This is a great time to pick up a camera and start making images. Thanks to the advent of digital technology it has become extremely easy to make excellent imagery. Digital cameras come in various shapes, sizes, features and price tags. The most important underlying factor that determines the quality of the camera is its sensor size.
The larger that sensor, more light the camera can capture. That said, beyond the size of the sensor there are other parameters as well that governs the quality of a camera and more importantly its suitability for a particular task at hand. But mainly they are segregated based on their size and their ability to use different lenses.
DSLRs are by far the most popular and the best digital cameras in the business. They combine the advantage that comes from an interchangeable lens system, along with a large sensor, within an affordable budget. DSLRs are fast becoming the camera of choice among a new breed of casual and enthusiast photographers. These are the photographers who would have picked a compact point & shoot system earlier.
Being a system that has mutated from the erstwhile 35mm SLR system, DSLRs have a huge advantage in the form of an existing line of legacy lenses. Some legacy lenses dating back to the 80’s and the 70’s are still usable with modern DSLR system cameras from the same manufacturer. Some of these lenses are super sharp and rare, which gives DSLRs a rare advantage over other digital cameras (including mirrorless systems and medium format cameras).
Mirrorless systems are a synergy between what’s best with point & shoot systems, i.e., their compact form and what’s best with interchangeable lens systems, i.e., the ability to use different lenses as you need. Mirrorless systems could easily be tagged as the best digital cameras but for the lack of an optical viewfinder. They have an electronic viewfinder.
That said, modern mirrorless systems such as the Sony a7R III and the Panasonic GH5 (and the latest GH5S) have completely blurred out the difference in terms of reliability and accuracy between a normal optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder. Refresh rates have gone up and so has color accuracy.
Compact point & shoot systems are not far behind. In fact, they are still being sold in sizeable numbers albeit less than what they used to be a few years ago (and for that we can blame smartphone cameras). The allure of point & shoot system cameras is definitely due to their compact size.
The disadvantage with these systems, on the other hand, is the small sensor size which renders them pretty much unsuitable for low light photography. Also, they are fixed lens systems, which means you are pretty much limited to the capabilities of the lens that the camera comes with.
Then there is a whole list of compact point & shoot systems which are extremely rugged and designed to be used in almost any condition. These cameras are worth a look if you are interested in all-weather photography and especially, underwater photography. These are designed specifically for the purpose of shooting still, unlike the action cams which are designed mainly for video.
Medium format interchangeable lens cameras such as the Hasselblad X1D-50C, the Fujifilm GFX 50S, and the Pentax 645Z have brought a sudden surge in interest in medium format systems among photographers.
These high-end cameras are popular with the professional product, fashion, and landscape photographers. These three happens to be in the ‘affordable’ segment because most other medium format systems are way beyond the reach of even the most affluent photographers.
The advantage of these cameras is undoubtedly the large sensor size, which captures a lot of light. Paired with that is the high resolution. All the three cameras listed above have a resolution in excess of 50 megapixels. They are capable of capturing an incredible amount of detail as a result.
Action cameras are the new generation cameras designed for a new breed of photographers. Action sports enthusiasts, hikers, mountaineers, trekkers, surfers, and dirt biker riders are some of the target customers for these cameras. But that is not a full list of areas and situations where these cameras come in handy.
These cameras are very small, smaller than a compact camera, have very little in terms of external buttons and dials, can capture in-camera 4K footages (most of them) and come with an external waterproof housing which allows them to be used in rain and inclement weather and even underwater.
This segment has been popularized by GoPro but a lot of Chinese manufacturers including SJCam and Shenzhen Hawk-Eye are coming into the forefront with their high-quality cameras at an affordable price.
The biggest advantage of these cameras is their high durability and the ability to be used in almost any type of weather and in almost any temperature. The GoPro HERO5, for example, can be used underwater up to a depth of 33′ without the need for an external waterproof housing.
More photos are being shot now than they used to be even 5 years ago. The credit for that goes to smartphone cameras. More photos are being shot on a smartphone than on any other cameras. It is convenient too. You have to literally pack a separate camera in your bag, remember to charge it, carry the spare memory cards and other accessories that go with it. If it is a DSLR or a mirrorless camera then the size would also be a major factor that decides whether the camera actually makes it inside the bag.
A smartphone is so much more convenient. Especially, if you wish to travel light. These days the latest smartphone camera systems come with twin cameras (some have more than two cameras). One of these cameras is a wide angle and the other is a ‘telephoto’. Thus, they give you a feel of an interchangeable lens system. But to be honest these lenses are fixed aperture and fixed focal length and therefore have limitations.
Finally, we have the tablet cameras. These cameras are somewhat unwieldy simply because of the larger size and the way these devices are designed which makes it imperative to hold them with two hands while making images.
Tablet cameras used to be very popular at one time. Not anymore. That popularity craze is now owned by smartphones. But still, there are some users who prefer to use a tablet and make the occasional photo using a tablet.
The best digital cameras are undoubtedly the modern DSLRs and the mirrorless systems. Because they are the perfect balance between features, functionality, ease of use, image quality and price. Smartphones, are, however, the most used because they are always on you and they are so much fun to use!