Beginner Tutorial 2

From cheapest to dearest, this tutorial takes you through the many different digital camera types available. So whether you are looking for full auto point-and-shoot, a stylish casing, pocket-friendly portability, or a self-built system, there is a camera for every type of photographer.

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Explaining the different types of digital camera

Choosing the camera that is right for you largely depends on usage.

We previously covered 11 points to consider when preparing to buy. Now, we will look at the main categories of digital cameras to match against those points, so you can understand which type will best deliver what you need for your photography.

The term ‘Compact Camera’ is widely used to describe automatic digital cameras with a built-in zoom lens, as opposed to those with interchangeable lenses. But this is a very broad term covering models of all shapes and sizes – some of them not particularly compact.

Let’s first look at compact cameras in more detail:

Standard compact camera

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The LUMIX DMC-SZ3, ideal for the casual snapper looking for a full point-and-shoot camera.


Very basic compacts
usually have plastic bodies (and lenses), LCD screen (2-2.7” diagonally), image sensor (12-14 Megapixels), 3-5x zoom (usually digital), built-in flash, possibly Image Stabilisation, low resolution or no video capability and AA or AAA battery power. They store images on postage stamp-sized removable memory cards.

LUMIX entry-level compacts for 2014 come in at a higher spec, e.g. the DMC-SZ3 (left). With a 2.7″ (6.7cm) LCD screen, 16MP sensor, 10x optical zoom, HD-quality video (1280 x 720 pixels), lithium-ion rechargeable battery and an all-glass LEICA lens. This model would be ideal for the casual snapper looking for a full point-and-shoot camera.

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LUMIX DMC-SZ8, with additional features and a metal body


Stylish step-up compacts
are usually metal with more advanced features: 16MP, 10x optical zoom, Image Stabilisation, up to 3” screen, built-in memory additional to the card slot etc. They also offer automatic preset shooting modes for common scenarios.

At the higher end, look for step-up models such as the LUMIX DMC-SZ8 (left). With value-added features such as a 24mm ultra-wide-angle lens, 16MP sensor, 12x optical zoom, creative filter effects and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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Who would suit a camera from this category?

With such a wide choice and a price range from £39 to £199, and with their simple point-and-shoot functionality (rather than extensive manual options), there’s something for all ages and abilities in this category – including a number of fashion-accessory colours!

Portability is key, allowing for spontaneous snapping. Supplied PC software supports uploading to social network sites, while models with Wi-Fi can even upload via a smartphone. If you require manual focus control, external flash or a viewfinder then this is probably not the category for you. But if you want a camera that is simple to use, where you don’t have to think about things like shutter and aperture, then look no further.


Advanced compact cameras

The next category up offers more advanced features. Variants such as high-zoom compacts include the popular LUMIX TZ range, while rugged, all-weather compacts are a relatively new group, appealing to those with an adventurous streak, as they can withstand rough-and-tumble treatment and adverse environments and weather conditions.

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The DMC-TZ60 – 30x Zoom, Wi-Fi and GPS


High-zoom compacts
offer zoom ranges from 18x to 30x – perfect for travellers and wildlife lovers – with some models incorporating GPS as well as Wi-Fi, plus the addition of 1080p Full HD video.

Image Stabilisation is essential for such high-zoom capability, and most advanced compacts also include manual exposure and focus controls besides full auto, so they can be enjoyed by novices as well as experienced photographers.

The DMC-FT5 just as happy on a beach as up a mountain.

The DMC-FT5 just as happy on a beach as up a mountain.

Tough, ‘rugged’ compacts are usually made with alloy casings , toughened LCD screens and rubberised panels that protect the battery compartment and other access ports.

The LUMIX FT5 (right) offers a 16MP sensor and 4.6x optical zoom, plus shock-proofing, waterproofing to 13m, operation down to -10°C and even a barometer and altimeter – as well as Full HD video, Wi-Fi and GPS.

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The LUMIX LX7 advanced photographic model.

Advanced photographic compacts offer full creative control in a compact camera body.

Image sensors are often larger than regular compacts resulting in better picture quality in low-light.

With full manual control over aperture, shutter, focus and sensitivity and options like a ‘Hot Shoe’ – for external flash guns or even viewfinders, you can see why this type of camera is sought after by photo enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Panasonic_TZ60_lifestyleWho would suit a camera from this category?

Cameras in this category cost from £150 to £400 and are well suited to photographers with specific uses in mind.

Both the high-zoom and rugged models are easily enjoyed by first-timers because, despite advanced user modes, they also include fully automatic options.

Whether it’s a high zoom lens to take on safari, a rugged and waterproof camera to take snorkelling or a high performance compact to create beautiful low-light shots, there will be a camera from this group to suit.


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The LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 – The ultimate Hybrid Bridge camera.

Bridge cameras

Between compacts and traditional SLRs, bridge cameras feature chunky hand-grips, built-in electronic viewfinders and controls similar to the latter, but a built-in lens like the former – sometimes with up to 60x optical magnification, spawning their other name – Super-zoom.

Full manual control is to be expected, while a larger image sensor and lens area means better photographic performance.

LUMIX models have always dominated this category and continue to raise the bar in 2014 with the flagship DMC-FZ1000 (right). Featuring a large 1-inch, 20.1MP sensor for outstanding digital still photography and the World’s first 4K video recording capability for a ‘Bridge’ camera.

Panasonic_FZ200_lifestyleWho would suit a camera from this category?

Bridge cameras cost from £120 to £800 and are a great option for users looking for an extremely high telephoto lens and advanced manual control.

With focal lengths available from 20-1200mm (35mm equivalent), regular compacts and even DSLR lenses cannot compete – the huge pro lenses you see at sports events might cover 600-800mm, but can easily cost £5,000 and weigh up to 6 kilos! – so the excellent weight-to-power ratio allows you to shoot paparazzi-style at a fraction of the cost.

Despite their chunkier design, the sturdy grip, stable shooting style and a built- in viewfinder, super-zoom bridge cameras offer a great all-in-one package.


The last two categories introduce us to interchangeable lens cameras.

These are referred to as ‘system cameras’ because manufacturers offer numerous compatible lenses and accessories, that can be purchased separately, so you can build your own camera system.

System cameras – SLR/DSLR

Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras have been around since the 1950s and became extremely popular with amateur and professional photographers alike due to their superior picture performance and creative control. Most SLRs used large interchangeable lenses that focussed an image on to a frame of 35mm film. Today’s digital SLRs (DSLR) can be roughly split into three groups, based on their image sensor size:

  • Four Thirds – with a sensor exactly 25% the size of the old 35mm film frame.
  • APS-C – sensor sizes vary by manufacturer, starting at approximately 33% the size of 35mm film.
  • Full Frame – sensor 100% the size of a 35mm film frame.

For reference, a standard compact camera’s sensor is only approximately 3% the size of an old film frame – as illustrated below.

Sensor Size

  1. Full Frame Sensor
  2. APS-C Sensor (variable)
  3. Four Thirds Sensor
  4. Typical Compact Camera Sensor (1/2.33″)

Who would suit a camera from this category?

DSLRs range in price from £400 (basic, including standard lens), to just under £5,000 top of the range – but that’s body only.

Because these are not small, lightweight cameras, it is wise to invest in a sturdy bag and tripod at the time of purchase. Additional lenses etc. become desirable the more you get into your photography with things like extra batteries, grips, flash guns and filters being high on the list of add-ons – so think ahead when making this choice.

This category of camera purchase, although yielding excellent results, should not be made lightly.

For someone looking to advance their photography it might be wiser to consider our final category, the compact system camera (DSLM), as a credible alternative.


The 16MP DMC-GX7 with tilt-able viewfinder

The 16MP DMC-GX7 with tilt-able viewfinder

System cameras – DSLM

Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, first introduced by Panasonic in 2008, are the most popular type of the fast growing compact system camera (CSC) category – also known as mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC).

The ‘Micro Four Thirds’ system adopted by Panasonic and Olympus continues to offer the largest number of compatible lenses and uses the same sized sensor as the Four Thirds system – approx. 8x larger than a typical compact camera sensor.

Due to the removal of the reflex mirror and introduction of an electronic viewfinder, it was possible to design a camera up to 30% smaller than a DSLR, these cameras’ interchangeable lenses are smaller and lighter too, especially telephotos, so portability is a major advantage.

A Live View display enables you to see all changes made to settings – White Balance, Shutter Speed, creative filters etc. – in the viewfinder/on-screen before pictures are taken. High Quality image performance is a given, but add in features like Face Detection, Continuous Auto Focus (AFC) for video and Free-angle touch-screen displays, and they are hard to beat for ease and advanced usability.

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Who would suit a camera from this category?

With prices from £300 to £2,000 and multiple body/lens combinations available, as with DSLRs, this category encompasses an array of models appealing to many different users.

Besides the flexibility of fitting specific lenses for different shooting scenarios, the biggest reason for choosing a DSLM over a compact is image quality, and gradually building your own system will stretch the most creative mind.

So, if you are serious about moving your photography to the next level – and want to retain the flexibility of a Live View display – a DSLM is for you.


The LUMIX Advantage

As you can see from the examples, Panasonic has manufactured digital cameras in all categories and continues to lead the market in many of them. LUMIX expertise since 2001 has seen the introduction of lots of innovative features now found as standard on numerous models. Panasonic cameras are not only produced in-house, but also contain more than 90% of components manufactured by the company.

The line up of LUMIX models offer high quality, useful and easy-to-use features in a reliable package that you can enjoy from the moment you get them in your hands.

Hopefully this brief rundown of digital camera types will help you decide which camera will be right for you.

For more advice on the advantages of a Compact System Camera, read the next tutorial in this module: What does a DSLM system camera offer?

Not sure what something means? Read our glossary

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Written by Steve Lucas for Panasonic ©