What are the different types of digital cameras? What kind of digital camera should I buy? With how many camera shapes, sizes, capabilities and personalities are out there, this can get confusing for many as we’ve learned once shopping for a camera becomes a serious thing for our readers. As we continue to delve deeper and deeper into the camera realm, these questions pop up more frequently, and rightfully so. Our ultimate best digital camera guide highlighted this information slightly and was geared towards specific uses and digital camera budgets, but how about going into more detail about the actual “types of digital cameras”? Who are they suited for? What are their functionalities? This was our goal today, and below we have a quick and easy guide to the many kinds of cameras that are in the world today.
The different types of digital cameras
To begin our list, let’s go with the most popular type of digital camera you’ll be seeing nearly everywhere today. Since their introduction in the 2000’s, they’ve been increasingly popular not only in the digital camera game but as a huge hit in the types of video cameras as well. We know all types of photographers out in the world who use a DSLR, whether you’re just starting out in your photo endeavors, semi-pro and do this for a side gig, or even pros who do this for a living. The truth of the matter is, if you’re searching for that next step when it comes to the look of your photos, a DSLR camera is your best bet.
Relying on a digital image sensor (as opposed to the traditional film cameras used to need) and mirror technology to capture its subject, the term DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex camera. These types of cameras have a viewfinder that gives you a defined example of the image you are trying to capture because it uses only one lens. The contrary of this would involve a viewfinder having its own separate lens for us to see what we’re capturing. This however tends to distort the accuracy and clarity of our images, so a huge benefit of this “single-lens” design is keeping it clear and concise with just one lens. Therefore, once the image is focused through the lens, the light is transferred to one mirror that is able to reflect a precise image of what is being documented. Once that image has been captured, it then goes through another mechanism called the “camera processor” which is an advanced chip (this is where the price increases, in not only the sensor size and quality but also the processor build) that actually understands and processes that information you’ve just captured with your camera onto your memory card. Plus, by holding down the shooting button only halfway, a high-speed shutter with autofocus lets you take continuous pictures to capture multiple details without having to fiddle with your lens each time you want to snap a shot.
As a frequent recommendation camera type in our digital camera for beginners article, the many models out there give us options when it comes to pin-pointing the best for our price-points and style choices. Another huge benefit of DSLR cameras are their versatility when it comes to actual uses and applications. If you wanted the “best digital camera for multiple uses”, this is your best bet, being that we’ve seen them used everywhere (aside from perhaps weather or environmental constraints) — leisure photos, in nature, weddings, family trips, beach days, sports, blogs, and more. The only “use” we’d probably recommend staying away from DSLR cameras is for travel or those who want something a bit more compact when it comes to size (these tend to rest on your neck with a strap, although we do know a lot of people who hold them the entire time — it’s just hard to keep still after a while, especially if you want some video, too). If that’s a concern for you, we recommend the next camera we list below.
It’s true that these types of cameras come in a variety of prices, but to get quality images it really is better to invest in a higher-end option, especially if you’d like a learning curve to make it a long-term goal for learning advanced photography. Not to mention these cameras have interchangeable lenses, so you can attain even more of a custom feel of your photography as you begin to collect different lenses. Either way, the vibrancy and clarity that a DSLR camera can capture will forever surpass your smartphone, so if you’re looking to up your photography game it may be time to consider this high-tech camera.
One of the biggest factors that some have always found as a prevention from investing in a quality camera is typically the size. For example, we think about trips for vacations, work-related tasks or even those professionals who need to travel to shoots that involve being on the move frequently. In that type of setting, you want to have the lightest items that take up a minimal amount of space so you don’t have to worry about hauling a bunch of gear with you (our mirrorless camera actually fits in our jeans pocket!). It’s those very instances, however, that a mirrorless camera was made for.
Considering the obvious name of a mirrorless camera, as opposed to the previously listed type of digital camera, the image that the sensor picks up on filters the light directly through the lens without the image being reflected in a mirror. This in turn makes these cameras both lighter and thinner because they don’t have the added component of the length of a mirror to reflect the image. They also can capture more frames per second (fps) because these types of cameras use high-speed shutters that are able to detect and see light at a quicker rate. And yes, while they are a bit trickier to use in questionable lighting, you can still achieve a clear and precise picture through features like image stabilization and autofocus. On top of that, just like DSLR cameras, these also have interchangeable lenses, one of the biggest pluses out there. A slight downside to mirrorless cameras is the fact that their viewfinder is not separate from the LCD screen (most tilt by the way).
Mirrorless cameras are quite popular on the market these days and are continuing to rise as technology grows (your smart devices actually technically use a mirrorless camera), so they come at a variety of price ranges to appeal to both amateur and semi-professional photographers alike. With their simplistic design just about anyone can use them, and we highly recommend a mirrorless if you have a few more bucks in your budget (the smaller size attained by the more advanced internal build increases the price a bit).
The photo above is what many may continue to associate the word “digital camera” with. If you were anything like me as a child, you probably went through various phases of trying to figure out what it was that you wanted to be when you “grew up”. One of my phases included wanting to be a professional photographer, with my images capture in a variety of magazines. Of course, clumsy as I was, my parents were never going to let me anywhere near their more expensive cameras that they used to shoot our family Christmas cards and the like. Instead, to appease my unrealistic determination, they got me a classic disposable camera and let me think I was the next Annie Leibovitz. While those pictures never turned out as epic and life-changing as I imagined they would, they did give me an appreciation for that classic camera known as the point-and-shoot.
With this type of camera, the name says it all — you take the camera, point it at your subject, and shoot your image (technically speaking, anyway). While there are still the ancient versions of the disposable camera still available, there are now digital versions of this camera that come with a viewfinder similar to what is included with a mirrorless camera. The biggest change with these cameras is that they include two lenses, with an image sensor and then another lens that displays on the viewfinder. The image you see on the viewfinder may not be exactly like the final product, but with advancements like zooming lenses (many point-and-shoots have more sophisticated and better zoom than DSLRs or mirrorless, so that may be a plus for you), red-eye reduction, auto-focus, manual changing of exposures, and a live preview of the image, you can still get quality pictures if you grab a Point-and-Shoot Camera.
We love point-and-shoots because they’re a lot more budget-friendly than DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, not to mention even more compact in case you were highly concerned with size and your intended application of a digital camera entailed the phrase “the smaller, the better”. Yes, you’ll be sacrificing some quality but please don’t get us wrong — many of these come with amazing specifications, sensors as well as megapixels that will keep the purchase worth it if you aren’t planning on being a professional photographer in the future. They’re geared towards those who are more leisure and hobbyists who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on advanced cameras that have features you won’t be using, and if you don’t care much about interchangeable lenses. Many of these also have video capabilities (some up to 4K!), so you’ll be covered there as well. This camera type is versatile to say the least.
Bridge (Superzoom) Cameras
When I was little, I remember looking at magazines like National Geographic and being fascinated with their up close and in-depth pictures on a variety of animals. A hippo rising out of the water. A lion yawning and showing its enormous teeth. Even a mother bear holding their baby. I always looked at these images and thought, “How could they get so close to these animals without being eaten?” (again, the mind of a child, although sometimes still a question I ask today). Eventually, I learned that the answer wasn’t about actually entering their space and being so close that they were lucky to tell the tale, but rather the genius that is the superzoom camera.
A superzoom camera, more commonly referred to as a bridge camera, is a hybrid of the classic point-and-shoot and a single lens reflex (SLR). Leaning on the larger side in terms of size, these cameras come with a large lens specific for zooming in on objects and are equipped with a digital viewfinder for photo previews. These cameras are built more for those who are familiar with the intricacies of the technology, as most features like shutter speed, color, and aperture need to be adjusted manually. They also come with a smaller image sensor that most DSLRs to accommodate the zooming function, meaning that their design isn’t the best when you are looking for wide-angle shots.
If you love to zoom in on an image but hate the grainy look that is usually produced in the aftermath, a bridge camera offers you a clarity and precision incomparable to its predecessors, continuing to make it highly sought after in the market of cameras. We just hope your budget allows because these types of digital cameras aren’t exactly the cheapest or budget-friendly.
Full Frame Cameras
For those of you who are gauging yourself as not a beginner but certainly not a professional when it comes to taking photographs, the full frame camera may be the best type of digital camera to suit your photography needs. With these types of cameras, you’re looking to get a high-resolution photo that maintains it’s natural and realistic composition, yet producing a vibrancy that is typically difficult to capture in images. These cameras are on the larger side, so while they’re not the best for travel, however they do capture subjects well at all angles and at different sizes.
In relation to medium and large formats, full frame cameras contain a smaller 35mm sensor that gives you a similar look to a medium format, and is found in most DSLR cameras. These are the largest sensors you can buy until you start to hit the professional camera realm that reaches the thousand-dollar price-range (medium and large formats, which are listed next). The true benefit of this larger sensor size is the impact it has on the image quality. Because the surface area of the sensor is larger, you’re able to have higher megapixel counts. You’re also getting some low noise (especially in ISO’s that are high or in lower light settings). They’re typically used for more professional settings, such as cameras for weddings.
Full frame cameras are on the pricier end of the budget, but the overall product helps to make these cameras a high-quality camera that remains well reviewed in the photography world.
Medium Format Cameras
I don’t know about you, but when I initially hear the term “medium format camera”, I nod my head with an interested look to make it seem like I know what a person is talking about, when in actuality what they are saying sounds like total gibberish. However, having learned and seen the difference in a photo taken on a medium format camera, the hype becomes evident, as these cameras are known for producing professional and high-resolution photographs that although coming with a price, make it obvious that photographer isn’t using the traditional means to capturing images.
When someone says medium format, they’re not referring to the overall size of the photo (there are a variety of sizes) but rather to the larger sensors it includes. Landscape photos especially benefit from this type of camera due to the ability to get a precise view of an image at a wider angle without losing clarity or receiving a grainy background in the finished product. The depth of the field of view is increased by the larger film size, and while it is typically difficulty to maintain this clarity on other cameras as a photo is enlarged in size, the film in a medium format is able to maintain a realistic quality to these photos.
Medium format cameras are typically used by the professionals that are seeking to work with still life photography. With that understanding, these cameras run on the higher end of the budget, but the high price also comes with a high quality product.
Large Format Cameras
If I asked you to think back to what you imagine what the first types of cameras looked like, I’m sure the image that comes to your mind is a big box with a person hidden under a black cloth counting down before they shot the photo (at least that’s where my imagination takes me). If this is the image that comes to mind, then we’re on the right track, because those early forms of cameras were large format cameras, a type of camera that clearly has been successful at photography to remain relevant on the market in today’s time period.
While medium format is referring more to the size of the sensor, large format cameras received that moniker due to the size of the film in the camera. The purpose of the increase in film size is that this enlargement typically produces photos with higher quality resolution. The lenses can be interchanged, and these types of cameras also have individual sheets of film, which lets you individually process and examine each photograph. Something to note, however, is that this is a sophisticated camera and requires the user to change and adjust everything manually. That being said, if you are up to the challenge than a large format camera remains one of the best in its category. This digital camera type is most definitely one of the advanced choices out there for professionals.
While the instant camera has been on the market since the 1940s, the look and style of the photos it produces has come back to be a popular option today. Plus, with the upgraded technology and compact size that has now been introduced, there are a lot of factors that make people lean towards reverting to the instant camera craze. Recent instant cameras typically come with a touchscreen display that allows you to view the photo before printing, as well as features such as Bluetooth to digitally send and save your photos even after they are printed. In addition, matching the interest in Instagram, many of these cameras come with filter options and various other photo tweaks.
The biggest feature to keep in mind when considering an instant camera comes down to this — your photos can be printed wherever you are without the hassle of having to send them off or buy extra ink for a photo printer. Yes, the photos are more of the pocket-size variety, but if you’re looking for a fun and easy way to print your photos for instant viewing then the instant camera has you covered. This of course isn’t a professional camera, but we felt the need to include this last in our digital camera types guide to make sure some of our readers weren’t looking for a fun and easy solution to a camera as opposed to the others.