Pictures by Steve Gale
It is fair to say that many photographers love to talk about their cameras and the latest technology as much as their pictures. As a result it’s easy to get confused about what is the best option for you. The simple truth is that for your first steps into photography it doesn’t matter which camera you have, just take pictures of things you love and enjoy and once you feel more confident you may want to invest in something a little more advanced.
Here is some basic information to help you understand the different options available.
It doesn’t matter how expensive your camera is, if it is sat at home collecting dust then it is useless. In this respect a smartphone with a good quality camera is great, you are bound to have it with you if you spot something worth a snap. Some tips on smartphone cameras though:
- Some smartphones take excellent pictures but tend to be suited to certain conditions, the iPhone can take some excellent middle distance shots for example. You will learn from experience the types of shot and conditions that they do and don’t give great results on.
- Zooming on a smartphone very rarely produces good results as the cameras do not include (yet) the adjustable lenses of more advanced types (more about this on the zoom page).
- Save and Back-up your pictures! It’s too easy for precious pictures to stay on a smartphone but if it breaks, falls in the sink or get’s lost, so are your photos. Learning to back up your photos (or anything else for that matter) is vital. And get the best ones printed too, it’s much easier to appreciate a printed photo than one that’s stuck on a microchip.
Single Lens Reflex Cameras (SLRs) are the polar opposite to a phone camera but are worth covering here before we talk about some of the other (cheaper) options. SLRs will provide some of the very best photos and with the greater opportunities for creative expression that they offer, add an extra artistic flair to your photography . The reason for this are the large, high quality and inter-changeable lenses that they use.
The way that these lenses work make for much greater clarity when zooming in on a subject and allow you much more control in the way that the picture is taken. The most obvious result of this is that they allow you to blur backgrounds which adds depth and draws attention to the subject of the picture.
It will be no surprise then that SLRs are also the more expensive and bulky option when it comes to purchasing a camera but one that you may wish to invest in if you want to add that extra level of finesse to your pictures. SLR cameras can range from several hundred pounds up to several thousand pounds while lenses can also start at a couple of hundred pounds to the cost of a good car! As a result there is so much choice and variety in these cameras that entire magazines are dedicated to them. The entry model SLRs are a great option for most beginners and starting at several hundred pounds will still provide excellent results.
The more standard, pocket sized cameras, that most people will be familiar with, are often refered to as ‘point-and-shoot’ thanks to how easy they are to use. They are cheaper and much more portable than an SLRs. Many serious photographers will carry a point and shoot camera with
them when they do not wish to take a bulkier camera with them.
Many point-and-shoot cameras have become highly advanced with good quality image sensors. A digital screen to preview your pictures is now standard and the better models will have excellent zoom lenses.
While cheaper and more portable than an SLR, a point-and-shoot camera will not reach the same image quality, clarity or flexibility of an SLR but they are still extremely useful. As an accessible entry into photography, or as an every day camera for family and holiday snaps a point and shoot camera is extremely useful.
Bridge cameras are so-called because the ‘bridge’ the gap between point-and-shoot and SLR cameras. Many are a little smaller than the most compact SLRs but will feature a higher quality lens than a point and shoot which will allow for greater image quality.
Being cheaper than an SLR they are also a more accesible option but lack some of the features of a full SLR such as a viewfinder, interchanable lenses or the higher quality image sensors.
They can be useful for learnign some of the technical apects of photography but may have some limitations in their flexibility and capabilities.
So far we have only looked at digital cameras. The ability to take hundreds of pictures at almost no cost and the fact that images can be instantly downloaded has meant that digital has completely taken over from film. Some (but not many) photographers do still use film though as they enjoy the feel that can be acomplished through an old fashioned photographic negative.
Unless you want to experiment with film for creative reasons we can not recommend film for the beginner though. There are several reasons for this:
- The cost of processing – due to the rarity of film processing these days this not getting cheaper
- The availability of processing – In the past many chemists would have their own processing facilities in store but now film has to be sent to specialist labs. If you wish to have slide transparencies or medium format (non 35mm) film processed the labs capable of carrying out the work are becoming very few and far between.
- Time – film does not allow you to quickly review your photos and learn from mistakes, as such digital is a much better option for the beginner.
If you want to experiment with film though, particularly black and white photography it is still relatively easy to get hold of dark room equipment to do the processing yourself if you’re feeling brave! It can be a very rewarding process.