Whatever your photography needs – whether you want to step away from smartphone photography (iPhonography?) or want to upgrade your old compact camera to a DSLR, need a new snapper for an upcoming vacation or whether you’ve decided to go pro – there’s a camera out there for everyone.
With Black Friday just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to figure out what kind of kit suits you best, with plenty of savings to boot.
Given that there’s so much choice out there, with cameras available in every budget, it can be quite overwhelming when deciding on a purchase. That’s where the TechRadar team comes in – we tell you what features to look for in a camera so you can make the right decision when Black Friday comes round on November 24.
Compact vs Bridge vs Mirrorless vs DSLR
As a starting point, it’s important to figure out what type camera you’re looking for. Cameras today come in four different types: compacts, bridge cameras, mirrorless or compact system cameras (CSCs) and DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras).
Compact cameras are a dime a dozen, coming in all shapes and sizes. They’ve had it tough lately, what with smartphones giving them a run for their money, but manufacturers are fighting back. There are plenty of compacts now that have excellent sensors that produce great images – some even rivalling DSLRs – while packing a plethora of creative features to make your photos pop straight out of camera.
Bridge cameras are like compacts, just resembling DSLRs in their body design and with larger zoom lenses. They are still, however, an all-in-one solution.
Mirrorless cameras are lighter versions of DSLRs, in that they use interchangeable lenses. They do, however, lack the bulk and weight of a DSLR as they come sans the internal mirror box – meaning they use optical viewfinders either.
DSLRs have traditionally been the purview of the enthusiasts and professionals, or anyone looking to get serious about their photography skills. DSLR cameras offer the best image quality with a very polished shooting experience. Manufacturers offer a plethora of lenses to choose from, alongside other accessories like filters.
Key camera features to look for
It’s not just the number of cameras flooding the market that can be overwhelming, the spec sheet for each is just as confusing. So ease your way into making the right choice, we’ve picked the most important features you need to look for when buying a camera.
1. Pictures speak a thousand words: Mirrorless and DSLRs typically have larger sensors, thus offering the best image quality. Just because a compact camera comes packing a 24MP resolution sensor, doesn’t mean it can match the picture quality of a 24MP DSLR. It’s the physical dimensions of the sensor that makes the difference – larger the sensor, better the light-gathering capabilities, sharper the details on the image (especially at higher sensitivities). That said, you shouldn’t discount compact cameras. Some premium models, like the Sony RX100 V, offer 1-inch sensors which, despite being physically smaller, offer superior image quality. Cheaper compact cameras often come packing sensors that are smaller than a fingernail and deliver less-than-satisfying photos.
2. To viewfinder or not to viewfinder: The benefit of having a viewfinder on a camera is it shows you exactly how an image is being framed. Optical viewfinders on DSLRs are typically some of the best you can find, but the electronic viewfinders (or EVFs) that are part of the mirrorless camera kit are now so good, they’re able to match optical viewfinder performance. These days, some compacts and bridge cameras also feature EVFs, but usually have lower resolutions, meaning you could experience some lag. In our experience, however, a camera with an EVF is better than one without a viewfinder.
3. Shooting 4K video: If you’re after capturing 4K video, then mirrorless is the way to go. Most DSLRs, with the odd exception, only feature 1080p video capture. Some premium compacts and bridge cameras, however, also offer 4K shooting capabilities.
4. Staying connected: A lot of new models, be it compacts or DSLRs, support some of wireless transfer, making it relatively easy to share images amongst your handheld devices or upload to social media directly. Most older models that are still brilliant options could well be heavily discounted come Black Friday, so if wireless connectivity is important, make sure you check the spec sheet for the camera before purchase.
Black Friday camera deals predictions
With a massive selection of cameras available, we’re quite sure there’ll be some pretty decent deals available this Black Friday. The featured deals probably will not include the latest and greatest offerings from the likes of Sony, Canon and Nikon, but there’s bound to be some excellent choices from the previous years with specs to match.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ110
Panasonic’s Lumix TZ110 (also called FZ100/TZ100) flagship travel compact has now been around since last year, so don’t be surprised if you manage to find a bargain on this little snapper. It features a 20.1MP 1-inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor and a 10x Leica zoom lens. Factor in the built-in EVF and 4K video capabilities and it’s easy to see why we would recommend the TZ110 in our best compact cameras round-up.
Sony RX10 III
There are plenty of bridge cameras to choose from, but the Sony RX10 III comes highly recommended by us, ranking number three in our best bridge cameras line-up. Packing a whopping 24-600mm zoom lens, this camera is versatile and produces excellent image quality, thanks to the 20.2MP 1-inch sensor. With the Mark IV model already available, we reckon there’ll be some excellent bargains on this camera from a variety of retailers, so keep your eye open for this one.
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
The OM-D E-M10 Mark II might have been around since 2015, but it’s still one of our favourite mirrorless cameras. It’s compact, with a great design and near-perfect finish, and it delivers decent images. Most of all, it’s a joy to use. With the arrival of the Mark III, this is another camera we think retailers are going to be discounting heavily to make way for new stock.
One of the selling points for the Nikon D3400 is that it’s not the most expensive DSLR option in the market, yet it tops our chart for the best entry-level DSLR cameras. It replaces the equally excellent Nikon D3300, with both cameras almost identical, the only difference being that the D3400 comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. So if staying connected is important to you, you might well be able to find some decent deals, perhaps with a kit lens (or two) available during this year’s Black Friday sales.