Saturday 18 February 2017

How I Chose My Camera - Part One: Research - An Amateur Photographers Guide

I have always had some interest in cameras and photography. I was given my first camera at a young age by my parents back when film was still king.

In later years I became interested in building small scale model aircraft and I wanted to document the different stages and create some basic YouTube videos out of them. I went out and bought a nice little point and shoot compact camera.
Back in the day, it took some great photos of my aircraft, animals at the zoo and the dog but I was always disappointed in its video quality. I figured it didn't matter as I rarely wanted to record anything anyway.

Compact Point & Shoot Camera
Fast forward to last summer when I went to an indoor circus-type show. I pulled my phone out, as I didn't have my camera with me, recorded almost the entire show and thought it would look amazing. Reviewing the footage I'd captured back at home on my PC, I was again, somewhat disappointed in the quality. I really wished I'd had a more powerful camera that could record video that actually came out watchable. Lots and lots of research ensued. 

I took my newfound research project to Google to see what I could find. I quickly came across what is known as a bridge camera. As the name suggests, it is a type of camera that is meant to bridge the gap between simple point and shoot cameras to more professional DSLR type cameras. On top of that you usually get a massive optical zoom range which is great for...err...zooming. 
<img src="sony-bridge-camera-a-slice-of-something-blog.jpg" alt="Bridge Camera">
Bridge Camera

They also look the part with their DSLR-type styling. This all got me very excited indeed because if it looks like a DSLR but at a fraction of the cost, there couldn't be any downsides, could there? As I found out, it's not that simple. 

For starters, bridge cameras can sometimes cost as much as an entry level DLSR-type camera which to me, defeats the purpose of it being a bridge camera, especially when you consider the difference in sensor size (more on that below). Then we have that massive zoom range I was talking about which can go upwards of 50x optical zoom. While that may make you go "yeeaaah, give me all the zooms!" it does come with its drawbacks. The further you zoom in, the less you'll be able to keep the camera steady to get a clear sharp image or a smooth video clip. So while having some zoom is great, it soon becomes more of a pain to use than anything, at least in my opinion. 

The other main issue I found with bridge cameras was to do with sensor size. An image sensor is the piece of hardware that captures the light and converts that into the image you saw on the LCD screen or viewfinder. Basically they're the digital equivalent of film. Generally speaking, the size of a sensor in a bridge camera will be the same as the ones found in point and shoot cameras which means there is no real upgrade in image quality. 

To put that into perspective, the standard to which consumer grade sensors are compared to is 35mm, otherwise known as full frame sensors. As your can see in the image, the difference in surface area between a full frame sensor and ones typically found in point and shoot and bridge cameras is huge.  
Full Frame vs. Bridge Camera Sensor Size
I have already gone into more technical than I am qualified to so I'll get to my point. Overall, a camera with a bigger sensor should produce superior photos than those sporting a small sensor due to the amount of light the sensor can let in. Simplified, larger sensor = more light gathered = better image quality. 

Other aspects obviously affect image quality too but for now lets stick to the basics. I am an amateur photographer after all!

With the above discoveries in mind I started looking into full frame cameras but soon decided against them as they would either be too expensive or far too heavy and bulky for my wants and needs. 

Enter the wonderful world of compact system cameras or, as they're more commonly referred to, mirror-less cameras. 

In Part Two of How I Chose My Camera, I do a side by side comparison between two very similar cameras. Part Two is due in a weeks time - stay tuned to find out which camera I decided on purchasing.

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