Photography Equipment/Classes of cameras
This section provides an overview of classes of cameras and relative prevalence, without making recommendations – it is for context.
The main classes of cameras are:
- compact digital cameras: the vast majority of cameras
- DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras).
In more detail, in increasing order of size, quality, and expense, and decreasing order of number of units sold per year:
- camera phones
- compact digital cameras
- bridge digital cameras & large sensor non-DSLR (see below)
- medium-format cameras and large format cameras
- notably view cameras, largely film, but also some digital, as part of professional modular digital camera systems
There are also a few
most notably the Leica M8. They are of specialized interest, and roughly comparable to DSLRs, but rather more expensive; Leica has a strong following.
Large sensor non-DSLR
The "large sensor non-DSLR" class is an emerging class, consisting of cameras with large sensor (like entry-level DSLRs), but a smaller format. Several of these are in the Micro Four Thirds System, by Panasonic and Olympus, which features a Four Thirds size sensor and interchangeable lenses. There are currently two types:
- High-quality compact
- DSLR-style without viewfinder
- Casual photographers are well-served by compact digital cameras, which are generally "point & shoot".
- Serious photographers (including amateurs/enthusiasts) almost universally go for DSLRs.
- A small number of serious photographers go for film medium format and large format cameras.
In terms of numbers, the vast majority of cameras produced today are camera phones, with over 1 billion expected to be sold in 2008. By contrast, approximately 100 million digital cameras were sold in 2006, of which 5 million were DSLRs. Sales of DSLRs are growing rapidly (on the order of 30%/year), so more recent numbers will be much higher.
What about film?
For most purposes, digital has entirely superseded film. In many circumstances, the quality is comparable, and digital is far cheaper and easier, easily allowing one to take hundreds of photographs for free.
For certain purposes, notably high-quality landscapes, film remains the medium of choice. Similarly, some enjoy the process and tradition of film.
In defense of small cameras
A camera is no good if it's left at home.
Small cameras, such as cell phones and compact digitals, have smaller and noisier sensors than DSLRs (which in turn have worse sensors than medium format digitals), and produce worse photographs, particularly at higher ISO speeds and bigger enlargements. However, they are much more portable, and hence more likely to be to hand when one wishes to take a photograph. For casual photographers, who would rarely if ever lug around a DSLR, a small camera is the only camera one will practically use.
Further, used properly, a small camera can produce quite good photographs, particularly at low ISO speeds and if one does not plan to enlarge it too greatly – for posting on the web, for instance.
Many serious photographers carry around a small camera whilst about casually, and reserve DSLRs for specifically photographic expeditions or the studio.
Traditionally these compact cameras have been from the run of "small sensor" cameras, but with the advent of the high-quality compact (Sigma DP1 & DP2, and announced Olympus ones), many photographers are excited about these.
- That is, cameras that are not part of a multi-purpose device, notably a cell phone.
- IDC report 2006