A beginner's guide to choosing your first camera: Exploring the options

First published:
September 5, 2023
January 30, 2024

A beginner's guide to choosing your first camera: Exploring the options

First published:
September 5, 2023
January 30, 2024

Decide what first camera is best for you with our simple, clear guide on all the options available

If you’re just getting started on your photography journey, then no doubt at some point, you'll have consider purchasing your first camera.

Whether you're looking to capture landscapes, document street scenes, or unleash your creative flair in different ways, choosing that first camera is a significant step towards achieving your photographic aspirations. And it will play a crucial part in developing your overall skills behind the lens over time, too.

There’s a massive amount of different camera types and models on the market today, so it's essential to make an informed decision to get the most out of your investment.

In this guide, we'll explore the different types of cameras available and what beginners should consider when choosing one.

So, let’s dive in…

Types of cameras

First of all, it's super helpful to understand the different types of cameras available. Each camera type serves different purposes and offers unique features for various photography styles and preferences.

Below are the primary different types of cameras you’ll encounter on the marketplace; all of which have many camera models that cater to beginner photographers, and are represented by the most popular and reputable camera manufacturers, such as Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fuji.

1 DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) Cameras

DSLRs are known for their versatility and excellent image quality. They use a mirror system to direct light to the optical viewfinder, giving you a real-time view of your subject, and until mirrorless came to the market (see below), they were the most popular type of camera for photographers of all levels, and still remain a great choice of camera.

Key features of DSLRs include interchangeable lenses, manual controls, and the ability to capture high-quality images in a range of situations. They are equally suitable for beginners and enthusiasts who want to learn and grow their photography skills–you'll find many "entry level" DSLRs perfectly suited to those just getting started.

Photo by Luis Quintero

2 Mirrorless cameras

Mirrorless cameras offer similar capabilities to DSLRs but in a more compact and lightweight package, as they do not have the mirror mechanism in them like DSLRs. As such, they have become perhaps the most popular type of camera available today across the photography community.

Instead of an optical viewfinder, they use electronic viewfinders (EVF) or LCD screens to display the scene. Like DSLRs, mirrorless camera models also offer interchangeable lenses and manual controls, making them a popular choice for those looking to balance portability and performance.

Photo by Furkan Elveren

3 Compact cameras

Compact cameras, also known as point-and-shoot cameras, are small, lightweight, and incredibly easy to use. They are ideal for beginners who want a simple, hassle-free photography experience. While they lack the advanced features and image quality of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, they are great for everyday snapshots and holiday photography.

Photo by Erik Mclean

4 Bridge cameras

As it says on the tin, bridge cameras bridge the gap between compact cameras DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They typically have fixed lenses with a wide zoom range, manual controls, and advanced shooting modes. They are an excellent choice for beginners who want more control over their photography without the complexity of models with interchangeable lenses like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Photo by Vladimir Srajber

5 Film cameras

Film cameras offer a different photographic experience. They use traditional film rolls to capture images, requiring manual settings for exposure, focus, and film type selection. While they offer a unique and nostalgic feel, film cameras require a deeper understanding of photography principles to get the best results. They are a fantastic choice for those interested in exploring the art of film photography.

Photo by Markus Spiske
Particularly interested in film photography?

We have a range of articles on this exciting medium! Discover our film photography guides.

6 Smartphone cameras

Smartphones have become increasingly popular as tools for photography. They offer convenience and portability, with built-in cameras that are capable of capturing impressive photos and videos. So much so, that many photographers, professionals included, shoot exclusively with smartphones.

For beginners, smartphone photography is a fantastic option for those who want to start with what they already have in their pockets.

Photo by Henry Marsh
More mobile photography?

See our extensive range of guides on getting the best our of your mobile phone camera.

What are the key considerations for beginners when choosing a camera?

Here are some most important considerations for beginners when choosing that first camera:

1 Budget

Determine how much you're willing to invest in your first camera. Remember that the camera body is just the beginning; you may also need accessories like lenses, film rolls (for film cameras), memory cards, and a camera bag. Set a realistic budget that covers everything you'll need to get the shots you want.

2 Intended use

Think about your photography goals. Different camera types excel in different areas, so choose one that aligns with your interests. For example, if you love capturing distant wildlife, a DSLR or bridge camera with a long zoom lens might be ideal; or for landscape photography, cameras that support a wide angle lens would be beneficial; and for street photography, a discreet camera may be the best option.

It's worth spending time doing some research here, often when browsing photography groups and galleries online, such as Flickr, information on  the camera used is available along with the photographs–so you can get a good idea of what type camera works best for certain subjects.

"...your fellow photographers will be more than happy to discuss cameras with you. So ask away!"

3 Ease of Use

Consider your level of photography experience. If you're a complete novice, a compact, smartphone, or bridge camera might be a more comfortable starting point, as they often have user-friendly automatic modes. However, if you're willing to invest time in learning photography fundamentals, a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or film camera can offer much better creative control.

4 Portability

Think about how you plan to carry your camera. If you're always on the move, a compact, smartphone, mirrorless camera, or film camera's smaller size and weight might be advantageous. On the other hand, if you're willing to sacrifice some portability for better image quality and versatility, a DSLR or mirrorless camera may be a better fit.

5 Future Growth

Consider your long-term photography aspirations. Are you looking to make photography a serious hobby or even a profession? If so, investing in a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or film camera with the potential to upgrade lenses and accessories as you gain experience might be a wise choice.

6 Research and reviews

Before making your final decision, research different camera models, read reviews, and seek advice from experienced photographers. Online forums and photography communities can provide valuable insights into the pros and cons of specific cameras, and brands. Your fellow photographers will be more than happy to discuss cameras with you. So ask away!

Final thoughts

Choosing your first camera is both an exciting and personal journey. By carefully considering your budget, intended use, experience level, and future goals, you can make an informed decision that sets you on the path to becoming a skilled and confident photographer.

Whether you opt for a digital camera or embrace the charm of film photography, remember that the best camera for you is the one that inspires you to explore the world through the lens and unleash your creativity.

Happy shooting!

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