Do you need a camera as well as your phone?
These days you would expect that fewer and fewer of us are carrying cameras. With the growth in ownership of smartphones – many of which have increasingly powerful cameras – you might be forgiven for thinking that stand alone cameras are on the way out.
Indeed, up till last year, sales of digital cameras had declined. But in 2017, digital camera sales began to increase again, demonstrating that there is still a demand there despite the advances in smartphone ownership and technology.
To understand a little more about why this may be the case, let’s first take a look at how cameras actually work, and then look at some different types of camera.
The five key features for successful photography
There are five main features involved in the process of taking a photograph, and the quality of your photograph is influenced by various details within each feature, as follows:
The lens needs to be focused on the image that you want to take. Most cameras will autofocus, but others you are also able to adjust the focus manually yourself. When focussing a lens, what you are actually doing is changing the distance between the lens and the camera sensor ensuring that light converges onto the camera sensor at exactly the right point to make the image appear as it does to our naked eye. If this focal point is missed, then you are likely to get a blurry shot. So when you focus a camera manually, you are to control where in the camera that light converges.
The aperture refers to the hole in the front of the camera which lets in light and relays it to the camera’s sensor. Aperture size is expressed in “f-stops” which – put simply – are the ratio of the focal length divided by the aperture opening. The lower the f-stop is, the wider the aperture is – ie the bigger the hole. So more light is getting to the sensor.
F-stops are written as fractions. So for example an f/1.8 lens is big and lets in lots of light, whereas a f/5.6 is smaller and lets in much less.
Wide open apertures can enable you to take photos that highlight your subject against a slightly blurred background, whereas narrow apertures are ideal for landscape and macro photography.
The shutter controls the amount of time that the sensor is exposed to the incoming light. This affects how long your image is recorded for. If your shutter speed is too slow it can result in blurry images, but if it is too fast your photograph may be underexposed. Similar to the aperture, shutter speed is measured in “stops” that indicate an increase or decrease in the time exposed to light. For example a 1/30th second exposure is brighter than a 1/60th second exposure because it exposes the image to the light for twice the length of time.
The sensor is the part of the camera that actually captures the image. The bigger the sensor the better the image quality. Sensor sizes are usually listed as a fraction of an inch, although some digital SLR sensor sizes are now listed in millimetres. So when shopping for a camera you should ideally look for one with a big sensor and also a wide aperture if possible.
The hardware within the camera processes and stores the image. These are key features of your camera and it is important that you are comfortable with how your camera does this. What kind of storage facilities does it have? Is it easy to transfer your photographs to your computer or other device? Are there built-in photo editing facilities? You need to decide what is important to you and ensure that your camera meets those requirements.
With all the above in mind let’s now look at the advantages and disadvantages of different types of cameras and see which models are proving the most popular at the moment.
The five main types of camera
Most smartphones have perfectly good cameras – some better than others. The newest smartphones have sophisticated software features such as being able to capture images from either a front or back camera – ideal for the so-called selfie generation. Most also offer a wealth of photo processing capability.
One of the main advantages of smartphones is that you are able to easily share photos on social networks, but a major disadvantage is that image quality can be poor and grainy. However, the newest smartphone cameras are being developed with larger sensors and an increased pixel size, both of which are improving image quality. Both of these are more important than the actual number of pixels – usually expressed in megapixels or MP. If MP are not matched by a good-sized sensor this can actually reduce overall image quality.
Some of the best smartphone cameras currently on the market are the Google Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S9+, Sony Xperia XZ2 and HTC U12+.
- “Point-and-Shoot” cameras
So-called point and shoot cameras are compact, simple cameras that you can pick up for a good price. Their main advantage is their portability, and they are usually fully automated so do not need any level of technical expertise. However, the image quality can often be quite poor and grainy, especially when shooting in poor light.
Some examples of point-and-shoot cameras are Canon PowerShot, Nikon Coolpix and Sony RX100 IV.
- Bridge cameras
This range of cameras bridges the gap between point-and-shoots and DSLRs and mirrorless cameras – see below – and shares some features of both. The main advantage of bridge cameras is that they usually have built-in superzoom lenses which enable them to take a variety of shots – both wide-angle and close-up – without having to change lenses. But these lenses can lack sharpness, and combined with the small image sensors that bridge cameras usually have, can produce images of inferior quality.
Examples include the Fujifilm X70, Canon G5 X review, Panasonic LX100 review, Sony WX350, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ60.
- Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless cameras are also known as compact system and micro four thirds. They have small interchangeable lenses, and therefore combine some of the portability of the above camera ranges with a superior image quality. The word mirrorless refers to the mirror-based optical viewfinder system used by larger DSLR cameras (see below): however, as you would expect, their performance is slower than a DSLR.
Examples include the Sony Alpha a6300, Sony a7111, Fujifilm X-T2, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, Hasselblad X1D-50c.
- DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Cameras
A single lens reflex camera uses a mirror and prism-based system to enable a photographer to use a viewfinder to see exactly what he or she is about to shoot through the lens. DSLRs use interchangeable lenses that attach to the camera body, which give photographers a range of options for both wide and close-up shots. They also use large image sensors, enabling them to shoot sharper images. Most of these cameras also have a variety of manual controls, to enable the photographer to adjust their settings manually. But they tend to be large heavy cameras, and can be complicated to understand.
Examples include the Nikon D3300, Canon G7 X Mark II, Fujifilm X-T2, Sony RX100 V and Panasonic G80.
Also don’t forget the recent return of Polaroid cameras to the market! Our recent article The Return of the Photograph looks at this topic in more detail.
So if you are in the market for a camera, the choice is well and truly yours! It is probably fair to say that for most people a smartphone camera will probably suffice. But if you do want to take more professional quality photos, then consider one of the other options: and bear in mind that in terms of image quality nothing really beats a DSLR.
A compromise may be to use your smartphone camera for day to day photography, but if you want some top quality photographs to create lasting memories of a special occasion then why not call in the experts? At Venture Studios we have a range of photography experiences for all occasions. You can book online through our website or contact us directly to find out more.