Digital Cameras 101:

A Beginner's guide to choosing the best camera for you

A good digital camera can make a world of difference to your photos. But with so many options and features available, finding the perfect camera that suits your needs can be a daunting task. 

With help from Product Specialist Lizzie James at Jessops, we'll cover everything from the different types of digital cameras and features to consider to photography tips for beginners. Plus, we'll show you some of the best digital camera options, so you can snap up the perfect one that fits your style and budget.


What is a digital camera?

What is the digital camera simulation trend?

Is a digital camera or a smartphone camera better?

Types of digital camera

Digital camera features

Digital camera lens options

How to choose the right camera for you

Best beginner-friendly digital cameras

Best cameras for a vintage look

Best cameras for aspiring influencers

Expert tips for beginners to digital photography

What is a digital camera?

A digital camera is a device that takes pictures and stores them as data on a memory card, revolutionising the way we capture moments. While some brands like Kodak are still producing film cameras, most cameras today are digital. Gone are the days of film rolls and waiting for prints.

You can instantly preview your shots on a high-resolution screen, making it easier to compose the perfect frame. And the ability to store thousands of images on a memory card allows for endless shooting without worrying about running out of film.

What is the digital camera simulation trend?

Amongst the endless aesthetic rivals, the popularity of digital cameras has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to celebrities like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski sharing their digital shots on social media. 

To achieve that digital camera look in images taken on their phone, people have been turning to apps like Tezza. They use it to create film-like grain, soft focus, and subtle colour shifts, aiming for a touch of nostalgia in photos caught on their phones. 

However, these images usually fall short of capturing the unique feel, authenticity and quality of using an actual digital camera.

Is a digital camera or a smartphone camera better?

Image quality

Lizzie explains, "There are a number of reasons why digital cameras will produce higher-quality images than smartphones, the main one being sensor size. A general rule in photography is that the larger the sensor, the better the image quality."

"The sensor sizes found on digital cameras can vary from the largest of sizes (medium format or full frame) to something smaller, like 1 inch. Smartphone sensors are much smaller in comparison at around 1 to 1.3 inches in size – as you'd expect, as phones themselves are a lot smaller than cameras."

"Larger sensors will usually be made up of larger individual pixels, which means they can capture more light. As a result, you'll get better low-light performance, reduced noise, and better dynamic range, which in turn gives you higher-quality images with better detail, colour accuracy and clarity."

These comparison images between an iPhone and a mirrorless camera really drive home the quality differences. 

The first image, captured with the iPhone, has a noticeable amount of digital noise, which contributes to a grainier texture overall. The details, like the strawberry seeds, are less crisp, and the image appears softer when zoomed in. There's less distinction between the highlights and shadows, and the colours are somewhat muted, so everything looks a bit flat.

The mirrorless camera's image stands out as notably superior and more professional. Every little detail is super crisp – you can practically count the seeds on the strawberries. The texture of the pancakes and the sheen on the blueberries and syrup are sharply defined. The mirrorless camera's advanced sensor and lens have captured vibrant, true-to-life colours with a wider range of tones, resulting in a more three-dimensional and lifelike image.

Lens capabilities 

Phone cameras usually come with two to three lenses as standard, offering some degree of versatility. But digital cameras can take this to a whole new level with interchangeable lenses.

From super telephoto lenses to capture distant subjects with exceptional detail to fish eye lenses, perfect for artistic purposes, the ability to switch between various lenses allows you to adapt to different shooting situations. 

While carrying a bag full of lenses may be less convenient, this versatility offers endless creative possibilities, something that smartphones with fixed lenses simply can't match.

Manual settings 

While some high-end smartphones do offer manual controls, digital cameras take it to another level. Thanks to their larger sensors, digital cameras provide greater flexibility in adjusting settings like shutter speed,  aperture, and white balance, allowing you to unleash your creativity.

Plus, digital cameras come with dedicated physical dials or buttons that make changing settings a breeze, compared to fiddling with mobile settings. 

While smartphone cameras have their place for everyday moments and convenience, digital cameras are the go-to choice for those who seek superior image quality, lens versatility, and precise manual controls.

Types of digital camera

There are three main types of digital cameras: compact, mirrorless and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR). To help you choose the best type of digital camera to buy, we'll explain the differences between each.


A compact camera, also known as a point-and-shoot camera, is a small and portable device designed for ease of use and convenience. It's the most basic type of digital camera you can find out there.

You might wonder, why go for a compact camera when there are so many fancy ones with loads of features?

Well, that's what makes it perfect for everyday photography and travel, allowing you to capture spontaneous moments without the bulk of larger cameras. And don't be fooled by its size; pocket-friendly cameras can still deliver impressive image quality. 

To learn more, read our compact camera buying guide.

Image on the right was taken on the Sony Rx100 IV Compact Camera


A mirrorless camera is a type of digital camera that doesn't have an internal mirror. In a DSLR, there's a mirror located between the camera lens and the image sensor, which reflects light coming through the lens into the optical viewfinder. This is what allows you to see what the lens sees, even if the camera is turned off. 

Mirrorless cameras eliminate the mirror, and, as a result, you see the image directly through the electronic viewfinder or screen. And this makes them more compact than DSLRs – perfect for travel or everyday use.

Image on the right was taken on the Nikon Z fc Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless cameras can also come with a wide range of lenses and larger sensors, meaning great image quality. They're the ideal balance of convenience and versatility.

To learn more, read our mirrorless camera buying guide.


Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras use the same lens to both frame the scene and focus the image before taking the photo. The lens is attached to the camera body and reflects the light into a viewfinder, so you can frame the scene perfectly. When you press the shutter button to take the photo, the mirror quickly moves out of the way, and the light goes straight to the camera's sensor, capturing the image you see through the viewfinder. This way, you get a clear and direct preview of the subject, making it easier to take great shots.

What sets DSLRs apart is their flexibility and versatility. They combine some of the best features of compact and mirrorless cameras but go a step further with more advanced controls and options, allowing you to fine-tune exposure, focus, and other settings. 

With DSLRs, you have the freedom to change lenses and the larger sensors play a crucial role in producing high-quality images. It's no surprise DSLRs are popular among experienced photographers.

Digital camera features

You may be wondering what features you should look for in a digital camera. We'll guide you through everything, from understanding resolution to exploring different exposure modes.

Megapixels and image resolution

Megapixels are the number of pixels (tiny dots) that make up an image. A higher megapixel count means the camera sensor can capture more of these pixels, resulting in higher-resolution images.

This can impact various aspects of your photography, including: 

Print size – With higher megapixels, you can print your images in larger formats while preserving exceptional quality and sharpness. But, if you're just looking to capture everyday shots, share them on social media or print smaller-sized photos, cameras with moderate megapixels will still deliver impressive results without overwhelming your storage space.

Cropping flexibility – More megapixels mean you can crop specific sections of your photo and still keep the detail. This comes in handy when refining your composition or removing unwanted elements when you edit your photos.

Down-sizing – With more megapixels, your images will still look sharp and clear if you make them smaller for sharing online.

Display size – Choosing a camera with more megapixels guarantees that your photos maintain their impressive level of detail, even when displayed on high-resolution screens such as 4K monitors or 8K televisions.

Focus options

Autofocus automatically adjusts the focus of the camera lens to ensure your object appears sharp and clear in the photo. This is perfect for situations when you need to capture spontaneous moments or subjects in motion. 

A focus indicator, usually a box, will appear on your camera's digital screen, showing the area your camera is focusing on.

While all digital cameras typically come with autofocus, higher-end compact cameras, mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs often offer manual options as well. This gives you complete control over where the focus should be in your photo. While it may require more practice and experience, manual focus allows you to tailor your images according to your vision.

To manually focus on a DSLR camera, switch to manual focus mode, then use the focus ring on the lens to adjust until your subject appears sharp and clear in the viewfinder or screen.

To learn more, read our guide on how to shoot in manual camera mode.

Image stabilisation

From shaky hands to slight movements when you press the shutter release, even a tiny motion can cause blurriness in your image. You could use a tripod to steady your camera, but this isn't always practical – especially if you're on the move.

Image stabilisation ensures your images and footage remain crisp and there are two main types: optical and digital stabilisation.

Lizzie explains the difference: "Optical image stabilisation is the best option when it comes to shooting both stills and video, as this is where the lens itself will be compensating for any unwanted shake or blurring."

"This is achieved by moving elements inside the lens, which shift quickly to offset motion before the image is converted to a digital form."

"Digital image stabilisation – sometimes referred to as electronic image stabilisation – is applied to your image or video after it's been captured. This is often less effective than optical stabilisation and tends to result in a smaller cropped image once the digital stabilisation has been applied."

However, it's important to note that cameras with digital stabilisation are compatible with a wider range of lenses, including older and third-party lenses which may not have optical stabilisation.

Continuous shooting

Continuous shooting – also known as burst mode – allows you to take a rapid sequence of shots with just one press of the shutter button. This is perfect for action photography, sports events or any situation where you need to capture fast-moving subjects, ensuring you never miss a moment. 

To do this, all you need to do is hold down the shutter button, and the camera will keep taking pictures as long as you hold it or until the buffer memory is filled. 

While burst mode is a common feature found in many digital cameras, they don't all have it. If it's something you're looking for, make sure to check the camera's specifications before making a purchase.

Colour settings

Colour settings are customisable features found in digital cameras which allow you to adjust various aspects of colour in your photos. With these settings, you can control parameters like contrast, saturation, sharpness and hue, tailoring the overall look and mood of your images.

White balance is also a handy tool, usually a standard feature in digital cameras. It automatically ensures the colours in your images appear natural and accurate, regardless of the lighting conditions.

But white balance may not always give you the right colour accuracy, especially under challenging lighting conditions or when you want to achieve a specific artistic effect. That's where manually adjusting the white balance in your camera settings becomes crucial for achieving accuracy. You can also use presets like daylight or cloudy to quickly adapt to specific lighting conditions.

While high-end cameras may offer more advanced and customisable colour settings, most digital cameras provide essential colour presets and white balance controls.

Exposure modes

When you press the shutter button, the camera's sensor is exposed to light, and the total amount of light it receives during that time is what we refer to as exposure.

It's all about finding the perfect balance of light to create a well-lit picture – too much, and the image appears too bright, while too little makes it look too dark. 

There are several different camera modes to control exposure, including:

Auto – The camera automatically adjusts the exposure settings for you, including aperture and shutter speed. The camera's built-in light meter evaluates the scene and makes decisions about the settings to ensure a well-exposed image.

Aperture priority – Aperture determines how much of the scene is in focus by controlling the size of the opening where light enters the lens. With aperture priority mode, you set the aperture and the camera adjusts the other settings based on the amount of light it detects. This mode is usually labelled 'Av', 'A' or 'A-DEP' on the camera's mode dial or display screen. 

Shutter priority – Shutter speed is the setting that determines how long your camera's shutter remains open when taking a photo. A fast shutter speed freezes motion, while slow shutter speed creates motion blur for artistic effects. In shutter priority mode, you set the shutter speed, and the camera adjusts the rest of the exposure settings accordingly. It's usually shown as 'Tv' or 'S' on your camera dial.

Manual – You have complete control over all aspects of exposure, giving you full creative freedom. This setting requires a solid understanding of exposure and a keen eye for composition, so it may be best for advanced photographers.

Digital camera lens options

Focal length 

Focal length is a crucial aspect of camera lenses that determines the field of view and perspective in your photos. It's measured in millimetres and affects how much of the scene your lens can capture.

A smaller focal length, like an 18mm wide-angle lens, offers a wider field of view, making it ideal for capturing vast landscapes or group photos. And a larger focal length, like a 200mm telephoto lens, provides a narrower field of view, perfect for wildlife photography, portrait shots, or capturing details from afar.

Some lenses are designed as zoom lenses, which means they can cover a range of focal lengths. You can zoom in and out to capture different perspectives without changing the lens.

Standard lens

Standard lenses have a focal length of around 50mm, which closely resembles the human eye's perspective. They are great for capturing everyday scenes and are often the kit lens that comes with many cameras.

The image on the right was taken with a 24-105mm standard lens.

Wide-angle lens

Wide-angle lenses expand your field of view, perfect for shooting vast landscapes and street photography.


Telephoto Lens 

These lenses have a longer focal length, usually above 70mm, allowing you to zoom in on distant subjects and capture them in detail. This makes telephoto lenses excellent for wildlife, sports, and portrait photography.

The image on the right was taken with a telephoto lens.

Macro lens

A macro lens is used for capturing intricate close-up shots of small subjects like flowers, insects, or detailed textures. You can focus on tiny details, revealing a whole new world up close.

To learn more, read our beginner’s guide to macro photography.

Fisheye lens

Fisheye lenses – also known as ultra-wide lenses – produce extreme wide-angle images with a distorted effect. They create a unique and artistic perspective, adding a fun and creative twist to your photos. 

Tilt and shift lens

A tilt and shift lens – also known as a perspective control lens – allows you to change the position of the lens in relation to the camera's image sensor. This means you gain precise control over what appears sharp and what appears blurry in your images. They're commonly used in architectural and product photography to ensure straight lines and eliminate distortion. 

To learn more, read our guide on which lens is best for you.

How to choose the right camera for you


If you're mindful of your budget or just stepping into the world of photography, there are plenty of affordable options tailored for beginners. 

Compact camerasCompact cameras tend to be the cheapest and most budget-friendly choice, offering simplicity and ease of use. 

Entry-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras – These cameras provide a higher level of versatility and image quality. It's important to note that, generally, the more advanced the camera, the bigger the price tag.

Used cameras – Buying a used digital camera is also a great option, especially if you're looking to save money. Many photographers frequently upgrade their equipment, making well-maintained used cameras a reliable choice. 

We recommend buying from a reliable source like Jessops to ensure you're getting a top-notch camera that's in great condition. All of our cameras and lenses are serviced by our team of experts and come with up to 12 months guarantee. Discover our Jessops used range today.


The best digital camera for you depends on your needs and preferences. Here are some popular types of photography and the recommended style of camera for each:


"When it comes to portrait photography, there are traditionally two main things you should look for," says Lizzie. "The first one is a focal length that's most flattering for facial features. Around 85mm is ideal, as it offers a comfortable working distance from the subject while maintaining a true-to-life representation of their features, avoiding any distortion."

"A fast aperture is also recommended for creating background blur that makes the subject stand out."

"But, with the advancements in technology over the years, choosing a camera with features specific to portraiture could help to elevate your work. Look for a camera which features advanced autofocus, specifically face and eye detection and tracking. This will allow you to spend less time making sure your subject is in focus and more time on the posing and composition of your shot."

A mirrorless or DSLR camera with a standard lens would be an excellent choice. These cameras offer great image quality, versatility, and the ability to achieve background blur for artistic portraits. They also allow for interchangeable lenses, so you can choose a lens with a focal length that is flattering for portraits.

Landscape and travel photography

Lizzie says, "Sensor size and resolution are something to look out for when choosing a camera for landscape or travel. By having more megapixels on a large sensor, you're able to capture a lot more of the natural tones and details in your scene. This will be especially handy if you want to print your photographs in large format or have room to play around in post-production with cropping without losing the quality."

"Next, you'd want to check that the camera you're choosing is weather-sealed. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it will save you the worry if you get caught out in adverse weather while shooting."

The image on the right was taken on the Nikon Z fc Mirrorless Camera

"If it's specifically travel photography that you'll be doing, the size and weight of your camera and lenses will be a huge factor to consider. You'd probably be wanting something on a smaller and lightweight scale than a traditional DSLR, so it's worth considering mirrorless."

To learn how to choose the best orientation for your shot, read our guide on landscape vs portrait photography.

Wildlife and sports photography

"The most important thing to look out for when buying a camera for wildlife or sports photography is speed," explains Lizzie. "You're going to need a camera that can keep up with the action and fast-moving animals."

"Features to look out for are fast autofocus and tracking. Having a reliable focus system will allow you to spend more time capturing the action and less time worrying about whether your photos are actually going to be in focus or not. Even better if you get a camera that's got dedicated focus modes for animals and birds."

"High-speed continuous shooting is also useful, so you know you can hold your finger down on the shutter and take a quick succession of photos as the animal moves through your frame."

To capture fast-moving wildlife or spots, a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens is the way to go. You can achieve fast autofocus and long reach, allowing you to freeze the action and get up close to your subjects.


Lizzie says, "The best cameras for vlogging are the ones that make capturing your content as easy as possible. Whether you choose to use a mirrorless, compact or action camera, these are the features you'd want to keep an eye out for."

4K video – "You'd want to have the option of recording your content in at least 4K," explains Lizzie. "This way, you're ensuring you can capture high quality, crisp looking footage perfect for uploading to whichever social media platform you choose."

Good image stabilisation – "You'll also want to make sure you've got decent image stabilisation, especially if your content involves you walking along talking to the camera," says Lizzie. This will avoid shaky, unwatchable footage."

Fully rotating or front screen – "Lastly, a fully rotating screen or a front screen is ideal for vlogging as you'll easily be able to see what your shot looks like and if you're in the frame while recording," says Lizzie.

Mirrorless cameras are a great choice as they're usually compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around during your vlogging adventures!


If you're always on the go or enjoy travelling, a compact and lightweight camera might be the best fit. Compact point-and-shoot cameras or mirrorless options are perfect for their portability and convenience, fitting right in your bag or pocket, so you can capture those special moments while exploring.

But, if you prioritise image quality and versatility, a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses might be worth the slightly larger size and weight.

Best beginner-friendly digital cameras

Canon EOS R100 Mirrorless Camera

"This camera offers a huge step-up in quality, control, and handling over a smartphone," says Lizzie. "The EOS R100 delivers beautifully detailed 24-megapixel photos and full HD 1080p video from a compact body that's super easy to use."

The Creative Assist feature also means you can easily make changes to lighting, colour, background blur and more! Beginners can learn and experiment with different aspects of photography without getting overwhelmed by the technical details.


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Sony a6100 Mirrorless Camera Body

Lizzie says, "With its extraordinary autofocus speed, performance, and persistent subject tracking, the A6100 skilfully handles the mechanics of photography. This way, you're free to concentrate on the more creative aspects, and perfecting your photography skills."

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Canon EOS 2000D DSLR Body

"You can create detailed, high-quality photos and cinematic full HD movies with ease, even in challenging low-light situations, using the 24.1 megapixel APS-C Sensor," says Lizzie.

"Plus, you can instantly share your shots directly from the camera to your smartphone, using the built-in Wi-Fi. This feature ensures that even as you transition from a smartphone to a more advanced camera like the EOS R100, you won't lose the convenience you're used to."

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Best cameras for a vintage look

Fujifilm X-T30 II Mirrorless Camera Body

"The film simulation modes on the Fujifilm cameras are perfect for giving your digital photos the look and feel of being shot on film," says Lizzie. "With 18 different modes to choose from, your creative possibilities are endless!"

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Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV Mirrorless Camera Body

"This camera features numerous Art Filters, which is where you'll find special effects like Pop Art, Dramatic Tone, and the new Instant Film option," explains Lizzie.

"Filters can be fine-tuned, and special effects added using sliders on the screen, so it's super easy to add your own creative look to your photos!"

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Nikon Z fc Mirrorless Camera Body

"There's a lot to love about the Nikon Z fc if you're after a retro look and feel to your camera, as well as the photos you're taking," says Lizzie.

"There are 20 in-camera Creative Picture Controls for photos and videos, all visible in real-time while you shoot, so you can easily adjust the intensity to match your vintage vision."

Drawing inspiration from the Nikon FM2 SLR film camera, this model boasts tactile control dials and a classic silver and black colour palette for a distinctly vintage look, with all the modern perks of a digital camera.

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Best cameras for aspiring influencers

Sony ZV-1 II Compact Vlogger Camera

"An ideal all-around vlog camera," says Lizzie. "Compact and portable, featuring a wide-angle zoom lens for versatile framing, a 1.0-type image sensor for great image quality, and a 3-capsule intelligent microphone for clear audio recording."

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Nikon Z 30 Mirrorless Camera

"This camera's ultra-wide Z mount lets its large DX-format 20.9 MP CMOS sensor gather so much more light than a smartphone," says Lizzie.

"So, when it comes to video, you get the kind of rich detail a phone can't give you – whether you're indoors, outside, shooting in daylight or nighttime."

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Expert tips for beginners to digital photography

Lizzie gives us her top tips for anyone new to digital photography who wants to improve their picture-taking skills.

Experiment with your manual controls 

"If your camera has manual controls, then try moving away from the auto setting and experimenting with your aperture and shutter speed," says Lizzie. "This will allow you to add more creative looks to your shots, like adding those smooth blurry backgrounds to your portraits or capturing the movement of flowing water in your landscapes."

Consider your composition

Lizzie says, "Try shooting your subjects from different angles, so either up high or down low. Most people just automatically bring the camera up to their eye and shoot everything from that level, but changing your perspective can have a huge effect on your final image."

Shooting from a higher angle can reduce the background in your shot, making your subject stand out more, while shooting from below can add a sense of scale and power to your subject. Remember, the angle you choose can tell a story, so think about what you want to convey in your shot and select your position accordingly.

Watch your background

Lizzie says, "Take a second to pause before you take your photo to check your background!"

If you find the background is too busy, you can use a wide aperture to create a shallower depth of field, blurring it and keeping the attention on your subject. Or, you can change your position or angle to find a cleaner backdrop or even move closer to your subject to make them more prominent in the frame.

Find the perfect digital camera at Jessops

Whether you're looking for a compact, mirrorless or DSLR, at Jessops, we have a wide range of digital cameras from leading brands like Canon, Sony and Nikon

For more advice and inspiration, check out our blog. Or, if you're unsure about which product is right for you or have any questions, contact us today.

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