So, you’re on the hunt for a camera – maybe for an upcoming holiday? Maybe photography’s going to a new hobby? Whatever your intent, you have a number of choices when it comes to buying a digital camera.
At the most basic, least sophisticated end of the camera buying spectrum, there are the compact cameras, with fixed lenses that you point at your target subject(s) and then click the shutter button to take your photo (hence why they’re often referred to as “point-and-click” or “point-and-shoot” cameras). If you have a camera in your smart phone, this is essentially a compact, point-and-shoot camera – you wave your phone in someone’s face and, if they haven’t lamped you into the next millennium, you press a button, take their photo, and probably upload it instantly to Twitter or Facebook.
At the most complex, most sophisticated (and more expensive) end of the camera buying spectrum, you have the DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras. They essentially function in the same way as a compact camera, in that you point the lens towards your subject and then press the shutter button to take the photo. However, it’s the lenses that also help to differentiate DSLRs from your humble compact cameras. When you go to purchase a DSLR, you’re having to make at least TWO purchases – one for the camera body and one for a lens to fit in front of the digital image sensor. Even if you find a “deal” where you can purchase a DSLR with a lens, they’re still two separate units that you connect together to make a fully functioning camera.
DSLR lenses come in various formats or types and they can be just as expensive (or colossally more expensive) to purchase than the camera body – the unit that houses the light sensitive image sensor and all the technological gubbins to turn what you’re pointing the lens at into a nicely replicated digital photograph when you press the shutter button to take the picture. When I bought my Panasonic GH4 DSLR, the body alone cost just under £900 (US$1,290 approx.). The lens, a Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f2.8, one of the most technologically advanced lenses available from Panasonic, cost £790 (US$1,135 approx). So, quite an investment, but worth it for the potential to create better quality photos.
The benefit of using a DSLR, over a typical compact camera, is greater creative control over how you can craft your photos:
1. You can adjust how much light can enter the lens, by varying the aperture of the lens, in order to make background elements more blurred, which helps to make your target foreground subject stand out more clearly (maybe you have an ugly background that you want to blur out? With the right lens, you can do this with a wider aperture). Conversely, you can narrow the aperture and bring more elements in your scene into greater clarity (this is a good thing for landscape photos, where you typically want to see everything clearly, from the subjects in the foreground, all the way to the horizon or as far as the eye can see).
2. You can adjust how fast the shutter opens and closes, in order to create different effects in your stills photos. For instance, a longer shutter speed will give the image sensor more time to record the light data that’s coming in through the lens. This can be used to help brighten images in low light conditions; it can also be used to smooth out choppy water or capture the movement of all sorts of subjects, such as car headlights or the journey of the stars across the night’s sky. Or, you can go the other way and use a faster shutter speed in order to freeze movement, such as the beating of a bird’s wings in flight.