Welcome to our beginners guide to digital photography.

In ‘Getting Started with Digital Photography’ we’ll attempt to guide you through all the new terms that you’ll come across as you begin your journey into the exciting field of taking your first digital photographs.

You’ll learn the differences between digital zoom and optical zoom, what megapixels mean, and how to quickly and easily start taking better photographs.

How to Choose Your First Digital Camera

Choosing your first digital camera can be a very daunting process. How do you know what to choose? Sometimes it can be an expensive investment.

The easy way for beginners is to first of all set your budget. You can get some great digital cameras now a days for well under £100. Most of these will feature great image resolutions and optical zoom.

Below you’ll find more information on the technical terms you need to be aware of but for now think how much you want to spend and what you want the camera for.

As a simple guide:

  • £50 fun cameras and cameras suitable for young children
  • £51 – £100 good quality compact cameras
  • £101 – £400 great quality compact cameras with superzoom lenses
  • £401 – £800 Budget Digital SLR’s and high end compacts with superzoom
  • £801 – £2000 good specification dSLR’s although not full format
  • £2001 + full format dSLR’s aimed at the professional and semi-professional markets

So now you have an idea of where your budget falls you need to know a bit more about the different types of cameras.

What’s the difference between a Digital Compact and dSLR?

How do you choose what type of camera to buy? Well often the budget, see above, can be the deciding factor but once you’ve decided how much you want to spend how do you then decide which camera to buy?

Digital Compact Cameras

A digital compact camera is a small camera, often small enough to squeeze into your pocket or hand bag.

Digital compact cameras come as one sealed unit (the lens is permanently fixed to the camera) and a lot of emphasis is often placed on the style of the camera. You can often get digital compacts in many different colours.

Today digital compact cameras are capable of taking some great images right out of the box. They can be simple to use and for normal photography and snapshots are a great choice as they are very easy to carry around.

Most digital compacts have a video recording mode but don’t expect the image quality to be too great at the lower end of the market.

You probably won’t get a great optical zoom on a digital compact and instead will have to use the inbuilt digital zoom for focusing on faraway object which lowers overall image quality.

For under £100 expect to get a decent camera with around an 8 megapixel pr less resolution. For over £100 you can get digital compacts capable of up to 10 to 12 megapixel images often with good optical zooms as well as digital zoom.

Superzoom Compact Cameras

Like digital compact cameras superzoom cameras come as one sealed unit. The main advantage of the superzoom cameras is that you can focus in on faraway objects a lot easier than with a digital compact.  Many superzooms having focal lengths to rival dSLR cameras.

The superzoom camera lens is fully automatic so no manual adjustments are required.

If you’ve got a budget between £200 and £400 then you can get a great superzoom with the latest models offering image sensors comparable to dSLR cameras.

dSLR Cameras

Unlike compact and superzoom cameras dSLR (digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras come with detachable lenses. This means that the function of the camera can be changed as easily as changing the lens.

dSLR cameras are the choice of the more serious amateur, semi professional or professional photographer.

The fact that you can change the lens means you can use your camera for all types of different pictures whether sweeping landscapes, portraits, or macro photography (extreme close ups).

dSLR cameras are also capable of better image quality (more megapixels). Their advanced image processors mean you can take photographs in continuous shooting mode which is great for action shots such as sports photography or wildlife. The startup time of a dSLR is also far faster than a digital compact so it is easier to capture that special moment.

Another advantage of many dSLR cameras is the ability to take pictures in RAW mode. Most digital cameras record in what’s called JPEG format where a lot of the image processing is done by the camera. RAW format leaves the image processing for a later time so it can be done on a computer allowing greater manipulation of the original image.

Camera Budget

Today you can get a budget dSLR camera for around £300 but bear in mind additional lenses can cost hundreds of pounds to add to your system.

Another thing to be aware of as well is that different manufacturers have their own lens formats so lenses are not always interchangeable. Once you have invested in a specific manufacturer it can be very expensive to think about changing.

Most budget dSLR’s start from around £400 upwards. These are ideal for the serious amateur looking to get started.

For semi professional and professional photographers, if your budget can stretch to it you would want to look for a full format digital camera. Currently only two manufacturers compete here, Nikon and Canon. Both are great alternatives but like with the lower end of the market if you’ve already invested with a number of lenses from one manufacturer then that may often be the overriding factor in your decision.

A recent modification to dSLR cameras has been the inclusion of Live View. Live View is something that digital compact cameras have had for a while now which allows you to see the image in the LCD screen instead of only the viewfinder.

Another recent addition following on from Live View is the addition of Live Video Recording on dSLR’s. This is something that is very new and currently only the Nikon D90 and Canon 5D Mark II have this feature.

Digital Zoom and Image Resolution

What’s the difference between digital and optical zoom? Just how many megapixels do you need?

Digital and Optical Zoom

Most compact cameras have what’s called an optical zoom and a digital zoom.

Optical zoom changes the focal length of the lens so you zoom in on your subject without cropping or losing image quality.

Digital zoom often automatically kicks in after you have reached the maximum optical zoom for your camera. Digital zoom crops the image (cuts off the edges) so the image contains less pixels. This can effect the image quality of the picture especially when printed in a larger size.

What are Megapixels?

Megapixels refer to how many millions of pixels are contained in the image so generally speaking the higher the number the better the picture.

Most digital compact cameras now come with 5 megapixels upwards to 12 megapixels.

The greater the number of megapixels the better especially when digital zoom is used, remember our discussion on digital zoom above?

dSLR cameras can be capable of much greater numbers of megapixels with the top of the range Canon 1D Mark IIIs capable of 21 megapixels.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

Once you move beyond the point and click and autofocus offered by many digital compact cameras you start moving into a more creative world where you can express a degree of control over your pictures.


Aperture refers to the depth of field of the photograph. Using aperture you can adjust what’s in focus therefore changing the perspective of the photograph.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to how quickly the camera takes the photograph. Slower shutter speeds allow you to achieve more dramtic effects on moving objects blurring the movement. This technique is often used to blur running water or for the dramatic night time shots where you see streaks of light.

What is ISO?

ISO refers to the amount of light the camera sensor lets in for the image. The lower the ISO the less light is let in and the higher the ISO the more light is let in. This setting can be useful to change the way your camera’s flash works in lower light. You should be aware however that very high ISO’s can lead to image noise (lower quality pictures) so you’ll need to experiment.


We hope that this has been useful for you and we will soon be adding more resources to help you learn digital photography.