You don’t need an expensive camera to capture memories or create art. In many cases, the camera in your smartphone is good enough, but there are times when you need a better camera to get the photo that you really want. We’ve tested dozens of models to give you our top recommendations for the money in five categories.
Want speed, portability and lighting fast focus? A mirrorless camera is the way to go. Want awesome detail and better low-light photos? Get a DSLR. Bridge cameras will get you much closer to the action, and waterproof cameras are great for the outdoors. Our list also includes a compact camera under $100 for those who prefer optical to digital zoom.
This guide will help you find a reasonably-priced camera that meets your needs.
One of the larger types of camera, DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) are so named because the photographer sees the image directly through the lens that will be used to take the image. When the shutter is pressed, a mirror flips up to expose the sensor to light. DSLRs also have the largest sensors, which in general will allow you to get the best quality pictures, especially in low-light conditions. The size of the sensors in DSLRs will also enable you to make larger prints than you would from other types of cameras.
Mirrorless (also known as compact system or micro four-thirds) cameras have many of the same features as larger DSLRs--such as interchangeable lenses--but in a more portable form, making them generally a better choice for travel. They’re called “mirrorless” because they don’t use a mirror to direct light through the lens to the viewfinder. Their image sensors aren’t quite as big, but image quality is nearly on a par with their larger brethren.
MORE: Best Mirrorless Cameras
The term “Bridge” is somewhat nebulous, and is used to describe cameras that have more features than a point-and-shoot (such as Ultrazoom or enthusiast-level controls), but don’t have interchangeable lenses like mirrorless cameras. As such, there’s a wide range of cameras that fall into this category. Ultrazooms are a good choice for those who want to shoot a lot of nature photography or your kid’s soccer game, without having to invest a lot of money in telephoto lenses.
MORE: Best Bridge Cameras
The smallest (and cheapest) of all cameras, these shooters can usually be stuffed easily into your pocket, and can cost as little as $50. Also known as point-and-shoot cameras, they will often have limited features and are best for impromptu photo shoots where you don’t have your smartphone handy.
MORE: Best Compact Cameras
Essentially point-and-shoot cameras with waterproofing, these devices can be used when swimming, scuba diving, or wherever you’re afraid of your camera getting wet. Often, they will have some ruggedness built in, so you can drop or knock them around without too much fear of breaking the camera. They’re ideal for backpacking or outdoor trips when weight is a primary concern, or as a starter camera for a child who might have a tendency to drop things.
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