Digital cameras can be a daunting subject for beginners - there are masses of technical terms, acronyms and nuances that can make it difficult to understand what camera is best for your needs. So today we’re going to take a look at the several common uses for digital cameras, and highlight exactly what you want to look for in each case. Hopefully this will allow you to make an informed choice when looking at all the cameras we have available on Kagoo!
Types of Camera
First off, let’s quickly remind ourselves of the different types of digital camera available:
SLR - ‘Single Lens Reflex’ (occasionally Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are one of the most prevalent digital camera types available. They offer the largest selection of lenses and accessories, as well as powerful image sensors and very high image quality. However this power comes at a cost - SLRs tend to be more expensive, bulkier and more difficult to use than other types.
Mirrorless - Mirrorless cameras are similar to SLRs, but tend to be lighter, cheaper, and easier to handle. However they don’t have access to quite the same broad range of lenses, meaning you won’t always have a lens to fit your exact requirements.
Compact - The most popular type of camera, these small point-and-shoots are easy to use, light and cheap. Because they only use one lens, they lack the power and options from their larger cousins, but for the majority of amateur photographers, a good compact will provide more than enough power to take good photos.
Instant - Instant cameras use special fast-developing paper to create physical copies of the photo as soon as it is taken. Once seen as a fading niche, they have seen a real revival in the last few years, with new versions of the famous Polaroid cameras bringing this unique style of photography to a whole new generation. For more info on the instant photography, see our article on the Best Instant Cameras for 2020
These are broad categories - within each these is a huge range of different attributes, prices and characterises. However it all comes down to what kind of photographs you plan on taking. For some people, a simple high-quality compact will do the trick - others will need a full power SLR. Certain attributes and accessories will aid some uses but not others, and all will have a cost attached. Generally speaking the more you ask of a camera, the more expensive it will be - so it pays to be as specific as you can be when picking out a model to buy. With that in mind, let’s look at some common use cases!
Portrait Photography is a powerful way to capture someone’s likeness in a moment - a well-staged photo can capture someone’s feelings and emotions in breathtaking clarity. Generally speaking, portraits look the best when captured in extremely high detail - so the power of an SLR will do the best possible justice to the subject.
SLRs have a very powerful sensor and a large image resolution, allowing them to take extremely high-res photos that capture every small detail of your subject. A built-in image stabiliser will also help, since even the slightest judder can cause flaws in the final photo, although if you are shooting traditional photos, a tripod will work just as well.
That said, portraits are an extremely subjective medium, and many people may prefer the immediacy of a compact or instant camera, rather than an intricately-staged black and white headshot portrait. There is a sense of timeless cool around the instant cameras, and they can be used to shoot an instance of unguarded emotion, rather than setting up a complicated shoot.
Whether you’re on holiday somewhere exotic, or just wandering around an unfamiliar part of your town, there are so many wonderful landscapes and views in the world. Memory can only go so far - if you *really* want to show off your travels to your (bored) friends, you need to take photos!
When considering a good camera for landscape photography, it pays to think about the portability of the device. A giant SLR may take amazing mountain top shots, but your back won’t thank you for lugging it in your rucksack for miles! In this way, a lighter mirrorless camera or a compact will work best - something you can stash in your bag and take everywhere.
The battery life of your camera is also important - you won’t be able to recharge your camera when you’re out and mobile, so a good battery will allow you to maximise the amount of shots you can take. Mirrorless and SLRs tend to have the most expansive batteries, due to their size - many are also replaceable, so you can carry a spare if you need to. Compact cameras don’t have a bad battery life, but many won’t last a long trip.
For harsher climates, environmental protection can be a boon. Camera protection is measured using ‘Ingress Protection’ rating - this consists of two numbers. The first measures how well the camera is protected from solids (dust) and the second measures how well it’s protected from liquids (water). The higher the number, the better the protection. So a camera with IP28 isn’t protected from dust, but is totally waterproof. A camera with IP11 is barely protected from anything, and should be handled carefully.
For most calm landscapes, the IP rating of your camera is of lesser importance. However if you find yourself shooting in deserts or want to try underwater or beach photography, make sure to double-check the IP rating of your camera, otherwise you could end up accidentally damaging or destroying your new bit of gear!
Finally, a good zoom is important for being able to concentrate on one particularly beautiful part of the scenery, or to gain full-detail shots without having to walk all the way to your subject!
Sports is another area that involves a lot of photography - from dramatic loses to hard-fought wins, people will be on the sidelines documenting it all in photos. One of the most important attributes of a sports photography camera is speed. The players at a sports game will normally be moving very fast (excluding darts, and competitive napping), so you need a camera that will keep up with them and produce clean, un-blurry photos. Therefore a fast shutter speed and an image stabiliser will allow you to react fast to sudden events without the end result turning into a muddy mess.
Both of these attributes will be found in an SLR, and generally speaking the larger cameras will serve you better for sports photography. Many SLR will have a motor drive (also known as a continuous shot) function - this allows multiple photos to be taken in very quick succession by holding down the button. This allows you to take a large amount of photos in a very short space of time - meaning more chance of capturing the perfect moment!
Continuous shooting will drain the battery in your camera very quickly, so it is worth investing in a camera with a hefty battery life as well, so you aren’t left changing the battery during a crucial goal!
Wildlife photography is popular and rewarding hobby, but most wildlife is notoriously shy so getting close up, detailed shots can be difficult. If you can't find a full-size gazelle costume to hide in, a powerful camera is an excellent fallback.
The two most important considerations with wildlife photography is zoom and stability. A good zoom function on your camera will allow you to take photos without having to get too close to your target animal, while an image stabiliser or a tripod can help track moving animals and take clear, unblurry shots as they move. A high ISO sensitivity will also help take cleaner photos in low-light conditions - always better, because lions tend to bite less when they’re asleep!
For these reasons, I would suggest a more powerful SLR over compact cameras for wildlife shooting. Compacts may be light and cheap, but they lack power - and especially lack a powerful optical zoom function - they may have digital zoom, but this isn’t a ‘proper’ zoom, merely enhancing the photo that’s already taken, so detail is lost with every digital zoom level. The best zoom lenses belong to the SLRs - though you will pay a premium price for them.
Everyday photography is a bit of a nebulous term - it refers to all the photos you see as you wander through life. These aren’t tightly-choreographed photoshoots, or big expeditions - this is just taking photos of life as it comes!
The king of everyday photography is the compact camera. SLRs are more powerful, but they are simply too bulky and hefty to be slipped into a bag - you need something smaller and lighter, that won’t give you back ache every day!
This means weight is a key attribute, since the camera has to be light enough not to be a burden through the day. Size is also a consideration - the smaller the camera, the easier it can be concealed in a bag or pocket - ready to be taken out at any time throughout the day. In a similar vein, battery life is important, since you may end up having the camera out and about for a long time between charges.
For a good mix of weight, size and power, we suggest the Canon Powershot SX730 HS as our choice for a good everyday compact camera. If you want to browse more, take a look at our list of Best Everyday Photography Cameras
On the other hand, if you want a more unique take on everyday photography, instant cameras provide a light weight and a very different style on a digital camera. We would suggest the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90
if you're looking to get into this style - and you can find more digital cameras on our list of Best Instant Cameras