Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect camera. With every digital camera you have to make compromises to a greater or lesser extent.
Therefore, the first thing to do is to find out what the digital camera will be used for. Depending on the intended use, you can make a preliminary selection on the basis of the technical data. Afterwards, I would read test reports on these cameras and, of course, you should read along in the relevant forums. For a first orientation, a general forum is good, later you should visit a camera-specific web forum. There you will quickly find out if there are typical weak points of a digital camera, because there is always a lot written about them in these forums… On Digitalkamera.de there is an interesting article on the question
How meaningful are camera tests?
Landscape photography, architectural photography
A good wide-angle range (24mm initial focal length or smaller) is important, a 16:9 mode for panoramas can also be interesting. The shutter lag is not so important.
Family / party photos
Good shots in low light conditions are very difficult. Low noise at high ISO sensitivity is important. This is an area where only DSLRs or system cameras are unreservedly good. There are only a few compacts that still deliver good image quality here – see high-end compacts. An image stabiliser can be helpful under certain circumstances. The camera should also have an autofocus assist light to improve focusing in the dark.
For snapshots, the shutter lag (including AF time) should be well under 0.5 sec.
Because most animals, even in zoos, can only be photographed from a greater distance, a long telephoto focal length is very important. I would definitely aim for 400mm, but the lens should still be fast. An image stabiliser is recommended so that you don’t always have to rely on a tripod. For fast animals, a short shutter lag and a fast continuous shooting function are also important.
Depending on the type of sport, a strong telephoto lens is needed. The shutter lag (incl. AF) should be very short in any case (< 0.2 sec). A good speed (f2.8) and a high, low-noise ISO sensitivity and a fast continuous shooting function are indispensable for fast sports. DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) are best suited for this task.
Apart from the availability of an underwater housing, a special underwater motif programme and, above all, a large, bright display are very helpful.
If there are no special requirements, almost any digital cameras are suitable. Nevertheless, I would look for a short shutter release delay, a sufficiently large, bright and well-resolved display and generally a quick reaction of the camera when switching on, zooming, displaying pictures and operating the menu. Then photography is simply more fun.
Of course, every digital camera should deliver good image quality, regardless of the purpose. Significant progress has been made here in recent years. Nevertheless, there are always models that stand out due to major or minor shortcomings. I therefore present digicams in the various camera categories that have as few drawbacks as possible and are among the best on the market.
The cameras in the Good & Cheap category are simple and inexpensive models that are sufficient for simple requirements. The cameras are not particularly small and offer only a few setting options. This can be an advantage if you value simple operation. As a rule, you will not be able to master difficult photo situations with them, but they are certainly suitable for standard cases.
High-end digital cameras offer better image quality and more extensive features. The only limitation in this camera class is the lack of a large zoom range. Sometimes external flash units can be connected. The range of functions is often based on DSLRs. Many are designed as high-quality second cameras for SLR users.
Digital cameras of the super-zoom class are characterised by their large zoom range. The cameras usually also come with a full set of adjustment options. In return, super-zoom cameras are significantly larger than compacts, but offer practically unlimited possibilities. The only thing you often have to do without is a connection for external flash units and for filters or converters.
Digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) and system cameras meet all the demands of an ambitious photographer. They offer the highest resolution, high image quality and professional equipment. With these cameras, the lens is interchangeable and can therefore be adapted to any task. In particular, only cameras in this class are able to work perfectly with an external flash unit. As a rule, one decides on a system and later only exchanges the camera body, while continuing to use the rest of the equipment. Strictly speaking, single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) are also system cameras, but the term system camera usually refers to mirrorless cameras.
DSLRs have the structure of a classic camera with a mirror in the light path that folds away for the shot. The mirror otherwise directs the image to the optical viewfinder and the AF sensors. This is also the reason for the big difference in principle: you always look through an optical viewfinder, not at a display. The AF system is not on the sensor plane and can therefore have alignment errors. In the field of subject tracking (sports photography), the AF system of a (good) DSLR is currently still the leader.
System cameras (DSLM) do without a mirror and are therefore more compact. In the µFT system, the sensor is also somewhat smaller (a factor of 2 compared to the 35 mm format, as opposed to the usual 1.5 for the APS-C format), which means that not only the housings, but also the lenses are much smaller and lighter. The viewfinder image is always generated by the image sensor on a small display, which makes it possible to fade in any information and above all to show the image as it will look after exposure. This makes accurate exposure much easier. In addition, the viewfinder can display 100% of the image, which is only common with optical viewfinders in the premium class.
Another difference is in the AF system. With DSLMs, autofocus is determined at the sensor level. However, in the case of spontaneous changes in distance, the contrast measurement required for this is not able to track the focus as quickly as the phase sensors of a DSLR. When it comes to simple focusing at a certain distance, system cameras are at least as fast as DSLRs. Because DSLMs were optimised for contrast metering from the start, they also have faster and more accurate autofocus in video mode. DSLRs are catching up fast, but still have the disadvantage of requiring specially optimised lenses. The AF drive in DSLR lenses was never designed to make tiny corrections in the shortest possible time. But here the manufacturers are catching up, you just have to pay attention when buying a lens. In the same way, both systems are converging in terms of AF sensors: more and more DSLR and DSLM manufacturers are integrating fast phase AF sensors on the image sensor.
Technical data alone will never determine the quality of a camera, so they are only a first approach to assigning a camera to a category. You can use these criteria to get an overview of the market and then use test reports to compare strengths and weaknesses.
Sensor resolution (megapixels)
The resolution of all current digital cameras is so high that it is no longer a buying criterion.
While in the early days of digital photography the resolution was still visibly worse than with classic 35mm film, we have long since left this point behind. Unfortunately, the inexorable increase in resolution has meanwhile had negative effects. While it used to be possible to zoom in on the pixel level with a 6 MP camera and get a sharp image, this is no longer recommended with a current 16 MP compact camera: the tiny sensors do not receive enough light to work without noise; the subsequent noise reduction flattens even the last fine details, which ultimately leads to watercolour-like structures. The whole thing gets worse with increasing ISO numbers and a 600mm zoom range does not lead to sharper images either. Today, really sharp photos at pixel level can only be expected from DSLRs and system cameras. With a little compromise, also with high-end compacts.
The good thing about the megapixel race is that the resolution is now so high that far more pixels are stored than are needed for output. For 10×15 photos 2 megapixels are enough, even for 40x50cm 12 MP are enough. And even a 4K TV can only display 8 megapixels. Therefore, the photos are always downscaled for output and the loss of detail that you see at pixel level is then (mostly) no longer visible. The photos appear sharp. You should not try to use such photos as a basis for intensive image processing or even for enlargements – for this you should rather use a low-noise system camera.
The resolution alone, however, is no indication of whether a camera produces a lot of noise – or watercolour-like images after denoising – but must always be considered in relation to the sensor size. If the same number of pixels have to be accommodated on a smaller surface, then the individual pixel becomes smaller. And the smaller the individual sensor, the less light it absorbs and the stronger the influences of heat or measurement fluctuations in relation to the recorded light. These influences cannot be reversed by reducing the resolution in the camera settings.
Typical DSLR sensors (APS-C = 23.6 x 15.6 mm) are about 13 times larger than the sensors of small digital cameras or superzooms (1/2.3″ = 6.1 x 4.6 mm). The sensors of high-end compacts are already twice to four times as large.
The sensor size is given as a ratio in inches according to an old system from the 1950s. Large chips, for example, have a size of 2/3″ – small ones only 1/2.7″. However, this size specification is only to be understood as a type specification. The actual size cannot be calculated from it. For this reason, I have given the distance between the individual sensors (pixel pitch) as a reference value for the digital cameras presented. The larger this value, the better the basis for good image quality.
In short: the number of megapixels is completely meaningless today and has not been a quality criterion for a long time. Much more important, however, is the size of the image sensor.
Lens, optical zoom
I would definitely not do without a zoom. The minimum equipment is a 3x zoom. Compact cameras offer up to 10x; super-zoom cameras 30x or more zoom. You can forget about specifying a digital zoom. This is nothing more than a cropped enlargement and you can do better with any image processing. The stronger the zoom, the bigger the camera. In addition, the light intensity decreases and in the extreme positions of the zoom you have to reckon with distortions. On the other hand, a powerful zoom offers enormous photographic freedom.
The focal length of fixed lenses is converted to 35 mm. You can compare different focal lengths on the Walimex and Chip websites.
With interchangeable lenses, the real focal length is always given. This must then be converted to 35 mm equivalent using the sensor size of the camera – the so-called crop factor – if you want to compare across systems. Because it is much more difficult to build high-quality lenses for the larger sensors of DSLRs that cover a wide focal length range, you won’t find 20x zooms here. And the available superzooms (mostly 18-300mm) are always inferior in quality to lenses with a smaller zoom range or even fixed focal lengths. In order to fully exploit the possibilities of a DSLR or DSLM, you also have to consider the choice of the right lens. The price tends to rise with the quality of the image.
From the same point of view
23 mm focal length
420 mm focal length
A short focal length (wide-angle, <28 mm) is important for interior shots, landscapes or architectural photos, so that you get as much of the subject as possible in the picture. Cameras with a small starting focal length are usually more expensive than models that start at 36mm. One reason is that a wide-angle lens is expensive to produce if you want to keep the unavoidable aberrations such as distortion and shadowing as low as possible. A long focal length (> 200mm) is needed to bring distant objects close. This is very important, for example, for animal photography (also in zoos), sports and all situations where you cannot get close to the subject. As the light intensity decreases with long focal lengths and the risk of camera shake increases, an image stabiliser has become standard equipment.
You can hardly replace a zoom with a higher resolution. In order for a camera with 3x zoom to achieve the same image scale as a camera with 6x zoom, it needs 4 times as many pixels! In addition, there is the different image effect due to the shallower depth of field at high focal lengths.
Many inexpensive and ultra-compact cameras offer only a few zoom levels. This means that the zoom range is not continuous, but increases by a fixed step with each press of the zoom button, no matter how briefly. This makes it difficult to select the right image section. Bad cameras have only 4 zoom levels, good ones more than 30 or they are actually stepless. A mechanical, stepless focal length adjustment can be considered the optimum. However, this is only found on some bridge cameras and on practically all SLR lenses.
Aperture / speed
Another economy measure taken by manufacturers is the reduction of the f-stops. While it is actually common for a camera to use all intermediate stops between the smallest and largest aperture, there are actually cameras on the market that only work with 2 different apertures. The exposure can then practically only be controlled via time. As a rule, however, such cameras do not have any manual setting options.
These two photos show the influence of the selected aperture. One was taken with aperture 2.8 and shows a very shallow depth of field (often referred to as depth of field) – practically only the blossoms are sharp, the background is blurred and makes the blossoms stand out vividly. The other photo was taken with aperture 7 and shows a greater depth of field. The photo has a completely different effect. So the aperture has a great creative influence. With most digital cameras, however, you won’t notice much of this, because the small sensor in turn leads to a large depth of field – see also crop factor. It is only in the DSLR class or with system cameras that the aperture can be used as a stylistic device.
In addition to its creative function, the aperture also influences the amount of incident light. Here, the largest aperture is technically limited and an important lens property. This is referred to as the luminous intensity of a lens. A small value (f/2.8 or less) stands for a high luminous intensity. This means that more light falls on the image sensor and you can work with shorter exposure times. With low light intensity, you have to switch on the flash or use a tripod. As the focal length increases, the light intensity usually decreases. A zoom lens has the best light intensity in the wide-angle range and the lowest in the telephoto range. An initial value of 2.8 is good – values above 4 are only average. Very good zooms even achieve a good light intensity in the entire range – like the Sony RX10 with a continuous f/2.8 at a focal length of 24 – 200mm. If you compare this with a super zoom for DSLRs, like the Tamron 18-270 with f3.5-6.3, then the Tamron lens can only be rated as poor in this respect. Fast zoom lenses for DSLRs are very expensive and large and heavy. These lenses are somewhat smaller for system cameras with mFT sensors, but here too the prices are very high.
Image stabiliser (also: OIS, AntiShake, IBIS)
It is helpful to equip the camera with a mechanical/internal (e.g. Sony, Olympus, Pentax) or optical image stabiliser (e.g. Panasonic, Nikon, Canon). This compensates for shaking when shooting handheld. (Image stabiliser test) Which system is used only plays a role with DSLRs. While an optical image stabiliser already calms the view through the viewfinder, the mechanical solution only calms the image of the sensor. Recent studies show that the stabiliser in the lens is more effective at long focal lengths. For shorter focal lengths, no difference is noticeable. Olympus and Panasonic have started to combine both systems and achieve much better results. Here, however, you have to pay strict attention to the compatibility of camera and lens so that the Dual-IS also becomes active.
On the one hand, this makes sharp photos possible even with very long focal lengths, and on the other hand also with longer exposure times than usual. This is important with long focal lengths, but also with ultra-compact digicams, as shaking is easier here. Only rarely – e.g. with Nikon – can you find cameras without an image stabiliser. But beware: sometimes cameras are advertised with ‘anti-shake DSP’ or ‘electronic image stabiliser’ that do not have a real image stabiliser at all. And another note: an image stabiliser can only compensate for camera movement, but never for the movement of the subject. If the subject moves too fast for the exposure time, blurred photos will still result.
Resolution Display / Viewfinder
The display is used to select the image section and to judge the image. If the display is not good because it is too dark and has too coarse a resolution, it is difficult to determine the correct image section and to judge whether the photo has turned out well. Displays with significantly fewer than 300,000 pixels are evidence of the manufacturer’s cost-cutting measures; more than 500,000 pixels are among the better ones. The best ones achieve more than 1 MP. In addition, the display should be bright enough for use in the sunshine.
Another important point is the size of the display. The usual size specification in inches is to be understood as a type specification. This only facilitates comparability and is not intended to be a size specification accurate to the millimetre. You can’t see much on a 1.5″ small display despite the high resolution. The display should be at least 2.5″, better 3″. However, the size of a display must be in the right proportion to the number of pixels. If only the display is enlarged without increasing the number of pixels, there is no advantage in sharpness. A 2.5″ display should have at least 300,000 pixels.
System cameras and superzoom cameras often have a small display as an electronic viewfinder. Working with the viewfinder improves the picture results because, on the one hand, you automatically adopt a more stable, shake-proof posture and, on the other hand, the shaded view through the viewfinder sharpens your eye for the subject. The display should be at least 0.44″ and have a resolution of well over 400,000 dots. Anything less than that is only a stopgap solution. Really good electronic viewfinders have a resolution of at least 2,000,000 pixels and are larger than the optical viewfinders of a mid-range DSLR. An important comfort feature is the automatic switching between display and viewfinder via a proximity sensor. With simpler cameras, you have to switch over yourself by pressing a button, which quickly becomes annoying.
Digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) always have an optical viewfinder that displays the image through the lens via a mirror. The quality (brightness/size of the image) of the viewfinder therefore plays a major role in ease of use, especially when focusing manually. Since the mirror has to be folded away to expose the sensor, there is classically no live image possible on the display. In the meantime, however, every modern DSLR is equipped with LiveView. For this purpose, the mirror is folded up permanently – the viewfinder then no longer shows an image, but the display can be used to compose the image, just as with a compact camera. There are still big differences in the usability of the LiveView mode. Focusing is extremely slow and a preview of exposure and white balance is not always generated. Good video viewfinders of mirrorless system cameras are often brighter and larger than the optical viewfinders of a mid-range DSLR. That an optical viewfinder is necessarily better is only true for full-frame cameras – and even then not without restrictions.
Since it is not possible to insert film with a higher sensitivity (higher ISO value) into a digital camera, you can regulate the light sensitivity via the signal amplification. The higher the signal amplification (the ISO value), the more the image quality is affected by image noise. Usually, digicams work with ISO values between 100 and 3,200, but high ISO values only make sense with DSLRs. More than ISO 800 is not advisable even for the best compact cameras (exception: high-end compacts). Beware of cameras that only regulate the ISO value fully automatically. Since increasing the ISO value can ruin the pictures through strong noise, the photographer should decide whether he wants to take this risk. A camera that only has an automatic ISO setting is better left on the shelf. With some models, the automatic ISO can be limited upwards so that this function can be used sensibly. Most digital cameras with a high megapixel count tend to produce noise even with a small increase in ISO. Digital SLR cameras with their much larger sensors are much less sensitive in this respect.
With very few models, you can choose the type of storage medium. There are only a handful of cameras that accept 2 or even 3 different types. The type of storage medium should only be a deciding factor in the purchase of otherwise equally good cameras.
The memory cards differ, apart from their design, mainly in price. The memory sticks used only by Sony and the xD cards used by Fuji / Olympus have meanwhile disappeared from the market and are meaningless. SD cards and, for some professional cameras, CF cards or XQD cards are more common. These cameras then often have a double slot that allows the simultaneous use of 2 cards.
SD cards are the current standard format. Almost all current compact digital cameras and most DSLRs use SD cards. The class of SD cards now includes 3 categories: SD up to 2 GB, SDHC up to 32 GB and SDXC from 64 GB. The standards are not upward compatible, so the readers and cameras must explicitly support SDHC or SDXC. The cards also differ in speed classes (Class 4, 6, 10) with guaranteed minimum write speeds. For video recording, a minimum speed is usually required. For details see Accessories – Memory Cards.
CompactFlash is available in 2 sizes: CF-I and CF-II. CF cards are only used by professional DSLRs. While all cameras with a CF slot accept the CF-I, the thicker CF-II only fit in a few digital cameras. The CF-II format was mainly used by microdrives. These are mini hard drives that no longer have any market relevance today.
XQD cards are intended as a successor to the CF card and are supposed to achieve very high transfer rates. However, it does not look as if this standard will prevail. So far, only Nikon uses the XQD standard for its professional DSLRs.
The memory cards are also available as ultra- or high-speed variants. These offer a higher write and read speed. Especially when filming, in continuous shooting mode or when saving large RAW images, the differences in speed can be noticeable depending on the camera. When reading the memory card with a fast card reader, you definitely benefit from the higher speed.
If you take a lot of photos in RAW format or videos, even a 64 GB card sometimes reaches its capacity limit. For such cases and as a backup on the road, the purchase of an image tank can make sense. Since a photo memory or memory tank provides much more storage capacity and can be used as an external hard drive in addition to photography and often offers other functions such as an MP3 player, it is also an interesting alternative in terms of price. Photo memory buying guide
There are 2 different types of rechargeable batteries used in digital cameras:
standard AA-size NiMh batteries
camera-specific LiIon batteries
NiMh batteries have the advantage that they are available everywhere and at low prices and can be replaced by batteries if necessary. The disadvantage is the relatively high weight and the high self-discharge. This means that after a long period of storage, the batteries are so heavily discharged that considerably fewer photos are possible. This can be remedied by battery types with lower self-discharge. In any case, the quality of the charger is crucial for the life of NiMh batteries. AA batteries can only be found in the cheapest entry-level segment.
The camera-specific LiIon batteries initially have the disadvantage that they are only offered by the camera manufacturer. For common battery types, however, it is no problem to find a third-party supplier who offers suitable batteries at a lower price. However, these are usually of inferior quality, have less capacity and no protective circuit. As a rule, however, they also perform their duties without complaint. The charger is always included with LiIon batteries, so there is no risk of using an unusable charger. In addition, the purchase costs for the charger and the first set of batteries are saved. However, there is a trend to use the camera as a charger. Then you might have to invest in a charger again.
Many important factors are not mentioned by the manufacturers in their documentation. These can only be found in test reports. Since the measured values may depend on the test setup, one should be careful when comparing results from different sources.
This is the time from switching on the camera until it is ready. Good cameras only need 1-2 seconds. Zoom cameras always take a little longer than cameras without zoom, because the zoom has to be extended first. As a rule, the stronger the zoom factor, the longer the switch-on time. Digital cameras with manually adjustable zoom, such as DSLRs, are ready for use within fractions of a second.
Shutter lag / autofocus speed
The shutter lag is the time from when the shutter button is pressed until the picture is taken. The time is made up of the time for focusing, metering and the actual release of the shutter. If you pre-focus by half-pressing the shutter button, you achieve the shortest possible shutter release time, as the AF time is omitted.
I always state the shutter release delay including AF time on my page, because only sharp pictures make sense. A shutter lag of 1 second quite effectively prevents action shots. Be it a finish line in sports or the house cat that won’t hold still. Since about 2005, all digicams have had such a short shutter release time that the shutter lag is almost all autofocus time. A camera with a delay of 0.5 sec. is already one of the better ones on the market and you can live with that. The ideal would be a shutter lag of well under 0.3 seconds. Until recently, this was almost exclusively reserved for DSLRs with phase autofocus. Meanwhile, the best system cameras with contrast autofocus are just as fast.
The shutter lag also depends on the focal length, the lighting and, with DSLRs, the lens used. With strong telephoto focal lengths, more time is always needed to focus than in the wide-angle range. This sometimes results in strong differences in the measurement of the shutter lag. In these cases I have given 2 values: for the measurement in the wide-angle and in the telephoto range.
When choosing a camera, the autofocus system also plays a role. Compact cameras and system cameras usually work with contrast AF and use the image sensor for this. The autofocus fields here are purely a software solution and you can offer a large number of AF fields over the entire image area at low cost. In DSLRs with phase AF, on the other hand, a sensor must be installed for each AF field, and these tend to be located in the centre of the image. Here, a distinction is made between simple line sensors and more complex cross sensors. Cross sensors are more sensitive, so an AF system with multiple cross sensors is better able to track a subject.
Contrast AF is generally more accurate than phase AF because it focuses precisely at the sensor level. On the other hand, contrast AF systems are often relatively slow because fast contrast AF requires high processing power and fast AF motors.
Image quality is influenced by the optical system, the image sensor and the software that processes the image within the camera. On the one hand, it can be measured objectively by the imaging performance. This determines the suitability in principle for the representation of fine details. The value is measured according to ISO 12233 and given in line pairs/image height. Towards the edge of the image, the resolution deteriorates due to the properties of the lens. The more consistent the resolution, the better the quality of the lens.
The further assessment of the image quality is based on subjective criteria such as the impression of sharpness, colour fastness, etc. The image quality of a camera should be as neutral as possible. A camera should reproduce colours as neutrally as possible, i.e. as you have seen them yourself.
Depending on the area of application, the purchase decision is determined by other features. Many compact cameras are poorly equipped in this respect. You should therefore find out exactly whether the camera can also meet your own requirements.
Almost all digital cameras have a built-in flash. However, these flashes all have a limited range. And if the flash does not pop up when activated, red-eye is sure to result due to the short distance to the lens axis.
But you can only connect a more powerful flash if the camera offers a possibility for it. Ideally, the camera has a normal hot shoe. Then practically any flash can be connected. Or the camera offers a connection for a flash sync cable, which has to be purchased at a high price from the manufacturer. Most compact cameras offer no external connection at all. For these digital cameras, the only option is a slave flash that is triggered by the camera’s flash and then used to illuminate the room more deeply. DSLRs usually have manufacturer-specific flash contacts to control the extensive functions of the TTL flash system.
To counteract red-eye, almost all manufacturers use in-camera retouching to remove the red-eye afterwards.
Whether a camera is well suited for macro photography is determined by several factors. One is the closest possible close-up distance and the other is the focal length. If two cameras have the same close-up distance, then the camera that provides the longer focal length is better suited. The minimum close-up distance in the telephoto range is more important than that in the wide-angle range because, on the one hand, you get less distortion in the telephoto range and, on the other hand, you have fewer problems with shadowing through the lens. Most insects also feel harassed quickly and will flee if you get too close. Digitalkamera.de has published some good basics on the subject of magnification. In the system camera sector, things are a little easier. Special macro lenses are available here. The stated magnification makes it easier to compare. KB focal lengths in the 100mm range are ideal here.
For night photography, you must be able to set long exposure times. Most digital cameras allow a maximum shutter speed of 15 seconds. In analogue SLR cameras, it is possible to keep the shutter open as long as the shutter release is pressed (Bulb). This function is only offered by a few digital cameras, mostly DSLRs, because the long exposure time causes a strong increase in noise.
A swivelling display is very practical. This allows you to take pictures from unusual angles without having to contort yourself. There are differences between the various manufacturers in the mobility of the display. Sony, for example, has the display fixed at the bottom, which makes it practical to use as a ‘shaft viewfinder’, but does not allow self-portraits, and with some tripods the mobility is limited. Canon, for example, attaches the display to the side. This allows self-portraits and there are no problems when using the tripod. On the other hand, handling is more complicated, as more movements are required to fold out the display and the display is no longer in the optical axis.
If you are not sure whether the selected exposure will produce the desired result, it is very practical if the camera automatically creates an exposure bracket, also called bracketing. Here there are differences in the adjustability. Sometimes only 3 exposures are possible at intervals of +/- 0.7 EV – others offer 5 exposures at intervals of +/- 5 EV. Some cameras offer white balance and sharpness bracketing in addition to variations in exposure.
The white balance ensures that white remains white. If you take photos under artificial light without flash, the photos will have a yellow or green cast without white balance. Most cameras offer ready-made white balance options for light bulbs or neon tubes. Ideally, a manual white balance is offered, which is then optimally adjusted to the current lighting conditions. DSLRs in particular often offer the option of adjusting the colour value on the basis of Kelvin values or on a colour axis.
Autofocus auxiliary light
An AF assist light is a small, bright lamp (some cameras also use a flash burst) that illuminates the subject to enable correct focusing. To focus, the electronics need a certain minimum contrast. If this is too low, the AF-assist light is switched on.
For tripod shots, it is very practical to set the focus once and then lock it. This is especially useful if the plane of focus is not in the centre of the picture. Some cameras offer the possibility to move the focus point freely. It is even more practical if you can also set the focus completely manually. But then you need an aid such as a magnified display or distance indicator. Focus peaking is also popular – sharp edges are coloured so that you can quickly see which areas are in focus.
It is not a matter of course that every digital camera is equipped with aperture priority. If necessary, you can help yourself with the corresponding motif programmes such as sport, subject, landscape. For the advanced photographer, however, this is unsatisfactory. Cameras with this equipment can usually be recognised by the programme selection dial with the typical abbreviations P/A/S/M. How conveniently the shutter speeds and apertures can be set also differs. Simple operating concepts use the 4-way dial for this, better ones have a setting wheel and the best have 2 different setting wheels or even dedicated setting wheels for time/aperture/ISO/exposure compensation.
If the camera can display a histogram, you can get an idea of the brightness distribution of the photo and thus detect possible under/overexposure. A very convenient feature is the live preview, which shows the current brightness distribution even before the picture is taken.
Continuous shooting, ring buffer
Some cameras offer the possibility to take a photo every x seconds or 5 photos in 2 seconds or similar. Even more interesting is a function (ring memory) to take photos continuously and save the last few photos after releasing the shutter. This allows you to capture events in the past, so to speak.
Although many digital cameras even offer the option of recording video in HD resolution, it is often very compromising. Zooming is often disabled during recording, because otherwise the zoom drive is perpetuated on the soundtrack. Or the camera does not record sound at all. The readjustment of exposure and focus is often very sluggish. The storage format used is often not optimal for video editing. And the video length is usually limited to a maximum of 29 minutes for customs reasons.
If you want to keep open the possibility of attaching filters (close-up lenses, UV filters, polarising filters, etc.) or wide-angle or tele-converters, the camera must have a filter thread. With some compact cameras, you have to buy an adapter first.
Just as little as a filter thread is a tripod thread a matter of course. With compact cameras, the tripod thread is often made of plastic. If you want to take tripod pictures frequently, you should look for a thread made of metal. The position of the tripod thread is also important. Ideally, it should sit exactly in the optical axis, which makes it easier to pan when taking panorama shots. And the thread should not be too close to the shaft for the battery and memory card, otherwise they cannot be changed while the camera is on the tripod.
Haptics / Ergonomics
The shape of the housing should also be taken into account when deciding which camera to buy. It may happen that a technically very good camera simply feels bad in the hand and working with it is no fun. Therefore, you should hold the camera in your hand for a while before buying it. With small, light cameras it is usually no problem to hold them, here it is rather the accessibility and operability of the buttons that is a problem. When the cameras get bigger and heavier, an ergonomic shape with a distinctive grip becomes more important – especially if you want to equip the camera with a heavy telephoto lens. Here, too, not every grip is optimal for every hand. The only thing that helps is to try it out.
If the camera is equipped with WLAN, you may not have to remove the memory card when working on a tripod to read out the photos. The exact scope of the WLAN function varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and within camera generations. In most cases, a special app is required for pairing, and it is not always available for Android and iOS. Software for the PC is even rarer. If you can only transfer the images to your smartphone, then it’s a nice gimmick for holidays to provide your friends with new impressions, but it’s not suitable for work in the studio. Also, every manufacturer understands remote control differently. Sometimes it is only possible to take a photo, sometimes you can remote control the camera with all its functions. Sometimes you can even take pictures at programmable intervals. Since GPS in the camera has not become established, some providers use the GPS of the smartphone to track the photos. Here, too, there are clear differences: one needs a permanent connection to the smartphone, which costs a lot of battery. The other only records the track on the smartphone and makes a short comparison at the end of the day. So if the much advertised WLAN function is important to you, you should take a very close look at what is actually behind it.