As a beginner photographer, shopping for the best digital camera for you can be overwhelming. Fear not, this guide will break it down in a way that even humans can understand.
The first question to ask yourself is, do I even need a digital camera? Smartphones have great built-in cameras which might be suited for your needs. If you are looking beyond the capability of your smartphone, then it's a good reason to buy a standalone digital camera.
1. Compact Cameras - Also known as point and shoot cameras, they are inexpensive and simple entry-level digital cameras. They are lightweight, smaller, and are automatic for the most part. They don't have a viewfinder (eye piece), but instead just show a digital screen. As the name suggests, you just point the camera and press a button to capture the photo without much effort. These cameras have built-in flash and zoom lens, so you cannot remove or swap lenses with compact cameras, hence the name "compact" - they compact the lens along with the camera. These are great entry level, beginner cameras.
2. Compact Cameras with Zoom - Zoom compact cameras are like compact cameras but with a lens that allows zooming. The zoom ranges from 28 to 300mm, and you can expect to get 12 megapixels from most models. All in all, these cameras are still for personal use and are not suitable for professional use.
3. Advanced Compact Cameras - The advanced compact cameras are a step up from the zoom compact cameras. They extend the camera's functionality by allowing you to control focus and exposure manually, while still maintaining the lightweight and usability features of compact cameras. These cameras are well rounded for many shoots, and offer much better resolution than your smartphone.
4. Action Cameras - Action cameras are compact cameras designed to be durable and withstand extreme conditions. If you're out in harsh cold weather or taking pictures in the snow, action cameras are for you. These cameras still do not have interchangeable lenses, so you don't want to use them professionally.
5. DSLR Cameras - The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are professional cameras that transmit the light from interchangeable lenses directly into your viewfinder (eye piece) using built in mirrors. This means that you can see the same light that the camera lens is taking in, without having it go through any digital sensor. DSLR cameras have a wide array of lenses for many shooting situations and are used by serious amateurs and professionals alike. Until the mirrorless cameras came along in 2008, the DSLRs were the gold standard of professional photography.
6. Mirrorless Cameras - Mirrorless cameras, or compact mirrorless cameras, are similar to DSLRs except that they do not have an internal mirror assembly for transmitting optical light to the viewfinder (eyepiece). This means the light from the lens goes directly into the sensor, and is distributed to the digital viewfinder afterwards. Because of this, mirrorless cameras require more processing. However, more professionals are switching over to mirrorless cameras, or at least adding mirrorless cameras to their arsenals because they are more lightweight and are becoming better and better at matching the quality of DSLRs at a lower cost. Some swear by mirrorless cameras, others view them as imposters, however one thing is for sure: mirrorless cameras are here to stay.
7. Instant Cameras - Instant cameras uses self developing film that allow you to access a physical copy of the photo seconds after taking it. The most popular brands include Polaroid and Kodak. These cameras are cheap, fun, and used for personal enjoyment.
The right digital camera for you depends on whether you are purchasing a camera for personal use or professional use. For personal use, you most certainly want to go with one of the compact camera variants. For professional use, you will either go with the DSLR or mirrorless camera.