My Cart

Close

Types of Digital Cameras – compacts to DSLRs to everything else

Posted on

 

  1. True Compact Cameras / Ultra Compact Digital Cameras

True compact cameras or ultra compact digital cameras are primarily designed to be easily portable and often fit into pockets and suchlike. A few of the features to note in these ultra compact digital cameras include the following:

 

a. Extremely small size and great portability

b. Tiny sensor sizes

c. Poor or no optical zoom

 

Many super compact digital cameras have a low level of optical zoom (from none up to a maximum of around 30X) and so they sometimes end up relying on digital zoom – which is awful on a small sensor camera. They tend therefore to be used more for happy snaps that require little to no zoom.

 d. Largely automatic functions

They are designed to be used easily and without fuss, and to accommodate people with very little understanding of cameras and light – hence the term ‘point-and-shoot’ that refers to the fact that they are geared more for automatic modes of use. Ultra compact digital cameras all have full auto, and many have set modes of use that give the photographer a limited range of options without having to understand anything technical. These might include options such as ‘Action’, ‘portrait’ and suchlike. Some do also have manual controls.

e. Store images as jpeg

Due to their tiny sensors and the inevitable loss of quality that comes with this super compact digital cameras tend to only be able to store images in ‘lossy’ formats – usually jpeg – and seldom store images in RAW.

 

 f. Tiny onboard flashes

 

Their tiny onboard flashes only really shed sufficient light for very close up photos.

 

 g. Usually no hotshoe

 

Hotshoes are the plate usually at the top of the camera that allow various additional electronic accessories to work on the camera (e.g. an external flash or external audio recorder). Unfortunately very few ultra compact digital cameras have hotshoes, although you will find the odd top end subcompact camera with one.

h. Live preview and no optical viewfinder

Mirrorless cameras – whether compact cameras or otherwise - do not have optical viewfinders as they do not have mirrors in them and so they utilize digital viewfinders (live preview) to frame the image before taking the photograph. This is done via an integrated LCD screen on the mirrorless camera. One of the big disadvantages of mirrorless technology is that the ‘reaction time’ of the camera between when you press the trigger and when it actually takes the photograph is rather long. Just consider the frustrations we all have when trying to photograph a moving object with our smart phones!

 i. Poor autofocus

Unfortunately autofocus systems in compact digital cameras generally use a contrast-detection methodology, which is not nearly as fast or accurate as that on a digital single lens reflex camera or digital single lens translucent camera. However, a few of the best ultra compact cameras use a hybrid system that is superior to pure contrast-detection.

 j. Subcompact cameras will both take still images and record video

 k. Additional features for top end ultra compact cameras.

Like with most electronics a lot depends on price. If you are willing to bank your house on it and go for the best ultra compact camera you can find, you will discover the odd one with several additional features such as electronic RAW storage, full HD, IS, WI-FI, GPS and even large sensors and still 3D capabilities!

 

2.   Bridge cameras

A bridge camera or compact super zoom digital camera is really just a compact camera that comes with a larger, fixed lens. These larger lenses on bridge cameras allow for greater magnification – up to around 60X optical zoom. They still have small sensors, contrast-detect autofocus, live preview and many of the other restrictions of a compact camera, but bridge compact cameras all come with a few advances that begin to bridge the gap to a digital single lens reflex camera. 

The big disadvantage of bridge cameras over subcompact (super compact) cameras is their additional bulk and size, which makes them less convenient to carry. Some of the advantages over an ultra compact digital camera might include:

 a. Superzoom

 

 b. Auto focus modes

Some bridge cameras include a manual focus mode and even a separate focus ring for greater control.

 

 c. Image stabilization

This of course becomes far more necessary on any camera that is using high levels of optical zoom.

 

 d. Sensor size

Many bridge cameras have the same tiny sensors that ultra compact digital cameras tend to have – around 1/2.3” sensor. However, some have a larger sensor of around 1 inch that greatly improves image quality, particularly in low light conditions. One of the trade-offs in larger sensor size in some of the bridge cameras is degree of zoom. Tiny sensors, by being smaller can have a similar length of lens providing a similar degree of optical magnification but with a much higher effective maximum length (up to around 1000mm). The larger sensor bridge cameras might have a similar degree of magnification but the larger sensor size results in a shorter effective range – generally in the 200mm to 400mm range.

 

 e. Lens thread

Lens thread is literally just the thread on a lens that allows things to be screwed on to it. Some bridge cameras have a lens thread to allow for the attachment of certain accessories including wide angle converters, telephoto converters, lens hoods, UV filters and polarizing filters. 

 

 f. Storage formats

Many bridge cameras, unlike most of their super compact counterparts are able to store images in RAW formats in addition to just Jpeg. This storage of the original raw data allows for a greater degree of flexibility in processing of the image using photo editing packages such as Photoshop Lightroom.

 

  1. Rugged Compacts

Rugged compacts are compact digital cameras that include protection against the elements, including submersion in water, extremely hot and/or cold temperatures, shock (e.g. dropping it) and pressure (crush proof). Some are designed to be not just waterproof but to work underwater to depths of as much as 30m. A few of them even float! Of course you tend to lose some of the standard compact camera functionality as a part of the trade-off.

Here at Cameraverse we recommend that if you are buying one of these you need to consider what you would actually use it for, and then make sure it is able to fully meet these requirements. So for example don’t buy an underwater compact camera because you might maybe, possibly one day want to utilize it underwater, but will actually be utilizing it in non-submerged situations. And although a ‘Waterproof to 5m’ compact digital camera might be awesome for your snorkeling trip to Mauritius, it isn’t going to stand up to the 5 days of scuba diving you had planned!

 

4.   Action cameras

Action cameras such as GoPro’s are relatively small, hardy cameras that usually offer both still and video recording, usually with a large degree of automation. Action cameras are designed for the purpose of having a hassle free way of recording sports and action events and can be easily attached to helmets, arms, bicycles and similar. These action cams tend to have a wide angle lens with a fixed focus, usually without sound, and generally capture a first person experiential type perspective – similar to that of a first person video game. For more on action cameras you should read this article.

 

5.   360-degree cameras

360 degree cameras are able to shoot stills or video of a full 360 degrees! They utilize two lenses back-to-back that shoot at exactly the same time. One of the newest and bluest, the Nico360 is billed as the world's smallest 360-degree camera , and has some useful features such as virtual reality mode built-in stitching, water resistance, and with Bluetooth & WiFi allowing for live streaming.

 

 

6.   Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILC)

Mirrorless Interchangeable lens cameras have more in common with DSLRs than either bridge cameras or other compacts. Their main advantage over digital single reflex cameras is that – due to not having a mirror and optical viewfinder – they tend to be less bulky than DSLRs.

Their main advantage over both ultra compact digital cameras and most bridge cameras is that they come in a wide range of sensor sizes including 1/2.3”, 1/1.7”, 1”, a micro 4/3 sensor, and occasionally even an APS-C size sensor (this includes the Canon EOS M, Sony NEX series, Pentax K-01 and Fujifilm X series). The Sony Alpha 7 actually uses a full frame 35mm sensor (36mm x 23.9mm), and the Hasselblad X1D is the first MILC to have a medium format sensor (which are gigantic 53.7mm x 40.2mm sensors).

 

The main disadvantages of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras when compared to digital single lens reflex cameras is that they have electronic rather than optical viewfinders and generally slower autofocus systems making tracking of fast subjects more tricky. They tend to have a degree of shutter lag, and the high energy consumption of the electronic viewfinder results in shorter battery life. 

 

7.   Modular cameras

Modular cameras easily break down into separate modules. This has significant advantages over normal camera units where you cannot separate out the parts. Firstly, it allows a photographer to replace just the actual part of the camera system that is broken.

Most interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) tend to consist of a camera with a shutter and sensor and then some sort of lens mount system. However, there are a few modular cameras out there such as the Ricoh GXRmodular and Polaroid iM1836 camera systems where the shutter and sensor are actually incorporated into the lens!

More recently there have been a few add-on camera modules for smartphones, which are called lens-style cameras or lens cameras. The lens module in these lens cameras is also a modular camera in that it contains all the usual components of a digital camera except for a viewfinder, display and most of the controls. This is because they mount on the smartphone and thus are able to utilize its controls, display and viewfinder.

Lens-style modular cameras include the Sony SmartShot QX series, Vivicam smart lens camera series, Kodak PixPro smart lens camera series and the Olympus Air lens camera.

 

  1. Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLRs)

Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras get their name from a 45 degree reflex mirror that reflects light into a prism and then into the optical viewfinder so that the photographer sees the exact image that the camera does. In the instant of taking the photograph the mirror is pulled up horizontally below the prism so that the light can pass directly through to the open shutter and then the sensor. DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, and most today also have a live view digital viewfinder option. They tend to have large sensors and superior autofocus systems making them the gold standard for serious and/or professional photographers, although MILCs have made great strides in reducing this gap.

 

DSLRs can come in many different sensor sizes, but in general we could classify them into three categories, in increasing order of sensor size:

  1. APS-C or cropped sensor digital single lens reflex cameras
  2. 35mm Full Frame digital single lens reflex cameras
  3. Medium format digital single lens reflex cameras – these have enormous sensors and although many manufacturers make at least one model the market is largely cornered by Rolls Royce camera manufacturers such as Leica, Hasselblad and Mamiya.

 

Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras are discussed in detail in this article.

 

  1. Digital Single Lens Translucent (DSLT) cameras

Digital Single Lens Translucent (DSLT) cameras are similar to digital single lens reflex cameras but use a fixed translucent / transmissive (semi-transparent) mirror. You might want to read the article on how DSLR cameras work before reading this paragraph. Anyhow, with the digital single lens translucent camera the mirror reflects light along two paths simultaneously:

 

a.    The translucent mirror reflects light along the path to a pentaprism and then to an optical view finder, exactly like a DSLR.

b.    However, the translucent mirror also directs light along a second path to the sensor.

 

Since the same total amount of light is entering the camera and some is being directed away from the sensor to the pentaprism and then viewfinder, less light is able to reach the sensor. This results in a translucent mirror camera shooting at half a stop less light than a DSLR. This means that an F2.8 would become an F3.3, which is obviously slower.

 

However, directing light along this second pathway gives the digital single lens translucent camera two primary advantages:

a.    With DSLTs the photographer never experiences the ‘blind’ moments when the mirror is up and therefore light cannot reach the pentaprism and the viewfinder. Personally, I think this is a relatively small thing, but in theory it should help the photographer to track fast moving objects slightly better.

b.    The other advantage of having light always reaching both the viewfinder and sensor is that digital single lens translucent cameras get the benefit of continuous auto-focus tracking. This gives them an advantage in autofocus tracking ability, especially in low-light conditions.

 

For those who are interested the following table gives the exact f-stop as we continue to halve the amount of light that the lens can access through its aperture. If you look at the standard F-stop column you will see that these are not the exact whole numbers that you are used to – as these numbers get rounded off. What is nice about this table though is that you can see what happens to the aperture as you move out in increments of 1/10th of a stop. So my 50mm F1.41 lens on my Canon DSLR would lose 0.5 of a stop and become a 50mm F1.68 if placed on a digital single lens translucent camera.

 

F/stop Table, in Tenth-Stops

Stop
Number

f/stop

+0.1

+0.2

+0.3

+0.4

+0.5

+0.6

+0.7

+0.8

+0.9

-2

0.5

0.52

0.54

0.55

0.57

0.59

0.62

0.64

0.66

0.68

-1

0.71

0.73

0.76

0.78

0.81

0.84

0.87

0.90

0.93

0.97

0

1

1.04

1.07

1.11

1.15

1.19

1.23

1.27

1.32

1.37

1

1.41

1.46

1.52

1.57

1.62

1.68

1.74

1.80

1.87

1.93

2

2

2.07

2.14

2.22

2.30

2.38

2.46

2.55

2.64

2.73

3

2.83

2.93

3.03

3.14

3.25

3.36

3.48

3.61

3.73

3.86

4

4

4.14

4.29

4.44

4.59

4.76

4.92

5.10

5.28

5.46

5

5.66

5.86

6.06

6.28

6.50

6.73

6.96

7.21

7.46

7.73

6

8

8.28

8.57

8.88

9.19

9.51

9.85

10.2

10.6

10.9

7

11.31

11.7

12.1

12.6

13.0

13.5

13.9

14.4

14.9

15.5

8

16

16.6

17.1

17.8

18.4

19.0

19.7

20.4

21.1

21.9

9

22.63

23.4

24.3

25.1

26.0

26.9

27.9

28.8

29.9

30.9

10

32

33.1

34.3

35.5

36.8

38.1

39.4

40.8

42.2

43.7

11

45.25

46.9

48.5

50.2

52.0

53.8

55.7

57.7

59.7

61.8

12

64

66.3

68.6

71.0

73.5

76.1

78.8

81.6

84.4

87.4

13

90.51

93.7

97.0

100

104

108

111

115

119

124

14

128

133

137

142

147

152

158

163

169

175

 

 

10.   Medium Format Cameras

 

Medium Format Cameras have absolutely HUGE sensors on them. While a standard 35mm digital full frame camera has a sensor size of 24mm x 36mm medium format sensors are much larger. ‘How large?’ you might ask, and actually the answer to this is ‘It depends…’ Unlike with 35mm sensors medium format cameras actually come with a range of different sized sensors – as well as different dimensional ratios. You can get medium format sensors that are 56mm x 42mm (6 X 4.5 or 645s), 56mm X 56mm (6 X 6), 56mm X 67mm (6 X 7), 58mm X 75mm (6 X 8) and 56mm X 84mm (6 X 9). It is impossible to do these cameras justice in one paragraph, but let me state that the quality is exceptional. These photos demonstrate this clearly, pitting a brilliant full frame Nikon camera against a medium format camera. One thing to take note of here, medium format cameras are definitely not for action shots and fast moving targets. Their focus systems are not designed with this in mind and the above mentioned Nikon would take infinitely better shots if the horse bolted!

 

11.   Digital rangefinder cameras versus digital rangefinders

A digital rangefinder is a device that measures distance to the subject, and you can learn more about them digital rangefinders here. The general purpose of a rangefinder is in determining the distance to the subject in order to accurately and manually adjust the focus of the camera’s objective lens.

Rangefinder cameras are so named as they focus using a dual-image range finding device. In essence you turn a ring and when two superimposed images line up exactly then the image is in perfect focus.

With a rangefinder camera you actually focus and compose the image through a window on the top right of the camera, a little like you might with a disposable camera. So you never actually look through the lens!

The rangefinder on a rangefinder camera peeps through a little window on the left hand side of the camera and triangulates as you turn the focus ring.

Back in the days of film cameras there were a large number of rangefinder cameras to choose from, but this has lessened somewhat. Rangefinder cameras have both advantages and disadvantages when compared to digital SLR cameras, and you can still find rangefinders in some of the absolute best cameras today, including the 35mm Leica M9 and the medium format Mamiya 7.

 

12.    Line-scan camera systems (line-scan cameras)

Line-scan cameras have a single row of pixel sensors (as opposed to the normal matrix pattern). These pixel lines are continuously fed into an input computer that joins them to each other and thereby creates an image. They use a frame grabber to do this, and it also enables buffering of the image and occasionally even a level of processing. Some line-scan cameras actually have multiple rows of sensors in order to allow for colored images and/or increase sensitivity by time delay and integration.

 

Why on Earth might one want a line-scan camera? Well, one industrial application of them is in circumstances requiring a seriously wide field of view! As you can imagine it can be difficult to maintain consistent light across large 2 dimensional images. The advantage of a line-scan camera is that even illumination only has to be maintained across the line that the camera is currently viewing. This allows for images of objects passing the camera at incredibly high speeds. You actually view images from line scan cameras quite frequently for things like photo finishes, where a winner has to be determined from several subjects crossing a line at almost the exact same time!

Line scan cameras are also used extensively in scanners, as well as in satellite imaging where the row of sensors is perpendicular to the direction of satellite motion.

 

13.      Stand alone cameras

Stand alone cameras are mostly used as remote cameras. They do not contain LCD screens or viewfinders, but some do contain microphones and/or speakers. Stand alone cameras are usually able to take both still images and video.

 

14.     Integration of cameras into mobile phones and similar devices.

 

As we all know the advent of the smart phone in particular has led to the integration of high pixel cameras into mobile phones, and sales of these camera phones have gone through the roof! You can view more detail on smartphones with great cameras here.

 

Feel free to contact us here at Cameraverse if you would like some advice on which of our range of digital single lens reflex cameras, ultra compact digital cameras, bridge cameras, rugged compact digital cameras, action cameras, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, smart phones with cameras, digital rangefinders, digital rangefinder cameras or any other sort of camera that will best suite your needs!

Hello You!

Enter your email address for stock alerts, discounts, promotions and more!

SEARCH THIS STORE