7 November 2011

Setting the foundation - "Which camera should i go for?" - part2

"Ok! I have identified my needs, passion and budget. What next?"

In this section , I will help you understand a few basic things about cameras like camera categories, their abilities and their price ranges. This will give you clarity on your ideal camera.

Digital Camera Categories

Digital cameras can be divided into 4 Categories: compact , bridge (also known as prosumer), DSLR and the more premium cameras like Hasselblad. I have heard that only two photographers/photography agencies in the entire nation own a Hasselblad and anybody else who needs it, rents it from them so don't even think of that segment. For amateurs, semi-professionals and quite a few professionals, the first three categories are the ones that matter.

* Compact Digital Cameras: Cameras that come in this broad category are the ones which offer the user almost no or minimal manual control over the parameters of composition (ISO, shutter speed, aperture). These are called POS (point and shoot) cameras. One such camera is Canon ixus-115hs. Such cameras come with a horde of in-built modes like night, landscape, portrait, snow, fireworks, high-speed, etc. which suit the trigger happy user very well. Such cameras are best for your parties and fit into your pocket or bag without any fuss. The downside is, the creativity is mostly in the camera and not in you since you are limited by the camera's features. To add a dash of your creativity onto the image, you would mostly need to post-process it (work on it after the image has been saved onto your PC).
Image Courtesy: dpreview.com
* Bridge/Prosumer Cameras: Cameras in this segment usually have ultra-zoom, manual features and allow you to attach peripheral equipment like flash, wireless remote, etc. What separates these cameras from the next category (DSLRs) is that bridge cameras cannot match the processor speed of DSLRs, do not provide removable lenses and the manual controls are not really good. These cameras are a step or a bridge between compacts (which allow almost no manual control) and DSLRs (which let you control the camera completely) and hence the name, bridge cameras. One such camera that I have used is the Canon S5 IS. The camera has a 12x zoom lens and 8mpx sensor combined with the usual manual modes (Tv, Av, P, M), flash hot-shoe for external flash and a rotating display. Moving up from the Konica Minolta compact camera to this, I could now slow down shutter speeds and capture images in the night, I could zoom into the bird perched up on a tree, I could capture vehicles in motion and do all kinds of freaky stuff that my compact camera just was no good at! The downside was that I had to now carry a big camera bag around.

Image Courtesy: dpreview.com
* DSLRs: This is the final destination for you in camera equipment unless you intend to shoot and print a 5 storied poster for a client. SLR stands for Single-Lens-Reflex which means that the image that you view in the viewfinder and the one that gets captured on the sensor are both obtained through a single lens. The name came into being when photographers moved from dual lens reflex to single lens reflex. Below is an image of a dual lens reflex camera. You can read up a bit on dual lens reflex cameras here to understand the internals of dual and single lens reflex cameras and the pros and cons of it. Today, a new development is mirrorless cameras. You can read up on that too here. Some of the mirrorless cameras are Sony NEX and Samsung NX series.

Image Courtesy: shoporium.com

In DSLRs, there are broadly three categories:

1) Entry level DSLRs: these have slower processing speeds, minimal features and are cropped-frame sensors. Some examples are Canon 1100D and Nikon D3100.

2) Semi-professional DSLRs: these have higher speed and more features than entry level DSLRs. One such camera that I have used is Nikon d7000. The first few differences that I have noticed between this camera and entry level DSLRs are better ISO performance (less noise at higher ISO), faster capturing/saving, exposure bracketing, etc.

3) Professional DSLRs: these are full-frame cameras with the fastest hardware and a horde of features that only a professional will miss in the previous 2 segments mentioned. The full frame sensor leads to superior ISO performance and lets the camera take on more megapixels. At this point, I shall make a mention of the lesser known fact that every sensor size has an upper limit to the maximum number of pixels that it can support beyond which, to many pixels on the sensor lead to noise and under-performance. We shall look at this concept in greater detail in another article.

Let's talk money!

Most often than not, it is your budget that eventually decides the camera for you. Sure, you want the best but can you afford it at the moment? One can find a pleasant compact camera with ease under the INR 10k bracket while a prosumer would cost you in the range of 15k-30k. The Canon and Nikon entry level DSLRs start at around 25k (this includes the body and kit lens which is usually the 18-55 lens).

Category Price Range Best for Preferred brands in India
Compact INR 5000 and above Point and shoot users who don't bother about the technicals of photography. For example, kids, goofy parents and anybody who wants a camera "just in case" :) Sony, Canon, Nikon
Bridge INR 15k and above Amateurs who want more out of their camera/are in the learning phase Sony, Canon
DSLR INR 25k and above People who have the "kida" in them and are being held back by their equipment Sony, Canon, Nikon

With this I conclude the introductory article that hopes to address the "which camera should i go for?" question. I hope this has helped you gain clarity on the topic of cameras and will help you find your soulmate in cameras :) Best of luck in your find!


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