There’s no denying that smartphones and tablets can capture good-quality photos but, when you want to get creative, there’s no beating a ‘proper’ camera. They’re tools that are literally designed for the job. The bigger decision is what sort of camera you should go for.
For simplicity and portability, there’s a lot to be said for a small point-and-shoot camera that you can slip into your daily bag or even a spare pocket. Most models have a respectable zoom range and a built-in flash, while some add a viewfinder that helps when composing shots under bright sunlight.
To add versatility, you’re better off with a ‘system’ camera. These have a separate body and interchangeable lenses, so you can mount the optic that’s best suited to the shooting scenario at hand. They start small, with mirrorless compact system cameras, whereas DSLRs tend to be more of a handful. That can be a good thing, as they often feel more comfortable and natural in the hand, and the reflex mirror gives you an unadulterated ‘through the lens’ image of what you’re shooting, via an optical viewfinder.
Whatever type of camera you go for, it needn’t be complicated. Let’s take a closer look at the best beginners’ options on the market right now.
It’s particularly easy to get up and running with the Nikon D3500. As well as an ‘intelligent’ fully automatic mode, there are wide-ranging scene modes and effects to choose from. More uniquely, there’s a Guide shooting mode, which serves as a kind of interactive photography course. There’s no shortage of quality either, with a high-performance 24.2MP image sensor and processor, a generous ISO (sensitivity) range, speedy 5fps maximum burst rate and a high-resolution LCD screen.
However, it’s not a touch-sensitive screen and lacks a tilt or pivot facility. Another drawback is that autofocus is relatively slow in live view and movie capture modes but, overall, the D3500 is currently the most appealing beginners’ camera on the market.
Despite being remarkably inexpensive for a DSLR kit that comes complete with camera body and zoom lens, the 4000D is capable of delivering lovely image quality. Full auto mode incorporates real-time ‘intelligent’ scene analysis, and there are plenty of scene modes and creative filters to choose from. There’s a built-in feature guide and a Creative Auto shooting mode that helps to bridge the gap between basic and more advanced modes.
For extra guidance, Canon also offers a Photo Companion app that you can download for Android or iOS. Overall, the 4000D is good value for money but the kit lens doesn’t feature optical stabiliaation, the continuous shooting speed is rather pedestrian, and the rear screen is relatively small and low in resolution.
Typical of Canon DSLRs, the 800D is easy to get to grips with. It has a very logical and highly intuitive interface, with an excellent Quick menu for accessing important settings via its fully articulated touchscreen. Like the 4000D, it also features a full auto shooting mode with intelligent scene analysis, a Creative Auto mode, and a Guided option for the menu system.
The menu system itself is rather more complex, and adds a number of custom settings, for tailoring the camera to your specific shooting requirements.
The autofocus systems are particularly impressive, with a 45-point AF module for shooting stills through the viewfinder, and a Dual Pixel AF image sensor that makes autofocus impressively fast and responsive for live view and movie capture, at least for a DSLR.
The kit lens is far superior to that of the cheaper 4000D, with silent STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus and the addition of image stabilisation.
Immaculately turned out in a choice of black, dark silver or champagne gold, the Fujifilm X-T100 is is one of Fujifilm’s latest compact system cameras. The impressive feature set includes high-resolution thrills all round, from the 24.2MP APS-C image sensor, to the 1,040k 3-way tilting touchscreen and the 2,360k electronic viewfinder. There’s also 4k UHD movie capture on the menu, although it’s limited to a disappointingly slow 15fps frame rate.
Further highlights include intelligent scene analysis and intelligent hybrid AF, which combines phase-detection and contrast-detection for fast yet consistently accurate performance. The 15-45mm kit lens is also a delight, delivering very good image quality while adding optical image stabilisation and power-zoom for smooth focal length transitions when shooting movies.
Typical of bridge cameras, the Sony DSCHX400 has a fixed rather than interchangeable lens, but with a body shape that more closely resembles a DSLR than a compact camera. It makes sense really, because the massive 25-500mm effective zoom range would be hard to handle without a comfortable and natural grip on the camera, especially when you’re trying to keep things steady at the telephoto end.
The Sony is no slouch when it comes to shooting speed, with a maximum burst rate of 10fps. Although the 1/2.3-type image sensor is physically small, it boasts 20.4 megapixels and the 3.0-inch tilting screen has a high resolution of 922k. However, it’s not a touchscreen and the resolution of the electronic viewfinder is comparatively disappointing, at just 201k pixels.
For such a small camera, the Panasonic TZ100 packs in some seriously big specifications and features. It has a 20.1MP 1.0-type sensor that’s physically large for a compact camera, and retains relatively noise-free image quality even at high ISO settings. It also crams in an electronic viewfinder and a high-res, 3.0inch rear screen, plus a 10x zoom lens with an effective range of 25-250mm.
To keep things steady, there’s optical image stabilisation for stills and 5-axis hybrid stabilisation for video capture. You can also shoot at 4k UHD for both stills and video, with a frame rate of up to 30fps. For full-resolution stills, the burst rate is still speedy at 10fps.
Clever tricks include ‘post-focus’, which enables you to capture a burst of stills with automatically transitioning focus distances, and select the frame with the ideal focus point afterwards.
Panasonic makes an enviable range of Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. This one – the Panasonic DC-GX800KEBK – is particularly beginner-friendly, nice and compact, and the least expensive. The interface is clear and simple, based around a touchscreen that features a 180-degree tilt facility, ideal for selfies. The so-called Light Speed AF is fast and accurate, and 4k UHD is available both for video and a rapid burst of stills.
One drawback of the slimline design is that there’s no viewfinder. You therefore need to compose shots on the LCD, which can be a struggle under bright sunlight. The 16MP stills resolution is also a bit on the low side but it’s a particularly good camera for shooting video.
One of the upsides of Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system cameras is that they tend to be fairly small and lightweight. That’s certainly true of the Olympus E-M10, which is now in its third generation. Although small, it’s impeccably well built and beautifully turned out with classic retro styling. The 14-42mm EZ kit lens is similarly small, with a retractable design that enables compact stowage.
Even so, it features a built-in motor that enables smooth zooming during video capture. The maximum burst rate for stills is a speedy 8.6fps, although autofocus can be a little slower than in many competing cameras, making it tricky to follow fast-moving action. 4k UHD movie capture is a bonus.
Great for following the action in sports and wildlife photography, the Nikon D5600 has an advanced 39-point autofocus system that boasts auto-area, dynamic-area and 3D-tracking modes. The optional 18-140mm VR kit lens is also particularly suitable for these types of photography, with its 27-210mm ‘effective’ zoom range and competent Vibration Reduction (optical image stabilisation) system. And for when you need to trek into the countryside for shooting wildlife, or stand for long periods at a sporting event, the D5600 won’t weigh you down as it’s one of the lightest and most compact DSLRs on the market.
The fully articulated touchscreen is an extra bonus, although for live view and video capture, the sensor-based contrast-detection autofocus facility can be painfully slow.
Like other ‘tough’ compact cameras on the market, this Olympus Tough TG-5 is designed to take the knocks. It can withstand being submerged in water to a depth of 15 metres, dropped from a height of 2.1 metres and frozen to -10 degrees Celsius. If you’re feeling particularly mean, you can even try crushing it with a 100kg weight, and it’ll still keep on working.
All in all, it’s a great camera for everything from skiing down mountains to snorkelling in the sea. The maximum burst rate is a similarly action-packed 20fps, and you can also capture 4k UHD movies. The 4x optical zoom lens adds versatility, as do the built-in macro and microscopic modes. To take things even further, a range of optional accessories includes fisheye and telephoto lens converters.
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