Choosing the best digital camera for your needs

Carlton Boyce / 05 April 2016

With so many options available buying a new camera can be confusing. Here, we look at the pros and cons of the different types of digital camera on the market.



We’ve debunked camera techno-jargon in another article, so now you know what it all means it’s time to look at how to choose the right sort of camera for you. This is simpler than you might imagine, as long as you focus on what you actually need, rather than what the camera manufacturer tells you that you need.

There are five main types of camera – smartphone, compact, bridge, compact system camera, and DSLR – and we’ll look at each one in turn, with recommendations as to the sort of photographer each one would suit best.

Smartphone camera

Your smartphone camera is a technological, miniaturized marvel. Impossibly small, it is still capable of producing high-quality images that are easily good enough to be used in magazines and websites, which is why every pro-photographer I know uses them in conjunction with their DSLR.

Of course, there is a knack to using them, but it isn’t hard and with some practise you’ll be churning out beautiful photographs rather than lack-lustre snapshots. The Apple iPhone is currently the world’s most popular camera form a very good reason.

Pros:

  • You’ll always have it with you
  • Easy to share your photos on social media and via email
  • Better image quality than you might imagine

Cons:

  • There is a knack to getting the best out of them
  • Not great at shooting people and things that move quickly (like grandchildren)
  • Struggle in low light

Price range: free with your smartphone

Best suited to: anyone who wants to be able to take and create beautiful images to share

Related: 9 tips for taking better photographs with your phone

Compact cameras

A compact camera, or a point-and-shoot as they are sometimes known, is small enough to be slipped into a coat pocket or a handbag but is still good enough to take stunning, high-quality images.

The speed of the autofocus won’t match that of a fully-fledged DSLR, but with care you will be able to take photographs to be proud of. Examples of a compact camera include the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90/V and the Fujifilm X30.

Pros:

  • Small
  • Usually has a decent optical zoom lens

Cons:

  • Picture might not be much better than a good smartphone camera
  • The cost might be better spent on a different type of camera

Price range: £150-£500

Best suited to: casual photographers who want to have a camera to hand at all times and need a zoom lens.

Bridge cameras

A bridge camera ‘bridges’ the gap between a compact camera and a DSLR. They look more like the latter than the former, but will generally have a fixed lens rather than a removable one.

They are capable of producing extremely high quality images with fantastically long zoom lenses. Examples include the Fujifilm X-S1 and the Canon SX60.

Pros:

  • Can produce extremely high quality images
  • Many people say their larger size makes them easier to hold than a compact camera
  • Some have zoom lens of up to 1,000mm, making them ideal for photographing things in the distance

Cons:

  • Bulky
  • Fixed lens can be inflexible and cannot be upgraded as your skill level increases

Price range: £250-£1,000

Best suited to: anyone who needs a camera with a long reach and appreciates the better ergonomics that a bridge camera gives over a compact camera.

Compact system camera

A compact system camera, also known as a hybrid camera, micro four thirds camera or mirrorless camera, is essentially a cross between a compact camera and a DSLR, having the former’s portability and the latter’s flexibility. They usually have controls that allow you to shoot manually, which is the way most professionals do it.

They are a very good compromise for most people, and the wide range of lenses that are available for them allow you to invest in a system that will grow as you do. Examples include the Fuji X-T1 and the Olympus OM-D.

Pros:

  • Capable of taking pro-quality images, especially if you pick one with a large sensor size
  • Grows with you, so you aren’t wasting money on a camera that you will outgrow
  • Can be used in different modes, allowing you complete control over your images

Cons:

  • The speed of the autofocus system might not match a DSLR
  • Some have a small sensor, which compromises image quality

Price range: £500-£2,500+

Best suited to: serious amateurs who want to build a system over time that allows them to shoot anything and everything.

Related: garden bird photography tips

DSLR cameras

A DSLR is the weapon of choice for anyone who shoots photographs for a living. They might be bulky, heavy, and expensive but the image quality they produce is peerless. Autofocus is super-fast, making them ideal for wildlife or sports photography and they cope with low light very well too.

You’ll need to budget in the cost of some decent lenses and a tripod to get the best out of it, but if you want to very best photographs, this is how to achieve it. Examples include the Canon 6D and the Nikon D610.

Pros:

  • Ultra high-quality images are possible
  • Infinitely upgradeable, if you choose wisely your lenses will last a lifetime
  • Few hobbies are as rewarding as DSLR photography

Cons:

  • Expensive. Can be extraordinarily expensive if you get the gadget bug (and you probably will…)
  • Heavy and bulky, which will make you think twice before slinging it over your shoulder when you are just going for a stroll

Price range: £500-£5,000 (plus lenses)

Best suited to: serious amateurs and professionals who demand the very best.

Visit our photography section for more on buying and using cameras.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.