When Eastman Kodak unveiled the Brownie camera in 1900, it was a cardboard box with a lens and a roll of film. As basic as it was, it was revolutionary in the democratization of photography. In those days, buying a camera was simple. Fast forward more than a century later, and modern cameras are so diverse and so advanced that buying one is definitely not a single decision for all models.
To make matters worse, most of us already own a pretty decent camera in the form of a smartphone and knowing when a dedicated camera provides a real benefit can be difficult to determine. The prices of the new cameras range from a couple of hundred to a few thousand dollars, with numerous brands and models in each level along the way.
This guide is designed for first-time camera buyers to point in the right direction to answer these questions. You may also find it useful if you have not purchased a camera in many years and are looking for a definitive update. This article will refer to different sizes of sensors; It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with those first, or scroll down to the "megapixel myth" section below for a brief description of why larger sensors take bigger photos.
Types of cameras  Cameras come in all shapes and sizes and nobody is objectively better. The camera that works for you depends completely on your specific needs. The first step is to identify the general type of camera you want.
There are three basic categories: compact / point and shoot, interchangeable mirrorless lenses and digital SLR (DSLR). Within each, there are many different variations: some point-and-shoot look like DSLR, some mirrorless cameras are incredibly compact, while others are much larger, and so on. Here you will find what you will find in each category.
Point and point shooting cameras
These cover a wide range. They can be compact pocket handles that are affordable and easy to use, or robust advanced models with long zoom, large sensors and full manual controls. The only constant is a non-interchangeable lens.
You're probably aware that the popularity of point-and-shoot has diminished considerably as phone cameras have become so good. The basic point-and-shoot cameras are no longer attractive to the masses, and manufacturers have responded by shifting their efforts towards high-end models.
While you can find some pointers and entry-level shots in the $ 100 to $ 200 range. They generally do not offer an image quality that is noticeably better than a modern smartphone. However, they will offer features that phones usually do not have. Look for zoom lenses, large sensors and any other feature that stands out.
For better quality, an advanced compact is the way to go. Look at cameras that use a 1-inch sensor, which starts around $ 500 but can cost up to $ 1,500 or less. These larger sensors produce higher quality images. The drawback is that a larger sensor makes everything else on the camera, from the body to the lens, also larger. For this reason, you will often not find long zoom and large sensors together in a compact body, although the engineers behind the Sony RX100 VI have done an impressive job, installing a one-inch sensor and a 24-200 zoom mm.
Another type of aiming and shooting is the "superzoom", considerably less compact, named for its extremely long zoom lens. The Nikon P1000 currently holds the longest zoom record, with a power of 125x or an equivalent focal length of 24-3,000mm. Such a camera gives you a lot of flexibility to shoot in a relatively compact package.
Note that although superzooms look like robust digital SLR's, they still have the limited photographic quality of a compact camera, because of their small sensors. Some high-end models, such as the Sony RX10 IV, have sensors larger than one inch. The image quality will also be better in such models, but they can not match the maximum zoom range of a small sensor superzoom.
Divide the difference between compact and superzoom is the subcategory of travel zoom. These cameras have zoom lenses in the range of 20x to 50x, but they are also easier to carry because the body style is more compact than the body of the DSLR type superzooms. These are versatile travel companions when you want flexibility without being heavy.
Waterproof spots and buds are a niche subcategory designed to handle a day at the beach or survive a fall in the pool. They tend to have lower quality and much shorter zooms compared to other point and shoot, but offer peace of mind when taking pictures in places where you would not dream of carrying a camera or expensive smartphone. The Olympus Tough TG-5 is one of our favorite models.
This category offers superior image quality, more creative options, and faster than point-and-shoot performance, without all the bulk of a Digital SLR – more or less. The name "without a mirror" comes from the fact that these cameras do not have the mirror that is in a digital SLR camera, nor do they have an optical viewfinder. In contrast, cameras without a mirror are always in live view mode, whether you are looking at the LCD screen or through an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Mirrorless cameras tend to be more expensive than compact cameras, but entry-level models are often cheaper than premium shots and dots.
There are different formats of mirrorless cameras used by different brands. Panasonic and Olympus share the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format, which means you can use Panasonic lenses on an Olympus camera and vice versa. Fujifilm uses the larger APS-C sensor for its X-Series models and Sony produces mirrorless cameras with APS-C and larger full-frame (35 mm) sensors. Canon and Nikon introduced full-frame mirrorless cameras in 2018 that finally give Sony a real competition, and Canon also maintains its EOS M line using the APS-C format.
Prices for mirrorless models start at around $ 500 and can go up to several thousand (Hasselblad introduced its first medium format camera without a mirror, which can cost more than $ 10,000). In general, models with larger sensors are more expensive, although this is not always the case. As with compact cameras, the larger the sensor, the larger the camera.
DSLR cameras cover the same price range as mirrorless cameras and offer the same range of products from consumer to professional. An entry-level consumer digital SLR camera will offer much better picture quality compared to a compact camera due to its larger sensor, but will not offer the speed and extras of a professional digital SLR camera. If the size does not bother you, $ 500 on a basic digital SLR camera will go beyond a compact unit of $ 500, at least in terms of image quality.
Digital SLR cameras do not necessarily offer better image quality or more versatility than a mirrorless model. but they have other benefits Many professional photographers still prefer the optical viewfinder of a digital SLR camera, which does not suffer from delay or pixilation and consumes much less energy, which leads to better battery life. A mid-range digital SLR camera can easily obtain more than one thousand exposures with a single battery.
DSLR cameras also maintain an advantage for action and sports photography, since their continuous autofocus and tracking modes tend to be more reliable, even when mirrorless cameras begin to do so.
The biggest drawback of a digital SLR camera is the bulk. Compared with mirrorless cameras, digital SLR cameras are larger and heavier (although, depending on the lens used, cameras without a mirror can also gain weight). They also tend to operate more slowly in live view mode (where the image is framed on the LCD instead of through the optical viewfinder). This can make things worse for video recording compared to a mirrorless camera, although certain models, such as the Canon EOS 80D, are quite good in this regard.