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28 November 2012

Photography Tips 1: Choosing the right camera

In the first in a new series, action sports photographer Melody Sky explains the different cameras available

By Melody Sky

One of the most time consuming and difficult stages in becoming a photographer is finding the right camera. Here are some steps to help with your decision.

What are the different types of camera available?

First of all you have to decide how much you want to spend - that may dictate whether you want to buy a compact camera, a compact system camera or a DSLR.

Compact Camera
Compact Camera
Compact System Camera
Compact System Camera
  • A compact camera is the smallest and the lens does not remove from the body.
  • Compact system cameras are small and compact but have a range of lenses you can attach to them.
  • A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) is the biggest and has an extensive collection of lenses and accessories. A DSLR can be used in point and shoot mode, but they are predominantly designed for photographers who wish to control the look and feel of their images using manual settings.

The right camera for you will depend on your needs, so it's worth considering the following:

• What conditions will you be shooting in?

If you are only going to be shooting in bright conditions then all cameras will do the job. However if you are also going to shoot in low light, or at night, you will need to choose a camera that has a larger sensor - as this will take in more light. Most compact cameras have a small sensor so the camera will take in less light. Also, if shooting in low light choose a camera with a lens that can open wider, which will let more light onto the sensor. Many compact cameras open only to f/3.5 therefore best for low light would be f/2.0 or f/1.8 (the lower the f-number, the larger the f-stop/aperture).

DSLR Camera
DSLR Camera

• What size/weight will you be willing to carry?

If you intend to ski for the whole day, you'll have to decide whether you want to have a camera that slips into your ski jacket pocket and is easy to access quickly, or whether you are happy to carry a larger (and more advanced camera) on your back for the whole day. You may just want to have fun and snap friends and family on the piste, so a compact camera would be perfect. If you want to venture further and have the ability to print or even sell the images, then you would need to carry something larger that would require a sturdy protective rucksack. It may be physically tiring, so you also have to take into consideration your fitness level and strength.

• What will you be shooting?

Action, landscapes, portrait or a bit of everyhing? Of course you can shoot all subjects with any camera from compact 'point and shoot' models through to DSLR's, but you may want to consider how close you want to get to the subject. Do you need to add special zoom lenses to the camera for ski action? Then you would need a DSLR so you have the option of changing lenses. Do you want to print? You will need to consider a larger sensor and more megapixels as well as a good lens. Maybe you simply want to easily catch a memory and therefore a compact will do the trick.

Canon EF-S lens
Canon EF-S lens

• Will you want a good zoom lens?

One piece of advice for compact and compact system cameras - only pay attention to the optical zoom. Digital zoom only enlarges the pixels, creating lower quality images. You will see "pixilation" in your image if you use digital zoom. So although these cameras may sell themselves on massive magnification, it will not be good quality.

If you're buying a compact system camera, make sure you look at what lenses are available before you buy. With a DSLR, the options are endless but it's worth checking what sort of lenses are available. A high quality lens is almost more important than the body - every year the camera manufacturers upgrade the body technology, but the lenses generally stay the same.

• Fully automatic or manual option?

Many compact cameras are fully automatic and make it easy to literally point and shoot, without having to think about settings. This is ideal for a family holiday where you want to snap the kids with ease and speed. But you may want to create some effects with the manual settings on your camera, like adjusting the depth of field (for example having your subject totally in focus and the background out of focus). For this you would need to be able to adjust the f-stop / aperture (more about this in a later article). Some of the compact system cameras can do this and DSLR's are built specifically for this.

• How much are you willing to spend?

You get what you pay for. So the more you spend, the higher the quality of image. Some of the compact cameras and compact system cameras take amazing pictures. In some cases the difference will only be noticed when you want to do high quality printing.

Telephoto lens
Telephoto lens

• Will you be printing the images?

If you are just going to be sharing the pictures and don’t need to print (ie for web use, Facebook or email) the quality taken on everything from a mobile phone to point and shoot compacts will be fine. However if you intend on high quality printing, or sending your images to magazines, then you will need to invest in something more expensive

A note on image quality

One final thing to point out is that more pixels do not always mean that you will get better quality images. In digital cameras, the image is recorded on a sensor. The pixels pick up the detail on that sensor. If you have a large sensor it means larger pixels that in turn would mean better quality. Compact cameras tend to have small sensors that use very small pixels, leading to lesser quality.

Getting the best deal

The camera manufacturers bring out a new upgrade on each camera every year and it is difficult to keep up with. So if you want the best deal I would suggest buying last year’s version when a new one is released as the prices then drop dramatically on the previous. The quality of the new release is not necessarily dramatically different so bear this in mind if you're on a budget.

Here are some recommended 2012 models at prices ranging from about £150 (lowest prices found on and

Be aware that there are many makes and models, especially in the compact and compact system level, and you should spend some time reading reviews on the Internet. I personally recommend using Canon or Nikon in the DSLR range.

Compact: £150 - £350

Canon S100 (£320) / Nikon Coolpix P310 (£184) or Lumix DMC-LX7 (£383)
Samsung MV800 (£122)

Compact System: £350 - £700

Canon G15 (£499) Nikon P7700 (£448) or Lumix DMC-LX7 (£383)
Canon G1 X (£666) or Nikon 1 V2 (£799) or Panasonic Lumix GX1 (£429)

DSLR: £650 - £5000

Canon EOS 650D (£519) or Nikon D3200 (£361)
Canon EOS 60D (£686) or Nikon D7000 (£637)
Canon EOS 6D (£1789) or Nikon D600 (£1380)
Canon EOS 7D (£989) or Nikon D300 (£999)
Canon EOS 5D III (£2239) or Nikon D800 (£1977)
Canon EOS 1D X (£4970) or Nikon D4 (£3889)

Here are some good reviews to get you startedL

Read the next article in this series: Using semi-manual settings

Melody Sky


  • Date: 30 November 2012
  • All very well, but let's see a photo of Melody herself. She's very photogenic!

Arnie Wilson
Arnie Wilson
  • Date: 01 December 2012
  • Or better still some of M' wonderful photos...

Emma Farthing
Emma Farthing
  • Date: 02 December 2012
  • Couldn't agree more Emma. There are a couple of good ones taken by her on the "First Turn" page of the December issue of Ski+board!

Arnie Wilson
Arnie Wilson

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