen a type of camera, then you can ascertain which brands produce that type and thus eliminate all other brands from your final choice.
Inside each brand, there are often quite a few options available to you, manufacturers usually have several current models in each type category, offering different feature sets, across those models. Deciding which brand to buy is really down to a couple of things.
Asking on a forum, like Ausphotography is not going to get you an answer to this one. Most people when asked by someone ‘what brand should I get?’ no matter what the product will do one of two things. They will recommend the brand they have, or they will tell you not to buy x brand (usually cause they, or someone they know has had an issue with a product from that brand, or bad service from the company etc). This is true of all products, not just cameras.
So if you ask this question on a forum you will get people saying, get a Canon, buy a Nikon, Pentax is the best, etc. Not cause these brands are the best, or better, simply because the person stating it, uses that brand. That alone does not make for an intelligent, informed choice.
The two main reasons you should buy a particular brand:
1. Family, friends etc use a particular brand. Guess what? Those family and friends have probably bought lenses, flashes and other accessories..and you can borrow them. Lenses can be expensive, and if you have access to borrow some different lenses that will fit your camera (remember each brand uses different connections, so you cannot put a Pentax Flash/lens on a Nikon camera). All this gear is available to you, to use, try etc, for FREE. Once you get past the beginner stage, you will have discovered what genre you like, and thus what lenses you need, and can buy your own. But in the meantime, having an available source of gear to borrow, is going to be an advantage (and a cost saving).
2. Ergonomics. Each brand has an ergonomic ‘signature’. That is, the way their camera’s feel. Button shape, size, placement etc is all planned by the camera manufacturers to fit an ergonomic profile. Some camera’s just feel better in your hands. This varies depending on your hand size, shape, width, finger length etc. You need to find a camera brand that has all the buttons and dials on positions that feel right for you. A camera that feels intuitive, and comfortable is a camera that gets used. A camera that makes you fumble, and have to look at it all the time to get a finger into a particular position to adjust something, becomes frustrating and less/not used.
So, don’t get online and ask “what brand should I buy” cause the answers you get have zero meaning, other than the personal choice of the person replying.
Oh by the way, Nikon is the best brand..cause I only buy the best
Within each brand and type is a range of models, These models offer different feature sets. In the point and shoot, EVIL ranges, it can be a simple as the MegaPixel (MP) count of the camera. For example you might look at a point and shoot. There are three models to choose from, with the only major difference being one is 6MP, one is 8MP and one is 10MP. Or it could be that the MP count is the same, but that other features vary. You need to decide what features you want, and then look for the model with those features.
Asking on a forum, which model should I get? Is like asking ‘I want to get a 4WD, as I want to go round Australia, which one is best?”. Without knowing things like how many people are going with you, are you just driving the highways, or going off-road, etc, we cannot answer the question, with any degree of knowledge. Otherwise you will get answer like “get a Suzuki Sierra’ when you are taking a family of 6.
Digital SLR’s also come in a range of models, and generally speaking, the bigger the camera body, the more expensive it is, and the more features it has. So, consider your budget. No use looking at a Nikon D3s, if you have a budget of $1500.00, cause the D3s body alone costs around $5000.00 (at time of writing this article).
So, consider your budget and then look at the camera’s inside that budget, with consideration to the camera type’s above and how to choose a brand.
For Canon and Nikon, they have a similar model nomenclature, where the length of the model number corresponds to the camera ‘level’ . Camera with a four digit model number is a base model, so a D51000 is a base model DSLR. A camera with a three digit model number is the next step up, so a 550D is classed as an ‘enthusiast’ model. Thus following this convention a two digit model like a 60D is a semi-professional mode, and a one digit model, ie D3 is a professional level model. The D just stands for Digital, nothing more.
As you go from a entry level model to an professional model, the feature set increases. Often you get higher ISO choices, faster shutter speed choices, bigger batteries (more photos from one charge), faster frame rates (more photos per second), etc as you progress up through the model range. This can be important in choosing a model. Say you want to shoot fast moving sports. A model that offers 10 frames per second, is going to suit you better than one that shoots 3 frames per second. You need to consider what you will use the camera for, along with your budget, when choosing a camera model.
Also camera bodies in the digital age are basically replaceable items. Whatever you buy, it will be obsolete within a year or two, as newer models come out with better features, often at a similar or less price. Choose your camera from the range available now and learn how to use it. It should last you years. Putting off buying cause a new model might be out next year, is stupid, cause the year after that there will be another new model, again. Make your choice and buy it now and start enjoying your photography, and forget about the fact a new model is coming, cause a new model is always coming.
Asking on a forum, 'Hi, I am new here, I want to get a DSLR, a Canon, for taking photos of family and friends at social events, we like having social bbq's and I also really like taking photos of scenery. I have a budget of $2000.00 for the camera and a couple of lenses. I want to get Canon brand lenses" is the way to go. You are giving enough information to allow members to offer sound advice. So read this article, and then when you have decided some of what you want, ask then. The answers you get to this question will be worthwhile, rather than asking "I am new here, I want to get a camera, which one?", which is not going to give you answers you seek.
Lenses come in all shapes and sizes. They also come in different quality levels. You can get ‘kit lenses’ which are basically the consumer level lens, through to professional high quality lenses.
So what is the difference? Firstly, price! A consumer level lens can often be had for a few hundred dollars. A professional level lens can be thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Price however, cannot always be a sign of the lens quality.
Build, is the next factor, some lenses are plastic, quite flimsy and feel and look cheap. Other lenses are manufactured with metal, and are heavy, sturdy and even look expensive. Also glass, inside your lens are a series of glass ‘lenses’ these lenses are manufactured using different materials (it is not common glass), and professional grade lenses often have special coatings on these lens elements to improve the quality of the captured images. Some have anti-glare coatings, through to glass made from special materials to stop expansion (in very hot weather) affecting the image quality.
For point and shoot, and pro-sumer models, you don’t really get the choice of changing lenses, so you are stuck with what the camera has attached to it permanently. Often these offer 10x zoom and 50x digital zoom. If having a zoom lens on your point and shoot camera is important, do not look at the digital zoom figure to ascertain a good zoom length lens. Digital zoom is a ‘created’ zoom effect by the software, not an optical result of the glass in the lens. Digital zoom degrades the final photo quality.
All lenses have a nomenclature. That is they have information on them that advises you, about the lens. Some lenses have really obvious descriptors, others do not. Take Canon, their Professional level lenses are called the L series, and often the lens has a white (creamy) coloured body, as opposed to a black coloured lens. Nikon have a gold ring, that encircles their pro level lenses, but the lens is still primarily black. But this is just a visual indicator. What you need to look at is the written nomenclature on the lens.
Here are two examples:
Nikon DX AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm : 1:3.5-5.6G ED
This lens is a Nikon lens that is suitable for a cropped sensor camera (DX). The AF-S, AF means Auto focusing, and the S mean silent wave motor, meaning the lens has an autofocus motor built into the actual lens. The 18-135 is the zoom length of the lens. The smaller the number (18 end) is a more wide angle (suitable for landscapes etc) and the 135 end is the zoom end (suitable for zooming to make a distant subject appear closer). The 1:3.5 -5.6 is the aperture details of the lens. The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens that allows light to pass through it to the camera sensor, and thus take your photo. This particular lens offers 3.5 at the 18mm end of the zoom, and 5.6 at the 135mm end of the zoom length, as a maximum aperture.
To see more about aperture and what it is/does, look here.
The ED is the type of glass used in the lens. ED stands for Extra-Low Dispersion. Thus the glass in this lens is manufactured to reduce refraction and eliminate colour fringing (where the edge of something in the photo appears to have a coloured fringe that it shouldn’t have).
This lens is classed as a consumer, or kit lens.
Nikon ED AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm 1:2.8D
This lens has some of the same nomenclature as the above one. Though there are some differences. Note that it doesn’t have a DX, which means this lens is suitable for not only cropped sensor camera’s but also for full frame sensor cameras. Note that it has 1:2.8D meaning that right through its zoom range from 17mm to 35mm it can achieve an aperture of 2.8.
This lens is classed as a professional level lens. As it is a Nikon lens it has a gold ring around the lens barrel.
More information about aperture etc is available in our New To Photography section of the Ausphotography Library.
Choosing the correct lens is about understanding the uses of a lens, what its nomenclature means, and what is the lenses purpose (you can buy for example, lenses notated as Macro, meaning they are designed to shoot small objects).
Learning about the lenses available for your chosen brand is very worthwhile.
Now having given you all of this, there really is not anything bad about buying kit lenses. They are of reasonable quality, allow you to take great photos, and are reasonably priced. Having a kit lens or two to start out when you first get into photography is not a bad thing. They generally let you experience a range of genre, and then as your photography knowledge and experience progresses, you can upgrade to lenses of higher quality as your needs require.
Grey Vs Official
This is about where you buy your camera and gear from.
The official channels are stores that get their stock via the Australian distributor (or which ever country you live in). These stores purchase their stock from the manufacturer authorised distributors. By buying using this method, you are getting a Warranty that is valid in your country, meaning if there happens to be a defect, you can return your camera to the store of purchase, and they will either send it to, or ask you to send it to an Authorised repair centre, and it will be repaired/replaced under your warranty.
Grey means the camera or gear is not purchased via an authorised distributor in your country. With the growth of the internet and free trade, we are seeing an increasing number of stores (both online and real brick and mortar stores) offering gear for sale that has not been purchased via the authorised distributors. What these stores do, is create an affiliation with say a supplier in Hong Kong (for example). When you buy your gear or order it, the stock has been, or is, imported by the store direct from Hong Kong. As such if your camera needs repairs under warranty, the camera is sent back to Hong Kong, or the store gets it repaired in Australia, but not necessarily by an authorised repair centre. Often these stores will offer you a third party warranty (Mack Warranties, for example) which you often have to pay extra for. But if you took your grey camera direct to an authorised repair centre, they will not honour the warranty, and you will have to pay for any repairs undertaken. Some grey warranties do cover you getting the repair done at an authorised centre, and the warranty people pay the cost. You need to read and understand any warranty you purchase, before out-laying money to buy it. Grey market cameras and gear are often (not always) cheaper at initial purchase price, than the same camera or gear purchased via authorised channels. grey market cameras and gear may have 'hidden' costs. The price quoted may not include GST, and it may also incur additional charges via customs etc as your camera or gear arrives in Australia.
As you can see there are benefits to both, and it is entirely up to you which way you go, when buying gear, but make sure you get yourself informed of the disadvantages for your particular purchase(s) and make an informed decision, based on knowledge, before you commit to buying.
In summary, if you are new to photography and looking at buying your camera and gear. Do some research. Study up on the brands and models, use the official websites for the brands to see what models are current, and what features they offer. Consider whether you want something simple that you can just aim and press a button, or whether you want to spend time learning how to take photos, using a DSLR.
Feel free to ask questions on forums, like AP, or people you know who are good photographers, along with visits to camera stores etc. Have a read of the Ausphotography New To Photography articles so you understand the terminology and what camera features do. No use finding out that a camera can take photos at ISO 3600, if you don't know what that means and why it is used.
Read lots, ask questions, but ask relevant questions and give as much information as you can. As said above, saying "Which camera should I buy' is useless, but asking "I want to get a Nikon DSLR, and I have a budget of $2000.00 for camera and lenses. I think I will be photographing people and landscapes" will get you much better answers that give you valuable information.
So take your time, learn as much as you can, make an informed decision about your purchase..and we hope to see your photos on the Ausphotography forums soon.
Last edited by ricktas; 18-11-2011 at 2:29pm.
Administrator (Site Owner)
Members are welcome to add to this discussion, but please do not use this for asking 'which camera should I buy etc". Create your own thread giving all the information you can, in the relevant gear forum, for the brand you are considering
This thread is to provide overall general information only. Members who wish to, can add more information to that provided above, but please keep it factual, and unbiased and written in a form that a newbie to photography would be able to easily interpret and understand.
It's all about the Light!
Not to sound too pedantic but these days theres' really a blurring of the categories from P&S to DSLR so whilst I agree with the general categories, I think they will increasingly become less meaningful.
Eg. are Sony's SLT's DSLRs or EVILs. Are Pentax Q's EVILs/prosumers or P&S.
What about the Fuji X100, Leica X1, Sigma DP series?
Lets not forget digital rangefinders from Leica and Epson.
And the oddity that is Ricoh GXR.
I now pretty much just consider them either system cameras or standalone cameras. Then within these low-mid-high end models cos I find I confuse the heck out of my friends when i go into specifics of each category. Or help them select based on probably the biggest determining factor: price.
I just read Rick's second post and realise my post can be confusing to a newbie so for completeness sake:
- Sony SLTs are like DSLRs but with electronic viewfinders instead of optical.
- Pentax Qs are like P&S/prosumer cameras but with interchangeable lens.
- Fuji X100, Leixa X1 and Sigman DPs are like EVILs but you can't change the lens
- Digital Rangefinders are like EVILs except theres no electronic viewfinder, but a rangefinder instead. You'll need to google rangefinder cos I don't really know how to explain it properly.
- Ricoh GXRs are franken-cameras (mix of P&S and EVIL depending on how your put your GXR system together).