If you are considering buying a new digital camera, or you just want to know what types of digital camera are available then hopefully this will help you.
First there are the Compact Cameras which are the smaller (as the name compact suggests), pocket or handbag sized camera that are very popular as they usually come at the lower end of the price range. These cameras usually have everything built into them including some form of zoom lens, a flash and a screen to view what you are taking a picture of. There will also be two or three buttons and maybe a dial to enable you to access the settings of the camera.
Next comes what is known as the Bridge Camera. These are usually larger and their shape is a lot more like what you would expect from a camera. The zoom lens is still built in, but you are likely to get a larger zoom range than on a compact camera. The flash may still be built in, but it maybe a popup type flash and you may get the facility to connect a separate flashgun to the camera too. There are likely to be more buttons and dials and the amount of options you will find in the menu system will be more than you are likely to find in a compact camera as bridge camera are generally more advanced than a compact would be. Why is it called a bridge camera? Well, simply, it’s because it bridges the gap between a compact camera and a Digital SLR camera.
Finally we have the Digital SLR, or DSLR as it’s commonly known. SLR stand for Single Lens Reflex. With the compact cameras and bridge cameras you may have a view finder or digital display, you cannot actually look through the lens and see exactly what the camera is seeing. With a view finder on a compact camera it may be an offset viewfinder that will give you an idea of where you are pointing but won’t be 100% accurate as it’s slightly offset from the lens. A bridge camera may have a digital viewfinder but it’s still not a direct view through the lens. An SLR uses a mirror to allow you to look directly through the lens. This is not so important right now, but will be explained in more detail in another post.
One major difference of the SLR is that the lens is detachable and you can buy a whole range of lenses to suit your particular photography interest and choose the most appropriate one for the conditions at the time. This is where photography can get more expensive as buying good quality lenses isn’t cheap, and quite often the lens will cost a lot more than the camera did.
The SLR, or DSLR, will give you the maximum amount of control for your images. They may seem very daunting at first, but with just a little knowledge and some experimentation you can soon make the most of the options this set up gives you.
There are other types of cameras, such as Medium Format and Large Format cameras, but they tend to be used by the experienced and pro photographers and are more of a speciality piece of kit.
Update (9/9/2014): Now there is a fourth type of camera that is worth a mention. This is the Mirrorless Camera that sits in between the Bridge Camera and DSLR. Like the DSLR it will have interchangeable lenses but will be much smaller in size and quieter in operation. Some would even say it sits at the same level as the DSLR as many pros are now adopting them as their main cameras.