Camera buying guide
Different types of camera
There are lots of different types of cameras available. The question is, which one is right for you? Well, it all depends on what you’ll be using your camera for. Each one offers something different - from lightweight compacts and handy bridge and mirrorless cameras, through to pro-style DSLRs. To help you decide, here are more details on each camera type:
Like the name suggests, a compact camera is small and lightweight. So, why would you choose a compact camera over that smartphone camera in your pocket? Here are a few good reasons:
- Better lens (and zoom) than your average smartphone
- Larger sensor that lets in plenty of light (more on that later)
- Tough build makes them great for holidays (waterproof, sand-proof, kid proof)
A bridge camera is like a compact camera’s big brother, with DSLR looks and a powerful zoom.
Why choose a bridge camera?
- Powerful zoom for the price (some can even see the craters on the moon)
- No need to fork out for additional lenses
- Solid DSLR-like build (to make you feel like a pro)
- Viewfinder to help you frame shots day or night
DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. Remember that old film camera your parents used to own? A DSLR camera is a digital version of that - and the tech has come a long way too.
How does a DSLR camera work? Well, it uses a clever mirror system to work its magic. The mirror reflects light coming in, then passes it through a prism so you can preview your shot. Press the shutter button and the mirror flips up to expose the sensor behind.
Why choose a DSLR camera?
- You have the option of full manual controls or auto
- Lots of lenses to choose from
- Large sensors capture more light (and more detail)
- From entry-level to pro, there’s something for everyone (and every budget)
The smaller cousin of the DSLR, a mirrorless camera is exactly that – a camera without a mirror. Light simply passes through the lens and right onto the image sensor, so you get a real-time preview.
Mirrorless cameras are also commonly called compact system cameras (CSCs). Since they were first launched in 2008, they’ve been playing catch-up with DSLRs. But they’re now making lots of keen photographers sit up and notice.
Why choose a mirrorless camera?
- Can shoot quicker and quieter than most DSLRs
- No mirror means a more compact, travel-friendly size
- Sensors are on-par with DSLRs, including full-frame models
- Greater focusing accuracy when shooting videos
If you’re a keen photographer and you’ve outgrown your standard kit lens, you’ve got lots of choice - and most good photographers don’t stick to just one lens.
A prime lens has a set focal length (e.g. 50 mm). Because of this, they tend to have high-quality glass and you get brilliantly sharp photos. A zoom lens (e.g. 18-55 mm) lets you move between different focal lengths, so you can capture subjects like wild animals or close-ups of architecture.
Both prime and zoom lenses come in a variety of focal lengths, so to help you narrow down your options, consider what you want to photograph before you choose the right one.
See our recommendations below
You’ll need to check which mount system your camera uses before you buy a lens. Most brands use a different system for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, so dive into your manual.
If you’re travelling around a lot, you’ll usually want a camera that’s small and light. Most compact cameras are pocket (or handbag)-sized, so consider a superzoom compact.
We only put cameras in our tough category if they’re water and shock-proof. As an added bonus, most tough cameras are also dust- and freeze-proof.
But remember, proofing has limits. For example, it’s likely your camera will only be waterproof to a certain depth, for a certain amount of time. If you’re not sure, check the specifications carefully.
Anything with a 15 x or higher zoom is pretty good for general everyday photography. A bridge camera will give you even more reach, without over-stretching your budget. Even the most basic models will offer at least 20 x zoom.
If you need something more specialist, for sports or wildlife photography, we recommend using a telephoto lens on a DSLR.
When you’re choosing an action cam, there are a few things to consider:
- Water and shock-proofing. It needs to survive everything you put it through
- Max. frame rate (60 fps and above makes action look smooth)
- Connectivity. You’ll want to quickly transfer your footage for easy sharing
- Available accessories. Think about the types of mounts and harnesses you might want to use
Sure, why not? They’re great fun to fly and you can get some incredible aerial footage and photos from a drone.
Be sure to look out for the following features:
- Gimbal or image stabilisation for steady, sharp footage
- Max. frame rate (60 fps and above makes action look smooth)
- GPS, so you always know exactly where your drone is
- Subject tracking or ‘follow me’ feature, for keeping your subject in the frame
Above all else, think about safety! When flying a drone in the UK, you must follow The Drone Code from The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). For more information, visit dronesafe.uk.
Thinking of starting your own vlogging channel? The type of camera you need all depends on what you’ll be filming.
A mirrorless camera with a flip out screen is great if you’re going to be in front of the camera.
An action cam is perfect for adventurous sports and activities, like skiing or mountain biking.
High-performance compact cameras are also ideal thanks to their small, lightweight body, and some even come with their own vlogging kits for beginners.
DSLRs offer the widest choice of lenses if you’re planning on getting creative with your shots. And if you really want to amaze and impress your audience, a camera drone is always a winner.
Plenty of modern cameras have some form of wireless sharing, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Then it’s usually as simple as connecting to your smartphone (just once) and transferring your photos and videos using their app.
Because it’s a direct connection to your smartphone or tablet, you don’t have to wait until you get home to start sharing. Some apps will even let you edit your photos and videos on the fly (and remember, there’s always Instagram filters).
All modern cameras have enough megapixels to keep your social media feeds looking on point. If you want to print your photos, 8 megapixels is plenty. You’ll only need more if you’re planning on cropping your images.
Think of your sensor as being the modern equivalent of film. Each time you press the shutter, it’s exposed to light. The larger the sensor, the more light (and detail) it collects.
This is where cameras win out over smartphones, which generally have quite small sensors. You’ll find 1-inch sensors on high-end compact cameras, while most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have larger APS-C sensors. Professional photographers usually go for full frame sensors, which is the same size as 35mm film.
These three variables make up the exposure triangle, and they’re the foundation of photography. They work together, so you’ll need to get them all spot on for a perfectly exposed photograph.
Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter opens and allows light to hit the sensor. A faster shutter speed means less light reaches in the sensor and freezes movement – ideal for brighter conditions. A slower shutter speed captures movement blur (such as car lights) but if you want clear shots, you’ll need a tripod or image stabilisation to keep the camera steady.
Aperture refers to the size of the hole in the lens. The larger the opening, the more light that reaches the sensor. If you divide the focal length by the diameter, you get the f-stop. The result is the aperture scale, with lower numbers (like f/1.4) letting in more light.
ISO is basically the sensitivity of your sensor (although it’s a little more complicated than that). A high ISO is great for low light as you can use a faster shutter speed and smaller aperture. The downside of that is a high ISO can result in more noise – that horrible grain in dark areas. While most modern cameras cope with this pretty well, we’d still suggest you use the lowest ISO number you can shoot at to avoid this.
It’s not essential but it’s a great feature to have, and one that you’d miss once you’ve used it. It pretty much eliminates the need for a tripod (unless you’re shooting specialist astronomy subjects like star trails). There are different types of stabilisation - some more effective than others - but they all try to compensate for camera shake to give you sharper images and videos.
FPS stands for frames per second. It’s sometimes referred to as burst shooting or continuous shooting, and it’s the maximum number of images your camera can capture in a second.
Ever wondered just how a photographer captured a bird in flight or caught that spectacular wave just as it crashed against the rocks? Usually, it’s more than just sheer luck. Many photographers rely on taking a series of images and picking the best of the bunch.
Some lenses have trouble focusing on objects that are super close. That’s where macro mode (or a macro lens) comes in. You’ll be able to focus much closer than normal, so you can shoot teeny subjects like flowers and insects.
Memory cards come in different formats, so check your camera’s manual to find out which one it takes.
If you’re going to be shooting 4K video or using burst mode for photos, you’ll need a card with a fast write speed (we’re talking at least 30 mb/sec). We recommend using an UHS speed class 3 or a V30 memory card.
If you’re splashing out on a new camera or camcorder it’s a good idea to keep it protected. If you do decide to buy a case, think carefully about the size you need. You may want to fit more than your camera inside it - accessories, lenses, mounts, sunglasses, sandwiches (photography can be a hungry job, especially if you’re hanging around for that perfect shot).
A spare battery is always a must, especially if you’ve got day trips or holidays planned.
A tripod is an indispensable tool if you’re shooting at night or your camera doesn’t have image stabilisation. And we’re not just talking classic tripods – you can get even get flexible tripods to wrap around a tree branch or fence.
And if you’ve got an action cam, there are a whole bunch of mounts for attaching your camera to almost anything (even your dog).
A megapixel = 1 million pixels. Pixels are the resolution that make up the image. The more pixels, the more detail in the image.
A common type of imaging sensor (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor to be exact). It converts light into electrons to produce a digital image.
An optical viewfinder (OVF) lets you look through the lens of the camera. An electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a mini screen that previews what the sensor detects.
Found on DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It’s the interface between your camera and lens. They need to be compatible so they can communicate.
An uncompressed image file. You’ll need specialist viewing software to open it, but it gives you more control over editing.
4K refers to 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160 resolutions. It’s 4x the resolution of Full HD 1080p.
HD video has at least 720p horizontal lines of vertical resolution, while Full HD has at least 1080p horizontal lines of vertical resolution.
4K video has at least 2160 horizontal lines of vertical resolution.