There are thousands of different camera models available on the market today, and they are all different. Paring down this glut of options to the one that’s right for you can be challenging, and it gets even more confusing when you take into consideration the fact that there is no single “best” camera – different cameras are designed to be used in different situations, and finding the right camera comes down to finding the right fit. This article will outline all of the major camera types.

Digital Cameras

At this point in time, nearly all cameras are digital. From GoPro action cameras to advanced DSLR cameras to the camera in your smartphone, they’re all digital. However, there is still a great deal of variation within the broad class of digital cameras.

Compact Cameras

Compact cameras, also known as point-and-shoot cameras, are some of the most affordable and accessible cameras on the market, starting off at around $90. Higher-end versions can still sell for upwards of $400, though. These cameras are small, light, and easy to use. Most are completely (or almost completely) automatic. Some of these cameras have manual exposure controls, but you won’t see much more than that. They’re easy to use, but as a result, they don’t offer as much control as a professional photographer would like.

These cameras usually have a 4-10x telescoping zoom lens, an LCD screen on the back, and (of course) a built-in flash. Some of these cameras also come with extra features, such as image stabilization or wi-fi connectivity, which lets you upload photos to your social media without first offloading the images to a computer.

Zoom Compacts

These cameras are essentially the same thing as a compact camera, but with a much more powerful zoom lens, with a magnification power of up to 30x. As a result, zoom compacts are typically a bit bigger than a standard compact, but they are also frequently more durable. Most of these cameras allow you to control exposure manually as well as automatically, and can usually also record HD video. They range in price from around $150 to more than $500.

Advanced Compact

These cameras are the middle ground between a standard compact and a full-featured DSLR camera. They don’t have all of the features that a DSLR does, but they come much closer than the standard compact. Advanced compacts can come with options like connections for external flashes, optical viewfinders, and manual exposure and focus settings. These features make these advanced compacts suitable for more experienced photographers. This type of camera starts off at around $400, and can end up at more than $1000, depending on the sensor size of a particular camera model.

DSLR Cameras

Properly known as digital single-lens reflex cameras, DSLR cameras are the most common choice amongst professional photographers and dedicated amateurs alike. They are designed to emulate the actual film cameras that preceded them, and offer the best of both worlds. These cameras offer excellent overall image quality, the option of attaching interchangeable lenses, and more than a handful of extra controls to fine-tune pictures. Of course, this higher quality is reflected in the price – around $400 for a basic model, up through more than $3000 for high-end cameras.

Adventure Cameras

These cameras are more or less similar to compacts. The key difference is that adventure cameras are built with sturdiness in mind. They typically feature tougher class on the lenses and screens, and they’re usually water- and shock-proof. Some of the newer cameras in this category are freeze proof, as well. Fortunately, the price of this added resilience isn’t exorbitant – adventure cameras start off at around $120.

Compact Mirrorless Cameras

These cameras typically feature interchangeable lenses, which provides photographers with a much greater level of control than a standard compact camera would. They’re small, light and affordable, like compact cameras, but with many more features and controls. These cameras are a perfect balance for photographers who don’t want to invest in a huge amount of equipment, but still desire greater control over how their camera works on any given shot.

Medium Format Cameras

On the far, far opposite end of the spectrum from the basic compact camera, you’ll find medium format cameras. These are the top of the line, in terms of both quality and price. Medium format cameras have the biggest sensors of any camera, including DSLRs with full-frame sensors. As a result, medium format cameras have an incredibly high image resolution – 60 megapixels. For reference, compact cameras in the $85-$120 price range typically have a resolution of 5 to 20 megapixels.


A few years ago, smartphones probably wouldn’t have made this list. They’re phones, primarily, not cameras. Taking pictures isn’t their main purpose. But, in recent years, smartphones’ built-in cameras have been increasing in quality, putting serviceable cameras in almost every pair of hands in the developed world. Out of all the camera options, smartphones are the most portable. They’re also likely to be the closest-to-hand in the midst of any unexpected fleeting moment you’d like to capture. Some newer smartphones have 16-megapixel resolution, although of course these may be more expensive. If you love photography, comparing specs and features on phone cameras might be a good idea when it’s time for you to buy a new phone.

Throwback Cameras

While camera technology has made a lot of progress over the decades, sometimes there is still a place for the classics. Polaroids, for example, might never go out of style. Old polaroid cameras are clunky, they have lower picture quality, and you have to wait for the printed photo to develop… but, the images that these vintage cameras produce have a recognizable, charming aesthetic that many people still love.

The Kodak Instamatic is in a similar position – these were some of the first point-and-shoot cameras, and they are certainly outclassed by modern successors, but they are still used by vintage photography enthusiasts.

Security Cameras

Capturing moments and creating art aren’t the only two uses for cameras. Specialized security cameras come in various shapes and sizes, like more traditional cameras, and they are widely used for law enforcement, the protection of businesses and homes, and more. Despite small variations, though, security camera systems typically share a few important similarities. The advanced security systems rely on digital video recorders (DVRs) of some type to record and store video data, and to allow the user to go back and review the footage later. These devices allow the user to search through the footage by time, date, and by which of the cameras he or she needs to see. Security cameras are also designed to be mounted on a building and left there, not to be moved around, and they are designed to withstand any kind of weather that they’ll encounter.

Security cameras themselves have a fair degree of variation. The most common types you’re likely to see are closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. The appearance can vary, but the most common CCTV cameras are the boxy, off-white cameras that you probably imagine first when you think of the phrase “security camera.” These are effective in two ways – obviously they help law enforcement track down perpetrators after a crime has been committed, but they also work as a deterrent. These cameras aren’t hidden, and the fact that would-be criminals know that they might be being watched is often enough to make them rethink their plans. According to a 2009 study conducted by Northeastern University and University of Cambridge found that CCTV alone caused a 16% decrease in crime, on average. In car parks, the cameras reduced crime by 50%.

Other types of security cameras are:

  • Dome cameras
  • PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras, which can be remotely controlled for a view of an entire area rather than just one angle
  • IP (Internet Protocol) cameras, which send and receive data through the internet
  • Day/Night cameras, which use an automatically-adjusted infrared filter to ensure good visibility all around the clock
  • Thermal imaging cameras, which detect heat with a special lens that allows in infrared light, and are typically used in dark or hazy environments

Camera technology has expanded in many different directions over the decades, especially after the introduction of digital cameras. Technology will continue to improve over time, but right now is a great time to be a photographer – whatever type of camera you need, it’s out there.


Featured Image Credit: alles / Pixabay

Don Stephens is a Technical Support Manager at CCTV Camera World, a leading Security Camera distributor located in Buffalo, NY. His area of expertise is in designing professional security camera systems for medium and large scale businesses, schools, and government projects.

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