Digitals Cameras buying guide

Digitals Cameras buying guide -

Buying a digital camera has changed and has become a very different experience than it was a few years ago. Smart phone cameras are getting better so there are less buyers for budget pocket shooters. Therefore there aren't as many good, inexpensive options. Entry-level SLRs have serious competition for your purchase, but if you've got a bigger budget you can opt for premium pocket models with large image sensors, midrange interchangeable lens models or bridge style super zooms that bring distance into close clear view.

Here are some of the favorite models for each of the categories that are options in today's market.

Pocket friendly: the entry-level point and shoot

There is no question that smart phones have hurt the demand for entry-level point-and-shoot cameras. Even by many sub $100 no name cameras at online retailers but they're pretty similar to a smart phone. If you move into the $100 to $200 bracket there are some options from Canon and Nikon.

These are slim line shooters that pack zoom lenses and set them apart from smart phones. They use dated CCD sensor technology, which limits image quality when shooting at high ISO settings and cuts the maximum video quality to 720 P. But for a small camera to carry on vacation there are a few inexpensive alternatives to a smart phone.

For the $200-$400 price range there are more modern CMOS image sensors and very long zoom lenses, 30X is a standard at this point. Video is still 1080P and you'll also see some cameras with small electronic viewfinders, raw shooting capability, and very quick autofocus. Peer image quality is better than a smart phone, with the real advantage being the zoom lenses. Several models are waterproof. (See the best waterproof cameras of 2017)

Small camera, big sensor: premium compacts

One can scratch their head when you see a pocket camera with a fixed lens selling from $400-$1000. You can get an interchangeable lens model for the same price. But a slim, premium shooter targets a very specific market, those photographers who already own a mirror less camera or SLR and a bunch of lenses, but are looking for something small as a different option.

Digitals Cameras buying guide - Small camera -

There are now longer zooms in this category, but have narrower aperture and lenses that top out at 10X coverage (25-250mm). A narrow aperture isn't good for lowlight such as models with short zooms and big F-stops, but they are a better choice for travel if you're looking for a pocket camera with an ample zoom range. The one-inch sensor size offers solid image quality through ISO 3200 up to ISO 6400 if you shoot in raw format, allowing you to use dim light.

There are also models one can get with an even larger image sensor and shorter zooms or no zoom at all. You can get a small camera with SLR sized APS-C image sensor and a fixed focal length lens.

Bridge cameras

You can also get a fixed lens camera that is sized and shaped like an SLR, a bridge camera. These models have really long lenses up to 83X zoom power in models with the 1/2.3 inch sensor size. They have sport electronic viewfinders, hot shoes, and articulating rear displays. If you're looking for zoom a bridge camera is your best bet even though it doesn't handle dim light as well as an SLR.

A premium bridge model with larger 1-inch sensors and shorter zooms have a considerable size advantage over SLRs with comparable zooms. Think about carrying an interchangeable lens camera with two or three lenses to cover a 24-200mm, 24-400mm, 24-600m coverage range. They are more expensive than an SLR and bridge models with smaller sensors, but do better at higher ISO settings and sport lenses that gather more light.

Entry-level interchangeable lens: SLR and mirror less

There are many disappointing features common in mirror less models, including tilting touchscreen displays and wireless connectivity, both being very slow to make their way to SLRs. The Canon has made significant improvements in video autofocus with its pricier SLRs and consumers are better off with a low cost mirror less model if they want a fast autofocus when recording moving pictures.

If you don't understand the term, the mirror that mirror less cameras lack is the one that directs light to an optical viewfinder from the lens. SLRs will still give you that. Getting rid of the mirror box allows for a slimmer design with fewer moving parts as well as more accurate autofocus. With the latest models autofocus is fast so you won't miss shooting with an SLR.

If you are willing to live without a viewfinder and use the LCD to frame your shots, you can find solid mere lists models for under $500, including a kit lens. Like SLRs, different manufacturers support different lens formats. If you buy a Sony mirror less camera, you will use a Sony E and FE lens or you can opt for Fujifilm if you're locked into the X lens system. The only exception is the Micro Four Thirds system, which is a lens format shared by Olympus and Panasonic. They are used by more specialized cinema cameras made for big companies like Black magic. The MFT sensor format is a 4 to 3 ratio aspect as opposed to the 3 to 2 ratio used by most SLRs.

Canon, Nikon and Pentax all offer entry-level SLRs with traditional optical viewfinders. Sony has continued to support the A-mount SLR system, which goes back to Minolta autofocus SLRs, but is moved to using electronic viewfinders and its Alpha SLT series. The fixed mirror design and EVF allow the video focused system to use the same sensor as the focus for stills, which delivers autofocus on the same level with mirror less cameras when recording moving pictures.

You can get the back-and-forth effect with an entry-level mirror less model that relies entirely on contrast for focus. But by the time you've moved to a mid range price point it's not as good as an SLR which is actually in line with the price of these models.

First serious shutterbugs: premium mirror less and SLR

Digitals Cameras buying guide - Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM -

Once you go over the $1000 price barrier, if entered into a world where you likely have a very good handle on whether you prefer an SLR or mirror less camera. If you buy in this range, take a serious look at the lenses and accessories available for each system and weigh the plus and minuses of the different image sensor formats.

Mirror less cameras have gotten better in terms of tracking autofocus in recent years. The top-tier models track subjects and fire off images, as do the SLRs. No matter what system you choose or what type of shooting you do you may find the lens selection to be adequate.

Lens options aren't as vast as they are with the Canon and Nikon SLR systems. The larger selection with a Canon or Nikon includes many excellent third-party options from Sigma and Tamron. SLR lens options like the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary art matched by mirror less in terms of value, and you also have access to exotic glass like the AF-S Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR ($16,299.95), the likes of which simply isn't available in a mirror less format at this time.

While photographers who want to capture distant subjects and take advantage of telephoto lenses likely will love the flexibility that the APS-C and Micro Four Thirds sensor sizes deliver, there are also a number of full frame models for enthusiasts. The full frame size, called this due to the fact that it matches 35mm film in physical dimension, can be a solid choice for landscapes, portraiture, event coverage, and reportage. The larger sensor provides more control over depth of field when paired with wide aperture glass.

If you desire and interchangeable lens camera and want to keep the budget between $1000 and $2500 there are many options. Maybe too many, if you're interested in investing in a system, it would take a much greener field to make you jump ship, and models in this price range are very close in terms of features, performance and image quality.

If you don't have a huge investment in lenses and accessories, the first thing you need to do is identify which lenses you'd like to have and factor those prices into your decision. You may conclude that spending more on the body is worth it if the lenses are going to buy are significantly less than the competition.

You also need to consider the capabilities of the camera itself. You may put a heavy emphasis on autofocus and burst capture rate. If so you should target APS-C models that excel in these situations. If you desire more of a landscape or portrait, a full frame camera is a better fit, so put your money towards a sensor size and quality rather than the focus system.

The choice between an optical or electronic viewfinder is something to consider. Modern EVFs are a good choice and refresh quickly so you can track moving action. If you haven't used one in a few years, they've come a long way. But for some photographers there's no substitute for an optical viewfinder, in which case an SLR is preferred to mirror less.

Professional options: full frame and medium format

Pro photographers are almost shooting a Canon or Nikon SLR system, but there are some alternatives. There are reasons you see most working photographers using one of the two most popular systems as they include a solid bevy of pro grade bodies and lenses, a strong support system backing the equipment in the comfort of years of use. One can still go another way and Sony makes a pro level SLR in a few mirror less cameras.

For professional sports, you'll see bigger cameras on the sidelines. They don't pack as much resolution as an SLR that used to cover weddings and events, but they fire off images and higher birth rates, usually about 10 FPS and continuous tracking and exposure.

Beyond the full frame you move into the medium format photography. In the film days, medium format referred to anything larger than 35mm and smaller than 4 x 5". That's a large gambit. With digital you get the 33 x 44 mm sensor size used by most of the mirror less cameras that sell for less than $10,000-including Pentaxís SLR bodies and mirror less options from Fujifilm and Hasselblad.

At the high-end you can go for a sensor that's 54 x 40 mm in size which matches the 645 film size. In reviewing one of these cameras, the insanely expensive Phase One XF 100MP offers raw image capture and hundred MP resolution, which is more overkill for the vast majority of photographers.