After you leave the basic compact camera market you can group the other models into four main groups of camera which are: DSLR, Mirrorless / Compact System Camera, Bridge Cameras and the Advanced Compact.
It can be difficult to know what type of camera that it is you want or need, so we've created this article to outline the main differences, and the pros and cons of each camera, to help you make a more informed decision about what camera is best for you.
What Is An Advanced / Serious Compact Camera?
An advanced compact camera is generally quite small, and these days is packed with loads of features. They usually have more fun features than their larger counterparts, such as lots of inbuilt image filters and effects.
Advanced compacts are quickly becoming bigger competitors with mirrorless cameras in terms of image quality and settings every year. As technology advances, compacts get more megapixels, more zoom and loads more settings in a small body that is easily carried everywhere.
Smaller compact cameras will most likely use a CCD or CMOS sensor. These sensors are small and vary in image quality. A CCD sensor will provide better quality and clearer, less distorted images, but they use a lot more power than CMOS sensors and are more expensive to make. CMOS sensors can be more susceptible to noise, but are much more energy efficient and easy to produce. Although the recent introduction of "Backlit" or Back Side Illumination (BSI) CMOS sensors has helped improve noise performance. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels will be on that sensor, resulting in more image noise as the pixels can't take in as much light.
Compact cameras as a whole these days will include features like a program and manual mode, to give the user more control over the settings. However, compact cameras often don't have the necessary control over features like focussing and exposure. Because of the small size of the system, compact cameras will not have the aperture or ISO range of a larger camera.
Take a look at our Top 10 Best Serious Compact Digital Cameras 2014 guide to see which serious compacts top our list.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Advanced Compacts?
- Small size
- Nowadays they have 16MP plus, making them more than adequate for most photography
- Many effects and filters
- They have many of the programs and manual features that were previously only found on DSLRs a few years ago
- Less zoom capability than cameras with interchangeable lenses and bridge cameras
- Lesser image quality than cameras with bigger sensors
- Sometimes can be difficult to get a good grip on due to their small size and slim designs
- Less control over exposure settings
Bridge / Ultra Zoom Cameras
Bridge cameras are generally larger and more chunky than compact cameras. They don't have interchangeable lenses, but often offer more zoom and larger megapixel numbers because of their larger size. A bridge camera is a great purchase if you are looking for something with a little more to give than a compact. They are often easier to hold and feel a little more robust than compacts, and some mirrorless cameras too. This style of camera lets you get wide-angle shots and then zoom into distant subjects.
You can find more information on Bridge cameras in our Top 10 Best Ultra Zoom Digital Cameras Article which you can find here.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Bridge / Ultra Zoom Cameras?
- Manual controls are often available
- Plenty of zoom for your money!
- Good handling
- Choice of battery type
- Good or excellent macro performance, as well as increased depth of field, so more of the picture is in focus
- Lesser image quality than cameras with bigger sensors
- Can be bulky in size
- Generally, not too great in low light
- Difficult to obtain blurred backgrounds / subject separation
What Is A Mirrorless Or Compact System Camera?
Mirrorless or compact system cameras are the latest edition to the camera family. They were designed as a hybrid between a DSLR and a compact, keeping the high image quality but lessening the size of the camera body drastically to create something small yet powerful.
Above: The Samsung NX1 is an example of a mirrorless camera and it is featured in our Top 10 Best Mirrorless Compact System Cameras article which you can read here
Mirrorless cameras have no TTL viewfinder which means body size is reduced. Most mirrorless cameras use a large back screen to display the image and some have electronic viewfinders, or the ability to attach an electronic viewfinder to them.
Mirrorless and interchangeable cameras have evolved a lot since they were first introduced and have now formed two sub groups; cameras that look like DSLRs but are smaller in size and those that look like compacts with interchangeable lenses. Today's technology means that mirrorless cameras can use very flat pancake lenses that still provide a very high image quality.
Different brands of mirrorless cameras use different systems for attaching the lenses, meaning that only certain lenses can be brought for certain cameras. For example, Panasonic and Olympus use the Micro Four Thirds system, while Samsung uses the NX mount and Sony uses the E-mount. Some cameras have adapters allowing you to fit different lenses and even sometimes DSLR lenses.
The mirrorless camera will generally have more manual settings, and more of the advanced features of a DSLR. Their interchangeable lenses mean that they are more versatile as a camera, as you can fit specific lenses for your preferred area of photography, for example macro or wide angle lenses.
Mirrorless cameras can have the same size sensors as DSLR cameras, but they vary a lot from make-to-make. Mirrorless cameras are still a fairly new and emerging style of camera and their features are still very much a mish-mash of downsized DSLR elements and compact style bodies.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Mirrorless / Compact System?
- Small and with technology are now very much as good as DSLRs in some respects
- Manual setting and more control than compacts but still in a small body
- Modern and still evolving
- Shallow depth of field possible / blurred backgrounds
- Less complicated mechanically than a DSLR, therefore often cheaper to buy
- Can sometimes be top heavy due to large lenses on small compact style body
- Limited lenses available for each camera due to different systems of attaching
- Still have less zoom capability than DSLRs
- Can be difficult to get lots of the photo in focus
- Macro performance of standard lenses can be poor, requiring dedicated lenses for macro work
What Is A DSLR Camera?
DSLR cameras are the direct digital descendants of the SLR film cameras. Standing for Digital Single Lens Reflex, DSLRs are chunky, but are still unrivalled in terms of possible image quality. New DSLRs can pack alot of megapixels into full frame sensors, making them the best in terms of quality and manual preference settings.
DSLRs generally have black bodies that can be quite hefty, especially when they have a long zoom lens attached. What makes the DSLR a good choice is that you are not tied to only one or two brands of lens for your camera. Most DSLRs fit third party lenses such as Sigma or Tamron, giving you variety in terms of price and features, depending on what you want.
DSLRs can be quite difficult to get your head around at first, with all the different settings and possibilities, but over time, a DSLR can become a great tool for producing stunning photos. They have a lot more breadth in terms of settings than other cameras. Because of their size, they have larger aperture brackets and higher ISO settings, meaning that they provide better opportunities for a much wider range of photographic genres and subjects.
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of DSLR Cameras?
- Great image quality
- Manual settings
- Loads more exposure breadth
- Generally longer battery life than the other cameras
- Optical viewfinder so can see directly through the lens
- Good handling
- Big and hefty
- Can be complicated to get your head around
- Expensive for the camera and lenses
So, What Camera Is Best For Me?
At the end of the day, it depends on what your budget is, what you want from a camera and how professional you are looking to go. It will surely depend person-to-person, but as a rough guide, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I want photographs of a professional quality?
- Do I want a camera that has to be carried around in a separate bag because of its size?
- Do I have the money to buy lenses and other equipment to improve my kit?
If the answer to two or more of these is yes, then you may want to consider investing in a DSLR for that image quality edge. If the answer to two or more of these is no, then perhaps something smaller like a mirrorless or advanced compact is the camera for you. While still having good image quality and a host of different settings, these cameras provide a more portable option.
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