The Most Common Camera Types you need To Know

As photographers, we must be familiar with the tools of our trade in the same way a mechanic or carpenter must be to achieve their unique jobs. For those of you who are entirely new to the discipline of photography, it may surprise you to know just how many different types of cameras there are to choose from. To help you understand the different types of cameras available, a list of the most common camera types you will encounter has been made. Along with their pros, cons and reasons for using each one. 

1. The Cameraphone

Smartphone - the most common camera types

Since their introduction in 2008 when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, camera phones have come an exceedingly long way. In fact, the camera specs of these devices are now the main driving factors behind their marketability.

The result of this has seen exponential advancements in camera phone technology. So much so that for most, the camera on their mobile device will be more capable than the ‘real’ or ‘proper’ camera they may otherwise be tempted to dust off from their electrical draw.

1.1 Why Shoot With A Cameraphone?

Due to their size, camera phones will always have limitations. Unfortunately, Apple and Samsung don’t have a monopoly on physics, no matter how much money they decide to throw at it. For instance, a smartphone will never be able to alter its focal length. Because the lens is in a fixed position. So achieving things like an optical depth of field is just not possible. Despite this, devices do aim to overcome issues like this with the use of software. However, the bokeh from an optically achieved shallow depth of field obtained through a lens will always be superior to that of a smartphone’s portrait mode.

The winning aspect of camera phones that trumps all other camera types boils down to their pure and simple convenience. They’re minuscule, fit into our pockets, and are always with us. And unless you’re using a smartphone from 2012, chances are you’re already using a device with a camera suitable enough for most scenarios you’ll find yourself in.

Cameraphones are just perfect for taking the quick snap of something you must document. they’re perfect for family events, days out with friends, trips to the zoo, holidays, sharing meals you’ve cooked. Really, any time where a professional photograph isn’t required, and you’re in an environment suitable to use one, a camera phone is a perfect option.

Pros

  • Easy to carry with you
  • In-camera editing
  • Computational image processing
  • Hybrid device
  • High-speed internet connection

Cons

  • Limited sensor size
  • Fixed focal length
  • Over-processed photos
  • Low resolution
  • Not all devices shoot RAW

2. Budget Compact Cameras

Budget compact - the most common camera types

Once upon a time, before the days of capable camera phones, everyone owned a budget compact camera as their main photography device. My, how the times have changed.

Nowadays, you will be hard pushed to see anyone snapping away with such a device. Even the older generations that took so long to adopt smartphones into their lives have in the most part made the leap and thus left behind their old compacts to gather dust in an old dresser draw.

But despite this large shift away from budget compacts, they still have a place in today’s photography market. Albeit a narrow one.

So where is space? Why would someone choose to shoot with what appears to be a dated form of technology?

2.1 Why Shoot With A Budget Compact Camera

Smartphones, with all of their fancy bells and whistles, do not come cheap. For the higher-end phones, it is easy to pay a price tag of over £1k. Which is quite ludacris when you come to think about it.

And while these devices may be with us for the most part, there are just some instances where the risk factor of damage or loss is just too high to warrant using the latest mobile device. Especially when you could end up stuck paying the monthly device and airtime costs for the next two years without the device itself.

As an illustration, taking a cheap £150 compact camera with you when rock climbing is probably a better bet than taking a £1200 smartphone. It would much more agreeable to damage or drop the cheap compact. And even if the camera breaks the chances the photos will still be accessible using the memory card are very high.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Robust
  • Easy to carry
  • Good optical zoom
  • Built-in flash

Cons

  • Low image quality
  • Poor resolution
  • No manual control
  • No RAW capabilities
  • Limited physical controls

3. Advanced/High-end Compact Cameras

High end compact -the most common camera types

High-end compact cameras share very little in common with their budget counterparts. Instead, These models typically share many of the high-end features you will find in mirrorless and DSLR cameras, such as built-in stabilisation, high-quality sensors, viewfinders, full manual modes and much more. Despite this, they still lack the versatility that the system cameras have.

Many photographers will often complement their camera collection with a high-end compact after they have already invested in a system camera and a few lenses. These compacts are often used as passion pieces in a collection or for very specific jobs that a system camera may not be ideal for. Such as street photography.

The most notable difference between a high-end compact and a mirrorless, both can be compact in size, will be the lack of an interchangeable lens. Instead, a compact will either opt for a telephoto zoom lens or use a fixed prime lens. In either case, the lens will always be fixed and unable to be changed.

3.1. Why Shoot With An Advanced/High-end Compact Camera?

As mentioned, some photographers will choose to use their high-end compacts over their system cameras for specific jobs where a system camera may not be as ideal. For example, if the desired outcome of a shoot is to capture candid moments in street photography, then it makes sense not to carry a huge DSLR with a battery grip and flashgun to point in peoples faces.

Time these puppies shine over their more versatile system counterparts would be in documentary scenarios. Perhaps a road trip with friends, a day out with the family, a Christmas morning, a walk down a foreign street on holiday, or used to capture the shapes of a building. Scenarios where a large focal length and Zoom are not important.

Pros

  • Manual Shooting modes
  • RAW capture
  • Small & Discrete
  • Good quality Lenses
  • Zoom functionality

Cons

  • Fixed Lenses
  • Limited Controls
  • Usually no viewfinders
  • Small sensors
  • Specific accessories

4. Bridge/Superzoom Cameras

Bridge camera

Next on the list, we have the bridge or superzoom camera. They are often easy to spot as they resemble DSLR cameras but in much more compact bodies, with lens cylinders that lack any real control functions.

These were often a popular option for people looking for a camera that could offer them some of the functionality of a DSLR in a more compact and lightweight form. However, with the introduction of mirrorless systems, camera manufacturers are now able to offer consumers the best of both words meaning a decrease in the popularity of this type of camera.

4.1. Why Shoot With A Bridge/Superzoom Camera

Despite their decline in popularity these cameras still have a place in the market. They are often picked up by people whose highest priority is a capable zoom. And this is exactly where these cameras shine. Some offer as much as a mouth-watering 3000mm of telephoto zoom.

These cameras are best suited for people who wish to zoom up close to their subject for a snap but aren’t necessarily concerned with capturing the highest quality photographs. I would certainly say it’s a camera more suited to the older generations who may wish to capture the birds or other animals in their back garden or their grandkids playing some distance from them in a park.

Pros

  • Powerful Zoom
  • Smaller and more lightweight than a DSLR
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Some Manual Control
  • Built-in Flash

Cons

  • Small Sensor Size
  • Poor Image Quality
  • Fixed Lens
  • Lacks Functionality
  • No RAW shooting

5. Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless Camera

Like Smartphones, Mirrorless cameras were also made their debut in 2008 and quickly became popular with amateur photographers looking to take the next step from their point and shoot cameras. However, in recent years they have now become so capable they have overtaken DSLRs to become the system camera of choice for most professional photographers.

Because they transmit the image captured from the lens directly to an electronic viewfinder. It means that the body does not need to encompass a mechanical mirror system used in traditional DSLRs to reflect the image from the lens into an optical viewfinder. Because of this, the body can be far smaller and lightweight.

5.1. Why Shoot With A Mirrorless Camera?

The main benefit of shooting mirrorless is the reduced size and weight of the body. Further benefits also include being able to see alterations made in the camera directly in the electronic viewfinder. Giving the photographer a better preview of how the final image will turn out. Something that is not possible in an optical viewfinder.

Another benefit of shooting with mirrorless cameras is their superior video shooting capabilities compared with traditional DSLR cameras. For those who wish to capture video as well as stills, a mirrorless is an obvious choice.

Furthermore, as the future is mirrorless companies are investing their research into it. This means that all of the new lenses being released are aimed at their digital mirrorless cameras. There may not be as wide of a selection of mirrorless lenses yet, but this smaller range will only continue to grow in the future. Whereas the DSLR range is only set to stagnate.

Pros

  • More compact than DSLRs
  • Electronic Viewfinders
  • High-quality digitally-focused lenses
  • Hybrid functionality
  • Frame rate

Cons

  • Not every mirrorless has a viewfinder
  • Lower battery life than DSLRs
  • Slower autofocus than DSLRs
  • Fewer lenses than DSLRs
  • Expensive lenses

6. DSLR Cameras

DSLR

Digital single-lens reflex or DSLR Cameras have long been the favourites since they displaced their SLR film predecessors. They are a tried and tested technology and a pillar of the photography industry.

Where these differ from mirrorless cameras is in how the camera projects the image from on the viewfinder.DSLRs use mirrors and pentaprisms to reflect the light from the lens into the viewfinder to give the photographer a preview of the shot.

The main benefit of this is the added low light performance of the viewfinder. However, and unfortunately, if you wish to see a live view image this has to be seen on the camera LCD screen. A method that isn’t always an ideal way to preview a shot.

6.1. Why shoot with a DSLR Camera?

For a long time, DSLR’s were able to outperform their mirrorless rivals on autofocus capabilities and in most cases still do. This autofocus advantage is a big reason why people choose DSLRs over mirrorless cameras still.

Another reason why someone would choose to use a DSLR is their extensive lens range. Not only is the DSLR range vast but they remain compatible with the older SLR film lenses.

Other reasons include their overall better battery performance, peoples preferences for optical viewfinders, cheaper lenses, or even just their incredibly satisfying shutter mechanism.

Pros

  • Extensive lens range
  • Cheaper lenses
  • Faster autofocus
  • Better Lowlight performance
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Dying technology
  • Camera bodies and lenses larger than mirrorless systems
  • Live view on LCD only
  • Very non-discrete
  • More internal components to potentially break

7. Conclusion

This article has been a very brief introduction to the 6 most common camera types. If you are here to decide which one is best for you there many important factors to take into consideration when deciding which one to buy. Factors that require special consideration if you are going to be parting with a considerable sum of money. If this is the case then please only use this article as a starting point. 

The most important things you should consider when weighing up your options are:

  • Size and weight of the camera
  • Size and weight of the lenses
  • Cost of lenses
  • Range of lenses
  • Sensor size
  • Sensor quality
  • RAW capabilities
  • Megapixels (at least 24 for system cameras)
  • Quality of Lens on a fixed camera
  • Manual capabilities
  • Build quality

What do you think of the camera types listed? Have any been missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

David Davis
David Davishttps://shuttergang.com
Hi, My name is Dave, and I am passionate about photography. I am currently travelling to document the world's most interesting people and places. I have started this blog to share these incredible sights and experiences with you, including all the knowledge I gain as a photographer/videographer along the way. If you share a passion for street, documentary, and travel photography, join the mailing list and stay up to date with the latest posts and resources direct from the field.

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