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There are three basic types of digital camera, compact, (slr-type or “bridge” camera) and Dslr. The slr-type and Dslr cameras look fairly similar although Dslr’s are bigger and heavier. The most obvious difference between them is that you can change the lens on a Dslr. However, there is a great deal more to it than that. The Dslr is fundamentally different and designed to work exactly the same way as a high-end film camera. This makes it extremely versatile and the only type of digital camera that can cope equally well with any genre of photography.

If your budget doesn’t run to a Dslr then you need to choose amongst the other types as to which one will suit your favourite type of photography best. The choice between compact and slr is a little more complicated as both are equally suited to many photographic genres. For many people, the choice will come down to convenience. Some will simply prefer a camera they can slip into their pocket rather than one they have to hang around their neck.


It is certainly the case that compact cameras at the top end of the market can produce pictures that are nearly as good as those from slr’s. It’s not so much image quality that separates these two forms of camera but rather the ease with which you can adjust the photographic controls on them. Things like exposure compensation or manual focus are usually simple to adjust external controls on an slr but may be buried deep amongst the menus of a compact camera.


Many cameras have “program modes”, for example landscape, sports (or action) and portrait etc. And these will set up your camera the best way for those types of photography. However, it’s not the case that if your camera does not have one or other of these modes then it cannot do that sort of photography. The only modes that you actually need are shutter priority and aperture priority. As long as your camera has these two, then you can optimise it’s settings for most photographic situations.


When choosing between cameras best suited to a particular genre, you need to look a little deeper into their specifications to find the best one for your preferred type of photography. There are four sets of numbers that matter. They are about the lens, the ISO number (defines how light-sensitive your camera is), the aperture and the shutter speed. It is those numbers that really matter when it comes to choosing the right tool for the job.


Candid (snapshot) photography

Compact digital cameras are ideal for this type of photography. Some of these are so small they are called sub-miniature cameras. This can be a big advantage because it makes it easier to take pictures without being in any way intrusive. They are fully automatic, which means that you won’t have to waste any time setting up the camera which helps you get more spontaneous shots. A zoom lens is handy, but not essential. Even the simplest compact cameras are very suitable for this type of work.


Portrait photography

There are not really any special requirements of a camera for this genre. Most portrait photographers like to use a narrow depth of field (throwing the background out of focus), this requires a large aperture. The size of the aperture is given as an f number and the lower the number, the larger the aperture. Theoretically you want a camera with the lowest f number but in practice but, because there are other factors that affect the depth of field, it is not worth choosing a camera for portraiture on the f number alone. It would be better to choose a camera that you find comfortable to use. Set your camera to aperture priority and use the maximum aperture, which will be the lowest f number.


Landscape photography

Again, there is very little to choose between cameras when it comes to their suitability for shooting landscapes. The overall quality of the image will probably be your main concern. Having said that, a large zoom range (6x or more) is good because it will allow you to take a wider range of shots from the same viewpoint. A wide angle lens is very useful in landscape work but the zoom range number is no help in comparing cameras to find which one has the widest lens. The angle or field of view of a lens is determined by its focal length, measured in millimetres. The smaller the number, the wider the lens. Unfortunately, you can’t always compare this number directly between cameras. What you need to find is the 35mm equivalent of the camera’s focal length. That is the only number you can use to make a direct comparison. A large depth of field is what most landscapes want, so use aperture priority and set the minimum aperture, which is the biggest f number.


Night photography

You might think that a high maximum ISO number would be useful for night photography but it’s not particularly. Much more useful is a long maximum shutter speed. Of course you need a tripod (or some other support) for your camera but setting a high ISO will create “noise” in your pictures. You will usually get a much better result using a normal ISO setting and a long shutter speed. You should look for a longest shutter speed of at least 30 seconds, the longer the better. Set your camera to manual exposure or shutter priority (with exposure compensation) and use a long shutter speed.


Close up (macro) photography

Most digital cameras have a built in macro facility, usually identified by a flower symbol. This allows you to focus on your subject from only a few centimetres away. Even without this, you can still do macro work by fitting a close up lens. This is made easier to do if your camera’s lens has a filter thread. Working this close means that you will naturally have an extremely small depth of field. To help with this you should use aperture priority and set the minimum aperture (largest f number).


Sports or action photography

Only Dslr cameras are ideal for this type of photography. That is because all the others have a certain amount of shutter lag so you can never be sure of catching the perfect moment in a fast moving situation. Of the other types, an slr type camera is definitely more practical for this sort of work. Look for a camera with the longest zoom range and the fastest shutter speed. Set your camera to shutter priority, use the fastest shutter speed you can, zoom into the action and start shooting.


There are a few other types of photography, but they don’t have any different requirements to the ones mentioned above. For example stage (or band) work has similar requirements to sports photography and architectural photography is similar to shooting landscapes. No matter what type of photography you enjoy, their is definitely a digital camera that is most suitable. It’s just a question of choosing the right tool for the job.


Once you have an idea of the features and facilities you want, you could try out the Digital Photography Review site’s Digital Camera Features Search Form.


Choose as many or as few features as you like and, once you press the “compare” button, you will be presented with a list of cameras that match your choices. Some will have links to complete in-depth reviews and sample images, which should help you make your choice.


When you have a manageable short list, just type the make and model number (one at a time) into the box below:-



The nice people at Kelkoo will tell you who is selling it and for how much. You might be surprised at the range of prices being charged for exactly the same item.


Alternatively, just type “digital camera” into the box and find something to suit your budget. You can then discover details about the model in the camera database of the Digital Photography Review site.



Choosing a digital camera