What Camera to Buy: Compact, Digital SLR or just Phone Camera?

by Deomar_Pandan

What camera to buy? The answer varies depending on your need. Here we analyze what digital camera to buy given your purpose for purchasing a camera.

What camera should I buy? you must be wondering if you plan to purchase a camera. In this day and age, when cameras come built-in with smart phones, people ask, do I still have to buy a separate camera? Even more baffling, do you still need to buy one of those big DSLR cameras in order to practice photography? The answer varies with the objective with which you need a camera for. Here we analyze what digital camera to buy given the intended purpose for which you plan to use the camera.

The lens of a DSLR camera
The lens of a DSLR camera
Caitlinator via flickr

First, why digital camera?

Do you still want to use those film-based cameras whose results you can’t see until you have the negatives developed in your local picture shop? I can understand such choice if you plan to shoot big photos which you like printed in absolutely fine lines, with not a hint of pixels whatsoever. However, even professional photographers have flocked over to digital photography, and many see better results and flexibility with digital cameras; while most people are just unwilling to put up with the time and effort required with analogue photography. Indeed, digital photography has become the norm. And if you’re pondering which digital camera to buy, you’ve come to the right place.

Option A: Phone Camera

Are you poring over which camera to buy in order to document memories, make photo journals via Instagram and similar sites, or just publish pictures to friends and acquaintances over social networking sites, for fun and perhaps some bragging rights? Phone cameras might be your best choice, and not merely because buying a separate camera, compact or DSLR, would be more costly. Here are the two main reasons why:

1. Convenience. You probably spend more time with your cellular phone than anything else. The relationship between human beings and their mobile phones has become to intimate that people want their cell phones always within reach. If you need a camera to document anything and everything, you like your camera to be at your fingertips as well. Indeed, having your camera and phone in one device is great for everyday photography, because camera phones are not only extremely portable to be taken anywhere; you are likely to take that camera phone with you anywhere you go.

2. Smaller Photos. Do you shoot photographs for print, or do the photos all go to the web? Web pages only have about a thousand pixels of width, so if your pictures are intended for uploads to the worldwide web, they really don’t need to be so big. Phone cameras would suffice. And the good news with smaller photos is, you save on disk space. Bigger photos take up bigger computer memory; whereas with phone cameras, you don’t have to worry about having to delete photos in your computer just to free some space.

Option B: Compact Digital Camera

Did you think that the functionality of your phone camera is the same as an actual compact digital camera? No, it’s not. Your phone camera doesn’t zoom. On the other hand, a digital compact camera has the following advantages:

1. Optical Zoom. With a digital compact camera you can zoom in on your subject, and capture the latter close enough even when standing a considerable distance from you. A phone camera lacks this function. Are you thinking, what are you talking about? I zoom in with my phone camera all the time. Sure, you can zoom in on an image on your phone camera, but that is not optical zoom, just digital zoom. What’s the difference? With optical zoom a shot actually draws closer to your subject; with digital zoom, you’re just enlarging a part of an image on your screen.

2. High Resolution. This is the opposite of smaller photos, which we described as an advantage of phone cameras, but is a disadvantage when you want to print your images in large photographs. Most phone cameras have smaller than 9-megapixel resolution, whereas compact cameras have 12 megapixels, producing photos that could be as wider than 4,000 pixels, which is four times the average web page. Higher resolution means that pictures are printed on paper sharply and fine, without the pixels manifesting to the human eye.

Resolution among digital compact cameras can be as high as 20 megapixels, while DSLR cameras come in even more megapixels, in addition to longer range of optical zoom. What other features set the more expensive digital SLR camera above the point and shoot camera?

Option C: Digital SLR Camera

Unlike a digital compact camera, a DSLR Camera, or Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera, comes with a separate lens. This detachable lens makes for the digital SLR camera’s unique advantage over compact digital cameras:

1. Camera Focus. Focus is the process by which a photographer reproduces the image of his subject clearly, while possibly blurring the background or foreground. While a digital compact camera is capable of focusing on its subject, the choice of range is limited, and is usually automatically determined by the point and shoot camera. On the other hand, a DSLR camera allows you to manually adjust the range, allowing you to keep your subject in focus as clearly as you like, even if it means leaving the background in complete shadow. You can still make use of automatic focus with digital SLR cameras, but you are free to decide how to better bring your subject into focus.

A rabbit captured through a DSLR camera. Notice how the rabbit comes out clear in contrast to the foreground and background.
A rabbit captured through a DSLR camera. Notice how the rabbit comes out clear in contrast to the foreground and background.
Benson Kua via Wikimedia Commons

So, which camera to buy?

Like I said in the introduction, the best camera to buy depends on your need, for what purpose you plan to purchase a camera. It could be a DSLR camera, a digital compact camera, or your phone camera. Here’s what makes each camera the best digital camera to buy:

Phone Camera: Being a very personal camera that you bring with you anywhere, a phone camera is best to document everyday memories, for photo journals via Instagram, and for uploads to Facebook, Pinterest and other social networking sites. Connectivity is a huge aspect of today’s lifestyle, and a phone camera makes it a lot easier for you to share images and memories with the rest of the world.

DSLR Camera: If you’re serious about photography, your goal is to have a fine digital SLR Camera. With longer optical zoom, higher resolution and adjustable camera focus, a DSLR camera brings a wider range of shooting options at your disposal, and is no doubt the best digital camera to buy for somebody who aspires to be a professional photographer.

Indeed, phone cameras and digital SLR cameras have dominated the trend in the world of photography. Consumers either buy phone cameras to take casual pictures with, or go for the DSLR camera for their hobby and art. Where does that place the compact digital camera?

Compact Camera: Okay, so the compact digital camera is losing out on the trend; still, there are functions that a point and shoot camera can perform best. Picture-taking is a commonplace in social gatherings, and unless you’re the professional photographer hired to document the formal occasion, you don’t like to be slinging that hefty digital SLR camera around your neck — that would be a blemish to your elegant dress or suit. You want a camera with features superior to a phone camera, but with body small enough to carry in your pocket or purse. In this and similar instances, a digital compact camera is the best camera to buy.

About the Author

Deomar Pandan is a visual artist, online writer and jeweler. He recently launched kamayojewelry.com, and is the artist behind the jewelry items shown in the website.

Updated: 05/27/2015, Deomar_Pandan
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Deomar_Pandan on 05/27/2015

Thanks for the advice, MBC. I'm seriously considering entering. That would give me more reasons to take photos.

MBC on 05/22/2015

If you enjoy photography I'd like to invite you to join a free friendly on-line photo competition at http://www.viewbug.com/invite/token/I...

Deomar_Pandan on 06/25/2013

Hello, Ralpapajan. Thanks, for the nice comment, and for dropping by. I'd consider Sony next time I study options between camera brands.

Ralpapajan on 06/25/2013

Hi. Good article. Thanks for that. I am a Sony aficionado.

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