Camera Buying Guide

Finding the perfect camera for you depends what you like to photograph or film, where you like to shoot, and how much control you want over your images or video.

Photography is individual - with so many different camera models available it can feel overwhelming finding the one that best suits you. This buying guide is here to help by explaining the differences between the types of cameras available, the technology, and which key features to look for.

Camera size

It’s important to consider the size of the camera – you need to find the balance between a camera that you can easily take with you but provides the functions you need.

What sized camera should I go for?

From a user-friendly point and shoot, to a high performance model with extra features and creative controls, compact cameras come in a variety of designs. The most portable and lightweight of all types of cameras, they offer a great value option for family holidays, backpackers, and day trips.

Just like the name suggests, bridge cameras fill the gap between a compact and a DSLR. Combining the best of both worlds, bridge cameras offer enhanced image quality, a powerful optical zoom, and DSLR-like controls in a travel-friendly design.

Mirrorless cameras (also known as Compact System Cameras) are still travel-friendly yet offer larger sensors, better creative control, and the versatility of interchangeable lenses. Pair your mirrorless camera with a pancake lens and enjoy capturing discreet candid shots of everyday life.

The choice of professionals and enthusiasts alike, DSLR cameras offer full manual controls, high quality images and video, and a wide choice of compatible lenses, but can be bulkier than other cameras.

Back to top

Sensor sizes

At the heart of every camera is a sensor - think of the sensor as the digital alternative to film. When you take a photo, the sensor is exposed to light and other components in the camera record what it sees.

Why does sensor size matter?

Sensor size is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a camera – the larger the sensor the more light it is able to capture, resulting in more detailed images.

A larger sensor, such as the jump from an APS-C to a full frame sensor, offers a noticeable difference in the way you shoot a subject. A full frame sensor doesn’t crop the frame – useful when shooting landscapes or architecture – and it also allows you to use a shallower depth of field.

With a larger sensor you’ll be able to take advantage of a better dynamic range (the ratio between light and dark areas of the image), reduced noise, and improved low light performance.

Look out for sensors 1” and over – Four Thirds sensors, APS-C sensors, and Full Frame sensors.

What cameras commonly use each sensor size?

While each sensor size is not just limited to one type of camera, as a general rule cameras with interchangeable lenses use larger sensors, such as full frame or APS-C, while compact cameras and smartphones have smaller sensors.

Back to top

Manual controls

As you gain confidence with your camera you can step away from automatic settings and capture more creative images by adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, so it’s a good idea to consider a camera with manual controls.

What is aperture?

Controlled by the camera’s lens, aperture determines how much light reaches the camera’s sensor. The aperture is basically a hole within the lens and is formed of converging blades of the shutter. These blades come in different shapes and are adjusted either in camera or using a manual adjustment ring on the lens.

Aperture is measured in f-stops. A wide f-stop, i.e. f/1.8, creates a larger hole and allows more light to reach the sensor. This creates a shallow depth of field, giving you control over how much of the background is in focus, also known as bokeh – ideal for making your subject stand out.

A narrow f-stop, i.e. f/16, creates a smaller hole with less light reaching the sensor. This creates a long depth of field, allowing you to have the whole frame in focus – ideal for subjects with interesting backgrounds.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is the length of time the camera exposes the sensor to light. The shutter remains closed until you’re ready to take your photograph – it then opens to expose light into the cameras sensor and closes again after.

A fast shutter speed lets you capture sharp images of moving objects, essentially freezing the action – ideal for sports or wildlife.

A slow shutter speed lets you capture movement with blurred results where the subject is moving – ideal for capturing artistic landscapes or star trails. As it lets in more light, a longer exposure lets you shoot in low light conditions.

What is ISO?

Traditionally used to rate film, in digital cameras ISO is the measurement of light sensitivity of your sensor, and is measured in numbers. A higher ISO setting offers more sensitivity to light, while a lower number means less sensitivity.

A high ISO offers better performance in low light conditions, allowing you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and smaller f-stops. However, higher sensitivity can result in more noise – an unwanted grain in the image – and while many modern cameras can cope well with noise, in many situations it’s wise to use the lowest ISO number you can shoot at to avoid noise in your images.

Back to top

Lenses

The lens is the eye of your camera and is just as important as the camera you choose – high quality construction and optics will deliver better results. Lenses are optimised for shooting different subjects so consider what you want to shoot – our in store lens buying guide can help you get the best from your photography.

How do I know which lens is right for me?

When deciding on a lens you have to consider what subject you want to photograph, which may mean you require more than one lens. Many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are available with a kit lens included, which is great for everyday shooting, but expanding your kit with specialist lenses will enable you to achieve better results.

The key consideration of a lens is its focal length, which varies between models and is measured in ‘mm’. In zoom lenses the lowest number in the focal range offers the widest angle view, while the highest number shows how close you can zoom.

A prime lens has a set focal length, i.e. 50 mm. A prime lens doesn’t zoom, meaning you have to get physically closer to your subject for a closer shot.

Wide angle lenses are great for landscape and architectural photography as they let you fit more of the scene into the shot. Telephoto lenses let you get closer to distant subjects, making them ideal for sports and wildlife. Mid-range focal lengths are ideal for portraiture and street photography.

Aperture is also a key consideration when choosing a lens – it refers to the size of the hole that light enters through and is measured in f-stops. A lower number means a larger hole which allows more light to be let in and results in a narrow depth of field, while a larger number has the opposite result.

What is a macro lens?

A macro lens lets you capture extreme close-up photographs, allowing you to focus much closer than a normal lens to reproduce a life-sized image of the object. The most important element of a macro lens is its magnification ratio, which needs to be at least 1:1 to be classed as a true macro lens.

The majority of macro lenses are prime lenses – the longer the focal length the further away you can be from your subject, but they also tend to increase in size, weight and price. Some standard lenses also feature a macro setting for close focusing which are great for experimenting, but the results don’t tend to be as high quality.

Which lens will fit my camera?

Each camera brand will have its own lens mount so you’ll need to check which lenses are compatible with your camera before you purchase. DSLR and mirrorless cameras use different mounts within the same brand, and Canon also have two different mounts for their Full Frame and APS-C cameras. Specialist adapters will allow you to use a lens and camera with different mounts.

Back to top

Shooting Video

There are many options available for shooting video – it all depends on what subjects you are going to be shooting the most. Cameras such as compacts and bridge are good choices for capturing everyday scenes such as birthday parties and trips to the beach.

For greater control and higher resolution video consider a mirrorless or DSLR camera. Manufacturers are investing more and more into video shooting in cameras - look out for professional-quality 4K Ultra HD and now 6K video!

How does video quality affect how I display my content on large screens?

Depending on how you want to display your content, video quality is important to consider – the higher the resolution, the more detail that can be captured. While smaller screens such as smartphones and tablets can easily display low resolutions, TVs are optimised for higher resolutions.

Full HD 1080p is fast becoming the standard for cameras– and will display clearly on your Full HD TV. With the popularity of 4K Ultra HD TVs growing you may want to consider a camera that can capture 4K footage, which is around four times the quality of Full HD. 6K video recording has now been launched on a camera too.

What are FPS and why are they important?

FPS stands for frames per second, a measurement of how many unique consecutive images a camera can handle each second. A higher FPS number in movie mode will provide smoother videos.

How can I avoid camera shake?

To avoid amateur looking shaky videos, many cameras feature stabilisation modes with different levels for smoother, sharper footage. This is a particularly useful feature if you do a lot of handheld filming or want to capture panning shots.

How can I slow down video?

Some moments can be over in the blink of an eye, but some models offer slow motion filming without the editing suite – ideal for capturing action replay shots – so you can enjoy them in full.

Back to top

You might also need

From memory cards to tripods, once you have chosen your camera, we can help with the extras.

Memory Cards

What does capacity mean?

Capacity is measured in GB. The more GB, the more room you have to store your images and video so consider what quality you will be shooting at. A 32 GB card can hold around 7500 pictures at a 12 MP resolution.

What difference does the read and write?

Read and write speeds are crucial to consider when purchasing a memory card. A card which is too slow could mean you end up waiting for the image to write before you can capture your next shot, and it can take longer to transfer images to your PC. Generally slower speeds in a point and shoot camera are fine, but if you’re shooting high resolution images with a high performance compact, mirrorless or DSLR you will benefit from higher read and write speeds.

This is even more important when recording Full HD 1080p or 4K Ultra HD video – for this purpose a U3 card is required.

What type of card do I need?

SD or microSD? This all depends on what camera you have – this can be found in the specification before you buy.

microSD cards are predominantly used in compact devices such as action cameras, dash cams, smartphones, and tablets. SD cards are commonly used in cameras including compact cameras, mirrorless cameras, DSLR cameras and digital camcorders. You might also come across some other memory cards such XQD card or Sony Memory Stick.

It’s always a good idea to carry a spare memory card around with you in case you run out of space for your images or videos.

Cases

What type of case do I need?

This all depends on what you need from your case. Style? Functionality? Portability? The list goes on. The most common types of bags are sling, backpack and shoulder bags. These all cater for different types of photographers, ranging from the casual to the professional.

Premium bags have additional features such as adjustable and removable inner dividers making them suitable for DSLR or mirrorless cameras and accessories like lenses and flashguns – some feature space for your everyday items too.

A compact camera is best suited to a smaller case that houses just the camera and some small accessories like memory cards, making it less prone to scratches and damage from impact. Some cameras have their own specially designed cases just for that model, ensuring a perfect fit and adding a touch of luxury.

Tripod

Why do I need a Tripod?

Tripods are essential for getting steady images and videos. If you’re finding your images are coming out blurry you may want to invest in a tripod – they keep the camera steady while the exposure is taken and eliminate that shaky cam effect in videos. They’re also handy for group shots.

Why types of Tripod are available?

There are many different tripods available, from entry level to professional level. Premium models are designed to support a much heavier camera and lens, and are fully adjustable – look out for a tripod with a ball head for easier control. Basic tripods tend to be lighter, making them more travel friendly but offer less support.

Monopods are formed of a single leg and are lightweight and compact for travelling – they are also quick to set up for those impromptu moments you want to take a steady picture.

Back to top

Jargon buster

Bluetooth | A short-range wireless connection that can be used to transfer data between devices.

NFC | Stands for Near Field Communication. Allows for quick device pairing via Bluetooth by touching devices together.

WiFi | A wireless connection that allows devices to connect to the internet or communicate between each other.

GPS | Stands for Global Positioning System. A satellite-based navigation system that detects the position of your location.

Megapixels | Digital images are made up of pixels – a megapixel is equal to one million pixels.

ISO | The measurement of light sensitivity of your sensor – the higher the number the more sensitive it is.

HD video (720 / 1080p) | HD video has at least 720p horizontal lines of vertical resolution, while Full HD has at least 1080p horizontal lines of vertical resolution.

4K Ultra HD video | 4K video has at least 2160 horizontal lines of vertical resolution.

Sensor types (CMOS / CCD) | Sensors capture light and turn it into image data. A CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) sensor is efficient, uses low power and can capture images at high speeds. A CCD (charged couple device) sensor offers high image quality, excellent dynamic range and noise control.

Screen types (LCD / LED / OLED / TFT) | LCD (liquid-crystal display) uses the light modulating properties of liquid crystals. LED uses light emitting diodes. OLED uses organic light emitting diodes. TFT (thin film transistor) is a technology used in LCD screens for a clearer image with less power.

Instant cameras | Instant cameras print their own photographs. Instax and Polaroid are major brands which make instant cameras.

Image stabilisation | Technology in the camera or lens to combat different types of camera shake. This results in smoother videos and sharper images.

Viewfinder | This is the method of viewing your composition as seen through the lens. A viewfinder is more commonly found on a mirrorless camera or DSLR than a compact camera.

FPS | Stands for frames per second. In photography this is the number of individual frames that can be captured in a single second and is useful for capturing action shots. In video this is the measurement for frame rate – the higher the fps the smoother the video will look.

Lens mount | For cameras with interchangeable lenses this is an interface between the body and lens – each camera brand has their own mount so you’ll need a compatible lens or adapter.

Internal focusing | This is a feature found in some lenses where the end of the lens doesn’t extend when focusing – useful for macro photography where you are close to your subjects.

Weather resistant | Some premium lenses are weather resistant, meaning they are sealed against the elements so they won’t be damaged by rainfall, fog or dust.

Slow Motion | This lets you slow down footage so you can watch it back at a slower frame rate – ideal for action replays.

Back to top