Join Jim Heid for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding camera options, part of Getting Started in Photography.
- To take photos, you need a camera, obviously. There are a lot of choices these days, so let's talk a bit about the types of cameras that you might use. For photography enthusiasts and pros alike, a classic choice has always been a digital SLR, like these. This one's from Canon, this one's a Nikon. Now, SLR stands for single lens reflex, and I'll talk about what that means in a minute. One key advantage of digital SLRs is that they let you change lenses. As we'll see in the next movie, having interchangeable lenses gives you all kinds of creative options.
Another advantage of a digital SLR is image quality. Digital SLRs have relatively large image sensors. That's the part of the camera that takes the light from the lens and turns it into a digital image. For a whole bunch of reasons, a larger sensor means better image quality, especially when you're shooting in low light. At least, that's what people used to say. There's a new class of camera out there, and it's challenging the SLR's position at the top of the heap. I'm talking about mirrorless cameras. Like a digital SLR, a mirrorless camera lets you switch lenses so you have that same versatility for wide angle to telephoto and everything in between.
So, what's the difference between mirrorless and SLR? You can probably guess: a mirror. In an SLR, a mirror reflects the image from the lens into the camera's viewfinder to enable you to compose your shots. When you snap the shutter, the mirror springs out of the way so the light can reach the sensor. It's a design that goes back to vintage film cameras, and it gives you the ability to see in the viewfinder exactly what the camera's lens is seeing. The problem is, the mirror and all the mechanics around it take up space. In a mirrorless camera, the viewfinder uses other methods to show you what the lens is seeing.
No mirror, no mirror mechanism, and the result is a smaller, more compact camera. Within the mirrorless camera category, there's another category called micro four thirds. Several years ago, a handful of camera manufacturers got together and actually agreed on something. The result was the micro four thirds standard. The best part of this standard is that the lenses are interchangeable from one camera brand to the next: you can use a Panasonic lens on an Olympus camera, for example. It gives you a little more choice when you're shopping. Regular SLRs don't provide this.
If you buy a Canon SLR, for example, you have to use lenses designed to go on Canon cameras. Now, there's a lot more to mirrorless cameras than I've covered here, but the bottom line is that these are pretty great cameras. The classic SLR is still alive and well, but a lot of photographers have fallen in love with the small size and light weight of a mirrorless camera. Speaking of small size and light weight, let's end our overview of camera options by getting even smaller. I'm talking about point and shoot cameras. They're certainly mirrorless, but they aren't in the same league as the kind of mirrorless cameras we just looked at.
Point and shoots are the Instamatics of our time. They're cheap, they're small, they're easy to use, and if you ask some photographers, they're on their way out. Sales of point and shoot cameras have been falling fast the last few years, and the reason is right here: the smart phone. Most of us are walking around with one of these in our pockets. Their cameras are getting better all the time, and they certainly do let you point and shoot. Mobile photography is one of the fastest growing areas of photography. One reason is this combination of image quality in a compact device that's always with you.
But, the other reasons are apps and the internet. There are photography apps that let you enhance and transform your mobile photos with a few taps of your fingertip. Because your phone is intimately woven into the Internet, it's incredibly easy to share the images you create. No other form of photography offers this kind of global immediacy, and it's really appealing. Now, this doesn't mean point and shoot cameras don't have their place. Higher quality ones have better lenses and sensors than you'll find in a phone. And, they let you do something almost no phone does: shoot in raw mode.
I'll talk about what that means later in this course, but for now remember this: if you're determined to get the absolute best image quality out of your digital photos, you'll want a camera that can shoot in raw mode. Next up, there are the so-called action cameras, the best known of which is the GoPro HERO family. These compact cameras are incredibly versatile: they can shoot underwater, they can shoot in the sky, and they can attach to mounting brackets of all kinds. Most people think of GoPros as being video cameras, but they take great still images, too.
So, what kind of camera's best for you? For some photographers, the answer is all of the above, or at least some combination of it. A phone or a point and shoot for lightweight, walk-around convenience, and for those times that you want to shoot without drawing a lot of attention to yourself. For higher quality work and all the creative options that lenses provide, a mirrorless camera or SLR. And, for extreme photography, a GoPro. You'll find a lot more background on cameras in our Introduction to Photography course. We also have a lot of courses on specific camera models, and they're a lot more fun to watch than camera manuals are to read.
- Essential gear, including cameras, lenses, accessories, and smartphones
- Shooting skills
- Using software to manage and edit your images
- Sharing and printing photos