First, congratulations! Camera technology has advanced to the point where a complete novice, using an entry-level camera right out of the box, can take photos that (under certain circumstances) appear identical to professional photos. Regardless if you only use your camera in the ‘automatic’ setting or if you explore the art of photography, the most important part of any photograph is *you*- your brain and your eyes. To paraphrase, cameras don’t take good pictures, people do. So, to the question at hand-
It depends. The best camera for you is the camera that meets your needs. While PF cannot recommend a specific camera (for various reasons), we can provide technical information that will help you better understand the specific product reviews contained in other review sites. This sticky is organized in terms of expertise- starting with zero and working up to expert. You will see that certain topics are re-visited because imaging involves certain technical trade-offs inherent in the relevant physics. PF has a dedicated group of enthusiasts who are happy to help you take better pictures!
A couple of preliminaries and definitions: ‘lens’ refers to the hunk of glass/plastic on the front of a camera that may be made up of multiple elements, and is rotationally symmetric about the ‘optical axis’. ‘Sensor’ refers to the light-detecting chip. ‘Imaging’ means the same thing as ‘taking a picture’. ’35mm format’ refers to the standard (135 film) camera format. It can be helpful to be aware of the 35mm format because much of the nomenclature is derived from 35mm film cameras. The phrase ’35mm film format’ is associated with the Kodak 135 film frame size (ISO 1007). This image frame size is 36mm x 24 mm, with a diagonal dimension of 43 mm.
Table of contents: Each section represents a general class of photographers (i.e. you), and the associated lists of topics are organized based on what you need to know to make a rational choice when purchasing a camera.
I’ve never owned a camera (besides what is in my cell phone and laptop). I want to take pictures at parties and post them online or email them to my friends.
What’s so special about digital cameras?
Optical v. digital zoom
I’ve never owned a camera, but I want to get a ‘real’ camera (that doesn’t cost too much).
I’ve owned an entry-level camera already and I want to take the next step.
Depth of field
I’m ready for a DSLR!
Rule of 16
Look for Part 2 coming in the next few days!
PhD Physics – Associate Professor
Department of Physics, Cleveland State University