What Kind of Camera?
Once you know what is important to you as a photographer,
it's time to start looking at the choices. Although there are many cameras,
they fall into three main categories.
Easy to use, Point-and-shoot automatic cameras. These are the everyday snappies that most people own. Today almost all consumer cameras are digital, although you can still find some that shoot film.
Cheapest price range
Average price of a few hundred USD.
Simple and Very Compact
Small form-factors you can take anywhere
good for point-and-shoot photography
most consumer cameras do not allow you to directly control exposure settings. Look to the specialized shooting modes exposure control
Although they sometimes look similar to consumer cameras, prosumer (professional-consumer) equipment is packed full of features that serious photographers will love. Prosumer cameras usually have better lenses, higher detail, and much more control over exposure than their cheaper consumer cousins.
Medium to high price range
From $500 to over $1000 USD
It's amazing how much technology is in a prosumer camera. The fact that the camera is totally self-contained (lens, flash, etc) is a big selling point.
Both the lenses and the digital CCD offer sharp images with great quality. Newer cameras can easily shoot for print publication.
If anything, there are too many features crammed into the average prosumer camera. For the enthusiast photographer, this kind of camera is deal because it allows much room to grow.
Above all, the prosumer camera gives the digital photographer complete control over the picture taking process.
The Single Lens Reflex (SLR) design is often associated with professional photography. These cameras look and feel exactly like their non-digital cousins, and they even take the same lenses. For buyers considering a prosumer camera, a digital SLR is worth considering.
Medium to high price range
Most digital SLR's are over USD $1000, but recently there have been some *very* good models released for much less than that.
looks like a camera - feels like a camera - acts like a camera
These cameras look much more like the classic SLR. They are big compared to prosumer models, especially if the size of the lens is taken into consideration.
Standard Mount Lenses
Most digital SLR 's have standard lens mounts so normal lenses can be used. If you have a old Nikon or Canon lens collection. this is good news! The quality of SLR lenses are far better than most consumer or even prosumer cameras.
The Single Lens Reflex Advantage
SLR means "single lens reflex", and these cameras allow you to see exactly what the camera sees when looking through the viewfinder. Most compact cameras have a barely useful eyepiece that isn't even remotely accurate for composition. This is changing with newer prosumer digital cameras which offer electronic viewfinders.
Highest Quality and Detail
Digital SLR's have drastically better quality than consumer or prosumer cameras. The size of the digital film element (the CCD) is much larger with these cameras, virtually noise-free with superb detail and quality.
Standard SLR Features
Digital SLR's are for the enthusiast or professional photographer, and tend to have more businesslike features without some of the extras found in the prosumer models. Compare camera specs for more info.
Which Camera is Best for You?
Only you can decide, but there are a few questions to ask yourself that may help narrow down the choices.
If you are an avid photographer and don't mind the size and weight of a digital SLR, then the cheaper prices and superior image quality of these cameras make them a good option. But for people looking for an all-around camera, SLR's are probably too bulky. Believe it or not, most digital SLR's are MORE SIMPLE than their cheaper and smaller cousins, with less fanciful features and options.
Prosumer digital cameras are the darlings of both professional and enthusiast photographers. While they are more expensive than the average compact digital, (and even some entry SLR's) these cameras usually have three strong points.
Lens/resolution - Prosumer cameras generally have better lenses and image resolution than compacts. "Better lenses" being defined as combinations of optics quality, lens speed (max aperture), and wide angle/zoom.
Manual Control/Features - Probably the most important feature of a prosumer is that it offers full control over exposure settings including shutter/aperture, shooting modes, white balance, and film speed.
Ergonomics/Design - Prosumers are usually more sturdy, solid, and ergonomic than compacts. Many manufacturers use higher grade materials like thicker magnesium alloy frames for their prosumer cameras.
If you value full camera control or you want a camera you can "grow into", then I would strongly recommend a prosumer camera. They strike a great balance between features, quality, and size. Unfortunately some of these cameras reach prices of $1000 USD. Some, but not all. I would recommend paying attention to size and look for smaller models. There's no sense getting a prosumer that is almost the size of a digital SLR.
This category is far too general, and usually means "any consumer camera that isn't a digital SLR". Some models blur the line between compact and prosumer. A compact digital is simply a small camera that is easy to use. Price is no indicator, as prices range from $100 to $1000.
Compact cameras are small and easy to shoot, and there are hundreds of models available in every shape, size, and color. To be honest, if the goal is to take a good clean picture then you will be safe with almost choice.
As always, look for fast and/or wide lenses. A good lens will do more to transparently improve your photography than fancy video features and other gizmos.
Some compact cameras offer full shutter, aperture, and film speed control. If you want to learn more about exposure then any camera with these features is a decent alternative to the slightly larger and more expensive prosumer.
Love your camera.
Above all you should get the camera that you will USE. To use a camera you have to LIKE it, and you have to BRING it. A camera that gets left at home is not going to shoot good pictures. Size and price can be factors, so choose a camera that you will be comfortable carrying around in you bag.
But most important of all.. you should love your camera. If that means getting the cheapest deal, do it. Do you desire the compact with the fastest lens? Go for it. Got to have that new brushed aluminum compact because it goes with the rims on your car? Buy it.
Do some research, buy your camera, and shoot shoot shoot.